The eroticism of the female nude has been a recurrent theme throughout the works of Wayne Ensrud. Ever since he attended a lecture in 1952 by Oskar Kokoschka, the great Austrian Expressionist, Ensrud has been dedicated to the act of seeing and painting as a powerful emotional experience. Kokoschka inspired Ensrud to dig deeper than other young contemporary artists, most of whom had been misled into thinking that a focus of massive energy and emotion were enough to become a great painter. Instead, Ensrud came to understand that painting was a metaphysical act, charged by the spirit. A review of Ensrud’s erotica leaves no wonder why Kokoschka considered him to be his only protégé.
For Ensrud, insight is far more important than the subject itself. He notices that when most people view a beautiful nude female model, their eyes are wide open but he regrets that they remain unconscious of her aura, her spirit. Sex is often the dominant thought. “Sex is about brief and often incredible transcendental moments,” says Ensrud. “But when I’m painting the model I feel and see vibrations, pulsations. It’s like music. I could gaze for hours. She is mysterious. She is pure seduction, yet there’s a certain purity of the relationship. I’m not thinking about her breasts, hips, and legs. I’m sensing her rhythm. I’m picking up her libido, and she knows it. And because she senses my absorption into her metaphysical space, she provides an openness — a gentle receptivity — to this higher range of vibrations.”
Although the stereotype of the artist having sex with his models may be true (Ensrud cites more than 135 women with whom he has had sex versus 122 for Casanova), when it comes to capturing them on canvas he enters another world. “I try to capture an experience of timelessness. The movement of my brush or pen is always flowing, never settling. It’s as if I am floating in a dream world where there is a suspension of time. And I never talk, often for hours, until I am finished. It is definitely a meditative state, an indescribable pushing toward the eternal. My feet aren’t on the earth, that’s for sure. I can only enter that zone when I am in the artistic act of capturing her essence; otherwise, the experience just can’t be conveyed.”
The subject may be erotica but Ensrud becomes so completely immersed that he prefers to refer to his paintings and drawings as “witnesses of various states of mind where I release and surrender myself to the spirit of the subject. I’m not a Buddhist or a Zen master but I can hold that transcendent state longer now than when I was younger. Maybe these are brief lightning flashes of how Buddha actually lived. I just know that the experience is a totally personal adventure that can only be taken alone.”
In the decades that Ensrud came to know Oskar Kokoschka, he says his master never talked about painting. “He had no answers,” says Ensrud, “only a directive: ‘Climb the mountain.’ He knew the truly great teachers don’t teach at all. They just exude. They ignite a fire in our consciousness. Kokoschka did speak eloquently about psychic energy, and I was a quick study. But in the end there is no one who can explain the experience of aesthetic ecstasy. After all, that’s why there’s art. The answer really lies in the reaction of the viewer. The viewer must respond with feeling.”