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Freedom and fluidity: the art of Aaron Sheppard

Sin City Gallery

"Black Betty at the Beach," by Aaron Sheppard (2016), acrylic, oil resin, mixed-media collage with neon on wood


These are inarguably sensitive times. Reality swims in a turbulent fluidity. A misstep in labels or language is a grave error, even when the rules are being written and rewritten in real time — but somewhere there’s gotta be a moment where poetic ambiguity can safely flow.

In artist Aaron Sheppard’s statement for his exhibit Sensitive White Boy Syndrome, on display at Sin City Gallery, he says that he feels art must be “examples of truth beyond statements” in these politically charged times, while also admitting to his own ignorance and insensitivity, understanding that transgression might seep in. Yet as a towering, slender man perpetually wearing eyeliner, who slips into heels and fishnets one moment and into torn jeans while wielding power tools the next, he is what one might call fluid.

Long interested in (and referencing) the erotic drawings and etchings by Austrian illustrator Franz von Bayros (1866-1924), Sheppard takes to them in this exhibit through his own lens, subverting the already subversive by undermining the “overt hetero-erotic nature” of the (then racy) images.

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While Bayros’ drawings exude a standard in traditional male eroticism and portray decadent affluence in beautiful, ornate lines, Sheppard's pieces are made from paint-stained wood (building materials around his home), a jigsaw, spray paint, mirrored Plexiglas, and other materials. The pretty women — created from jigsaw and lumber — with lovely hand-drawn hair also have penises, some of them ejaculating, bringing the traditionally male and female and the crude and delicate (in no particular order) into beautiful works that linger in and across gilded frames. It’s an exploration of freedom without the constraint of specific ideologies.

Along with his other mixed-media work in the exhibit — neon, plus collages of porn, found materials, and embroidery, and more abstract pieces about life and death, gender and sexuality — these works contort rigid ideals and bathe in Sheppard’s interests in politics, religion, mythology, and identity, pouring forth their own honesty and candor.

The Nebraska-born artist, who received his MFA from UNLV and exhibits mostly in Los Angeles, where he’s lived and worked — he now lives in Joshua Tree, California — works in performance, painting, and sculpture. The exhibit is a rare opportunity to hear his voice in Las Vegas, and soon you can see his face, too: Sheppard will be in town for the closing reception on Saturday


Sensitive White Boy Syndrome

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Closing reception, 6p, April 29

Sin City Gallery, inside the Arts Factory, 107 E. Charleston Boulevard, suite 100, 702-608-2461