Winery opens art to whole new world

International call put out for sixth annual erotic art show at Lake Country’s Ex Nihilo Vineyards.

Burgeoning artist Teri Blackwell

Burgeoning artist Teri Blackwell

With a big fluffy dog, little boots littering the hall, and a kitchen that doubles as a studio, oil painter and pen-and-ink artist Teri Blackwell’s life conjures labels like: “idyllic,” “hectic” and “earthy.”

So when she was asked if her painting — done while her three children are at school — would fit in an “erotic” art show, she was admittedly circumspect.

“I had never really considered the work erotic. I’d barely even heard of (the show), but then the owner of Ex Nihilo winery approached me and asked for my card,” Blackwell said.

Now in its sixth year, the Okanagan Erotic Art Show has been hosted by Jeff and Dacoa Harder, owners of Lake Country’s Ex Nihilo Vineyards, for the last two years. The show will stay on the property as it grows to include artists from all over the world in 2012.

The couple are well-known patrons of figurative art, the winery being named for one of Frederick Hart’s Creation Sculptures at the Washington National Cathedral, Ex Nihilo.

Ex Nihilo, the term, is a Latin phrase meaning out of nothing, and the sculptural mural above a doorway on the outside of the cathedral’s west wing features a series of nude figures materializing from a stormy abyss.

Ex Nihilo, the winery, has a somewhat more humble genesis, though it too has had the human form in the art on its walls practically since inception and, since connecting with the erotic art show, has played a major role in the event’s dramatic expansion.

With a consistent, committed venue, the show has grown from a 50-person point-of-interest endeavour to a 300-ticket affair that both celebrates and plays with its sexy subject matter, despite the conservative underbelly of the surrounding community.

Eroticism and what qualifies as erotic has been both a sore point and a source of inspiration for the show’s founders — Julia Trops, Angela Hanson and Lauren Wilson — who came up with the idea for the show after watching people skirt their life drawings, barely allowing themselves a glance.

Posed as an erotic art show, paintings like Blackwell’s nude or semi-clad yoga practitioners can sit alongside a simple sketch of a woman’s foot or a provocative vixen and those who attend are not too shy to look.

“For some, eroticism is a fantasy… For others, a life drawing is erotic. And then some people can’t handle a bum,” said Trops.

Trops has had her ups and downs with figurative work. She also founded the Livessence Society for Figurative Artists and Models, providing a way for both groups to work their craft in a safe and accessible manner. She has seen the feedback to the members’ work run the gauntlet from unfettered praise to total condemnation and knows the subject matter can be a lightening rod for controversy.

Though clearly influenced by the Renaissance masters, her colourful feminine forms have even faced censorship when one of her sketches was mysteriously turned to face the wall by an unknown passerby in the Rotary Centre for the Arts, her studio home for the last decade.

Rather than hide from the critics, she has used these jabs to her advantage, letting upturned noses provide muse for a show so popular artists have been asking her to expand its geographic boundaries for some time. Last year, they experimented with a North American call to artists and this year’s will be global.

“We sold 20 per cent of the show in 2011. It was mostly to people from out of town. Most of it goes to Alberta or the Lower Mainland, but to sell 20 per cent is really good,” she said.

Trops compiles a catalogue of the event and sends it to the National Gallery of Canada so the artists all have work indexed in Ottawa by the time the show is complete.

It will be a coup for a burgeoning artist like Blackwell, should she make the cut.

Encouraged by a grandmother who gave her house paint to add toenails and flip-flops to rocks as a child, the self-taught painter said she’s found a very positive reaction to her desire to learn to paint the human form and would never have ventured into the so-called erotic arts were it not for this community.

Wanting to move beyond her fantasy-style drawings, which look like those one might find illustrating Tolkien’s The Hobbit, she figured if she could learn to paint people well, she could pretty well paint anything. It was her friends who then suggested she move into yogi meditations, sun salutations and the like, with yoga instructor Louise Stout offering to model.

So as she waits to see if her dance-like poses meet the bar, she will explore every other opportunity she can get to show her work, though she now admits she likely always had a little of the erotic spirit within.

“My husband and I were best friends when we were kids and we always drew together. He would show me his work and I would show him mine… See that’s erotic right?” she joked.

The call for artist submissions to the Okanagan Erotic Art Show can be found at The cost to enter is $10 per artwork (maximum three artworks.) The deadline is Feb. 28 with selection mid-March and the show to be held in May.

–– Written by Jennifer Smith, reporter at the Kelowna Capital News.