by Karen Tortora-Lee
“Do you want some oil?” she asked, disrobing. When artist Kenneth Reed said “yes”, her husband Sean* approached Sally* and began to oil down her entire naked body before announcing, “She’s all yours!”
Hold on a second. Have we stumbled into a “Dear Penthouse Forum” or could this have been the start of Kenneth Reed’s foray into ethical non-monogamy? To understand how we got here, let’s start at the beginning …
Like so many of us who go to college and wonder what we’re getting ourselves into, Ken Reed found himself at Drexel University, unhappily studying engineering and really wanting to be something else. But what? His father was the type of man who insisted that going to college meant you were going to be independent when you got out… So Ken did the next best thing. He left Drexel and started working random jobs, while figuring out what he could really believe in – what he could be passionate about.
The universe gave him a sign in the form of… well… a sign. “Figure Drawing” it read, and soon enough Ken had gotten himself a sketchbook and found his way up the stairs to a whole new world. “I found a room full of creative people drinking coffee, having stimulating conversations about art and other topics”. It was then that he knew he’d found his passion. “I’m going to do this every single week,” he vowed. Soon enough he found himself sketching and painting live nude models on a regular basis.
Many of the models come by word of mouth; already working at art schools, figure painting schools, and the like. However, Ken recalled a time when a model hadn’t shown up, leaving the artists to dejectedly retreat to the local coffee house. While there, a woman overheard their conversation, understood that they might need a more reliable model in the future, and offered up her services. “The kind of model you don’t want is the one doing it only for the money,” says Ken. An incident with a mother who was posing while her baby cried outside, (prompting numerous breaks and an eventual quick exit) proved that some people just aren’t cut out for the job.
Which begs the question – after you’ve drawn the female form so often, is it possible to draw it from memory? Do you need a model? “I can go from my head at this point, but if you’re trying for a natural look I always miss the effect that gravity has on a person,” says Ken. It’s just not quite there. But with a model, there’s a way her body turns away from the light, you always get it right. Plus the chemistry can’t be duplicated any other way. It drives the created force.”
Other times, however, a model can lead to more work, and a new way of life, as with Sally who we met earlier on. “At the end of each session I would usually give my work to the model and Sally was really thrilled with what I had done. I asked if she wanted to come to my studio. ‘If it makes you feel comfortable, bring your husband’ I told her.” That lead to the beginning of a relationship, professional, and personal, between Ken, Sally, and Sean.
When working from his studio Ken makes a point to invite another artist, or have the model invite another person. “I’m single, so my studio is my home. It’s usually me and the model, and I encourage them to bring a friend. I prefer not to be alone because you never know the circumstances…” In other words – better safe than sorry.
With Sean there, offering to oil up Sally, it was erotic no doubt. But, let’s not forget that Ken is an artist with an eye for the light. “She looked great, her body had this sheen, there were good surfaces, there were good reflections in the light,” but then he adds, “to be honest it was really hot! Really got my blood rushing!” How could it not? After all, we’re trained to appreciate beauty.
The three spoke a lot as he was painting and, “As I spoke to them I got the impression they were libertines.” So, in other words, sexually experimental free-thinkers who reject convention. “Creative people are usually more involved in those lifestyles. They were the kinds of people I got into art to be more exposed to – very free spirited and open minded.”
By the third session, Sally came to the studio alone. They went through their normal routine of sketching and painting, after which “she came and sat on my lap, explaining Sean was totally cool with this, they had an open relationship.’’ Ultimately this led to other times where Sean joined in and, “we continued with the three of us, which was my first threesome.”
“I love the ENM thing because there’s no guilt,” Ken says. “They truly enjoy the sex, there’s no jealousy, it’s all so positive and wonderful. Chemistry is important. They didn’t just sleep with anyone. They felt me out, we were all comfortable around each other. So I got into the ENM world through them.”
In terms of his own ENM lifestyle, this, and another similar situation, has been the extent of his ethical non-monogamy. “I love it so much, it’s what I want in my relationships. But it’s hard to start there. Everyone I’ve met who’s secure in their non-monogamy all started in great monogamous relationships first. It’s about each other, and when your partner feels secure in the relationship that’s when you can go to experiment… but you can’t go straight there first. So I do want to live in an ethical non-monogamous relationship, but getting there is a trick …one that I haven’t quite figured out yet.”
“Every artist needs to find a muse, something that drives desire. That creates excitement. ENM itself is a great muse. A world full of pleasure and desire and excitement. There’s so much there to draw from. After being introduced to the world of ENM through the models, it took me up to the level of artist I am today. I would never have gotten there without the excitement that’s there. The positivity of the energy and the excitement itself is a great muse. And the people involved are unique and different — fascinating in their different ways. They found joy and inspiration, and that comes across. I still look to be further connected to it.”
I mentioned earlier that Ken’s relationship with Sally and Sean lead to other work. Turns out that Sean loved to share the beauty of his wife’s form with friends, who also turned out to be quite free-spirited. They also wanted to have paintings done… Which lead to more commissions.
“You can only excel at the things you love,” says Ken. “If you can’t find something that you love and do it, you’ll never excel at anything, so I decided as much of a long shot as it is as an artist, at least I’m passionate about it. A lot of painters ask what to paint. I could paint nudes until I’m old and grey. Everyone appreciates the human form.
Any dream projects for the future? “Murals, but with predominantly nudes. It’s hard to find approval for a project like that. But in Philly there are a few swingers clubs and I’m wondering: wouldn’t it be a beautiful thing to paint big wonderful erotic murals in a swinger’s club? That’s my dream project.”
Ken – I look forward to hearing an update in the future. Nothing would please me more than to know you’ve got murals all over the erotic venues of the East Coast! Thanks for taking time out to give our readers such an enjoyable walk through of your process and your art.Karen
*Names have been changed to provide anonymity.
The art featured in Kenneth’s spotlight series is too NSFW for this blog. You will need to see it in it’s original magazine layout at this link.