In the southern hemisphere it feels timely to be offering “images of spring” – or in Japanese – “Shunga”, the long tradition of erotic drawing and printmaking to which Aiko Robinson’s works belong. For this has surely been a “winter of discontent” – shaped profoundly by the twin forces of Covid and the ugly intrusion of radical conservatism into the heart of what has proven to be, a disturbingly fragile enlightenment.
Shakespeare’s metaphorical proposition as to the opportunity that seasonal change nurtures, especially when aided and abetted by the systemic purging of political opposition, finds unlikely but disturbing currency with #45 and his mad assertion that with the sun (of York) “it will all just go away”.
The restraints imposed by the pandemic remind us that even in dark times, where our freedoms feel held in check by policies of social distance and for many a benign version of “house arrest”, that we remain free to travel in our minds. As Vivienne Westwood, amongst others, has said “the most erotic zone is the imagination” and it is this to this fantasy and invention that Aiko Robinson happily turns to in her work.
Though Aiko would doubtless enjoy Shakespeare’s own admonition to “graze on my lips; and if those hills be dry, stray lower, where the pleasant fountains lie”, it is to the traditions of Japan and not to those of the West – and certainly not to Christian iconography that she turns – entangled its own confusion of sex with original sin and the moral abashment that accompanies images of it.
Robinson’s works continue a heritage and attitude of a more functional sexuality. Compared with the idealised treatment of the nude in Greco-Roman traditions, the Japanese nude has a curious, inflated candour to it where images of domestic “bliss” are equally about the setting, the weave of the materials, the style and drape of the clothing, even the architecture. There is also a “great out-doors” opportunity that often is afforded to Aiko’s characters. To be a swinger in Robinson’s portfolio might actually mean “from the branches” as her figures often find themselves copulating on high. But whatever setting she gives them they appear to be fucking for fun and for love, not under the coercions of pornography, nor indeed the female subservience of Titian et.al. or even the psychological unease of Balthus. Robinson’s figures appear consensual. There is union in their sexual reciprocity – and balance and harmony in their place in nature.
But aside from the obvious allure of Robinson’s knowing and welcome voyeurism, it is her capacity to fold her exquisite facility with a revitalised approach to the long lineage of shunga. Robinson’s drawings don’t simply leverage the look of their ukiyo-e precedents rather they acknowledge as American psychologist, Timothy Leary did that “intelligence is the ultimate aphrodisiac” and that her appeal is as much to our minds as it is elsewhere…
Andrew Jensen, August 2020