TALES OF THE FLESH 2
WESTERN PROJECT POP-UP EXHIBITION at 4619 GALLERY, LOS ANGELES, CA 2016
photos by Erin Kermanikian
Aaron Sheppard is an artist's artist. His work traverses painting, sculpture, drawing, performance, and installation. The new Double-Wide with Hydrais his version of Dürer's Feast of the Rosary from 1506. Sheppard's sensibility has always appeared pro-fane, gritty and often taboo, but internally contains the humility of spiritual adoration. He thematically hopscotches across time, history and styles often using classical compositions as a trope to explore more fluid ideas about desire and sexuality. From the formal religious painting Feast of the Rosary, Sheppard has created a circus barge of characters:"A Victorian mermaid queen with two vaginas allows Dante closer examination of her 'second beauty'. Baby Jesus fish crowns Captain Nemo while he himself gets crowned by the fangs of Leviathan. Eek the Geek waits in line to meet the Mer-Queen, as do characters from Alice in Wonderland, a pregnant Zulu princess, Judas, a dragon, a clown, a cannibal, Death...even Dürer him-self. They flank her like kids at the mall waiting to sit on Santa's lap. A barker donning Gallagher's top hat hands out halos and urinates on the crowd."
He often presents human biological variation as gifted saints come to deliver a different message: life is all forms, and desires all forms. Mary as mermaid with two vaginas. Is this reverence, blasphemy or Bhakti? Is this a divine freak show? Dante is beguiled and bewitched by his desire as are all the figures surrounding the mer-maid. This work addresses his question, "is it not possible to have earthly and heavenly delights simultaneously? Use and enjoy it all while still properly expressing love? Have your cake and eat it too (without losing/off with your head)?" Sheppard's enormous 20 foot painting is mural size, nearly identical to the scale of Ensor's, Christ's Entry Into Brussels from 1889. Both share an expressionistic quality and energy; each event stylistically depicted with grotesque figures enhancing the pathos of human drama. Additionally, his paint quality is forcefully ragged yet calculated. It is a kind of pop or camp expressionism, able to suggest the emotionality and fervor of sex and desire; a fury of exaggeration in which Life is seen as flourishing.
The right panel of Double-Wide with Hydra may contain another moral tale: in a cave Hercules is battling the Leviathan threatening the mermaid, while his own penis is sprouting into the Hydra itself. Consumed by one's own craving? It is perhaps the similar path.Sheppard gives no answers except to suggest that the complexity of mortal life is to be enjoyed; variance is a gift, the pageantry is to be participated in, and living is immediate and vital. However in another moment, he writes, "I don't know what it is all about. Fantasy and fish, piss and cherub cock..."
It is all good.
-Cliff Benjamin Press Release October 2016