Let’s just get this right out into the open. You might not want your mother peeking over your shoulder while you explore Anne Bengard’s provocative portfolio. That would be just a bit, you know… weird. Think about all of the questions that your dear, sweet, highly inquisitive mummers is going to have. Even if she’s a progressive-minded, been there, done that lady of the world, do you really want to break down the possible reasons why there’s a butterfly thingie jammed in the milky cataract-stricken chick’s mouth? To your adorbs-able momma?!?! Of course you don’t. Drawing on the extensive forensic experience that your mumsie has acquired while binge-watching all 657 seasons of Law & Order: SVU, she’ll let you know how utterly evident it is that rigor mortis has already taken hold of the poor little stringy-haired liberal arts drop-out.
She’ll make you well aware of the likelihood that some sort of wildly deviant, penetrative sex act was perpetrated before or even after the unfortunate victim was brutally murdered. Mum will then urge you — no… quite possibly demand… that you carry pepper spray or nunchucks at all times because this horrific fate will never befall one of her beloved children. Not on her watch, dagnammit.
You just know that the discussion about Anne Bengard’s unorthodox choice of artistic subject matter will then transition into an inquiry about why the blue-haired gal with the Betty Page bangs is knotted up like spider’s prey, swinging all willy-nilly from the rafters. Mamacita will explain that this kind of thing only happens to attention-starved girls with absentee fathers or crack head mothers. She’ll continue hypothesizing that maybe the lost soul that Bengard chose to depict is some sort of freaky-deeky debauchee who ruthlessly rips the legs off of innocent baby crickets in order to fashion herself eyelash falsies. It will be impossible for the woman who bore you from her loins (during a harrowing 62 hour labor) to then resist asking, “Eyyy! And what’s with all of the saliva-y mouths and bondage and that creepy head harness whatchamahoozits?? I just don’t get it!” When mommykins asks a question, she deserves the respect of your thoughtful response. Time to explain what purpose Jennings gags serve — you owe her that much. Like I said, retiring to your pillow fort before getting into the meat and potatoes of this article might be a pretty swell idea.
Upon poring over Anne Bengard’s manifestly nonconformist artworks, even the professional kink aficionados among us may have questions-a-plenty bubbling to the surface. It’s only natural to wonder what compels the Leipzig-born, Berlin-based creative to depict barbarically oversized pearls jutting out of various orifices or an intimidating array of dental accoutrements unceremoniously splaying slobbery mouths wide open. Some onlookers are awfully trigger happy when it comes to classifying her images as lascivious. If Bengard’s subject matter revolved solely around glittery, triple-horned ‘eunuch-corns’ engaging in cupcake orgies, however, would we be so quick to label her a three-pronged joystick beastie sugar rush fetishist? No way. We’d just clink our glasses while high-fiving her for spinning such an outlandishly kooky visual yarn. So, maybe reserve all judgments until you understand the bigger picture.
The painter/pastel artist/muralist, who was featured in one of Beautiful Bizarre Magazine’s illustrious Art Throbs in 2016, is just about as broad-minded as a person can get. It makes sense that her innate curiosity and appreciation of counterculture is a driving force in her creative endeavors. Why must we perpetuate the notion of a one-size-fits-all perspective of the world when there are so many different strokes for a whole heck of a lot of folks? Despite what some of us have long been brainwashed to believe, not everything should be vanilla, nor IS it – at least in the “real world”. As such, Bengard’s artistic output meditates on the curiously unexpected beauty that is inherent within unconventional scenarios and predilections. Even if her art makes you feel a little out of sorts or squeamish at times, by viewing it through an unbiased lens, you’re still able to recognize that it is a creative conduit for awareness, tolerance, understanding, and good old fashioned respect for side-lined communities.
Bengard’s prismatic pastels peppered with menacing pomegranates, pearlescent ball gags, and other peculiar probing paraphernalia are expressly composed with a yin/yang sensibility. Her Sailor Moon anime-inspired color palette harkens back to dreamy childhood evenings when our parents tucked us into a buttercream frosted, happy-go-lucky slumberland of security and protection. But whoa – wait a minute! Nestle that ‘everything is dandy in candyland vibe’, all nice-and-easy, into an upside-down Clockwork Orange world and ha ha haaaa! What do you have? The very incongruity of Bengard’s wheeeeee vs. whoaaaaa leitmotif burdens your subconscious in a way that shrewdly commands your attention. You wonder about this… certainly a lot more about that. In the midst of your heady contemplation, you demolish three and a half chocolate bars (80% cacao minimum) in the dark while listening to The Cure’s Disintegration. Surely I’m not alone. No? Anybody?? Time to eat that lonely bit of leftover chocky bar, I guess.
