Loving Las Vegas artists return to show pop culture

By Laurel Stowell

After winning a green card in a ballot Matthew Couper and partner Jo Russ have established themselves in pop culture paradise Las Vegas.
The two are back in New Zealand for a month, for the Pop Gun show at the Rayner Brothers' Gallery in Wanganui. Couper also has a show at the Paul Nache Gallery in Gisborne.
For the Pop Gun show Russ has added collage to the covers of actual record albums, turning a gospel group into coneheads and giving Stevie Nicks blue skin and a parrot to hold.
Couper is showing pencil drawings, oil paintings and portraits scratched on aluminium, to make Johnny Cash into a 15th century gentleman and have a poetic muse hold an electric guitar.
Also in the show are oil paintings of Andy Warhol and Hank Williams on watercolour paper by two-time Whanganui Arts Review winner Andrew Ritson.
Mark and Paul Rayner are showing ceramic busts of pop stars, including favourites Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley and a set of Toby jugs depicting people in Paul's make believe band, The Ray-Tones.
"It's a group of artists who are using pop music as a springboard for art," Mr Rayner said.
Couper and Russ fell in love with US pop culture during a trip there in 2008.
They liked the Spanish colonial influence in southern California, the 1940s and '50s wild west bravado and the sheer scale and variety of the country.
Couper applied for a green card, allowing him to work there and bring his partner along.
He won one of 50,000 issued internationally each year and passed all the tests set by the US Embassy.

The two emigrated in July last year.
They have been there 10 months and taken a couple of road trips to see more of the vast country.
"When you are an artist it's great to have that stimulus," Russ said.
They are renting a house in Las Vegas, a city of 2.8 million that spreads across swathes of desert to the mountains. They have studios and work at home, selling work through galleries in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Diego.
They said they had been making a living, barely, but said that would improve as they made more contacts.
Las Vegas was similar to Wanganui - a smaller centre four hours from Los Angeles, with a small but burgeoning art scene and a good local arts course.
It was a transient place, where the cult of celebrity was rampant. Younger stars like Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears arrived and went wild for a weekend, then returned to Los Angeles.
Couper and Russ are only 10 minutes by freeway from central Las Vegas. They said it was easy to get around, there was plenty of parking and nobody walked.
"When you go out you go into the middle of Caesar's Palace and places like that, you can see Elvises and Marilyn Monroes in the street. It's such a visual spectacle - it's great raw material."

- Wanganui Chronicle

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