Monday, August 7, 2017

[Repost] Artist notes: Blotch

I've skipped a few updates as I've been much busier than expected with preparations for Eurofurence 2017 - sorry about that, I'm already writing the next few entries so the blog will update regularly while I'm off to the convention. Meanwhile a fan who wishes to remain anonymous has provided me some interesting hard data regarding an old entry on my other blog, and since the entry sits well with the topic of this blog I'm reposting it here with an update.

"Blotch" is the pseudonym used by anthro artists Kenket (Tess Garman) and BlackTeagan (Teagan Gavet) during their very fruitful collaboration period which ran from 2006 to 2014. As a general rule BlackTeagan was responsible for the linework and Kenket for the coloring which was usually watercolors. Kenket has since become an extremely skilled painter while BlackTeagan is focusing on comics and ink drawing.

For simplicity I will refer to Blotch as a male since that's the gender of the fictional character they established as the author of the pictures, a male anthro leopard.

Even though the two artists already had some visibility on their own, Blotch appeared on the furry fandom scene out of nowhere and quickly rose to become one of the most popular furry artists of the late 2000s and early 2010s, if not the most popular. This led to quite a lot of controversy as he was the first highly skilled artist to feature anatomically correct genitals on characters - and quite prominently so.

Big Bad Wolf, 2008

If this had been only a distasteful gimmick it would have died out quickly. Porn sells, but not consistently and certainly not for the price tags which have been consistently associated with Blotch's art. In spite of silly internet myths there is only so much that impulse buying can do.

Blotch's art has been dismissed as mere porn by some anthro fans unwilling to admit that erotic artwork could be a credit to the genre, but it has other qualities which make it stand out as iconic anthro art, well worth of being presented as one of the most important achievements in our little genre.

Speaking of Love, 2010

Blotch's erotic art in particular could come across as kitschy because of its open sentimentality, but I would argue that that's a superficial impression and that the novelty of what it tries to express about same-sex relationships experienced by young people is more important than such academic criticism.

Does sex in art need to feel problematic, failed, overwhelmingly physical and/or openly political all the time? One would think so looking at the works of recognized masters of erotic art. I'll be using male gay artists as an example here just because Blotch's subjects are mostly male-on-male love scenes, but the situation is pretty much the same for all flavors of erotic art. There are notable exceptions like Tom Bianchi or Charles Demuth, but in most cases, from Tom of Finland to Gengoroh Tagame, from Robert Mapplethorpe to Harry Bush, power relationships are the most common underlying theme. Dominance, submission and hardcore physical sensations seem to dominate, and so does (in Western artists at least) a visual language which acknowledges and openly encourages political readings.

On the other end of the erotic gay art spectrum yaoi art leans towards more romantic tones, but power relationships are still a very prominent theme. My impression has always been that same-sex relationships are inexorably associated with unease and power struggles in contemporary art, even if only in the imagination, whether the art in question is aimed to a male, female, gay or straight audience.

And yet Blotch's art has seduced the furry audience by focusing on something else entirely: playfulness and day to day affection.

5 More Minutes, 2008

In spite of their idealized settings the best works of Blotch are gay slice-of-life art, and not of the absurdly contrived kind brought forward by some other furry artists. It is slice-of-life in that it attempts to capture ordinary moments of affection. Any couple of lovers with an open mind and an appreciation for animals and nature can't help but smile in front of the simple and yet hard to express truths found in those images.

Don't Stop, 2014

One has to look at Far East art from centuries ago such as Ukiyo-e or Indian sacred art in order to consistently find similar light-hearted portrayals of male-on-male sexuality.

Surge, 2011

This, I believe, is why Blotch's pictures have reached iconic status in furry art even though most of them depict unnamed characters rather than specific fursonas as is usually the case in the commission dominated furry art market. Such pictures clearly answered a need for representation that a huge number of furries shared. Sentimentality is not a flaw if it's brought out where it had been unjustly excluded and underestimated before.

