Fetish Art Comes Out of the Shadows at TASCHEN

Today, sexuality is everywhere in society, from suggestive Hardee’s ads to basically the entire internet. But in mid-century America, it was still taboo to create media and art about sex. Which is why it’s important to reconsider two late masters of fetish art, Elmer Batters and Eric Stanton, who led parallel lives on the fringes, from their career peaks in the 1960s until they both passed away in the late ’90s.

  • Installation view of “Bizarre Life – The Art of Elmer Batters & Eric Stanton,” courtesy of TASCHEN

    Installation view of “Bizarre Life – The Art of Elmer Batters & Eric Stanton,” courtesy of TASCHEN

A new show at TASCHEN’s gallery in Los Angeles, “Bizarre Life,” couches the two as perhaps the most important figures in early fetish art history. The show is loaded with work—over 200 pieces—that places both Batters and Stanton in dialogue with other significant artists of the era, such as Allen Jones, whose infamous Hatstand, Table, and Chair (1969)—furniture made from mannequins of submissive women—greets you in the center of the gallery. In fact, Jones credited Stanton, who was often referred to as the “father of fetish art” and who helped cartoonist Steve Ditko conceive the superhero Spider-Man, with being an inspiration.

Yet Stanton’s work is quite the opposite of Jones’s in that Stanton mainly depicted dominant women. He constructed his “facesitting” series, which lines the wall in the front gallery, by searching for the perfect images in men’s magazines that featured women in kneeling positions that would allow him to paint in men being smothered underneath their pelvises. Elsewhere, Forced to Please (1968) features two women whipping a half-dressed man in the snow, while Man Maulers (1968) depicts two women beating on a sailor while his shipmates look on in horror. 

  • Installation view of “Bizarre Life – The Art of Elmer Batters & Eric Stanton,” courtesy of TASCHEN

    Installation view of “Bizarre Life – The Art of Elmer Batters & Eric Stanton,” courtesy of TASCHEN

Batters’s work was no less sexual, but featured a much more detailed view of the female form: particularly feet and stockinged legs. In 1970, he met Caruschka, a buxom woman with whom he developed a long working relationship. He would work with publishers or self-publish magazines full of lascivious foot fetish photography, called things like Legs that Dance to Elmer’s Tune, Succulent Toes Magazine, and Leg Art, whose tagline was “From the Tip of the Toes to the Top of the Hose.” 

  • Installation view of “Bizarre Life – The Art of Elmer Batters & Eric Stanton,” courtesy of TASCHEN

    Installation view of “Bizarre Life – The Art of Elmer Batters & Eric Stanton,” courtesy of TASCHEN

What’s most astonishing is the realization that Stanton and Batters led remarkably similar lives. Both served in the armed forces during World War II; both stood trial in the 1960s under censorship or related charges, and both ended up creating work for Dian Hanson—now the Sexy Book editor at TASCHEN—during her time as editor at Leg Show magazine late in their lives.

—Maxwell Williams

Bizarre Life – The Art of Elmer Batters & Eric Stanton” is on view at TASCHEN, Los Angeles, Mar. 27–May 24, 2015.

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