Sex Stories: Art From Porn by Zak Smith

Editor Shenyah Webb, Editor's Choice, December 3rd, 2015

"One step closer to breaking the stigma of sex on film."

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“Sex Stories” is a regular NAILED column in which all kinds of people write and/or make art about sex.

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Punk artist Zak Smith or alias porno star Zak “Sabbath,” has fused his two realities together with vibrant renderings that expose the seedy underbelly of the alt-porn industry. Many of the models for his images are women he’s met through porn, his work reflecting scenes one might encounter in a typical (or not so typical) adult film.

In trying to understand and relate to Zak and his intriguing perspective to the work he produces, I read many interviews and reviews. I found him to be a pretty fascinating dude, not to mention rad. This is a man who tattoos all preexisting medical conditions of his partner (who suffers from Ehlers–Danlos syndrome) on his right forearm so when they have to talk to EMTs or if they have to fill out medical paperwork, it’s all there. A man who, after working a series of unfulfilling jobs, managed to put himself through Yale to receive his MFA. A man who creates magnificent art that’s inspired by sex, which he happens to love a lot. A whole lot. Making art is his second-favorite thing and sex, his favorite.

Most of the interesting insights that I found into Zak came straight from him, and people asking just the right questions. But I did find a ton of write-ups that seemed supportive of his art on the surface but contained statements such as, “He successfully converts the beautiful grotesqueness of porn into an emotion worthy of being projected…” This bothered me. To me, this insinuates that the grotesque industry of porn isn’t emotion worthy, but when transformed into art, it suddenly is. Hmm. Sounds like a very manipulative way of passing judgement on something that many people don’t quite understand, pornography. The act, the will, the motive, the grit. I get it, it’s a pretty crazy industry that can be contaminated, or not. Either way, not worthy of emotion unless transformed into art?

I realized that many of the porn-biased critics were also collectors or “Art Extraodinaires,” whatever the fuck that means. I’m not talking about the type of collector that truly appreciates the artwork or the artist, but those who only see the value, the value in dollar bills. Hanging to impress or storing away, to collect dust and more value, or so they hope. Let’s call this specific type of collector a “buyer.” Buyers purchase what Zak refers to as “Serious Art,” art that will give them status and credit and they will be taken seriously. Quite possibly the same type of person who believes that the only emotional worth in porn is when it’s turned into expensive art. I imagine the buyer puckered like a little asshole to the mere thought of fucking on film, or maybe they have a private collection secretly stashed away in storage with that painting they bought. Either way, it gives financial freedom to amazing talented artists such as Zak Smith to do what they love; art and sex. And perhaps it’s one step closer to breaking the stigma of sex on film.

The following galley of images are courtesy of Fredericks & Freiser in New York City.

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zak smith bio photo sex art nailed magazineZak Smith is a painter and writer whose art books include Pictures of Girls (Distributed Art Publishers, 2005), Pictures Showing What Happens on Each Page of Thomas Pynchon’s Novel Gravity’s Rainbow (Tin House books, 2006) and We Did Porn: Memoir and Drawings (Tin House Books, 2009). He is a frequent contributor to several independent comics and zines, including Paping and See How Pretty, See How Smart. His work has appeared in numerous publications worldwide, and appears in many private and public collections including the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum. He lives in Los Angeles, where he works as an artist and performs in adult films. He is represented by Fredericks & Freiser Gallery in New York City.

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Shenyah Webb

Shenyah Webb is a Portland-based visual artist and musician. She has been with NAILED Magazine since its inception in 2012 and has served as the Arts Editor and a Contributing Editor since its launch in 2013. A Detroit native, she attended The College for Creative Studies, where she focused on Fine Art and Industrial Design. She is currently enrolled in a Somatic Expressive Arts Education and Therapy training program, studying under Lanie Bergin. You can learn more about Shenyah here. (Shenyah.com)