The stripper as muse
Local artists work with Reno’s adult entertainers for the erotic XXXposed show
When my now-boyfriend called and asked for our first date, he said, “There’s this art show, and the subject is strippers. What do you think?”
I’m pretty open-minded, so I agreed. That night, as we examined nudes lying on chaise lounges and peered into jewelry cases containing, among other things, a glass labia pendant, I was completely impressed not only by the beauty and elegance of the female form and the pure talent on display, but by my date’s taste, as well. His wise choice for a first-date activity would surely reveal what we were really made of.
XXXposed, produced by Gallery Cui-ui and Bleulion Art & Space, now approaches its fourth annual show featuring local painters, photographers and sculptors who share the same theme. The nude female form in art is nothing new, but we Nevadans know that “XXX” adds another layer of meaning to the notion of nudity. Strip clubs, brothels, dancing girls—they’re a part of life in Nevada. XXXposed brings artists into that world and models into theirs.
“There’s this connection to the sex industry here in Reno,” says Chad Sorg, photographer, artist and co-owner of Bleulion. “It’s a world that’s kind of intimidating, that most of us never see. And [this is] a way to get artists out of their usual element.”
Dave Bryeans is putting the finishing touches on this year’s pieces.
“Nobody does this for the money. I’ve never sold a piece there, and most people haven’t,” he says. “We do it because it’s fun.” Bryeans, a wood sculptor, is participating in XXXposed for his third year. He’ll be showing a hand-carved marionette and a 2-by-4-foot working foosball table. “The handles are boobs,” he explains, “and there’s this drop slot for cash, and, hopefully, I’ll have some girls working it … and there’s only a goal at one end. The guys can’t win. That’s the deal. You keep the cash rolling as long as possible to keep this erotic, sexual fantasy going until you run out of cash. Once that happens, game over.”
After a stroke in 1991 caused Bryeans to lose sensation in his right hand and arm, he left his detailed illustrations behind and became interested in woodwork. Bryeans, who also works in the local picture-framing business, combines framing, woodworking, paint and mixed media to create unique and thoughtful three-dimensional pieces with a certain childlike quality.
He found out about XXXposed through an artist friend. The idea appealed to him for a few reasons: “It’s fun because you get the opportunity to be creative using a format, instead of just staring at a blank canvas and wondering what to make. You get to use somebody’s energy to get the thing rolling.”
That first year, Bryeans found his model, Misery, through a neighbor who worked at the Men’s Club. “[My neighbor] told me, ‘This girl’s like 33 years old, and she’s been doing this since she was 16. She’s the best one down there. She kills those guys.'”
Misery was more concerned that her horse, Mercy, her true love, make it into Bryeans’ artwork. Bryeans took photos of her as she rode.
“I asked her what it was like when she was working, and she told me, ‘It’s like I’m a lion, and these are just a bunch of sheep.’ So I incorporated that,” he says.
The result was Bryeans’ first XXXposed piece, “Misery and Mercy.” Inspired by Misery’s personality and energy and with a desire to produce something childlike, Bryeans created a woman with huge breasts and bolts for nipples, sitting on a rocking horse. Underneath the horse, tied at the wrists to the rockers of the horse, is “Dollar Bill,” the male figure who can only look but not touch.
Little sheep are painted along the rockers. The carousel-style rocking horse pole conveniently becomes a stripper pole, which becomes Dollar Bill’s … well … you know. Bryeans created three pieces based on his meeting with Misery. Dollar Bill reappears in several of Bryeans’ pieces.
Last year, frustrated with his inability to hear back from any potential models, Bryeans opted for an “anti-stripper” piece, featuring a face with a long, spiraling tongue reaching for a dollar while gears inside the head turn and grind.
Bryeans isn’t the only artist who has had problems getting models. Mark Smith, a photographer who has done work for Dennis Hof and the Moonlight Bunny Ranch, will also be featured in this year’s XXXposed. “Women all share the same three qualities: love, vanity and lateness,” jokes Smith.
But this year, as momentum for XXXposed has grown, so has the number of interested models. Fantasy Girls even held meetings to introduce strippers to artists, which made the process much easier. Bryeans had an idea this year to create a 22-inch marionette based on photos of a stripper; during a meeting, he found a ready participant: Lisa.
What Bryeans describes as the “police line-up photo shoot” with Lisa lasted only about an hour. For the shoot, Lisa brought her husband, who was clearly the most nervous of the three. But he eventually loosened up.
“He was actually quite helpful,” says Bryeans. “He suggested different outfits or poses that she’d look good in. He ended up being pretty cool.”
Dianna Callender (formerly Sion) is a mixed-media artist who has participated in three XXXposed shows. She’s sure that being female has helped with the anxiety of her modeling sessions. “The models are usually eager to help, and a lot of them are on the road to modeling careers,” says Callender. “And for them, taking their clothes off is like eating breakfast—no big deal.”
The artists are often the uncomfortable ones: “Especially for the artists who’ve never been to a strip club,” says Sorg. “Sometimes they’re so nervous that they seem weird to the girls. … It’s weird talking to someone who’s just standing there naked, I guess. But the girls are so natural about it. It’s just a matter of getting everyone comfortable. Everything is on the up and up, and no one’s getting anything over on the girl because she agreed to do it.”
Callender loves the show because she loves the female form. “It’s one of my favorite subjects,” she says. “There’s so much glamour involved in that world. I try to show their beauty. I think there’s so much stigma attached to that whole thing, and I don’t like to portray the ugliness. There’s so much beauty involved.”
“Some people may be offended by it, but for me, I can’t think of anything more incredible to shoot,” says Smith. “Something that speaks of femininity, through whatever form, is beautiful.”
For Bryeans, the joy is in creating energy: “The way they move, I just try to make my work move that way, to translate that energy. They have so much charisma, so much energy, and it’s so sensual and erotic. They’ve perfected it. So I just try to capture a little of that.”
But for all of the artists, XXXposed is not only a chance to be inspired by a provocative subject but also, as Callender explains, “to make noise for local art"—and for the models, too, who occasionally appear at the show.
“We have such a diverse culture here in Reno,” Callender says. “This show just brings it all together.”
It brings people together, too. I can vouch for that.