Fun with Death

Using 30 Nevada artists, Chris Bauder curates life’s “ultimate” truth

Chris Bauder wants to keep things light. The artist, installer and occasional curator best known for his lithe latex paintwork is producing the second iteration of his collaborative exhibit, Skull. The 2011 show tapped 22 creative folks to present a broad range of work addressing this anything-but-boneheaded subject. Yet unlike the first installment, the 30 artists participating in this version have a specific theme: death. “The first time around, I just let everyone do pretty much whatever they wanted,” Bauder says. “For this, I wanted them to specifically explore what death means to them as an artist.” 

The 34-year-old, who comes from a stable, middle-class Vegas upbringing where “nothing really bad happened,” doesn’t really concern himself with literal death. He’s much more interested in its figurative possibilities. Bauder wants artists to have as much fun with the concept as their imagination will allow—as long as it is authentic. 

“Many of the artists are hunters and fisherman, so I wanted to get that perspective.” Bauder says. This theme is evident in gun enthusiast Sean Russell’s “223,” a lead skull with entry and exit wounds. For Russell, death is a violent, graphic act to be feared, and his creative process embodies that. 

Some of the pieces echo the eternal dangers of the louche life. Mike McCollum’s “Dead Drunk Barstool,” positions a skull directly below the seat of a barstool. For McCollum, death is merely a bout of alcohol poisoning away. Joseph Shores’ print “Still #1 (Dublin)” captures the Irish notion of struggling between the immensities of life and death, beautifully combining food, drink and decline in a romantic way that would have undoubtedly made James Joyce proud.

Bauder’s own contribution, “Intergalactic Prophylactic Merchandiser,” a latex alien condom machine with a post-coital receptacle, focuses on the figurative, but also speaks to how our daily indulgences can kill us. “Not that I think I’m going to die having sex,” Bauder quips. “But it’s like using the expression, ‘Blank is going to be the death of me,’ or ‘Sex is going to be the death of me.’” He may be on to something: The French refer to orgasm as le petit mort, “the little death.” Figurative expressions aside, these pieces are reminders that by indulging our vices, we engage in death on the installment plan, dying a little every day.

The exhibit brings together a spectrum of Nevada artists from the Vegas and Reno communities (Bauder attended UNR before receiving a MFA from UNLV). They range from nationally recognized figures such as Michael Sarich and Jim Pink, to emerging artists Sue Kay Lee and Ahren Hertel. If the viewer notices similarities throughout the exhibit that may have to do with the fact that veterans Sarich and Pink instructed and mentored artists Evan Dent, Mike Ogilvie and Bauder.

When looking at Skull, the mortality of the artists themselves becomes apparent. 

Since this show may be a stab at artistic immortality, it wouldn’t kill you to go and check it out. Light, deep, whimsical, no matter the varying styles in Skull, in 100 years, all of these creators will be dead … and so will you. 

Skull: A biennial exhibition curated by Chris Bauder at CSN, Feb. 22-April 26, 6-9 p.m. April 12 artist closing reception, 3200 E. Cheyenne Ave., North Las Vegas, 651-4000,