Julie Henson sits at a long table draped in shiny sheets of satiny, sequined fabrics that spell out the word “Stardust.” Behind her, the original Stardust hotel sign engulfs the entire wall, wrapping around the corner of the NE10 Studio. The massive sign is a source of constant inspiration for this year’s Neon Museum National Artist in Residence. Surrounded by years of history and old Vegas signage, Henson is working on a variety of sculptures that will translate those behemoth neon relics into softer fabric forms, using materials you’d typically find adorning showgirls’ costumes.
“A lot of my interests growing up revolved around this idea of acting out in a narrative, theatrical sense,” Henson says. The artist grew up in a devoutly religious family that attended a megachurch. Though not overt or obvious, her upbringing influences nearly all of her works.
Prior to her residency at the Neon Museum, Henson created cutout sculptures of iconic celebrities and their outfits. One of those sculptures, the bodice of a certain career-defining John Paul Gaultier cone bra and a tightly bound corset, stands on alert next to Henson’s worktable. Her face isn’t depicted, but it’s unmistakably an image of Madonna from her 1990 Blond Ambition world tour.
“I think about how these people represent what we believe as a culture or society, so a lot of the things I’m interested in are contemporary or past performers, how they use their bodies in their performances and how the audience reacts to that.”
A Los Angeles resident, Henson says the spectacle of Las Vegas and its larger-than-life brand caught her attention. Since she’s been here, she’s found there’s more to the city than meets the eye.
“Las Vegas portrays a very particular vision of itself to the world. We think we can do anything here. It’s a place where you can go big, you can do things you wouldn’t do in your normal home environment,” she says. “I honestly didn’t know there was anything else to Las Vegas. Not because I didn’t think there was, but because you don’t see that part of it from the outside. The city has so much more to offer than just that.”
Henson was chosen as the Neon Museum’s fourth resident out of 82 applicants. She arrived here in June, and her eight-week residency culminates on August 21 and will feature an open studio event on August 16. Since she’s been here, Henson says she was almost caught off guard by how supportive and welcoming the community has been.
“I think I’ve been surprised with how nice and helpful and wonderful people are on an individual level,” she says. “You get to see some of the things about American culture on steroids here, but [you] also have a community that is supportive and open and all around nice. It’s a great place to be.”