Sex, though it may sell products, is an uncomfortable topic for most Americans.

No matter how scantily clad, accessible, or celebrated the industry of sex becomes, our ability to have a civil conversation about its relationship to power, identity, and the naked human heart remains just beyond grasp.

As such, the many conflicting sides of sexual desire provide a through-line for the drawings of New York based artist Irena Jurek.


Her colorful and glittery depictions of sex-driven anthropomorphic animals and adult-Disney fairytale lands are currently on view at Romeo, the gallery founded by artist Aurel Schmidt, which is devoted to works on paper and has already had a couple great shows by Anton van Dalan and Joseph Geagan.

There are couples in love, embracing at the center of strawberry-colored flower patterns; couples fucking, like the delicately inked, swirly-haired wolf/man and rollerskate-wearing bunny girl, who are doing it standing up; and there are couples fighting, like the cat and rabbit women who are coming to blows amid a storm of scrawled “fuck,” “dumb,” “hate,” and “you gonna die”s. Whatever the condition, relationships propel Jurek’s stories and reflect a primal, animal side of the human soul that remains hidden in the workaday world.


There is a meticulous mark making, stippled or hatched, to emphasize volume and lovingly exaggerate the body, recalling Robert Crumb and Peter Saul. Jurek is more inclined to leave her work a little rough around the edges than Crumb or Saul, however. Where she most resembles these artists is in her willingness to conflate opposites like innocence and carnality, or the gloss of pop culture and the darker psychology beneath it.

She’s also not afraid to indulge in material excesses, mixing glitter, ink, pencil, paint and found objects. In less capable hands this approach could turn to obscure chaos but Jurek works the unexpected into her art with finesse and wit.

One large piece, framed in fake flowers and leaves, proclaims “Text Me” in bold letters, while a flip phone, a Salvador Dali-mustache wearing heart, a decorative hand mirror, and a high-heeled shoe with a ponytail and eyes, swirl among patterns and dots. All the tools of youthful bedroom art projects are here—glitter, paint, markers, and costume jewelry. Jurek wields these and other materials with maturity and skill, but there is palatable nostalgia too, as if this piece were made in an all-night emotional flurry inspired by a high school crush. An image that could just come off as irreverent is transformed into something poignant and relatable.


This is the strength of Jurek’s work—not just that she has created a vision of human desire unsheathed but that the intimacy in these creations allows us to see in them reflections of ourselves. My partner, an archivist, looked at one work with a sexy cat reading next to a pile of books, and proclaimed: “That’s me!” I too found myself connecting with some of the characters. All Jurek’s animals—the cats, wolves and bunnies—seem a little like us or people we know.


The work is on view until August 19th at Romeo, located at 90 Ludlow St., New York, NY. (Alessandro Keegan)