Aurélie Galois is a French painter living and working between Paris and the U.S. She describes her erotic art as personal, intimate, and to others, often erotic and often disturbing. To me, on top of these things, it’s incredibly visceral. It ignites my senses in a way that so few paintings manage. Therefore, I’m very happy (and very nervous) about getting to chat to Aurélie Galois for a couple of hours about her work.

In conversation with Aurelie Galois
Aurelie Galois. Photo source: aureliegalois.com/about/

It’s Thursday afternoon, early March.  I sit in my sister’s conservatory in South London and listen to the rain. Spring’s not here just yet. When Aurélie picks up the phone, I’m greeted with a soft, bright and very French voice. She sits in her studio in the centre of Paris, where it rains as well.

When I ask her if she’s originally from Paris, she tells me that she grew up in Burgundy, but moved to Paris at the age of 18, so technically, she’s more Parisian than anything else, but after living in the U.S. for a few years and moving between places, she’s sort-of a traveller.

Check out Aurelie’s Instagram and Aurelie’s Kinkstagram.

 

Aurélie, I’m so glad to be talking to you and really excited to hear what you have to say. Shall we start at the beginning? Maybe you can tell me when you first started painting, and your journey up to now.

I’ve always been painting and drawing as a kid but I studied Literature at Sorbonne university and History of Art at The School of the Louvre. At the start of my university experience, when I was in classes or in museums studying the art, I would look at the paintings and think ‘I want to paint like this’.

I wanted to learn the traditional techniques and during that time (the nineties) in Paris in art school, it wasn’t trendy to paint- it was more about installations and videos. Painting was seen as very old school. Then I saw an advertisement in the university hall of an art tutor with a phone number on it.

And so I went to meet him. I remember it was on a Saturday morning and this encounter changed my life. He was a real master. He was a painter from Prague, and he was way older than me. He had a private studio in Paris where he taught painting, drawing, pastel, everything. So that’s how I found this man who became basically a second father to me.

He was very into eroticism, like me also but his culture was different to mine, he thought that Parisians were so stupidly romantic. He had a very intense sex life, and would share everything with me. But our relationship had very strong boundaries and it was never sexual. He spent one Christmas with my family. I loved our conversations. He taught me not just about art but about culture, literature, movies. I was very lucky.

So after a few months of him tutoring me, he basically said , with a very strong accent: ‘You have the balls, you can be an artist if that’s what you want.’ So I became a sort of intern for him for 15 years, and he taught me everything whilst I worked as a journalist.

And then I had my first art show in 2011. Then I moved to the US in 2012 and that’s where I started my career as an artist because I couldn’t really work as a journalist from abroad.  

 

I love the idea of having a mentor, especially as an artist.  

Yes, he was a very hard, harsh man. But I love that. I learned to be very critical against myself and to have a mindset of whatever I do never being good enough.

 

And how about now? Do you still feel as though your work isn’t good enough? Do you feel satisfied with what you’ve done?

I feel more confident because I’ve learnt that it can take a long time but eventually things unfold and work out. But I wouldn’t say I’m satisfied, no. I will never be satisfied. But it’s not a question anymore. I’m on my path, I know I have things to say and things to paint so I do it, and I don’t expect myself to love what I do.

Sometimes I do something and think it’s a piece of shit but that’s fine. But also I’m a Virgo, so I’ll just never be happy with anything that I do.

 

Me too…

So you know exactly what I mean. It’s never enough. But also it’s a great fuel that pushes me always forward. I love the quote by Beckett: “Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better.” I would love to be happier and lighter, but I’m 45, I’ll never change. I’m happy when I get great feedback, though. But right now as I talk to you, I’m in front of a very big painting, and I see only the defects. 

 

I always knew that artists make things for an audience: when you write, you write for a reader, when you paint you paint for a viewer.

 

Did you find it difficult when you first started doing shows, with exposing your work to the public?

Yeah. It was horrible the first time I showed my work. But also very exciting, because I couldn’t lie to myself by saying ‘no I don’t want to share my work’. I always knew that artists make things for an audience: when you write, you write for a reader, when you paint you paint for a viewer.

I remember a friend said to me once, ‘Of course not everyone loves what you do, it would be the worst to be loved by everyone.’ It’s important to forget about your ego and just show up. That’s the magic of it- to see how people react, and to see what your art does to people.

Especially with erotic art, to know that it has a real effect on people and their lives. But what I paint is very intimate, so it’s still hard to share. It’s sort of a contradiction, artists are very exhibitionist in a way- that’s part of the drive, but we also struggle to share our work.

