The enigmatic Apollonia Saintclair is a self-taught, hyper-anonymous artist and illustrator with a fatal attraction to satirical fetish erotica and a strong, 6-figure army of obsessive fans that follow her ongoing exploration of desire. Acting as an engine for the infinite field of lust, Saintclair speaks to the beginnings of her relationship with eroticism, the importance of privacy in an ever-changing world and how sexuality will forever stand as a societal battlefield.
Can you recall how your relationship with erotica developed?
I grew up in an environment where the classics of erotic literature, from Sade to Pauline Réage, were available. It was made clear to me that their erotic content did not undermine their artistic value in any way. At the same time, I was able to discover all the masters of European eroticism, thanks to a complacent bookseller who gave me access to his back-shelf well before I should have had it. Discovering Manara, Moebius, Crepax, but also Man Ray, Molinier and Newton, was decisive. In retrospect, I think that my relationship to eroticism has often been influenced by the filter of the arts. One of my first emotions, for example, was caused by Bernini’s ‘The Kidnapping of Proserpine’ – that muscular, marble hand that grasps the tender and eternal flesh of the statue.
You adopted the pseudonym Apollonia Saintclair to avoid tainting your work with parasite narratives – drawn from the person behind the work. How important do you feel privacy is when it comes to modern living?
On the one hand, in a world where millions of sensors follow every step of your existence, remaining invisible is simply the ultimate individual luxury. But what matters to me as a creator, is the fact that anonymity is the guarantee of a certain artistic freedom. It’s hard to explain, but the person that makes these drawings is not the same as the person who leads her life like anyone else. She’s this “other self” – this fragile entity that evolves with her work. Without anonymity, the creator risks becoming a prisoner of their own biography – becoming complacent towards projections of the public on her as person. Basically, you can no longer die and be reborn with each drawing. You can no longer explore the unknown aspects of your “other self”.
Each piece of your work is so elegantly constructed – injecting social commentary and conceptual nuance between the sheets of your very own un-reality. With your work, are you trying to subvert our ideas of erotica and what it can be?
I do not have a specific masterplan, really – except perhaps to sing the apology of desire. I think it is in art’s nature, and eroticism in-particular, to be subversive. You are always trying to broaden your perception of the world with art. Erotica, in addition, has something specifically subversive to it, because it’s also about the irruption of the intimate in the public sphere – because it speaks out the unspeakable.
‘Ink Is My Blood’ is an on-going series of books exploring the world you have created with your work. What is it you wanted to achieve by collating your graphic work like this?
To be honest, my main motivation was to please my fans – and my ego, of course. My entire body of work has existed online so far, which has obvious advantages, but some serious downsides. My work is mostly constrained when displayed on the small screen of a smartphone. It’s not a very sensual experience, and because of the zapping nature of social media, you can’t keep the attention of the viewer for very long. Creating these books of collected drawings allows me to challenge these issues, and to create a kind of meta-narrative just by choosing how one drawing follows the other.
I feel there are many different threads running through your work – from touches of neo-noir surrealism to a Junji Ito-esque sense of darkness, but what’s the “red thread” that cuts through everything you do?
I should really let someone else answer this question, but I can tell you what motivates me. More then sex, I think I’m trying to showcase desire. I’m some kind of anatomist of desire, I guess. I’m interested in that hidden trigger. There are as many eroticisms as there are individuals, so there’s potential for anything to be desirable. I once read H.P. Lovercraft’s ‘Through the Gates of the Silver Key’. The French edition of the book was appropriately titled ‘Démons et merveilles’. I think that title sums up my creative anchor. I’m looking for moments of intense ambivalence. The other reason I draw is the mere pleasure I find in creating images. I do not feel, nor accept, any external limitations. I am in amazement of the alchemy that happens when I translate my ideas to paper.
Since you developed a fascination with erotica and started producing erotic works of your own, how have you seen attitudes to sexuality change?
We live in a contrasting era, where on the one hand there is an obvious, positive evolution towards sexual liberalization, but, despite the benevolent attention that female authors currently enjoy, the path is still very long. We are often led by characters who are 30-years behind their time. I think that, despite all the openings, sexuality and the body will remain a battlefield where the most extreme visions of society confront each other.
You have always produced consistent, hyper-clean work. Can you speak to how you landed where you currently stand artistically, and how you see your work evolving?
For a long time, before I took pen and ink seriously, I was a bulimic observer and consumer. I didn’t receive any formal art education, I just sporadically drew in my spare time, and what I produced was pretty limited technically. I had a pretty intense abstract period, but most of the time I worked in black ink with a technique inspired by the masters of comics that I still look up to. What I missed was an orientation – better, a motivation. In 2012, I started again – almost by chance, and became obsessed with drawing. I quickly came to focus on erotic themes. I felt I found an angle of vision that allowed me to talk about the world while experiencing an intense aesthetic pleasure.
Your work has become some-what synonymous with tattooing. Why do you think that is?
Paradoxically, I began to develop a serious interest in tattooing when I started to publish my drawings, and tattooists were making contact and taking an interest in what it is I do. Since then, I have followed the work of Johnny Gloom and Jonathan Segev, among other talented tattooists, with a sense of awe. There is this unspoken relationship between comics, engraving and tattooing. They’ve always been regarded as “minor arts” – the bad boys of the family. Like, those who have vaguely – or completely – turned out badly. I am fascinated by the work of contemporary tattooists. I feel they have restored an authenticity that was lost during the 1990s when tattoos became this mainstream thing and lost some of their deep autobiographical significance – especially as the power of the laser made such a commitment reversible. My personal claim, ‘Ink Is My Blood’, means, among other things, that I am my ink – that I am what I draw. It is something very intimate – very binding. I must add that one of the wishes at the top of my bucket list would be to learn the technique of tattooing. It is a form of graphic expression that perfectly corresponds to my way of apprehending reality. Also, most of the tattoos that have been made from my drawings do not quite satisfy me. I would like to learn how to translate my ideas onto skin.
What’s next for you?
I have this on-going project with filmmaker Erica Lust that I’m working on – blending live-action with animation. Another project, for which I’m currently looking for a writer with the same wicked sense of imagination, is a kind of “goodnight book”, but for adults. I’m also working on this personal dream project of an illustrated children’s book about two brothers and a witch. There will be a couple of exhibitions happening in Paris this September, and of course Volume Three and, hopefully, Volume Four of ‘Ink Is my Blood’ will be following the upcoming release of Volume Two in 2018, but most importantly, there are new drawings – lots of new drawings.
You can also buy ‘Ink Is My Blood’ by Apollonia Saintclair from her webstore.