Artist Blog

Julie Verhoeven's 'Whiskers Between My Legs'

An update of the 1974 book 'The Joy of Sex'
Julie Verhoeven
It was on Sky Arts last night (29/07/2015), a documentary about a fashion illustrator turned punk artist called Julie Verhoeven. Think of Grayson Perry with real tits. She was asked by the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts) to produce a video that was a modern take on the illustrations of 'The Joy of Sex' which was published in 1974. The book was like the Kama Sutra, showing lots of different positions for sex and giving a few handy (oh no) tips on an adventurous sex life for a vanilla hetero couple.

Fast forward forty years. I liked Julie. I thought her shyness was appealing and her multi-coloured hair and makeup was strangely beguiling. But her art was, well, almost as vulgar and reductionist as Sarah Lucas's brutal 'Two fried eggs and a kebab' in 1994 and 'Bunny gets snookered' in 1997. Julie had body parts (huge hairy vulvas mostly) made up out of fabrics and stuffing, like cushions and fastened onto a naked model. Julie had a fixation with hairiness. Was it the old lesbian assertion of femaleness through insistence on hairy arm pits and hairy legs? I'm not sure. She said it was a negative reaction to the shaved hairlessness of porn starlets. I'm not convinced. To me it shouted a pre-pubescent horror of the arrival of pubic hair and a kind of grossing out on it in a vain effort to come to terms with the process of growing up.

There was a strong element of comedy. A cartoon of a personification of a penis showed it tripping up and falling splat on the ground. There was no celebration of virility here (come on girls, he's no use if he can't keep it up), no enjoyment of sex (remember 'The Joy of Sex'), no affirmation of the importance of sex in making women happy. I can only think that this reflects Julie's own repressed view of sex. Julie said on the programme that her film reflected her personal anger at the male attitude to sex. Perhaps she should get a better lover...