Lance Smith is redoing the vivid public art that vandals attempted to white out

Artist Lance Smith restores his paintings for the Zap Project public art program.
Photo: Yasmina Chavez

You won’t meet a kinder soul than Lance Smith. He’s soft-spoken, smiles easily and is a big-time hugger. Yet earlier this year, someone felt threatened enough by the artist’s work on a public utility box on Maryland Parkway at Flamingo Road—commissioned by Clark County for its ongoing Zap! neighborhood art project—to obliterate it with several coats of beige paint.

Early on this hot Friday, Smith is setting things right. He’s repainting the boxes, one of which features succulents, the other—presumably the one that provoked the vandalism—depicting a dark-skinned, hooded spiritual figure. Smith intended the figure as a kind of protector of Maryland Parkway—“to watch over the people; a lot of crazy things go on out here.”

The whitewashing of Smith’s art was part of what amounted to a spree of art vandalism; a Chris Bauder piece was defaced shortly before, and Ugo Rondinone’s “Seven Magic Mountains” was hit by taggers not long after. “Vegas was showin’ its ass that week,” Smith says.

Lance Smith Restores Zap Box Paintings

But here he is, redoing the work—as he will be for several more weeks, heat permitting. A Clark County employee, Brett Bradley—whose job it is to clean and restore the utility box art when it gets defaced—is hanging out to make sure Smith isn’t harassed, passing the time by doing a charcoal portrait on an easel. He’s frankly amazed to be out here. “This is the only event where a box has been completely painted over” in the 10-plus years of the Zap! project, Bradley says.

Paired with the August heat, that information should have Smith’s blood boiling. But he’s not angry, just sad.

“I hope that they learned something,” Smith says. “Bigotry and hatred is not exactly the best way to go about expressing yourself.”

Besides that, they failed. That vandalism didn’t obscure character, it revealed it. In its wake, locals, fellow artists and Clark County itself rallied to protect Smith’s art. “The community came together. I got to come out here again and spend time with the community, so it ended up being good,” Smith says.

And the restored mural will be even better than the first one.

“I’m working on the finesse aspect,” Smith says. “There’s some parts I’m gonna change. This means something else to me now—a little more than it did the first time.”

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