Two mouse-like beings snuggle together, eyes closed in oblivion. A long shelf is lined with identical, bug-like creatures whose upright wings and chameleon-like faces are rendered in raw, gray clay, waiting to be finished. These are the ceramic inhabitants of Rebekah Bogard’s studio.
In a recent gallery installation, creatures nearly human in size arched in ecstasy atop ceramic pedestals shaped like pillows, bathtubs or bubbles. The cute, cartoony beasts greeted each other with carnal curiosity.
“Who in their right mind would choose art [as a career]?” Rebekah Bogard says, laughing. For Bogard, it’s a demanding job. The ceramicist is working in her basement studio at the University of Nevada, Reno on a public holiday, when most state employees are taking a break. She’s almost always in the studio. She cranks out her labor-intensive sculptures—they require mold-making, casting, hand-building and painting—at a prolific rate.
Bogard, 34, is a self-professed tomboy, unguarded and approachable with a big smile and an infectious giddy streak.
“I’m inspired by Disney, Bambi and that kind of stuff. I love cartoons. I watch tons of TV,” she admits. It may not be the first thing you’d expect to hear from an art professor. Bogard can keep up with academic discourse just fine, but she also believes in following her own path.
“I like to talk about things I like,” she says unapologetically. The first things she mentions are basic creature comforts—sleeping and eating.
She refers to one of her favorite violations of the contemporary-art rule book: drawing animals. She likes to do it, so she does it.
“You have to follow your passion,” she says. “For me, art has always been an escape. I’ve always been a person who’s lived inside my head. Maybe that’s a more fun and playful world, one that I would prefer to live in.
“I guess I’m a romantic, and I’m an idealist,” she continues. “There’s not that much artwork that really focuses on romance.”
Especially if your version of romance comes straight from the Cartoon Network or from the social conventions of dogs greeting each other at the park. In Bogard’s sculptures, tails are raised, intimate views of body parts are exchanged, and prurient interactions are made easy-to-swallow with a thick, syrupy coating of cuteness and a playful assertion of “who-me?” innocence.
“I’m reclaiming … that femininity stuff, pink and hearts and roses, with a kind of sexuality that turns it on its nose a bit,” she explains.
For Bogard, laboring to create a fantasy world has led to real-world success. In the two years since she earned an MFA at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and moved to Reno, she’s seen her reputation in the art world skyrocket. She’s been profiled in national ceramics magazines, such as Clay Times and Ceramics Monthly, and she was one of four artists in last summer’s Nevada Triennial whose work was highlighted in a mini-solo exhibition at the Nevada Museum of Art.
Between accolades and exhibits, she’s usually holed up in the studio among textbook illustrations of mythical animals and pencil-drawing studies that look like anime cartoons. She shoots for 12-hour days whenever possible, working to populate the world with life-size incarnations of the creatures from her imagination.