RANCHO SANTA FE — Among the snowbirds to arrive in La Jolla last month is a “beer-drinking, pasta-eating, cigar-smoking lover boy” named Rhinoman. Those are the words Rancho Santa Fe artist Carol Guerra uses to describe her whimsical, life-size bronze sculpture.“Rhinoman” is on exhibit through June at the Alexander Salazar Fine Art Gallery, 1162 Prospect St. in La Jolla.“The idea for this sculpture began in 1970 when I was finishing the details on a small ceramic sculpture,” Guerra said. “As I was working on the folds in the back of the rotund man’s pants, the image of the folds in a rhinoceros’s backend kept creeping into my imagination. In 1972, I was hesitant and only hinted at the rhino butt. By the 1980s in the lithograph, ‘Fat Zoo,’ my subtlety was gone and all of the folds, bumps and even a tail emerged.”
By 2004, Guerra said she could no longer resist the urge to bring Rhinoman to life in a 5 foot, 9 inch, three-dimensional sculpture.
“My favorite preoccupation was the texture and tail of Rhinoman’s backend,” she said. “I spent a day at the San Diego Zoo just taking photos of the rhino’s butt. This particular rhinoceros cooperated by holding still and posing as if he knew I was going to immortalize him or … maybe he was insinuating something else.”
Rhinoman’s wife — “Nag, Nag, Nag” — is perched on his head in the form of a screaming crow with a woman’s face embedded in its breast.
“The old crow personifies an unhappy, haranguing woman,” Guerra said. “You can hear her incessant ‘caw, caw, caw.’ The old crow’s mouth is forever open — continuously talking — babbling on and on and on.”
She added, “Her wings are aloft. She could land anywhere — maybe your home.”
Art enthusiasts interested in purchasing the sculpture can do so for a price of $65,000. This is the first of what will be nine limited-edition Rhino men. The remaining will be done on commission, with collectors having the option of customizing the logo on the baseball cap and the brand name of the can in his hand.
Guerra, who was born in Chicago, said she was a child when she first exhibited artistic talent.
“When I was in kindergarten, all of the kids were drawing splashes and stickmen,” she said. “I drew a lady pushing a buggy in a park and I remember that I was having trouble doing the back wheels. The teacher called my dad and said, ‘Get this girl some lessons.’”
She received her Bachelor of Arts in art and English at Alverno College in Milwaukee, Wis., and earned a master’s in printmaking, lithography and etching from Northwestern University in Chicago.
Guerra continued her studies at the Art Institute of Chicago and touring European museums and galleries. She also taught art in the Chicago public high schools, and at the university level, as well as in her own studio in Barrington, Ill.
She moved to Rancho Santa Fe with her husband in 1997.
“After a 15-year period of selling real estate, I resumed art full-time in 2000,” she said. “I did my first bronze statue and got hooked on sculpture. I’ve been working on Rhinoman for seven years and nine months.”
When Guerra finished Rhinoman last June, she placed him in the care of Justin Snow at the BronzeArtwork art foundry in Escondido.
“Justin said the detail was so exact that it was like a piece of fine jewelry,” she said. “After he completed Rhinoman on Dec. 8 I had him sent to Alex.”
Salazar has represented Guerra for eight years and has seen the evolution of Rhinoman.
“The final casting took six months to complete and was a celebration, not only of Carolyn, but her determination to make Rhinoman a reality,” he said. “Everyone loves Rhinoman in La Jolla. He’s like someone in the family that everyone loves.”
Dr. Elaine King, nationally renowned critic and curator at Carnegie Mellon University, wrote of Rhinoman: “I like the blend of serious issues, real technique and a sense of humor.”
To view a video of the making of Rhinoman, visit carolynguerra.com.
For more information visit alexandersalazarfineart.com or call (858) 551-8453. Gallery hours are Sunday and Monday from noon to 5 p.m. and Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.