Just Me

Published on 11 November 2023 at 08:01

Medium : Watercolor on Paper

Date : 2022


This week's blog features an image of a male figure set against a stark white background. The figure's pale-yellow hue sharply contrasts with the white of the paper, immediately drawing the viewer's eye. Adorned with two pink clouds—one at the lips and another at the genital area—the figure blurs the lines between masculinity and femininity, imparting a universal appeal to the image. Outlined in bold black, the figure has several breaks in the line, introducing a dynamic energy. This deliberate choice invites viewers to interpret the image in diverse ways, allowing for a sense of freedom and personal connection.

Just me

Let's examine the two openings, each tinted in pink, at either end of the body. These pink-hued areas could represent both Mars and Venus, symbolizing the simplest forms of gender identity inherent in all of us. As Roberta Smith, the art critic for The New York Times, once noted, truly connecting with the emotions conveyed in art requires us to be in touch with the masculine and feminine feelings that coexist within each individual.

Wisdom and Children

Over the years, I've often heard people say that my artwork, devoid of overt sexual themes, is primarily suitable for children. 'Add more sex to your pictures!' is a common suggestion. Yet, one of my pieces subtly suggests the theme of sex, perhaps embodying both Venus and Mars within a single figure. 'Venus and Mars Combined' might even be a more fitting title. This artwork could also be interpreted as telling a story.

What I've realized through my interactions is that children may not be as naive as many adults assume. When I engage in conversations with children, showing a willingness to listen, they often express their feelings with surprising depth and clarity.

Wisdom from my own early sex life

I recall a time in my childhood when my neighbor Susie and I, both about 5 years old and latch-key kids, formed a close bond. We had sex every afternoon. Our days were filled with innocent play, often emulating the roles of adults as we understood them, a game of 'mommy and daddy,' inspired by the world around us. Each day after school, I would bring her a large cookie as a token of our friendship. When my mother noticed the cookies disappearing, she would ask, “Where are all the cookies going?" I said, "I don't know." Yes, I knew.

Almost ten years later, Susie and I were in the same Sunday School class, facing a collective push to pledge lifelong abstinence from alcohol. Among our class of twenty, we were the only two who chose not to commit to the pledge.

Sex at the Exhibition Plus

At an exhibition of soft sculpture and children's books in 1975, I was told to cover up one pedestal pasted with photos from porno magazines. However, when the group of 20 kids ages 4 to 6 from a day-school from the Upper West Side in New York came into this very large L- shaped room, some boys ran to the first sculpture of a figure, separated the legs and said wildly and happily, "Is this a man or a woman?" Then they ran to a large vegetable-type sculpture sewed in black velvet and shouted, grabbing two pieces of the sculpture, "Are these black cocks?" At a day school I visited in Tribeca, a 4-year-old nibbling on her tortellini humped her back and said to the boy on the next mat, "C'mon over. I'll show you how to do it."

Wisdom from a Babe

I had a friend who had just turned seven. She stood on a footstool at the sink, busily washing pots and pans. Glancing over at her mom and me, who were sipping coffee at the table, she asked, “Why is it that when you talk about other artists, their art seems so bad, and yours so good?”

At eight, she remarked, "I don't know how to tell you this, but... you're commercializing too much. Your earlier work was much more subtle. This new work? It's too easy to see through!"

Later, commenting on a new book, she observed, "Each of your pictures is a chapter. Every detail is clear. The more time I spend with them, the more I see that each picture has a beginning, a middle, and an end."

As she grew up, she became a remarkably successful lawyer.

Kissing at age 6 and my wisdom

When I was six, my mom caught me kissing some girls on the street. She said, “If you keep kissing those girls, you won't have enough love left for me!” I remember thinking, “She knows nothing about love. Love isn't like a cup that empties. We don't kiss at home, but it feels nice.”

On another occasion, I asked her why I had to be spanked every night after supper. Her response was, “Everyone likes you. This is the antidote.”

Summary of these anecdotes with a Future

In sharing these anecdotes, my aim is to reveal the unique perspectives on sex and wisdom from the viewpoints of various children, including my younger self. My wisdom, rooted in childhood, has evolved with life's experiences. I believe this wisdom, often unconsciously, permeates my creative work, be it in books or paintings.

When the renowned Castelli Gallery in New York took an interest in my soft sculptures, they also discovered my first children's books. Their advice was clear: “This is where your money is." They were right. Following their guidance, I expanded my book collection.


Currently, my multimedia manager is digitizing and re-coloring these works, encompassing both the half-dozen published titles and an equal number of new ones. We are making progress, now focusing on the third book in the planned series of twelve. (For more information, see amazon.com/childrens-books by Jay Els.)


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