Aaron Sheppard’s recent work on view at the current show Sensitive White Boy Syndrome, Sin City Gallery
I think of the artist Aaron Sheppard as the person who is willing to jump off the rocks into the water first, the height does not scare him, nor the sensation of cold ocean water, or whatever lurks beneath the choppy waves…or maybe it does, but he is still determined to make the dive, to be in the moment of discovery, of danger, of sensation. Courage and joy, danger and beauty, these elements all play into a life fully experienced. Immersive and intense, Aaron’s work embraces this way of living…
The artist combines the delectably ribald with a sense the painterly modernism in a wide-ranging body of work that includes assemblages, installations, performances, and mixed media works.
Fragmenting static ideas of sexuality and gender identity, he uses his own body and image as subject repeatedly. Aaron layers this syntax with motifs from diverse sources including 20th century art, erotica, literature, mythology, popular culture, folktales and religion. The oeuvre may be seen as delightfully exhibitionist because it is constantly seems engaged in the sexy theatrics of display. However, there is also a sense of extreme vulnerability and it is this profound fragility that makes Aaron’s work powerful. The artist shares the genesis of this way of working:
My body became not only canvas but also began to exhibit a variety of personas. My body acted as a brush moving color and light in front of the camera lens, exploring the various constraints of my gender. In NYC, I soon become aware of drag culture and immersed myself in the freedom of expression in the public eye. Vulnerabilities were abandoned by placing myself in situations overflowing with exposure. I was mostly unaware of the dangers that I placed myself in walking so many dark streets of the city to events overflowing with sexual indulgence.
For me, the queens of the night exuded an immortal energy that I enthusiastically emulated with awe and fervor. I began to create my own parties and to live a lifestyle that focused on donning decoration for the purpose of stripping insecurity and doubt; having finally discovered this public side of myself I truly became immortal and free.
I remember this absolute sensation of freedom, having attended these parties, all that Aaron did was contagious all the while creating a sense of wonderment. There was a certain carelessness about self and open heartedness if not innocence in welcoming so many people into his space, everyone becoming part of his imagination and process.
A still from a recent performance Like, Out of Water, Joshua Tree, California (2015), image courtesy of the artist and Western Projects, Los Angeles.
Rosa: Can we discuss ideas of dualities and gender as they present or transform within your work?
Aaron Sheppard: The duality of male versus female visual presentations of the self is problematic for me even today. I would spend hours getting dressed to go out and then sit and eat bon-bons while watching Sex in the City instead. I want/ed to be both and it all simultaneously. I want/ed to shave my body and then be able to grow a beard back instantaneously. I want/ed makeup and high heels and motorcycle boots and panties and tough tattoos and to feel sexy and to start fights and to explore dichotomies of gender identity back and forth like taffy fast and furious… and and and… and I began to explore that even more in my paintings and object making as well as in performance.
RB: How did this manifest?
AS: I began to put myself through endurance pieces, mostly holding poses for long periods of time to further encourage a contemplative objectification of the body. I have recently been creating costumes that completely cover my body so as to hide my own gender completely.
RB: One has the impression there is a catharsis moment in much of the performance work, as if you have become free of societal expectations of sexuality and gender, is this the case, if not what is this crescendo that seems so present?
AS: That might be the case and is definitely part of it for me at least. I think the true cathartic moments for myself are the actual pining for the questions rather than finding solutions. I feel like I’m really getting somewhere in successful paintings and performance when to am able to locate and expose moments when explorations spiral upon one another circumnavigating the answer.
This process in and of itself must come from a more-free place beyond expectation. It is quite Zen sounding, actually; it’s finding a place for allowing the dance to occur fluidly between material and immaterial, being inquisitive and just being.
RB: I understand that the male gaze plays a central role, can you elaborate how this works within the context of your work?
AS: Like religion, I am completely fascinated with the male gaze, which I feel play hand-in-hand quite conveniently. Our culture is filled with right and wrong, black and white, man looks at woman, virtue versus sin… It fascinates me that an orthodox patriarchy that ignores so much of humanity persists to be relevant. We deny ourselves access to ourselves out of fear and guilt.
RB: Let’s talk a bit about your paintings and collages. What role does gender play in this body of work? Specifically, queer and transgender identity?
AS: My paintings, collages, and drawings cut and paste gender into pan-gendered subjects; sometimes creating subjects neutered of gender; other times subjects with exaggerated gender. The terms out today are confusing to me still. “Trannie” and “faggot” at one time in NYC were terms of endearment between sexually comfortable people as if badges worn on our brownie outfits. My place as an artist creating the work that I do is to continue to play and to question everything – not to point fingers and articulate firm statements, I think…
Indeed, in terms of these paintings and mixed media works, we see that it’s not just absolute fleeting baroque performance, this same aesthetic functions in the physical object. Expressionist brushwork is combined with an undulating sculptural sense of color and form, strange juxtapositions of flamboyant gilt frames construct a new rococo, texture, excess, desire playing off each other in a newly resplendent way. Sometimes, there are monsters hidden within, creating a vivisectioned view of Aaron’s world.
Aaron’s exhibition Sensitive White Boy Syndrome is on view until April 29, 2017 at SCG, Las Vegas. Learn more about the artist’s projects @ The Artist’s Site |The Las Vegas Contemporary Art Center | Bomb Magazine