 

That’s so true. I still struggle with sharing my stuff- I’m not there yet…So where do you get your inspiration from? Is it other artists, are you inspired by any other forms of art?

In terms of painters, my largest inspiration comes from dead artists, from cave painters, to Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Tintoretto. But I’m very inspired also by films, literatures, daily life. I love Pedro Almodóvar‘s movies. David Lynch, Jane Campion, James Ivory – they’re all very pictural filmmakers. And of course Truffaut, Godard. I love cinema, because it’s a story, and all of a sudden I think ‘Oh I love this point of view, this feeling and I would love to capture it and put it onto a canvas’. The same with literature.

 

That’s really nice- when you first said films I was imagining the style and atmosphere was what would inspire you, but the idea of it being a specific feeling or point of view, that’s so cool. How about music?

Music is part of the process, I listen to it when I work to get into the mood for a painting, but it doesn’t inspire an initial idea for a painting. I think to be a painter and to be a musician is very different. Painting is very material.

 

What about moments in real life?

Yes. A lot. Especially interactions with people, or seeing things on the street. And love- love is a big, big inspiration!

 

Do you have three pieces of your work that are special to you and that you can share in your work?

I have one painting that I will never sell called ‘The Little Red Riding Hood’ because it was born from an accident, the red part of the main character was an under layer that I covered with black paint. A piece of black cracked, so I decided to do something with this red ‘stain’ instead of covering it. It came easily, with an ease that is pretty rare. And a whole series (about fairy tales) was born from this one, which got a big success. I go back to it when I feel discouraged, since I remember the state of mind I had when I painted it, channeling emotions with no preconceived ideas.

The Little Red Riding Hood, Aurelie Galois
The little red riding hood (2013)
Oil on canvas, 30×23 cm (12×9 inches)

 

 

Also the largest painting I did, because I was in a sort of trance when I painted it. It was very intuitive, called ‘The Last Supper.’

The Last Supper by Aurelie Galois
The last supper (2017) Oil, acrylic, gold leaf and added patch on linen, 350 x 140 cm (138 x 55 inches)

 

 

And maybe the one I’m looking at right now, I can’t really explain it. But the three pieces are all key pieces in my career.

Show Your Stripes (working title) (2023)

 

I’m not attached to my paintings like they’re my babies though. As soon as they’re done, I can let go of them- I just need to give birth to them. I’m very lucky because some artists are so attached to their work and it becomes a real torture for them to have to sell them. For me, everything could burn, and it’s not the end of the world. I made them, and that’s the most important thing.

 

That’s interesting. I feel I could let go of the films I’ve made, but not with my pieces of writing. For example if I lost my notebook, I would be distraught.

Yes, I can see that. It’s a different intimacy, with a notebook than with a painting. 

 

 

For me, art is a question, it’s not an answer- it’s another question.

 

 

Who do you think your art is for? 

Interesting question. After a decade, I’ve noticed that my work is for people who really like art. Art as a process, as a way of life. Not people who like art in the sense that they like to have a painting on their wall. My clients are not like that.

I think my art is for people who like to be disturbed. Every time I do a piece, my friends are think it’s so dark and so perverted; I don’t see that. But I’ve accepted it.

I know that my art’s not for everybody, it’s not light or easy to have in your house. I sold a painting one day, and the person was really happy and then she called me back and she told me ‘I cannot be with your painting anymore, it’s too hard because the presence erases everything else.’- she had many pictures on her walls.

She said she needed one room for this painting, but she didn’t have one room so she picked another painting where its presence was less heavy for her. So when people buy my art, usually there’s a very strong connection between them and the painting.

 

I think some of the films and music that I make is the same. I find a lot of beauty in the dark, the sorrow and the perverted. 

Yes and it means you don’t have a very easy public. But that’s the kind of art that I love. I don’t love cute, ‘nice’ paintings – I find that very boring. For me, art is question, it’s not an answer- it’s another question. So as a Virgo, and as someone who is always in their mind, I love the questions. I love to be questioned. 

 

I’m not an erotic artist, I’m a painter, so of course, a part of my art is erotic, because the process of painting in itself is erotic.

 

 

On your website I saw you said Erotism is not for me about nudity but the line between veiled and unveiled, tender and raw, real and fantasized.’ I love this because the way that I interpret it is that to me a blouse buttoned to the top of your neck is very erotic, more so than being nude in a way. It inspires the imagination.

I totally agree. 

