Liberatore

NBM Publishing/Eurotica

$39.99, color, 168 pages

Artist: Le Donne

My wife and I joke when we're in a restaurant where all the waitresses look vaguely alike, we know what the manager's wife probably looked like 20 years ago. That is to say, whoever hires these girls definitely finds one type of "look" especially attractive.

You find that in pornography, too, and sometimes it's uncomfortable. Such was the case with Le Donne's Liberatore, at least for me.

This is a book of studies on the female form, usually in a state of undress, arousal and/or sex acts sufficient to call it pornography. And it is very accomplished: Le Donne, familiar to Americans through Ran Xerox, is an excellent illustrator, and shows proficiency in a wide array of techniques, from charcoal to wash.

The text, what there is of it, describes what Le Donne is attempting here as demonstrating female power and self-assurance. Arguably, that may be so, especially if you mean in the sense of a woman taking charge of her own sexuality. I can see that, intellectually.

But viscerally, I was often appalled. Because, like the manager of a restaurant who hires only a certain type of waitress, Le Donne gravitates to a certain type of image that makes me cringe. And that is one that involves extreme bondage or cruelty, often self-inflicted, often to the breasts.

Now, I'll be the first to say that sex/sexuality is a huge continuum; that it's likely different in the head of each human being. And some may argue that such scenes are in keeping with the artist's avowed intent, or that they are fully within the parameters described by the other images, albeit at the extreme end. And I try to be liberal in my acceptance of what others enjoy, even if I don't enjoy those things myself.

But I honestly found myself dreading the turn of each page. To follow a mildly arousing image of a pretty girl posing coyly with an image of pretty girl hanging by her nipples from hooks abruptly turns pleasure to nausea.

Further, these images don't appear all that often, and are outnumbered by other images nowhere near that kind or purpose. And you could probably make an argument that a group of this images or that suggest another kind of story. For example, when men appear, usually only their penises are visible -- so we could make a judgment that Le Donne holds men in contempt, reducing them to their sex organs. But that would be unfair, I believe, because it's really unlikely that was his intent. What I'm saying is that it's just that easy to make a wrong assumption when approaching a book like this, or to conjure up a meaning based on one's own perspective not meant by the artist, and I don't mean to paint Le Donne as some sort of brutal thug simply because I find those images of extreme bondage repellant. Like with art of all kinds, these images will have different meaning for different viewers.

But the appearance of a particular kind of Image I don't like ruined this work for me. And, while those images weren't in the majority, they happened often enough that I was reminded of the restaurant manager story. Clearly, Le Donne is comfortable imagining and drawing acts I can't even bring myself to observe. Creating disturbing images is perfectly within Le Donne's purview as an artist; some would argue it's in the job description. But as a viewer I make choices, too, and had I been forewarned, I would have chosen to not experience these images.

But, as I say, everyone is different. Perhaps you will have a different reaction.  I've described my reaction, and why I had it, so -- like with sex, like with art -- you're free to make your own choices.

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