New York

Namio Harukawa, Work No. 278, date unknown, graphite and colored pencil on paper, 10 7⁄8 × 7 7⁄8".

Namio Harukawa, Work No. 278, date unknown, graphite and colored pencil on paper, 10 7⁄8 × 7 7⁄8".

Namio Harukawa

There she is: a radiant, platinum-blonde giantess sitting at the bar in a leopard-print bustier with matching evening gloves and long kinky boots. Though we see her from behind, her face is turned toward us, with lips shellacked a poisonous candy-apple red and eyebrows shaped into villainous ice-queen perfection. This curvaceous femme fatale takes up extra space without a whiff of apology; each one of her massive legs rests upon its own plush stool like a plump aristocratic pet. Her enormous bare ass—a luminous thing rendered with aching precision in graphite and colored pencil—is a character unto itself, expanding well beyond the perimeter of the two seats its buxom owner occupies. Buried between her elephantine cheeks is the head of a bony shirtless whelp of a man who appears to be ecstatically gorging himself on this beauty’s most pronounced feature. Is our chilly vixen in this toothsome scene deriving any pleasure from this fellow’s eager ministrations? It’s hard to tell, as her expression is oddly blank, mysterious. Perhaps it’s an amalgam of haughty self-satisfaction and . . . mild irritation? Vague bewilderment? Stultifying ennui?

The author of this funny, sexy, and spellbinding drawing, Namio Harukawa (1947–2020) is, like our aforementioned temptress, beguilingly enigmatic. Biographical details for the artist are scant: He was born in Osaka, Japan, and started publishing his erotic illustrations in Kitan Club, a Japanese fetish magazine, when he was a teenager. The name is a nom de plume: Namio is an anagram of Naomi, the titular femdom of Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s 1925 novel, while Harukawa is a loving tribute to Masumi Harukawa, the full-figured actress who played the lead role in Shōhei Imamura’s disturbing 1964 movie Intentions of Murder, a tale of sexual violence, thwarted vengeance, and grueling self-realization.

Women clearly rule in Harukawa’s spidery midnight realm, and no social hierarchy appears to confine them: Whether they’re nurses, teachers, strippers, or schoolgirls, they are all queens, equal in their ferocious power, mesomorphic proportions, and sensual allure. Men, on the other hand, are entirely vestigial in this world—flaccid little milksops with weak hairlines who frequently call to mind those sweating, desperate creatures of middle management and lonesome marriages. Their only purpose is to serve their voluptuous, stiletto-heeled overlords, and their faces, rarely visible, are often forced deep within a mistress’s pudendum or buttocks, their positioning evoking that of dinky male anglerfish, who parasitically attach themselves to their much larger—and considerably stronger—female counterparts.

Twenty of Harukawa’s undated, slightly-smaller-than-US-letter-size drawings—all of them done in graphite and/or colored pencil on paper—were framed and hung in a long tidy row that stretched across two walls of this narrow, hallway-like exhibition space. One couldn’t help but thrill before these supplely illustrated pictures: In one handsomely executed image, Work No. 150, a chic lady pool shark—a kind of big-boned Gilda-era Rita Hayworth—pins a bound and disheveled man to her crotch with a long shiny billiard stick; while in Work No. 244, a Brobdingnagian female wrestler, her tenderly rendered skin resembling a fine expensive silk, seems more enthralled by the unlit cigarette she’s holding between her fingers than by the poor wet slob who’s suffocating between her gloriously mammoth thighs.

Of course, there’s no denying that every image here was wrought by an unequivocally male gaze. But Harukawa giddily undermines its withering, banalizing effects with his edacious desire for total female dominion. This is a greedy bottom’s fantasyland—the artist not only knows his place in this pecking order but relishes it. Harukawa’s role-reversal erotica offers up a joyously defiant kick to the sad stinking balls of heterosexist orthodoxy and vanilla hegemony. The artist’s women are utterly objectified, yes—but they are also splendidly and swooningly deified, each velvet-gloved goddess the proud possessor of a fat iron fist.