In 2012 the CEO of Zappos, Tony Hseih, moved his company headquarters to downtown Las Vegas. Where most people saw only tumbleweeds and falling down buildings, Hseih saw the potential for a vibrant cultured artistic tech center where his employees would want to live, work and play. He created the “Downtown Project” and poured millions of dollars into the area around Fremont Street, renovating buildings, opening new restaurants and investing in Life is Beautiful, a yearly festival celebrating inspirational speakers, world famous street artists and Vegas’ top chefs.
Life is Beautiful invites international street artists to come paint all over downtown Vegas and every year, more and more artists accept the invitation. While the music acts and speakers move on after the festival, the artwork stays and now downtown Las Vegas is a mecca for glorious massive street art murals
If you’re an art lover, make a pilgrimage to Sin City and check out these beauties:
I love these apocalyptic pop art murals, courtesy of British artist Dean Stockton, who goes by D*Face. He enjoys a little mystery and says “When people ask me, ‘What does it mean?’ I’m not going to say. It’s always better when they come up with their own story.” No matter the backstory, dashed hopes and love gone wrong are perfect themes for Vegas street art.
Lakwena Maciver painted this fairytale-esque mural. She lives in the UK and works as a graphic designer and street artist, using bright blocks of color inspired by her African heritage as well as inspirational words and phrases. Her work is uplifting and bold in a city that needs both of those qualities.
One of Vegas’ infamous sons, this is Hunter S Thompson, as painted by Barcelona artist Ruben Sanchez. Sanchez’s wildly diverse artistic influences include skateboarding, flamenco, graffiti and graphic design. About street art, he says “Graffiti is the advertising of the people. It has always been used to express our anger, our happiness, our love, our complaints, our name, our crew, or our art… [It’s] the perfect mix of art and rebellion.”
Portuguese artist Alexandre Farto, known as Vhils, chips his portraits into brick and mortar. He says “I like to use destructive means to create artwork that is meaningful and poetic, mostly portraits that can humanize the often oppressive public space that we find in our cities. You can think of stenciling that creates a symbolic window that helps reveal what lies hidden beneath the surface of things. It is a work of subtraction and exposure.”
If there’s a more Vegas combination than robots in love and 24/7 prime rib dinners, I can’t think of it. Artist Pixel Pancho hails from Turin and studied art in Spain. About his robots, he says “My interest in robots, androids, and all machine-like creatures derives from the thought that men are heroes that project on these machines their desire for immortality.”
Belgian artist ROA specializes in finely detailed spray painted animals that look like massively enlarged pen and ink drawings. He picks native animals for his murals and in contrast to the dark moody quality of his work, he’s an upbeat person who says “Graffiti is one of the most free art expressions of the world; you don’t do it for money nor for an institution, it’s free expression and it liberates yourself creatively from a lot of restrictions…I have a driver license, I have a great love, I do what I want to do and I travel a lot, I have a passion for painting, that’s really more than I EVER Expected!”
Native Californian Christina Angelina goes by Starfighter and paints portraiture stories. She’s been a street artist since she was a teenager, progressing from small hand drawn stickers to massive street murals. Like so many street artists she prefers street art to gallery work saying “With galleries and the fine art world, there are so many rules, like most jobs, there are things you have to do and ways you’re expected to be and behave and live. With street art, there is a freedom that doesn’t exist anywhere else. I always wanted my work to feel free.”
Kudos to Life is Beautiful festival for these murals and much more. May they continue to bring art and inspiration to a city formerly known only for neon and broken dreams.