Artistically, Anne Bengard’s name has practically become synonymous with a non-conformist pastel watercolor unicorn fiesta. The medium of watercolor, itself, tends to summon images of twilight year landscape painting hobbyists. Bengard, however, has for the better part of her artistic career taken it to an intriguingly outré level by melding her signature holographic palette with the heart and soul of old school Japanese anime and manga. Working in watercolors as far back as her teen years, she discusses how embracing the humble artistic trifecta of pigments, brushes and good ol’ H20 fueled her drive to bring her artistic A game.
“I wanted to enter the Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery in London. But they only accepted entries in oil and acrylic. I certainly have a stubborn ‘I will show you otherwise’ streak and set myself the task of producing watercolor paintings that are just as good as oil and acrylic, where you wouldn’t even be able to tell it was a watercolor.”
The risk-taking ideology that Bengard prides herself on is evident in the many avant-garde images that she has rendered as far back as 2012. There has also been a marked progression in her artistic skill – astonishingly, so. Two of her most notable and relatively neoteric projects, however, take her painting prowess to a whole different level. It’s not every day that an artist’s claim to fame is brightening up Berlin with not one but two bondage murals! Surely that should earn her an honorary Guinness World Records title, or at the very least, a coupon for some free rope at Home Depot. In 2018, she was commissioned by the now-defunct co-working space KinkyWork to liven up their interior with her ‘Bound’ painting of longtime chameleonic model-muse Das Fräulein Fuchs.
“With this piece,” she explains, “I wanted to steer away from any heavy sexualization often associated with rope bondage and, while still acknowledging its erotic appeal, shift the focus onto the sensual experience of being bound.”
Let’s jump ahead in time. The proprietors of The Noname Restaurant were seeking a dynamically edgy décor element to elevate their space. They appealed to Baye Fall, the founder of a 50+ member artist collective called Murales Berlin. Given that Anne Bengard has worked with Fall’s organization since June 2018 and her artistic brand is certainly eye-catching, he showed the restauranteurs portfolio shots of her ‘Bound’ mural. The apparently undogmatic proprietors were captivated by the vulnerability vs. strength that Bengard’s seemingly introspective figure radiates, resulting in her receiving a green light to create a similar-themed image for the five-star restaurant. In keeping with her desire to depict empowered, fully in control women, she actually pitched the idea of a supremely Shibari-ized Fräulein clad in “a very conservative burgundy dress”. She admits that she was “surprised when they requested more skin” since she tries “to steer away from clichés without ignoring erotic appeal.” Bengard elaborates on her stance:
“I would never paint a completely naked woman who looks like she’s in pain or ecstasy, for example… not that I have anything against that and I’m a strong advocate for autonomy, but I’ve seen that too many times and what interests me are the subtleties.”
The result? Her lithe, lavishly laced lady with badass resting beeeeyotch face just so happens to have all of her naughty bits and baubles respectfully tucked away for a rainy day.
“What’s important in my depictions of bondage,” Bengard asserts, “is that she never looks like she is a victim, suffering or in pain. I try to shift focus to facial expressions rather than other parts of the body. With the NoName mural, I wanted a strong expression of certainty and authority to counteract the sense of vulnerability of being tied up and the somewhat revealing outfit, which does, of course, shift a lot of focus on her butt… but then you look at her face and it’s like, ‘Yep… that’s a strong woman!’. Also, her arms aren’t tied up (as in immobile or restricted), nor are her legs!” The two-time bondage mural maven is very clear about the driving force fueling her artistic integrity. “Consent and respect are at the core of my ethos. Before doing a reference shoot to execute an idea, I always make sure I communicate my idea as clearly as possible and make sure my models are comfortable with it.”
