"Photography is the key to our work," Bogan explains. "The way this all begins is in the streets. You can't re-create the streets unless you are out there among them. Sometimes we make a lot of trips around the block on the way to work." When they exhibit their sculptures, next to them they always display the photographs of the people who inspired them.
What kinds of people inspire their work: People who are not afraid to be themselves, who are comfortable with their looks and bodies, flaws and all. "We are looking for the people that are so real," MacNelly says. "The ones you look at and say, 'Isn't she wonderful?'"
"Some people just sort of relish in being themselves," Bogan adds. "They may have something that identifies them, be it leopard-print clothing or a bunch of tattoos. Whatever it is, they feel good about themselves.
"Lots of times artists have big statements about their work. Ours is, be yourself. It's a wonderful gift to be able to do that."
How they began collaborating: Both MacNelly and Bogan are self-taught artists. Before they got together Bogan was working with clay-fired sculpture and MacNelly was a painter whose work consisted mostly of landscapes and still-lifes. About 15 years ago, the two were asked to do a project together for a charitable organization, and they created their first sculpture. "In doing it, both of us realized we could expand what we were doing through collaboration," Bogan says.
How they create a work together: Bogan creates the initial sculpture using wire mesh and plaster. "When I do that I really follow the photos," she explains. "If you've got your mother's hips you're going to have them when I finish with you."
Once the plaster dries, MacNelly begins her work, cutting the sculpture's clothing out of canvas as if she were a tailor. She then glues the clothing to the plaster sculpture, covers it with gesso and paints it. "Rita doesn't necessarily follow the photo, because by this point the sculpture has taken on a personality of its own," Bogan says. "I do all the things you can't change about yourself, and Rita does the things you can."
Has anybody ever found themselves among the sculptures?: So far it has happened twice, and it was a nerve-racking experience. "Men get a big charge out of it," Bogan says. "Women are not as pleased to see themselves exaggerated."
What keeps them going: "We love watching the reaction people have to our work," MacNelly says. "That's the real joy in doing it to see people connecting with the work."
Adds Bogan: "This is a way of combining the way we look at the world and the work we do. Obviously, we look at the world with a bit of a smile. These people make us smile and we try to make the sculptures make others smile." - Jessica Ronky Haddad
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