Sugar and Spice
Kris Vagner   

Rebekah Bogard’s sculptures are bigger, sweeter and sexier than ever, but they’re still innocent enough to kick Hello Kitty’s butt

Story and photos by Kris Vagner

Glossy-eyed, chameleon-esque deer-kitties entwined in pre-coital repose.

An airbrushed bunny-pig with a mythologically long tail reaching up to sniff itself.

A Caucasian-pink critter of indeterminate origin, munching on a blood-colored flower, eyes-closed, arching in beatific ascent toward Cloud 9.

bogard.story.5No, these creatures aren’t from a Japanese cartoon. They’re not a high-schooler’s fantasy scrawled in ball-point on a ruled notebook page. They are the sexually curious, creampuff-sweet brainchildren of sculpture professor Rebekah Bogard, and they are now frolicking obliviously in their own little phallic forests of carnal cuteness at the University of Nevada, Reno’s Sheppard Gallery.

Two years after graduating with a master’s degree from UNLV and heading northward to take a faculty job at UNR, the half-tomboyish, girlishly giddy 35-year-old Bogard, already acclaimed with a Nevada Arts Council Fellowship (probably the most prestigious accolade for a Nevada artist) has her first solo exhibit in Reno. (Unless you count the fact that she had her own room in the Nevada Museum of Art’s 2005 Nevada Triennial, where she won the hearts of post-adolescent Adult-Swim viewers and black-shirted art-hipsters alike, and her bubbly critters’ intimate antics inspired more whole-body giggling than any NMA show to date.)

“Animals are the source of my inspiration,” the artist is often quoted as saying. She’s been drawing pictures of animals since she was a kid growing up in Wyoming. She’s always been a fan of Bambi, Disney, Japanimation and the like. At community college, she developed her ceramics skills and refused to give up drawing animals, an endeavor supposedly too pedestrian for real artists.

As of a couple years ago, her sculptures were definitely visceral, often suggestive, plant-like, animal-like statuettes on appropriately precious pedestals. They averaged about two- to three feet high. Their roach-like bodies, vegetable-like wings, human-ish protrusions and references to the sexy parts of flowers hinted at playfully libidinous motivations.

Since then, Bogard’s creatures have evolved into full-fledged, made-up animals, some taller than her, indulging in solitary little vignettes of bliss, cuddling their sweeties or posed like those ladies from 19th-century Parisian boudoir paintings who know they’re being looked at—and are liking it.

It sounds overwrought. It almost sounds kind of repulsive. But somehow, it’s not.

bogard.story.3It turns out that, for Bogard, drawing animals was the way to go. She never aimed to bore us to death with watercolor horseys and baskets of kitties; she was more interested in forging her own aesthetic path based on her observations that animals have all the complex behaviors of humans—including, of course, the “behind closed doors” behaviors—only with less pretense and no shame.

In this exhibit, painted-ceramic tongues approaching polyurethaned flesh emanate only the teensiest hint of quease. Even though every being depicted here is well on its way down the path to sexual (or at least narcissistic) gratification, there is, I kid you not, a sense of innocence about them. It’s as if the sweetly twisted Bogard is standing with one foot inching toward cuteness overkill, the other foot approaching the precipice of shock-art and tastelessness, getting as close to both boundaries as possible without crossing them. If there’s an element here or there that is too cute or too crass, we’ll barely notice through Bogard’s greased-up lenses of sweetness and sincerity.

Rebekah Bogard’s sculpture exhibit, Love and Leisure, is on view at the Sheppard Gallery, Church Fine Arts Building, University of Nevada, Reno, until Feb. 16, along with Students of the Book Arts Class and art student George Voegel’s installation, The Bicyclist's Nightmare: Tribulus Terrestris. On Feb. 8, Bogard will give a lecture at 5:30 p.m., and a reception for all three exhibits is scheduled for 6:30. For more information, call (775) 784-6658.

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