In January of 2014 I moved to Las Vegas from Los Angeles to begin my artist residency at “The Container Park”. It was off of Fremont St, a previously abandoned portion of the old strip that was being revitalized by “The Downtown Project”. My gallery was in a cozy metal shipping container that nestled into a sea of other shipping containers filled with artists, designers, restaurants, and various shops. Despite my hard working business partner and the traffic of patrons that perused through the area, which left me with a lot of inspiring connections and conversations, I was for the most part, very alone.
I lived in Henderson by myself in a two bedroom studio. One bedroom was where I worked, and the other was where I slept. In the daytime I would drive out to downtown from the 215 to the 15, and pass Las Vegas Blvd to the historic strip, and work in the shipping container. As the sun would set, I would hang outside the gallery and laugh with the next door glass artists Mya and Elisha, and gab with the street artist MISCR8 and talk about where our future in art was going. At night when the gallery closed, I’d walk out of the park while a drum circle would blare in its exotic beats, and a massive metal sculpture of a praying mantis on a tank would shoot balls of flames from its antennas into the night air. I’d drive home, often the way I came, only to paint more in the studio until I would fall asleep at my desk and wake up starting the same story the next day.
This was everyday.
Las Vegas was one of the most entertaining, and yet heartbreaking cities I had ever lived in. In the daytime, the city was obscured by mass waves of light colored buildings that swallowed the entire city grid in a misty blur. What happily existed was the massive beautiful mountains and thick clouds that painted itself in such a majestic way. In the day, the natural landscapes were the saving grace of Las Vegas. When the sun would set, the city began to groggily wake up with its drowsy sparkles of neon lights, and by complete nightfall the city was a massive beacon of metropolitan lights… I’d often, in the middle of the night, get in my car and drive on St. Rose Parkway to look at the neon grid.. I’d spend hours beyond the parkway on a random hill with a bottle of sparkling water and watch the city burst into a radiant flame by myself.
The strip itself, while incredibly welcoming to those visiting the city, felt completely out of reach to me as a resident. It was a city built on tourism, and those that lived there catered happily to them. In the strip, controlled chaos and bliss existed for those visiting it, yet those that lived there, it was a different story. The slogan “Whatever Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas” was such a powerful word for those living there, because we in fact, stayed in Vegas with those experiences.
After 8 months I had only created one Mickey. The work I was creating was mostly for a series called “Mojave Metropolis” for the artist residency. I spent a lot of time working in merchandising and the business aspect of licensing, which left little time for me to really concentrate on the project. In September, the artist residency was over, and I was on to my next adventure out in Chicago. I woke up at 3am, and drove all my things out of the city. In the darkness, I drove through Las Vegas Blvd to say my last goodbye. I watched mass waves of people still partying, laughing, and happily screaming. I watched the hotel workers stoically work through their crowd as if it was any other day. I saw showgirls glittering in the night, dancers dancing, and fire performers blowing balls of flame into the night air. I drove past the copied versions of New York and Paris, out into the wedding chapel area, and into the light bulb sparkling district of old Las Vegas, which flashed of such a vibrant history of a place that hasn’t existed anywhere else in the world. Finally, I drove through the broken lonely and abandoned streets of a Vegas forgotten… with gutted out hotels that once held such a beautiful and exotic American entertainment culture. I hit the highway North to Utah, and watched the neon lights slowly fade into the distance.
The slogan, for those that visit it, may hold true, whatever happens there, stays there.. .but for those who lived there.. actually experienced and worked in the city.. once you leave there.. the memories, the people you loved, the people that helped you, the people that broke you, the loneliness, the heartache, the beauty of such vast expansions of the metropolis in the Mojave… they don’t stay in Vegas.
They stay with you.
This painting, while in the Metropolitan series, is the first piece that talks more about the emotional landscape than the actual physical geography of the city. The references of locations like Seven Hills (a sector of Henderson), South Eastern Ave, Ann Road, Lake Mead, Green Valley, Tropicana, Sahara, and more, exist in the background of this piece. References also exist to Las Vegas like Mojave sun, miles of sand, monsoon season, pyramid luz, clouds, and dust yards. Finally there are personal references and timestamps such as ‘this is not a test’, HWY home, work work, 110F, solitude, and vision that exist here as well. Finally, I chose these all together to create silhouettes of buildings that swarm in color around the outskirts of Mickey, that when cross into his face become an obscure and textless form. This represents that Vegas is much more than just the strip, but it is the residents, the outskirts, the mountains, the hope, and experiences that make this place its embodiment.