The mating rituals and jungle atmosphere of the Las Vegas Strip are rarely discreet. Decorative plumage, strutting and preening are part of the living décor, and the dense network of noisy patterns, shiny accessories and loud behavior makes wilderness metaphors endless, no matter how controlled the corporate Strip.
And so when artist JK Russ set out to create a collection of works inspired by two extreme opposites, Las Vegas and Lou Reed (one in particular hated the other), Russ was able to see a strong common ground and useful discord in ideas of gender, fantasy and transformation.
“A Walk On the Wild Side” at Sin City Gallery consists of Russ’ collages, most of them built from Las Vegas themes, aesthetics and physical material (local magazines) she pieces together, merging the fake reality with the natural rugged landscape.
The resulting hybrids present an environment that is much more imaginative, bizarrely organic and, in some cases, fashionably retro than Las Vegas (in a Brandy Alexander, sunken fireplace, other-worldly suave and shag-carpet sort of way). Most of all, the works are exotic.
Her “Desert City Birdlife Vista” — hand-cut adhesive vinyl placed directly on the wall—resembles a floating island of sorts, the kind you’d spot with your binoculars and then disembark to explore, an elongated thicket of ornate architecture, nightlife and even imported nature (saguaro cactus, not native to Nevada). Perched large and looking perfect are the nightclub and pool-party girls, their heads replaced with those of sharp-beaked birds.
Russ’ works are often sexy and fun robust creations of women in desert landscapes with pastel atmospheric skies stretching eternal. Microorganisms double as large and strange plant life, while minerals morph with body shapes and snakes are prevalent.
Two of the exhibit’s gender-bending works, “Candy Rock” and “Holly Rock,” tip a hat to Reed’s “Transformer” album.
Russ is an admirer of work by the late Hannah Hoch and of collage’s subversive potential, which provides different perspectives. Here, beautiful subversion is afoot.
“A Walk on the Wild Side” is on display at Sin City Gallery, 107 E. Charleston Blvd., through Aug. 24; gallery hours are from 1 to 7 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday. Call 702-608-2461 for more information.