And again, genuinely positive depictions of sex in art are so rare that they certainly cannot be considered a stale subject.

Minimum Security Prison, 2011

In dog we thrust, 2007

Penis party, 2013

Even Blotch's more whimsical pieces are full of the same playfulness and positivity which are the hallmark of good erotic anthro art. Whatever the subject an observer always gets the feeling that the characters are having a great time no matter their exact relationship to each other (or lack thereof), and that sincere feelings are never entirely absent from the sexual act.

Will this kind of art ever be recognized as the achievement it is outside of the anthro art niche? It's hard to tell, because even inside its niche there are people who would never take erotic art at more than face value. But I really hope it will, because what anthro artists like Blotch have done really is new and interesting in the landscape of Western art.

The new data that has been brought to my attention was gathered to test my statement that Blotch was the first highly skilled furry artist to regularly draw characters with animal penises. Quoting the author:
To that end I've queried the amount of images with anthro characters with and without anatomically correct genitals from e621 by year using the following tag queries: "anthro -feral 2000" and so on until 2017 for the totals, and "anthro -feral animal_genitalia 2000" and so on to calculate the percentage of anatomically correct image, and then graphed the result.

The graph turned out to be very noisy, so in order to reduce noise and better match the nature of Blotch's images I've tried again with queries "anthro -feral penis 2000" for the totals and then "anthro -feral animal_penis 2000" and "anthro -feral humanoid_penis 2000" to get the percentages, plus variants with "-blotch" appended to exclude potential skew from large amount of pictures by Blotch.

The results are very interesting: up until 2006 tag "animal_penis" makes up for at about 10% of images with "penis", in 2007-2008 Blotch single-handedly accounts for 1% of all images with "penis" on e621, and starting with 2009 the use of "animal_penis" tag skyrockets and almost doubles over the course of two years, where it remains until now with some statistical noise.

I have attached the LibreOffice spreadsheet "blotch_hypothesis" to this email so you can inspect the graphs for yourself.

It is hard to tell what social dynamics this shift corresponds to; this could be more artists adopting the realistic anatomy, or the public opinion on it shifting so that people started uploading more of such images to e621, or something else entirely. Galleries like FA would be a more reliable source, but sadly they lack a unified tag structure which makes such queries are impossible, and FA doesn't provide even basic statistics as far as I can tell.

To put the 1% figure in perspective I've also graphed the amount of explicit images on e621 by creation year, with breakdown by body type (anthro/feral/both) using queries like "anthro -feral rating:e 2000", and the results were quite unexpected to me: 2010 is when the amount of explicit art starts increasing exponentially. In fact, e621 lists as many images created in 2013 as all of the years from 2000 to 2010 combined. After 2013 it seems to taper off and exhibit linear but still rapid growth. The data and graphs can be found in the attached "anthro_feral_totals" file.

Given that Blotch took 2-3 years to reach the peak of his popularity I think the data is consistent enough with my hypothesis that Blotch first popularized anthros with animal penises, albeit that was based just on personal observation of the fandom's trends and dynamics. Up until four or five years ago it was relatively easy to tell who the handful most influential furry artists were and how much they were influencing the scene. I used to draw animal genitalia on anthros myself in some istances, like in my weird comics from 2002-2005, but all other instances I had seen came from other experimenting low profile artists like myself or from zoophile artists.

Blotch was the first to dare venturing into that territory while developing a "furry mainstream" style which was guaranteed to appeal to most of the fandom. I'm convinced that it was an intentional and carefully planned move they made in order to create a new trend with which their art would be promptly associated and which was guaranteed to cause a sensation - they saw that a good deal of the fandom was fascinated with the idea of exotic genitals but was too afraid of bestiality allegations to openly admit it. With the work of one of the topmost furry artists backing their curiosity though it quickly became a non-issue for most fans.

Another factor which contributed to the popularity of animal genitals from 2009 onward was certainly the founding of the highly successful Bad Dragon sex toys company in 2008, yet I'm quite convinced that the striking success of Blotch was a premise to the whole trend.

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