 

That’s my interpretation, but what else does what you said mean to you?

To me, eroticism is about the other- the mask, the unknown, it’s all about that. It’s not about what is offered, but what isn’t offered. A treasure that you uncover. And as you said, lingerie is way more erotic than just nudity. And as an erotic artist, a body that has something on it, is way more interesting because it contrasts to the flesh, it enhances the flesh.

Eroticism is about contrast to me- the cold and the hot. And to me, pornography is not that. And I’m not saying pornography is less good. It’s just a little bit too easy sometimes. But it can be very sexual to be very explicit and frank.  But it’s different to eroticism. It’s more rude and raw.

But sometimes when people say to me ‘your painting is erotic not pornographic’ I don’t really agree. Some of my paintings can be pornographic, and I don’t care- I’m okay with it. Some of them are very explicit, there’s no question about what we are looking at. And you know it’s very French this idea of bad taste, good taste and it’s like erotic is elegant and refined and pornography not- well yeah, I’m not into that.

For me art is a little bit dirty in a way. I’m a painter with oil – I’m dirty all the time, and it’s part of the pleasure to have dirty fingers covered in paint that smell etc. But what is this vocabulary connected to? Sex. That’s why many painters paint nudity, sexuality & sex, because it’s very connected on a sensual level. We paint with our fingers, we take, we move, we touch, a material that is very close to the human body.

I’m not an erotic artist, I’m a painter, so of course, a part of my art is erotic, because the process of painting in itself is erotic. You can be aroused by painting a flower. You know you take this white, thick heavy paint, and mix with another colour and then suddenly you have this beautiful material, and it’s so sensory with the smell on your fingers. I mean, come on, that’s what we do when we have sex. Painting and having sex is not very different.

Maybe that’s very personal to me, but I really do feel that way. That’s why I’m very shy when I show my art, because I do it with all of my sensuality. It’s very animal almost, very primal. After all, we are brother and sister of cave painters. 

 

Madame Reve by Aurelie Galois
‘Madame Rêve’
A polyptych made of 7 oil paintings and pastel on cardboard, made for the group show “L’Enfer” curated by Olivier Masmonteil at Sabine Bayasli Gallery in Paris, December 21-January 22.

 

That’s partly why I took a little step back from filmmaking, because it felt very disconnected to my feelings. It required so much planning, it lost some of the raw emotion that makes making art beautiful. 

Yeah. It’s easier for me to write in a way, but after a week of writing, I miss painting so much. 

 

Do you find painting to be more emotionally exhausting than writing?

For sure. Because it’s so physical. Writing is more intellectual. Maybe painting and poetry are more close. Painting is more frustrating though, because I have an idea and I never, never do what I was planning to. Like I will start out wanting to paint something red and it’ll all turn out black. I’ve learnt to let the accidents come.

 

I completely agree with what you say about porn. I never understood the idea of ‘pornographic’ being used as a derogatory adjective. I never saw it as a bad thing, with negative connotations. It’s just different. 

Yeah. It’s easy to be so critical against porn, everyone hates porn, but everyone watches porn. It makes me laugh. It’s a shame because old porn movies were really great, beautiful movies, whereas a lot of the mainstream porn today is not well done.

People blame the porn industry for a lot of problems. But when you look at advertisements and the media, it’s all inspired by the porn industry. So it’s a bit contradictory. That’s not to say that there are not issues with the industry. I just dislike too much of a simplistic and snobbish boundary between pornography and eroticism. 

 

I don’t receive many uncomfortable reactions or censorship on my work, because I’m a painter. If I was a photographer or a filmmaker, it would be different, but painting, especially oil painting still has a very noble reputation.

 

 

With Sensuali, we’re trying to create a shame free community. I felt a lot of shame growing up for being sexual and even now when I make art, I sense that my family and friends are uncomfortable, did you ever feel that way?

There is an open mindedness that is growing in our society, but also there is a regression. I am lucky to be surrounded by people who are not very bothered by what I do. I don’t necessarily talk to my parents about sex a lot but shame was never in my childhood.

For example, last week, I was in Spain with my kids and my parents and my mum said ‘Oh you know, if me and your dad didn’t have any sexual life, I wouldn’t be with him anymore!’ And they’re in their 70s! But that openness helped me understand that sex is part of life.

What is more of a problem is men who think that I’m willing to do anything just because I paint erotic art. I don’t receive many uncomfortable reactions or censorship on my work, because I’m a painter. If I was a photographer or a filmmaker, it would be different, but painting, especially oil painting still has a very noble reputation. 

