Photos to Feast On

Artist’s Mandwich portraits capture personality within eroticism

What happens when porn actors, performance artists, models, a photographer/filmmaker and Mother Loosy from Sin City Sisters get together in one cozy, master-bedroom-size space in Las Vegas? You get the opening night of Mandwich Redux at Sin City Gallery.

The May 3 event celebrated the first Las Vegas show of New York-based artist Marne Lucas, showcasing her new work: portraits that resemble film stills. A prolific artist, photographer, filmmaker, performer and activist on behalf of sex workers, she’s produced a pinup photography series (Velour Girls), films (The Operation, 2009; Sodom, Gomorrah, Milk, Salt in post-production) and numerous art installations. Recently, Lucas’ restless creative curiosity motivated her to relocate from Portland to New York City, kick-starting her exploration of the storytelling possibilities of erotic portraiture in Mandwich Redux, in which she deftly coaxes the personalities out of her models and orchestrates scenes like a seasoned director. One of her models, Kris Anderson (a safe-sex activist and gay porn actor), is both the artist’s subject and an object of desire. In the piece “Kris, Cowboy Hat,” Anderson coyly covers himself with a ranch hand’s best-known attribute; he plays himself playing a part in a staged fantasy scenario. For Lucas, the tropes of gay porn are subverted and celebrated. Her perspective—that of a female behind the lens making gay male erotica—offers a fresh and lighthearted take on the genre. In the contrived scenes of the Mandwich world there’s not a flannel shirt or fuzzy bear in sight. Instead, Lucas presents the impeccably groomed, sculpted bodies of men who are clearly comfortable unclothed in front of the camera and in their natural element, whether indoors or out.

For example, “Chad, Orca” features Chad Ferro, a New York City dancer/performance artist who poses in the surf, clutching an inflatable orca while showing off a pair of tattooed swords that curve gracefully down the back of his thighs and calves like ceremonial Keris daggers. This man-vs.-wild shot is dynamic and infused with humor. The piece “Adam, Smoked Glassware”— shot from beneath a glass table—includes vintage glassware that frames the naked torso of the model, his eyes locked in a direct gaze with the camera. At once intimate and staged, it leaves the viewer wondering what will happen next.

Future Lucas projects include explorations in Eco-Baroque, “the invented genre of installation art and sculpture,” with fellow artist Bruce Conkle. She’s also considering a book combining Velour Girls pinups with Mandwich images. That sounds fun. Who doesn’t love a good story with a happy ending?

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