With the term ‘self-care’ branded across every consumer product and social media influencer account, it’s easy to buy into its often superficial tendencies. But for those suffering the effects of past or existing trauma, therapeutic outlets are vital for healing. As are the artists sharing these experiences and creating positive life forces through honest celebrations of the things we fear. For Tina Maria Elena Bak, the opportunity to find strength and happiness through art was her only objective. By delving openly into the world of feminine erotica, she found she could not only heal herself but become a beacon of liberation for hundreds of thousands of women.
Can you tell me about how and when you first started painting?
I’ve always been drawing and painting but mostly with acrylic paint. For a few years, I only made collages and didn’t feel like painting, until I found a way to make hand-cut pieces with couples making love. After that, I started painting lovemaking images with watercolours and, from time to time, created hand-cut pieces. When I posted my first Make Love watercolour painting in Spring 2016, I got a very impressive response from my followers and others, and I definitely felt that many people liked the sensual feeling and the fluidity that the watercolour could provide.
Even in your early landscape and collage work, there’s something very sensual and evocative, which lends itself so well to the images of lovemaking you create. What drew you towards this style and ultimately erotica?
Thank you so much. I think I have always used art as an outlet and sometimes even an escape from traumatic experiences and difficulties in life. But when I started to focus on the beauty in life as it is, and started my Make Love and Make Love Watercolor series, I felt empowered and I that there was a beautiful lifeforce in this erotic and sensual loving theme. The erotic theme made me stronger and happier.
There’s a clear progression in the themes of your work that seem to reflect various aspects of intimacy, from lust, self-love and simply touch to images of couples and lovemaking. What inspires your collections, and do you think it’s reflective of your personal growth?
I’m constantly inspired by multiple things: my own feelings, experiences, dreams and ideas, and by what I see on Instagram, in books and museums. My own personal growth is definitely reflected in my art. I think that love and sensuality are my main themes and I feel like this is a sort of endless love story from my part. I can’t see myself getting tired of portraying love.
“To feel sensual is really about feeling comfortable in your own skin, to feel desirable, and when you do that, you’re able to enjoy your body much more.”
Do you find that it’s mostly women who admire your work? If so, why do you think is that?
Yes! My work provides a glimpse into eroticism and sensuality from a woman’s perspective. My style is feminine, full of love and magical colours. On Instagram, 68% of my followers are women, and they share my art a lot on social media too. It feels like there’s a common voice from women around the world who take charge of their sensuality and support each other in the fight against the taboo of women’s sexuality that has forced this issue down for so many years.
I think women showing our sensuality is almost becoming a social norm, on social media at least. Sexual liberation and the body-positive movement are really hot, and I think they help a lot of women. I really want to shine a light on sensuality because I feel this is so important. To feel sensual is really about feeling comfortable in your own skin, to feel desirable, and when you do that, you’re able to enjoy your body much more.
Despite the strong sexual themes in your work, there’s also softness and elegance, and it must speak to viewers in a lot of different ways. What kind of feedback do you receive? Does it turn people on or resonate on other, deeper levels?
I receive wonderful feedback and in many ways. I think my art resonates with both men and women, and I get a lot of messages from people all around saying that my art inspires them and, for some, it even has a healing power. Some women have written to me saying that they have had traumatic experiences with sex and their bodies, and after they have become familiar with my art, it actually helps them to see sex and nudity in another way – in a beautiful and safe way. This, to me, is more than I could ever hope for. It is fantastic.
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Throughout your career, you’ve focused on the female form and expression in various ways, from very powerful nude portraits and pregnancy to the more personal insights into day to day life. Are there any women in particular who inspire you in these cases?
No, not any women in particular. I would almost say all women! Because I like to portray a lot of different body types. I think this is so much more inspirational than seeing one body type all the time. I actually get a lot of lovely feedback whenever the women in my paintings, for example, have thick thighs or back rolls. I think it’s contributing to the self-love wave that doesn’t have anything to do with your weight and looks.
Right now, you have over 210K Instagram followers. Has online exposure played a big part in your success as an artist? Do you ever find it competitive with so many other artists using Instagram?
I’m very grateful to have Instagram as a visual portfolio of my work. In July 2016, I had around 2500 followers. Then, something happened. A lot of people were sharing my art and I suddenly got a lot of likes and new followers. Eight months later, I had over 100K. And now, 210K. So, things can really escalate with an Instagram profile. I get to show my work to anyone who is interested. People from all over the world are buying my art because they can see as soon as I post it and I can now live full-time as an artist. I don’t think this would be possible for me without Instagram. I don’t think of the other artists as competitors. I love seeing lots of art on Instagram.
“I think the feminine perspective has been lacking representation in erotic arts and erotic imagery in general, and now, women are suddenly taking over in this area.”
We’re also seeing a huge number of erotic artists appearing on platforms like Instagram at the moment, especially those who focus on the female gaze. How big of an issue is censorship for artists like you?
I think the feminine perspective has been lacking representation in erotic arts and erotic imagery in general, and now, women are suddenly taking over in this area. This is great! However, censorship is a huge problem. Nudity in photos of paintings is okay, but the problem is that even though this is allowed, people can still report if they feel violated. And a lot of accounts are being disabled no matter whether you have many followers or only a few. I definitely worry about this threat, but I know I’m never violating any rules, as long as the nudity I show is from a painting. And I haven’t had my work taken down yet, so that's great.
Where do you see your creative exploration taking you next?
At the moment, I’m painting almost every day. I love this constant flow. I feel very blessed to work like this. I have a few plans to exhibit my art in 2019, but I don’t have any details yet. So being part of more exhibitions and shows will be my next adventure. I haven’t exhibited my art since summer 2016.
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