 

When I put my paintings in a box, it’s not because I feel ashamed or because I want to hide them, it’s because I love to see the look on the person’s face when they open the box and see this erotic scene inside.

 

 

 Yes, we were talking at Sensuali the other day about how Instagram censors nude photography but it doesn’t censor any drawn or animated nudes. And in an increasingly ‘ai generated’ world, what is really the difference between ‘real’ and ‘fake’?

Yeah, it’s stupid. Rarely do people say my work is disgusting or inappropriate, and that’s because it’s painting, so it’s ‘okay’ in the moral codes of our society. Also, because my works are very small. I think if my paintings were much bigger, people would be more offended.

I don’t want to make large paintings about that. I don’t find it erotic. That’s what I mean about ‘veiled and unveiled’, when I put my paintings in a box, it’s not because I feel ashamed or because I want to hide them, it’s because I love to see the look on the person’s face when they open the box and see this erotic scene inside.

I love to see the blushing, the surprise, the excitement. It’s intimate- because I’m very shy, I just can’t unleash myself in front of everyone. So that speaks about me- my art speaks about me. I wouldn’t paint those kind of topics in a big canvas. It would be shocking, but not interesting.

 

But yes, to do an arousing piece of art, it’s not easy. It’s like humour. It’s not easy to be funny, and it’s not easy to be erotic.

 

 

‘Music Box’ – erotic miniature

 

‘Good Boy’ – erotic miniature.

 

Livree 3 by Aurelie Galois
‘Livrée 3’ – erotic miniature

 

 

I want to arouse people, and it seems that I do. People have said to me ‘Oh my god, I had the best night last night, after I bought your painting.’ The other day, a couple came to my studio. The woman gave her boyfriend one of my miniature erotic boxes as a gift. They were so giddy and so in a rush to go back home, after that. I was so happy. I’m like a little sex healer!

But yes, to do an arousing piece of art, it’s not easy. It’s like humour. It’s not easy to be funny, and it’s not easy to be erotic. I do many little things, and a lot of them don’t work. You know that, because you’re a filmmaker. It’s about searching and trying to find out what will be erotic and arousing. 

 

Both things (humour and eroticism) require a lot of subtlety and measure I think. What would you say about today’s views on sex, the young generation‘s relationship with sex?

I’ve been thinking about that. I would say that sexuality is everywhere for sure, but I feel sad for a large part of the younger generation because I realise that they don’t have a real sexuality. I hope I’m wrong. I know many young people who don’t have a sexual life.

They are all about gender identity, which is great, but when I ask them about their sex life, they explain that they’re not into that- they’re more interested in friendship. They are against the idea that having a sexual life should be a requirement. And of course, it’s true that it’s not necessary, but like…it’s just better!

 

Well, exactly…sex is one of the best things in life! But yes I know that celibacy is a huge thing with young people right now. 

I mean a life without that is no life, right? Right now, on the surface it’s very liberated, you can show your breasts and wear a very short skirt, but when it comes to sexuality, I don’t see much real progress. I don’t see many new experiences or new adventures.

Maybe I’m wrong. I feel when I talk about my art, and the erotic side of my art, the younger generation are not interested at all. The gay population, yes a little. But most young people think it’s old fashioned. I question myself a lot about that.

I’m very close to Catherine Robbe-Grillet– a very famous dominatrix in France. She’s 92, an amazing woman. She’s so interesting, and such a beautiful soul with so much imagination. When I talk about her to younger people they are super shocked and appalled, which is very strange.

 In France we are very inspired by the U.S. and I guess it’s the same in London. In the U.S. I see that they live with their body, but there is nothing about sensuality. It’s a very un-sensual country. It’s about how your body looks. But nobody actually touches each other. There’s no instinct and no sensuality. For me sensuality is everything.

Thats why I’m a little bit worried for the young generation who are very much influenced by American culture. I think we’re in a moment of in-between: there is a beautiful new awareness and freedom that I love and probably many things about sexuality will unfold and will be amazing, but there is the opposite also at the same time. I think when society changes, that is always the case- there are two opposite movements.

 

Do you think that they do still feel sexual, but it’s inward, it’s more online and alone?

Yes, I think it’s still very important in their lives. They do it on their screens but it’s not the same. Like digital art- which is great but you don’t get the same vibration looking at an online Rembrandt compared to being in a museum.

