Art From the Gut

Artist Aaron Sheppard forces viewers out of their ‘maleboxes’

A guy who names his paintings “Surfing on a Butthole and a Belly Button” and “Mariah Carey Cracker Salad,” probably isn’t afraid to push his viewers out of their comfort zone. In his Locals Only show at Centerpiece Gallery in CityCenter, Aaron Sheppard blitzes your senses with multimedia sculptures and paintings that ooze sensuality and explore gender themes. Take, for instance, the 12 square drywall and wood sculptures with a hole in the middle simply—but suggestively—titled “Maleboxes.” The “glory hole” sculptures allude to the 12 apostles with their unique personalities and are displayed at waist height to convey something a little more sensual.

The UNLV master of fine arts graduate brings remnants of his background as a rocker, construction worker and cross-dresser into each work. He crafts his pieces from materials that straddle the boundary between the erotic and the sacred; his “art supplies” include magazine clippings, paint, drywall and neon.

The Nebraska born-and-raised 34-year-old wants you to bring your own narrative vision to his work. “Each viewer brings an important element to the work,” Sheppard says. “I explore questions in my work from a wide spectrum of influence. I have learned from my work by the engagement of viewers. I would hope that each viewer has enough of an entry point with my works to interpret and engage individually for a variety of outcomes and conversations.”

He certainly provides plenty of food for thought. In the suggestive “Porthole,” neon red lights and paint splatters surround a gaping female mouth. “Mariah Carey Cracker Salad” includes photographic depictions of female legs, plaster writing and layers of black over a rainbow to create a multilayered commentary on guilty pleasures. “It’s like having thoughts of simultaneously torturing, being tortured and admiring Mariah Carey,” Sheppard says. Pieces of a hand-drawn woman trapped inside of the canvas bring up gender and exploitation in “Girl in the Box.”

When Sheppard was a teen, he sold his first paintings, albeit under his father’s name. At that point, Sheppard figured he ought to make a name for himself. Art school helped hone his craft, but his intuition is the force that guides it. The narrative sensibility of the work comes from Sheppard’s time at UNLV as a performance artist and the transition he made to studio-centric creations. Every splash of paint, magazine clipping and beam of neon has character. None of it is without rhyme and reason, and all of it requires thought.

“It’s a continuous cycle of learning and then dismissing what you just learned,” Sheppard says. “It sounds stupid, but I keep reminding myself to remove my brain and oftentimes my heart when creating. I have to trust my eyes, hands and gut.”

Sheppard says he isn’t in this for the fame. Although it sounds nice to have paintings ranging from $800 to $6,500, he isn’t here for the fortune, either. Sheppard’s purpose is to force our minds to engage and interpret what he is trying to tell us and spark a conversation.

“Art-making is not a reality-show sitcom,” he says. “It does not exist for simple shock. Fundamentally solid artworks promote personal or societal investigation, provide examples for diversified understanding and above all are not pretty modes to fame and fortune.”

Suggested Next Read

Shocked and Awed by Swamplandia!

Book Jacket

Shocked and Awed by Swamplandia!

By M. Scott Krause

Karen Russell’s debut novel, Swamplandia! (Alfred A. Knopf, $25), is both magical and menacing. It’s the story of the Bigtree family, a group of eccentrics who run an alligator-themed amusement park in Florida. The park’s main attraction is the family matriarch—Hilola Bigtree—who wrestles alligators while her husband, Chief Bigtree, works both the spotlight and the microphone.



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