From D-Rex vs Triceracocks to Mr. Bearbottom, Christopher Adam Gray shares his whimsical exploration of sex positive concepts and figurative art with Perks Magazine.
How did you discover your artistic interests?
I discovered drawing at a very young age, four or five, I think. One of the first things I remember drawing was a Ninja Turtle action figure that I used as a model. As I grew up my interest moved from spaceships to cartoons then onto comic books. Drawing the X-Men and Spiderman taught me figurative art so when I started taking college art classes, I quickly fell in love with figure drawing. Working from life was a whole new world and I have remained obsessed with figurative art ever since.
How have they evolved?
While I have remained fascinated with the human figure for a long time, my approach to making figurative art has evolved dramatically over the years. For a long time, making art for me meant drawing with a pencil. As I was exposed to more mediums in art school, my work evolved accordingly. Eventually I began studying oil painting, which took over my art entirely for over a decade.
As an oil painter, I attempted to merge techniques from across the ages into cohesive figurative paintings with deep colours and rich textures. But once I graduated from Art school I found my portfolio — which was almost entirely nudes — was highly frowned upon in the real world. Locals in my hometown regarded my oil paintings as inappropriate for public display. These pieces weren’t even remotely pornographic, but people considered a 23-year-old man trying to exhibit nudes cringeworthy.
I lived in a small town in New England at the time (a land settled by puritans) so the churchgoing folk were quick to turn their noses at anything out of the norm. I tried pointing out that the Vatican Museum is full of nudes, but my claims fell on deaf ears. (Seriously though, the Vatican is full of drawings, paintings, and sculptures of naked people, including exposed penises, but I’m out of line for trying to paint a nipple!)
Over the next decade I shifted to clothed figures and did some of the best work of my career, but failed to get much traction. I felt I couldn’t make the art that was in my heart. I still managed to rack up a lot of exhibitions and scored a ‘Best in Show’ award at a juried competition with an oil portrait, but the magic just wasn’t there. Slowly I started painting less and less until I just stopped.
During this decade, I had started working as a Disk Jockey at strip clubs in Portland, Oregon. It’s kind of crazy the impact this environment had on my work. Understanding sex work and being in an environment with such powerful sex-positive women gave me a sort of confidence I never could have had otherwise. This confidence ultimately translated to a much greater sense of freedom when making art, and I left oil paint behind in favour of digital painting and printmaking.
Most recently I have been developing my sculpture skills, so you can look forward to a new series of 3D pieces soon.
What themes are you drawn to in your art and is there a story behind them?
In many ways, my art is an investigative tool I use to explore subjects and themes, while serving as a sort of social experiment where I get to study the reactions and opinions of the viewers.
I stumbled upon erotic art by accident while DJing at a Portland Strip Club. The dancers would exchange stacks of their ones for larger bills, with little stick-it notes identifying whose money it was. On slow nights, I would draw silly little pics of dicks and buttholes and all kinds of ridiculous creatures made from genitals and such. The dancers got a kick out of it and started collecting the little drawings. One girl even got a photo album to store and display her collection. At that point I was like, ‘Hmmm; I might be onto something…’
I started doing larger and larger drawings which people seemed to love. I did this drawing of a penis puppy wagging its lil’ penis tail and I received more praise for that damned 8.5” x 11” graphite drawing than I had for any of my serious oil paintings. This horrified and delighted me. I decided to see how deep the rabbit hole went and started painting again.
Over the next few years my work would swing back and forth from totally ridiculous to deeply positive explorations of sexuality and acceptance. Once I started working in this way, I shifted to digital painting and experienced my own personal renaissance. Art had become fun again and I was able to work fearlessly thanks to the support I received from the community of sex workers who helped me discover my voice. On the side, I love painting, drawing and sculpting portraits of dogs and cats.
How do people respond to your work?
My work elicits a wide range of responses from people, mostly positive, but there are always those folks who are easily offended, and those sorts of people have sent me threats and condemnations (mostly from Christians).
I have found women generally receive my work more positively than men. A man’s reaction can give me an immediate read on how comfortable that man is with his sexuality. It honestly cracks me up!
I had one guy looking at D-Rex vs Triceracocks and he only saw the dinosaurs. This really tripped me out. His subconscious rejected the subject so entirely he couldn’t see they were penis dinosaurs with penis toes and fucking dick veins all over them. This dude’s mind shielded itself from my art and I’m pretty proud of that.
For the most part, people react well to my work, even if they are a little weirded out by subjects like pegging, analingus or William Shatner’s fat dick.
What difficulties have you encountered marketing ‘adult’ content?
Oh my, where do I begin?! Social media is a critical part of B art in the modern age. Unfortunately, the only social media platform friendly to erotic art is Twitter, which is an absolute garbage dump.
Facebook and Instagram are about as prudish as it gets when it comes to censoring non-violent imagery, making them risky platforms to devote any time towards. At one point my Instagram had several thousand followers, but it was deleted without warning for violating their community guidelines. I have been shadow-banned ever since. Facebook would be much more comfortable with me using their platforms to promote dangerous misinformation, fascist ideals, and political violence instead of sex-positive figurative paintings.
As a result, it is quite challenging to promote sexually themed art, especially here in America where the religious minority wields a disturbing amount of cultural power. An erotic artist’s best bet is to build their own website with an online store and promote through that, while showing in as many exhibitions as possible.
How has the pandemic affected this?
The pandemic impacted this in every way possible! Three weeks into lockdown my Instagram got deleted, so I lost my primary online outreach to my fans and supporters. There were no live art exhibitions for years, so my whole art career began to wither and fade just as I was beginning to emerge into the wider art world. It was crippling!
My then partner and I ended up surviving using OnlyFans until things started to open back up in Spring of 2021. As a result, I had to become proficient in photography, videography, editing and adult content production (including performing).
Now-a-days I am focused on sculpture. I have been joyously preparing a new body of work with hope to begin exhibiting again in early 2023. While the pandemic had a severe impact on my ability to promote and exhibit, I was able to use that time to develop new skills and abilities. This has allowed my work to continue evolving in exciting new ways for years to come.
What sort of people buy/exhibit your work and where?
The kink, fetish and sex worker communities have been very supportive of my work. They helped give me the confidence to exhibit my art in some of the largest shows in the world. While I am very proud of exhibiting multiple times in the Seattle Erotic Art Festival and Dirty Detroit, my newer body of work will also be shown locally in Portland, in regional nude-friendly group exhibitions.
Occasionally you will find my work in juried competitions across the country. I like to troll galleries with Andy Warhol-style paintings of hand jobs, drawings of penis fingers and the occasional Metallica album cover repainted with a dick-centric theme, so every once in a while, my work will get into an otherwise tasteful art show and turn some heads.
Is there anything you’d like people to know about you or your work?
I have done many commissions over the years. From deeply personal images to the silliest of paintings, I am happy to bring my patron’s ideas to life. I encourage anybody interested in commissioning a painting or sculpture to reach out to me with their ideas.
Where can people find your work or learn more about what you do?
I am working on a brand-new website with an online store at www.grayspace.art. You can view art from across my entire career and find a range of prints available for direct purchase. You can also follow me on Instagram @chihuahua_valhalla. (This account is very PG compared to my website, but you can keep up-to-date on all the cute shit my dog does).