Las Vegas Sun

December 20, 2014

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Ladies of the light

Artist brings new radiance to vintage mannequins

Two yeas ago Joe Clark, an antiques collector and longtime prop artist for Siegfried & Roy, was dressing a vintage mannequin with a vintage lampshade and flower petals made of abalone.

He added a light bulb. In walked Cindy Funkhouser.

“I have to have that,” said Funkhouser, an antiques dealer. “I don’t care how much it is, I want that. And can you make 10 more?”

The lamps that Clark made for his first show in the back gallery at the Funk House were a smash. Outlandish and topped with vintage accoutrements, the works came to be known as “art lamps,” functional artistic compositions of vintage wares, each with its own theme. The first lamps sold for as much as $2,000. Clark, a Massachusetts native who moved to Las Vegas 18 years ago, was launched as an artist.

Now he’s returned with another series, “So Rare II,” on display at the Fallout Gallery on Commerce Street.

In the sitting room of his 1935 Las Vegas bungalow, a dimly lighted and shadowy environment decked out with the finest rugs and antiques, Clark says he’s blown away by the reaction to his “ladies,” which were inspired by childhood memories of being dragged through department stores.

Built on his Moroccan coffee table surrounded by a 1930s sofa and chairs, the women still wear their original makeup.

They are sultry, sexy, vixenesque and glamorous, but not perfect.

“The chip on her chin. I don’t fix stuff like that,” Clark says. “There is something romantic about the flaws, the dings, the cracks; that all adds to the realness.”

But don’t expect a second-rate work. Clark puts all his love and some household appliances into crafting the sculptures. Like a dress designer who understands the line of a woman’s body, Clark understands his vintage mannequins and adjusts to their forms with strategically placed adornments.

A wedding cake lady lamp features a mannequin with a cake plate topping her head, a veil attached. Twinkling lights, Capodimonte porcelain roses and glass beads wrap around her body.

Another lady wears a Proctor Silex lighted electric coffee brewer atop a plate on her head. Dangling from the turquoise plate are matching coffee cups.

A 1944 telephone serves as the base of another lamp. The receiver, which Clark says still works, stems from her head. A ’50s desk lamp, screwed into the head of the mannequin, lights it from above.

Another wears a brass art deco chandelier with twinkling flamelike red lights.

Sitting amid the lamps last week, Clark played a recording of the lamps’ theme song, “So Rare,” written by John Rufus Sharpe and Jerry Herst, and humorously explained that the ladies sometimes seem to have a relationship with one another. Laughing, his friend Douglas Sargeant, who assists with the lamps, added, “It’s very loud sometimes in here. It’s a real hen house.”

Some come with stories. Many of the hundreds of shells (conch shells, starfish, coral and more) affixed to a lamp that sold at Clark’s last show hold a little piece of paper with a note. The woman who owned the shells received them from men all over the world. For the headpiece, Clark took his bathroom light fixture, mounted it on the mannequin and placed the shell of a large sea urchin, which holds the light bulb, inside.

Clark says his years working with Siegfried & Roy at their show and at the Jungle Palace helped him hone his abilities. He regards the magicians, who gave him advice with props at the show, as mentors, but he credits his childhood and Americana for the inspiration.

“It’s fascinating to pull up some of these memories and create work from them.”

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