A topless, overweight man wearing a Walmart cape and Halloween-themed boxer shorts grips his head (or is he holding his wrestling mask?) with his UFC-gloved hands. His girth indicates laziness. His Made-in-China apparel speaks to cheap labor. Looking out at the viewer with chagrin, he’s the timorous mascot of American consumption.
And this is only one of many paintings in Gig Depio’s A Brief History at the Winchester Cultural Center. The artist’s first solo show in Las Vegas unleashes a deluge of social realism and weighty topics, balancing between the personal and universal in an impressive collection of thematic works.
These paintings are loaded and decadent—not just with broad strokes and generous layers of oil but also with allegory, emotion and wit. They bounce between vignettes and sweeping narratives, each exploring contemporary life through globalism, immigration, social media and 24/7 news.
The 16-foot “A Requiem for the Outsiders” carries the energy and social and political messaging of the Mexican mural movement as the Las Vegas painter, who began as an apprentice to his artist father in high school in the Philppines, portrays two different worlds.
On one side you have chaos and overcrowding as residents escape floodwaters on a ship under a menacing red sky in the Philippines. In the corner, a thick mass of photojournalists captures the struggle, while a worker building a border fence reins them in. On the other side, there is EDC—young women with flowers in their hair, a brightly lit Ferris wheel—and a llama, entertainers, lawn penguins and other quirky symbols of Las Vegas. They’re sandwiched between the Las Vegas Philharmonic and construction workers at Hoover Dam.
It’s almost operatic. Dividing the painting is Facebook’s “f” logo, looking intentionally like a cross borne. While each side (the Philippines and Las Vegas) is dictated by water, Las Vegas is the fanciful land of illusion pierced by reality—even the entertainers have to remove their costumes and get a stable job at some point.
If “A Requiem” and the exhibit as a whole seem an onslaught of information and tension, this is the artist reflecting on social media and world politics. The recurring crop of photographers in several of the paintings represents the world looking at itself from inside a comfortable bubble, interested enough to click “like” but not committed enough to be physically present.
Depio says the thrust of the show is not just world politics, but also a reflection of being an immigrant outsider and artist trying to break into the Las Vegas arts scene with socially realist works that he says were often declined by galleries for stylistic irrelevance or the unsellable nature of “ethnic art.”
“It was my brief history of trying to integrate with the culture here,” he says. But the parables he packages that brief history is eternal and epic.
A Brief History Through January 9, Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Winchester Cultural Center, 3130 S. McLeod Drive, 702-455-7340.