Christopher Bauder’s Las Vegas studio looks like a butcher shop run by Fisher-Price. An oversize curio box displays squishy cartoon lips. Belly buttons, baby bottle nipples and Smurf-like hands litter a table. High along the wall hangs a row of leg-like parts. The repeating forms of his raw materials, so uniform and saturated in color, so unabashedly plastic, are overwhelming. But then again, this is his workshop, the place where ideas run wild.
The Las Vegas native’s finished product is carefully prepared and edited. An example of which can be seen in his new exhibition at the College of Southern Nevada’s Fine Arts Gallery, the 34-year-old’s first solo show since he graduated UNLV with an MFA in 2008.
Titled Mars Ain’t the Kind of Place to Raise Your Kids, Bauder’s show explores the notion of the alien and how it relates to living amid the transience of Las Vegas. He explores the relationships between the city’s persona and the reality of quotidian life, just as the geographical Mars and the ones of our imaginations are likely not identical. Like Las Vegas, Bauder says, Mars both attracts and scares us. It’s “unfamiliar and taboo.”
Bauder was initially intrigued by the graphic design elements of childhood bedding and wallpaper that’s adorned with space aliens and visual narratives of intergalactic adventures. This led him to thinking about the instability of those playful, cartoonish motifs. He realized that they shift over time and become more ambiguous, more grown up, eventually transforming into sci-fi sexy.
Bauder’s hybrid style intersects painting and sculpture. He renders his subject matter—disembodied body parts, both human and alien—in exuberant colors and playful, high-gloss surfaces, using layers of latex house paint like an industrial fondant, which he manipulates it into a variety of shapes and textures. He describes his method as a process of “dipping and dripping, pouring, peeling and stuffing.” He pours paint onto large circular mirrors, which provide the flawless surface from which to later peel smooth sections of dried paint. He then molds, scrunches or texturizes it. He often works the material into sculptured organic shapes or wraps these large paint swaths around solid objects and tacks them down like upholstery.
Bauder has received numerous accolades for his art, including a Sculpture Award from Art Round-Up at the Las Vegas Art Museum’s Juried Exhibition, and Best in Show at the UNLV Juried Art Exhibition. Since then he has guest lectured at Sierra Nevada College, and he curated the recent Skull exhibition at Blackbird Studios.
In the future, Bauder says he sees his work “becoming more ambiguous,” and several new pieces reveal the transformation: a color palette more limited and subdued, and the creation of flatter surfaces with fewer intricacies. Although not a drastic departure from his current style, this may be an important shift for him as his art and practice mature. Certainly there’s a lot more to see. We’ll just have to be patient and watch the layers build up over time.
The following pieces appear in Bauder’s new exhibit:
“This Side of Paradise.” At first glance, this large sculpture resembles an eel. On opposite ends it has male and female genitalia, and could theoretically be bent into a circle to copulate with itself. It’s amusing, grotesque and utterly brilliant. A metaphor for life in Las Vegas?
“Pink Moon.” This corpulent cookie is rendered in Pepto-pink plastic that evokes memories of The Little Prince, and is also reminiscent of cells grown large in some weird experiment.
“The Glove Maker.” This circus-like red-and-white wall sculpture appears to be giving birth to a litter of four-fingered Smurf gloves. In it, Bauder seeks to combine organic and mechanical processes in his work. The birthing of the tiny gloves onto a mirror resembles the stage of a microscope—a scientific instrument integral to science of biology. Bio-mechanics and what will become of us is an essential component of sci-fi narratives, and taps in to our deepest fears and fantasies about the alien future.
“Untitled (Butcher).” This is an apron fabricated entirely from latex house paint and rendered in a high-gloss black. The accompanying skull pieces are called Visionaries. Together they seemed to be anomalies in the show, departing from the ambiguous or fantastic and entering the realm of simulacrum. However, they do fit in perfectly. The apron, worn by no one, is at once ominous and ordinary, and therefore a bit unnerving. By including pieces such as this, Bauder challenges his audience to think beyond the superficial, and to make connections between the pieces being shown.