New Sin City Gallery Exhibit is Strong and Sexy

Artist JK Russ’ video celebrates female empowerment


Photo by Checko Salgado

Sexual strength, artistic insight.

Looking for both? Look … Behind Closed Doors.

“There are lots of amazing women here doing amazing things and they don’t get held back as much as in other places,” says JK Russ, a contributor to Sin City Gallery’s current Behind Closed Doors exhibit. “That’s why women have a domination in my work. It’s my acknowledgment and appreciation of what I see women doing here in Las Vegas.”

One of the Sin City Gallery’s regular roster of artists, Russ helps owner Laura Henkel break new ground by displaying her work, “Neo-Romance,” the gallery’s initial video installation, marking the first time the space will host an exhibition for both daytime and nighttime viewing. Also included in the Doors show are three black-and-white canvases by Montreal artist François Dubeau.

“JK’s work is entirely in a class by itself,” Henkel says. “It’s complex, and there’s an aspect of it that is quite primal and grabs you. It ignites the senses.”

Running a little less than two minutes but played on a continuous loop on the gallery wall, “Neo-Romance” draws inspiration from the late-19th-century art movement that romanticized historic rural landscapes. Updating it to modern Vegas, Russ couples scenes from Gass Avenue to Interstate 215 with glowing canopies of Downtown lights and juxtaposes them against giant images of local burlesque figures. Among the busty Vegas beauties: Roxy Rouge, Janell Burgess, Lou Lou Roxy, Miss Charlamay, Staysha Randall and Ivana Blaize.

“I have a real interest in female sexuality and performance, and finding the burlesque scene here, it’s just perfect,” says the New Zealand-born Russ, her lilting accent intact after moving here in 2010 with her husband, artist Matthew Couper.

“I enjoy the glamour, the sequins, and there’s a real sexuality inherent in burlesque. At the same time, it’s the grunginess of Downtown Las Vegas with all the bright lights and neon, so it brings those things together.”

Primarily a collage artist, Russ’ work is often akin to a sexual fever dream with a surreal appeal, a collision of sensual female imagery with landscapes both man-made and natural, including the rugged desert and mountainous terrain encircling Las Vegas. Nearly always at the heart of Russ’ work is female sexual empowerment, which is especially potent in “Neo-Romance” as the burlesque performers pictured are giants towering over the other images.

“It’s like that movie, The Attack of the 50 ft Woman, where she’s coming through the screen, or that music video by the Rolling Stones [for the single “Love Is Strong”] where she’s coming through a cityscape,” Russ says. “They are potentially quite dangerous and destructive. In these [‘Neo-Romance’] they’re not, but they are dominating the landscape.”

Common throughout Russ’ work are depictions of women as both protectors and predators, creating an effect that can cut both ways with viewers. “It depends on what people bring to the images themselves,” she says.

“Some might find it threatening, and I can see how it can be interpreted that way. Strong female sexuality can be scary sometimes. But it’s also part maternal, not just with their children but also out in the community. Women will often be the [ones who care].”

Call it sensuously cerebral. Or cerebral sensuality. Either way, says Henkel, the impact is undeniable. “The way JK is able to juxtapose the imagery and incorporate the local culture, sexuality and empowerment, you can’t help but be mesmerized by her work,” Henkel says.

“This is a new genre for her, and it’s spectacular.”

Behind Closed Doors, 1-7 p.m. Wed-Sat, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Sun, video installation, Neo-Romance 7-9 p.m. Wed-Sat and by appointment, through May 28, Sin City Gallery in the Arts Factory, 107 E. Charleston Blvd., 608-2461,

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