Bengard’s dynamically cheeky display for The Noname Restaurant, augmented with real ropes and an imaginative, 12-minute long video backdrop, came together with a tremendous amount of planning and artistic adroitness. The key players responsible for conjuring the eating establishment’s bitchen vixen included Anne Bengard, of course, who took on the role of paintress extraordinaire. Baye Fall curated and managed the project. Tiziano Mirabella was the brainchild behind the dazzling projection mapping installation. Chandler Barnes aka SchweineHornia brought Bengard’s painterly Shibari strokes to life with his bondage roping expertise. Even the video projector was given creative panache thanks to an overlapping metal sculpture crafted by Steve Studinski.
It’s easy to see why Bengard is enthusiastic about working with Fall’s creative collective.
“The condition of each Murales Berlin project is to grant the artist the opportunity to stay true to their own style, interpretation and extend the creative concept collectively, or in some cases, individually. This free approach is at the core of Murales Berlin’s ethos, where the work of the artist stays authentic to the artist’s vision. Of course, compromises have to be made when working for a client, but that’s why certain artists fit certain projects. The client chooses the style of art, then certain artists will be suggested and a creative concept is drawn up.”
Rendering alternative and wildly unexpected worlds in a way that catches the beholder off-guard certainly mirrors Anne Bengard’s commitment to squeezing the artistic marrow out of life, especially when she’s treading uncharted and slightly scary territory. Her work also is an extension of her unconventional perspective on artistic beauty (not to mention perfectly innocuous objects). Case in point:
“One day, I was putting my hair up and held the hair clip in my mouth. I thought, ‘Wow, that looks gnarly — like it’s some strange sex toy — but it’s just a (butterfly) hair clip’.
That led to Bengard’s ongoing series of oral fixation artworks capturing the oddly grotesque appearance of perfectly benign fashion accessories as well as no-doubt-about-‘em sex toys. People who feel “threatened” by “something as harmless as a hair clip” inspired her to continue delving into social taboos. Bengard names “foot fetishism in contrast to hype culture” as the subject matter of an upcoming artistic foray, but first on her agenda is exploring bondage among the male set. She notes that while the latter is “nothing new, there are certain stereotypes of men in mainstream culture (that) I want to depict, which will be a stark and unexpected contrast.”
These two preparatory sketches of London dancer Christian Sharrier, for example, reflect the artist’s acknowledgment of our culture’s shift toward the acceptance and respect of modern-day masculinity. Quite unlike the world that once belonged to our fathers, their grandfathers, and so on, men living in the 19th year of the 3rd millennium are finally free to be vulnerable if they choose. Bengard’s latest series recognizes the inherent power of pushing aside gender norms/personal fears so that fragility and sensitivity can be revealed. She feels, as — thankfully — so many of us do these days, that “a man who owns his vulnerability” automatically projects “strength and grace”. The impressively true-to-life appearance of her muse and his hanging-in-the-balance entanglement is quite a sight to behold. How Bengard manages, through the aid of humble graphite, to depict his emotions so believably upon the page really speaks volumes about how far she has come in her craft. The oil and canvas version(s) of Sharrier’s Shibari state can’t come soon enough.
Peruse Bengard’s portfolio and with each year that ticks by, you can bear witness to the leaps and bounds that her artistic skills have taken. Does that mean that she’s content to rest on her laurels?
“I feel like I pushed the watercolor as far as it can go in terms of portraiture,” Bengard admits. As such, the long-time pastel-loving paintress has made a very conscious effort in 2020 to venture outside of her normal comfort zone. Experimentation is key to her fresh new career direction, such as “showing some of my photography, using a color palette (black, red, very dark) that’s the opposite of what I’m known for and dropping watercolor in favor of oil painting.” She adds, “Right now, my focus is exploring and perfecting my technique with oil, being able to create work of higher realism, depth and color intensity.”
The diverse images conjured up by daring creatives can really shake things up in the ol’ day-to-day, so amen to that – and we all crave a little flavor-flave now and again, don’t we? Dipping our big toe in creatively quirky waters enables us to expand upon our own personal beliefs. At the very least, it helps us acknowledge that even if some things aren’t necessarily our cuppa tea, who are WE to say that there isn’t a place for them in this vast world? Perhaps it’s naïve to wax poetic on the idea that we’re all highly evolved enough in the year 2020 to resist passing judgment on the creative vision of artistic risk-takers like Anne Bengard. Donning her holographic lens, however, makes the bitter pill of reality happily fade into a highly saturated daydream of free-thinking possibilities.