It’s hard to remember a time when Dray Wilmore—typically known by his first name only—wasn’t a prominent figure in the Las Vegas art scene. He’s had his paint-stained fingers in a little bit of everything: from painting municipal murals to sitting on the advisory committee of the First Friday art walk to applying pigment to bikini-clad beauties. Even since moving to San Francisco (after a brief stint in Atlanta), Dray keeps one toe in our desert sand, evidenced by his forthcoming retrospective solo exhibit No Picassos in Vegas, opening March 4 at the Laura Henkel Gallery inside the Arts Factory.
“I keep coming back to Vegas,” Dray says. “I met a lot of great artists and a lot of cool people. And when I come back, I’m always able to get back into something artistically.”
One of those projects brought Dray’s work to the attention of gallerist Henkel, who commissioned him—along with other local artists such as KD Matheson and Joseph Watson—to create murals for the Erotic Heritage Museum.
“He is one of those free spirits whereby his art leads him to continually grow without limitation,” Henkel says of Dray. “One cannot help but be captured by his artwork.”
Its name inspired by a comment made by Mayor Oscar Goodman in a 2007 Las Vegas Review-Journal article, “No Picassos in Vegas” explores the breadth of Dray’s painting styles, ranging from cubist-influenced, geometrical designs and abstract expressionism to stylized portraiture and graffiti-flavored works, displaying in one space the flexibility that’s earned the artist fans in both the fine- and street-art worlds.
It’s no accident that Dray chose Henkel’s Arts Factory gallery to host a show reflecting upon his decade in Sin City. Years ago, this same space housed 5ive Finger Miscount, the underground art collective Dray launched in 2002 with fellow graffiti-influenced artists Vezun and Iceberg Slick. At that time, the nascent downtown art scene was a tough nut to crack for cutting-edge artists. But after demonstrating success in alternative venues such as Dirk Vermin’s Gallery Au Go-Go by bringing urban muralism and outsider art to Vegas, 5FM’s presence and influence was quickly legitimized.
“We were about providing an opportunity for artists when they wouldn’t normally show at a gallery,” Dray says. “And we were trying to stimulate the artistic consciousness of the scene.”
Dray was one of the first to set up shop inside one of the live-work cottages at Casino Center Boulevard and Colorado Avenue, where his controversial mural, “Birth of an Art Scene,” adorned an exterior wall. The cottages were torn down, and though Dray continued to be heavily involved with the arts—including opening two short-lived fine-art galleries downtown—he eventually hit a wall, feeling he had gone as far as he could within the constraints of the Valley.
It’s been about five months since Dray relocated to the Bay Area, and he’s already going to be featured in multiple group art shows there, as well as a solo show at the Jazz Heritage Center. He’s overwhelmed by the numerous galleries and crowded receptions. But the biggest difference between Vegas and San Francisco?
“I see red dots on everything,” he says, referring to the amount of art sold at these shows. “Selling art in Vegas is a task in itself, so if you can make it work there, you can do it in a city with rich culture.”