Fine Art

Life Is Beautiful 2018 refreshed Downtown’s gallery of street art with bold new work

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A festival attendee poses in front of Lakwena’s “JUST PASSING THROUGH” mural.
Photo: Yasmina Chavez / Staff

Every year since its 2013 debut, the Life Is Beautiful festival has left behind the gift of murals—vibrant, opinionated street art, painted by a true murderers’ row of international talents on the walls of our city core. This year is no exception, so if you missed the festival, you should treat yourself to an autumn stroll through the Fremont East corridor’s newly-updated urban gallery.

The first thing you’ll notice is that it’s getting crowded. There are six festivals’ worth of murals on the streets around Fremont, and it’s up to curator Charlotte Dutoit—of Justkids, a producer of large-scale art installations from Miami to Berlin—to decide which murals stay and which ones get painted over.

“We really try to keep them all,” says Dutoit in her French-accented English, gesturing around her to murals that date back to previous festivals. If a mural fades, she encourages its artist to return to Vegas to touch it up. “But sometimes, for the public, having new visuals is better.”

During our interview, Dutoit watches as London artist Lakwena finishes off one of the best of those new visuals: a rainbow-colored mural at 7th and Ogden Streets (overlooking a city parking lot), with giant, italicized letters declaring that they’re “JUST PASSING THROUGH.” It’s a perfect epigram for our town, where so many people are doing just that.

A number of new murals are clustered nearby. American multidisciplinary artist Aware crammed a mural onto an awkwardly-shaped west-facing wall around the corner from Lakwena’s. Bordalo II’s “Wild Wild Waste,” a menagerie of endangered animals created from junk metal, is inside the Art Motel space, though I don’t yet know if it will be accessible post-fest. That’s all right, though, because a block in either direction you’ll find two gems.

London-based Lithuanian artist Egle Zvirblyte’s visual paean to female empowerment—at 7th and Fremont, on a south-facing wall behind Turmeric Flavors of India—is pure joy, with its bold comic-strip colors and its invitation to “melt” into “perpetual expanding ecstasy.” It’s a big hit with the Instagram selfies set.

And in the other direction, both physical and spiritually, is Spanish artist Sebas Velasco’s two-part photorealistic mural on Stewart, between 7th and 8th. Inspired by the recent film The Florida Project and by what he saw around him on this, his first trip to Las Vegas (and America), Velasco gave Vegas both a painting of a Downtown motel, and of a lonely-faced man who might have lived in that motel before the gentrification of Fremont East forced him out.

Velasco says the theme of the murals is “American Insomnia”—“the opposite of the American dream.” And we have another year, maybe longer, to ponder its meaning of these new visuals until the next festival paints them over.

UPDATE, SEPTEMBER 25: Sadly, the Lakwena mural has been taken down, and the Art Motel is closed. But those impressive new murals by Velasco, Zvirblyte and Aware remain, along with works by Retna, Saddo and Andre Saraiva. Check them out.

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