Fleurotica : The art formerly known as

 Fleurotica: The art formerly known as Pornage

pornage butterfly

An idea came to me during one of our hikes on the Lost Man Trail, which winds through a high mountain meadow on Independence Pass. Noticing the goldenrod growing at my feet, I knelt down to look more closely. Suddenly I saw it comprised of hundreds of tiny golden rods— a profusion of sexuality. All the wildflowers were doing what they were designed to do—they were shamelessly displaying their private parts.

Going through town, on the way home, I got five copies of Playgirl magazine, went into my studio and tried to recreate what I had envisioned. I was particularly motivated because the piece I was imagining would make a perfect going-away gift for some close friends of mine, a very sexual couple, who were planning to move to the West Coast that fall.

I showed them the goldenrod piece I was working on and told them it was going to be a gift for them. “We can’t accept this,” they said. “This is a whole new art form.” So I made a simpler piece and gave it to them at their farewell party. Thus Pornage was born.

I did a whole series of wildflowers created out of body parts cut from magazines—Playboy, Penthouse, Hustler. I found flower names with risqué double entendres by looking through botanical reference materials: Goldenrod Erecta, Rosy Pussytoes, Hooker’s Evening Primrose, Red Clintonia, Hooded Ladies’ Tresses, Beavertail Cactus, Tufted Vetch, Shaggy Tuft. Replicating the actual appearance of each flower was an incredible challenge.

I painstakingly cut out part of an image from the same page of fifteen, maybe twenty copies of the same magazine. From a distance, the finished collages looked like color photographs of specific wildflowers. When I realized that the magazines were actually my palette, providing the color and texture, I drove down to Glenwood Springs to buy multiple copies of month-old magazines from the distributor. It didn’t matter to me that the covers had been removed to prevent resale. The guy there said, “Where are you from? I’m dying to know what you’re going to do with all of these.”

“I’m from Aspen,” I answered.

“Oh,” he said, as if that were explanation enough.



I was thrilled when American Photographer magazine did an article about Pornage even though they made two of the flowers quite small—erring on the side of caution, no doubt to avoid controversy. This turned out to be well advised, for when the newly hired editor of Aspen Magazine did an eight-page, full-color article, with some outrageous close-ups, it created quite a stir among the stores along the Roaring Fork Valley that distributed the magazine. The whole City Market chain refused to carry this particular issue. The editor was fired a few weeks later—an unfortunate coincidence, I can only hope.

At the New York opening of the Erotics Gallery in Soho, feminist writer and pornography policewoman, Betty Friedan, showed up to review the work personally. To my relief, she acknowledged her approval with laughter. “These aren’t offensive,” she said, obviously expecting something quite different. “They’re really very humorous.”

It surprised me how often I was asked about the subject of pornography, as if I were some kind of expert. Actually, it wasn’t the erotic aspect that drew me. I just thought it would be funny to replace the sexual organs of flowers with the sexual organs of human beings. How come those parts of a flower are considered beautiful and the very same parts of a human being are considered something to be ashamed of? I was playing with boundaries, confronting convention. Although the work falls into the category of erotic art, it isn’t really erotic, it doesn’'t arouse people. It seems to challenge them, force them to deal with their comfort level on the subject.

My favorite comment was from author and Pornage collector, Eric Marcus, at the opening on Fifth Avenue. He playfully labeled the work “Botanatomically correct.”

James Wolfe at the Design Conference
At the Aspen International Design Conference exhibition showing Hooded Ladies Tresses to Harper’s Bazaar/Esquire magazine photographer Henry Wolf.

Rosy Pussytoes
Goldenrod Erecta