There’ve been a couple morning-afters when a beautiful stranger, on seeing the painting near my bed, exclaimed, Oh! It’s a cock! I usually ask what he thought it was. Last night I just thought it was, you know, energy. And he wasn’t wrong either time.

The little painting, one of Nicole Wittenberg’s Cocksuckers, is a like a visual turbine, painted in bright red and cool white, with the distinct virtue of never turning pink. She finds strong images that she works and re-works, and she discovers fresh ways to rebuild the image through the process of painting—varying her marks, thicknesses and colors. That’s why it’s so useful to see a big group of them, so you can grasp the technical inventiveness and painterly sophistication of what at first, in isolation, can feel like a visual equivalent of a poke in the eye—although you’ve never enjoyed a poke so much.

And to be fair to my one-night-stands, Wittenberg’s paintings are a little out of place in a bedroom—the setting throws off their perfectly calibrated balance between powerhouse image and abstract form. “Bedroom paintings” usually take it easier on everybody. Wittenberg’s paintings want to stake their claim to grander semi-public spaces, and they succeed. I’ve seen even the small ones hold a wall against much larger works.

The recent paintings can be grouped into the rough categories: Kissing, Cock Sucking, and Pussy Eating. These are pictures of action, which Wittenberg aligns with the activity of painting, one she perceives to be as endless as the operations of desire itself. She’s one of the most playful and forceful painters I know.