It’s not the painting itself that interests me- it’s the fact that I’m standing in front of the real painting and I’m almost crying knowing that 400 years ago a person whose name was Rembrandt did this and now that same painting is right here.

That’s what’s important to me- you can really feel it. It’s the same with sexuality. We are human bodies and and we need to interact in reality. Not all the time- I love the way that internet multiplies experiences, but it doesn’t have to be a substitute.

It’s great to watch porn on your phone or whatever, but it will never replace a real kiss, a real hug, a real touch. That’s my fear. Though I don’t want to sound like an old reactionary person!

 

Even for me, I’m not part of the newest generation- I was born in the late 90s, but I felt like a lot of the American movies and tv shows that I watched growing up were sexual, but not sensual. There was something missing, and I almost didn’t properly understand or connect with sensuality until I saw the films of Catherine Breillat when I was around 19.

After that, I connected with my own sensuality so much more. But there’s less real sensuality in mainstream media now. I just hope that things don’t become even more like that.  

Exactly, sex is like food, it’s just part of life. I think we try to separate sexuality and sensuality from the rest of our lives, but it’s all intwined.

 

I don’t know if people can guess if my work is made by a woman. For me, nowadays when I look at a piece of art it’s hard to know, which I think is a good thing.

 

 

Yep. And whilst things are becoming more liberal on the surface, I also feel like a lot of the ‘sexual’ art I see nowadays on Instagram is not erotic. It’s like trendy illustrations of breasts that say ‘my body, my choice’ but there’s nothing about the piece that makes me feel something real. Do you know any erotic artists out there doing cool stuff?

Yes, I agree, so it’s hard to answer that. I see things that are very well done, very nice, but it’s…boring. It’s hard to define ‘erotic artists’ An erotic artist can be Frida Kahlo, I can find something she made way more sensual than actual ‘erotic art’. But living today…I like the South African Artist, Marlene Dumas, as well as my friend Sergio Bonilla. I also like the painters Christina Banban, Dora Jeridi and Victor Man.

 

Do you think that people can tell that your paintings are done by a woman?

Excellent question, I don’t know. 

 

I like your picture, ‘Arborescence’ with the woman with something between her legs that she’s lay on – for me that one seems as though it’s done by a woman, because that’s a physical feeling that women know so well. 

 

Arborescence by Aurelie Galois
‘Arborescence’ (2018).

 

That’s what I try to express. How a woman feels in her body. I remember I had an interview with this guy who was trying to push me into a corner, telling me that I’m not a feminist because I show women giving a blowjob or whatever.

I was like ‘Are you kidding me?  It’s very different because it’s a woman who did it. For centuries only men did. I told him that the painting was my body.’ – then he was blushing. But it’s different because I am showing what I find erotic and what makes me feel sexual. So that’s different, as for centuries erotic art was made by men.

I don’t know if people can guess if my work is made by a woman. For me, nowadays when I look at a piece of art it’s hard to know, which I think is a good thing. But if you can see my feminine identity in my work, that’s good.

Although sometimes I think my approach is more masculine in a way because I love to capture a body in pieces, like close-up details of parts of the body, which is a typically more masculine approach.

 

I love the close-ups of yours.  I guess it can be taken as a bit objectifying when a man approaches eroticism like that, but I think it’s kind of different when a woman does it that way.

This has been such an interesting conversation, I’ve seen many new and thoughtful perspectives from what you’ve said, so thank you Aurélie. One last question. In a world more sexually liberated, how do you see the future of erotic art?

I would love that the censorship decreases. The group erotic art show that I’m part of every year, has lost so much of its financing since when it started 10 years ago. Because eroticism has become almost more stigmatised, he’s lost so many sponsors and the mayor of Paris doesn’t give him any more money, so he’s struggling a lot.

And in auctions there is much less erotic art, which is a little bit surprising. When I did a show of my jewellery boxes, I invited 22 writers to pick their favourite box and to write about it.

It was amazing to receive all this text – poetry, essays, all different. All of them told me, ‘As writers we love to write erotic scenes, but our publishers tell us not to because it’s hard to sell.’ And even for me, I sell my erotic stuff but directly, not through galleries etc. So I think as artists, we need to fight for that. 

 

Interview
erotic-art
erotica
Feminism
Iso

Iso

Author

Iso is a writer and filmmaker based in East London. She is passionate about all things erotic and leads a sexy, shame-free life in hope that she can inspire others to do the same. Originally from a Northern seaside town, she is naturally drawn to the best things in life: candyfloss, trashy karaoke bars and heart-shaped sunglasses.


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