The masses have rallied in Todd Duane Miller’s Downtown backyard to celebrate a recent mural by artist Aaron Sheppard. There’s a wildly erotic female octopus flailing her tentacles in a congested chunk of sea, a mostly eaten pig and enough beer to take revelers well into the morning.
The artist du jour gives out hugs and poses in group photos with a clamshell bikini covering his tanned and tattooed chest.
“Thanks, you guys, for coming out,” Miller announces via microphone to the crowd from atop a bench. “Keep drinking the beer. Keep eating the pig. Tonight we’re celebrating our mermaid prince.”
But 30 minutes later, Miller and artist JW Caldwell bust into the yard as swashbuckling pirates seeking buried treasure. With everyone (including the artist), looking on, they unearth two buckets of paint, then proceed to cover the octopus and her fleshy lady parts. Within minutes the mural is gone. No more aquatic temptress flanked by mermaids.
“Covering it up was Casey Weldon’s idea,” Miller says a few weeks later, regarding the celebratory ritual of the Las Vegas Backyard Wall project. “It was an idea that, once it was spawned, there was no going back. Casey’s was a lesson in attachment and being present in the moment.”
Since the art project’s inception two years ago, the paintings on the 8-foot-by-20-foot billboard-style wall were intended to have a short lifespan, each eventually covered up by the next artist on the roster. But Weldon, the sixth artist in the queue, thought it would have more of an impact if the painting were destroyed as a performance. And so, much to the chagrin of surprised guests, Miller and Caldwell, dressed in Tyvek suits and masks, covered the Weldon mural that already had buyers making offers. (Weldon, whose work is highly sought, had never done a mural.)
Now the demise of the murals has come to be expected. But the exercise in impermanence is not without reverberation. The entire production is documented in time-lapse photography and presented as a YouTube video with its own original musical score composed with the artist’s tastes and work in mind. And in the wings is another artist preparing his or her mural.
The word is spread through the Las Vegas Backyard Wall’s Facebook page. In addition to Shepard and Weldon, artists have included Caldwell, Justin McRoy, Terrien Hale, Anthony Ortega, Ashley Angelo, Tiki Jay One, Ras One and Travis Jackson. Justin Favela, the last artist in the spring series, brings a conceptual component to the wall this week with a project highlighting the hard labor and celebration often found in Chicano communities. Favela’s mural will be exhibited and celebrated May 24. By the next day, it will be gone.
“They’re shooting stars,” Miller says. “Each one is only around for a little bit.”