At University of Colorado you can get your masters degree painting orgies

At University of Colorado you can get your masters degree painting orgies

CultureSeptember 15, 2017 By Lindsey Kline

“I wanted it to be epic — life size figures, theatrical lighting, and a narrative that pushed against the norms of sexual behavior,” says Erica Day. "This was my nasty sistine chapel."

Day and I are discussing her thesis project with the University of Colorado Boulder, a magnificent and enormous painting of an orgy, complete with buttplugs, strap-ons and golden showers.

For months, the erotic masterpiece was proudly displayed in the basement of CU Boulder’s art building. Just days ago, however, a student stumbled upon her work, snapped a picture and shared it with the Internet. The post gained popularity on Reddit, and Day even chimed in to comment on how the painting nearly cost her a degree.

The community latched onto this anecdote and propelled the painting to Internet fame. But the narrative they created — implying that her university tried to censor her pornographic artwork — was wrong and misleading. The real story, as Day tells us, is extremely different.

It wasn’t salacious illustrations of oral sex and masturbation that threatened her graduation. It was the time it took to craft every little element of the decadent orgy.

“I’d been working around themes of sexuality, especially the female body,” Day explains, “but I’d only ever put single figures on a space. This time, I wanted to have multiple figures intersecting.”

She'd had a massive canvas, 7.5 feet by 11 feet, leaning against the wall of her studio for over a year. When visiting artist (and Day's art idol) Renee Cox insisted the canvas needed to be used to depict a giant orgy, Day excitedly agreed.

“At the time, I’d been getting to know people in the BDSM scene,” she says. When her kinky friends encouraged her to check out Mon Chalet, Colorado’s premiere adults-only fantasy themed hotel, Day found the perfect setting for her orgy: Suite #22, complete with a whirlpool, sex swing, octagon-shaped bed and mirrored ceilings. It had everything she needed.

“It had this aquamarine color scheme and a super tacky '70s setting," she adds. "We laid down on the bed, saw ourselves in the mirror, and I thought to myself, ‘This is so beautiful, I have to paint this.'” She returned to the same suite on four separate occasions for photo shoots with her models.

From start to finish, the painting took 8 months to piece together. “I didn’t give myself enough time,” she explains. “When my first thesis defense came around in April, I only had half of the painting done.”

Instead of displaying her unfinished work, Day opted to show two smaller pieces. Unfortunately, these were not enough to satisfy every member of her committee. She failed her first thesis defense.

However, she was offered the opportunity to re-defend her thesis a few months later, in August. Day spent her summer finishing the painting, and finally passed her thesis earlier this month.

Although Day is happy with the finished product, she confesses it’s not her favorite work she’s ever painted, and there are things she wishes she’d done differently.

“I wanted it to be even nastier,” she admits. “This is one of my goals as an artist, to lure you in while making you uncomfortable. Beauty has the power to make you linger with something that puts you off.”

When the painting became an internet sensation, “having that exposure and level of attention was shocking to me,” she says. “But it exploded in a way that I hadn’t anticipated. I didn’t want the main perception to be that CU censored me, but it was beyond my control.”

However, the attention wasn’t all bad. Erica actually ended up selling her painting to a Reddit user who offered to wire her $10,000 for the masterpiece. “I paid $1,900 for the shipping, and it’s on its way right now,” she says. “All I asked is that he sends me a photo of wherever he puts it. Does he put it in his bedroom? His living room? His sex dungeon? I’m just dying to know.”

See more of Erica Day’s work on her website ericaday.net or Instagram @ericadaydream, or see Erica Day's artist talk at the Gallery of Contemporary Art in Colorado Springs on October 6th.