Creature Discomforts
Becky Bogard’s menagerie of creatures is beautiful—and unsettling

By Jarret Keene


Last time this writer checked in on sculptor Becky Bogard, the artist was wrapping up an MFA degree at UNLV and Godzilla posters and Gundam robot toys littered the walls and shelves of her studio.  The year was 2003, and she was putting the finishing touches on a show called Bio-logical at the Donna Beam Fine Art Gallery.  Her ceramic creatures ranged from alien-style face-hugging nasties to strange Mothra-like insects with elegant wingspans.  Since then, Bogard has enjoyed other exhibits in the Vegas Valley, but the image of her, clay-spattered and surrounded by her husband’s Japanese toys and models, is one that will always stick in my mind.

Now Bogard has returned to the Donna Beam with Matters of Heart, which sounds like the title of a very bad romance novel.  Truth be told, there is some romance to be found in her latest ceramic animals, though their species is unclear.  They resemble a genetic splicing of, I don’t know, cat and lizard materials.  They are simultaneously cute and a little odd, as if some reptilian impulse lingers behind their eyes, some primal urge to strike at the viewer, whether with a venomous spit or a sharp-toothed bite.  In other words, they look vaguely Pokemon-inspired and liable to give you epileptic seizures if you gaze at them long enough. Matters of Heart is full of these things, and they seem to be breeding in every corner of the gallery.

"Botany of Desire," by Becky Bogard

But they’re not breeding, of course; they’re not even animate.  Bogard’s beasties are instead frozen in poses of liquid delight.  Check out “Perfect Day,” in which a creature crushes a rose in its jaws, eyes closed, tail extended in ecstasy.  Fallen roses engulf the animal, and you know it’s only a matter of time before each petal, each symbol of romantic love, is consumed.  Who knows what else this thing will go on to eat?

“Coalescence” takes the idea of romantic love even further with two animals caught in the throes of carnal passion—except they seemed fused together rather than momentarily connected.  Again, their eyes are sealed, ears perked, and they’re positioned in a way that suggests this might take a while, perhaps longer than the pop musician Sting and his supposed tantric, Kama Sutra-length sessions.  The ceramic creatures are attractive enough that the viewer could probably watch them for that long.  You know, if it didn’t feel so much like he or she was staring at animals humping.

Another eerily pleasurable piece is “Handjobs for Heartbreaks,” in which an animal sits comatose, on its haunches, legs played to reveal tiny pink labia, in a perverse patch of phallic foliage.  I’m not sure what Bogard’s point is with this one—or if she even has a point—but the sexualizing of her fantastical organisms causes the viewer to recoil a bit.  Sure, the sexuality is only very slight, but it’s enough to leave a definite and strange aftertaste in one’s mouth.

The best part of Matters of Heart is that you can clearly discern Bogard is having a blast making these ceramic monsters, and that she loves them dearly.  She adores their sleek loveliness, their wicked games and their carefree posturing.  Bogard’s animals almost beg for Freudian interpretation, but since they’re not human, attentions turns to Bogard herself.  What is her intent?  What is going through her formidably imaginative brain?

She’s not telling.  There doesn’t seem to be an artist’s statement attached to this show, and Bogard’s website is devoid of any biographical information or ars poetica.  Ultimately, all she does leave you with the creatures themselves, allowing them to speak directly (or indirectly, as the case may be).  I think they’re saying we are weirdoes for staring at them as they seek each other’s comfort.

It’s rare that an artist can create works that are attractive yet disturbing.  Bogard is a ceramicist capable of reaching into the most bizarre realm of human dreams, where cartoons, Godzilla and sexuality somehow all blend together.  Matters of the Heart is a place I would never want to stay for very long, but it’s certainly an area I really want to visit over and over again.


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