Opulent Pop

Las Vegas artist finally gets a solo showing of the latest—and perhaps greatest—of his luxurious cross-cultural works

It’s often said that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. But for Las Vegas artist Sush Machida Gaikotsu, the opposite has been true. His deliriously beautiful pictures of tigers, dragons and goldfish, as well as white-capped seas and drifting clouds, are far better known outside his adopted hometown than they are here. Before Gaikotsu graduated from UNLV with a master of fine arts degree in 2002, he had a critically acclaimed and commercially successful solo show in Los Angeles. Since then, his schedule hasn’t let up: six more solo shows and 25 group exhibitions in the U.S. and Japan. The 37-year-old painter’s career is a through-the-looking-glass version of what’s taught in art school: Start small, work local, grow slow; with luck, time and labor, bigger and better things may come your way.

That’s also the way I think of Gaikotsu’s sexy paintings. In getting things backward, they invite viewers to see the world differently—with eyes like a child awed by its mysteries, thrilled by its grandeur and excited by its every detail.

Gaikotsu’s newest works can be seen in his hometown gallery debut. They include a huge painting of a whale, several multipanel works that recall folding Japanese screens, a few long, skinny pictures shaped like unrolled ancient scrolls, and a handful of intimately scaled drawings, made of acrylic, colored pencil and graphite. All of Gaikotsu’s images, painted over the last three years, are among the best he has made in his 10-year career.

They take viewers leaps and bounds beyond any of the works in his only other solo show in Las Vegas, a 17-piece survey that I organized for the Las Vegas Art Museum in 2007. In my openly biased opinion, that exhibition included a good number of drop-dead knockouts.

In any case, it tracked Gaikotsu’s development, from the rudimentary, porno-spiced collages he made in graduate school to his first small, spray-painted panels depicting anime characters and then on to his long, narrow pictures of fish, whose glistening, rainbow-tinted scales became sinuous landscapes where cats, rats and the occasional superhero made all sorts of mischief. Those eccentric still lifes gave way to more abstract, increasingly stylized pictures of fantastic snakes, dragons, tigers, felines, birds, butterflies and fish, all of which inhabited vast, atmospheric spaces where flowers floated among M&M candies and other items from the modern world.

After that exhibition, Gaikotsu stripped his pictures back to the basics. Eliminating the animals and still-life elements, he focused on boiled-down landscapes: turbulent seascapes made up of multicolored waves and pastel-blue skyscapes jam-packed with cotton-candy clouds, their contours traced in a rainbow of unnaturally saturated colors. Both sea and sky allowed Gaikotsu to flaunt his skills as a master of silhouettes, to unleash the whiplash energy of his slithering, serpentine lines.

His newest works bring animals back into the mix, in ways I’ve never before seen in Gaikotsu’s paintings. More drama and opulence animate his latest paintings. Their animals and landscapes are so beautifully fused that each wickedly stylized composition becomes a world unto itself—a concentrated vision of the real thing that sizzles with more electrifying energy than usual.

Gaikotsu’s 6-foot-long painting of a body-surfing whale and 8-foot-long painting of a dragon-headed serpent have the presence of neon tattoos blown up to supersized dimensions, all the better to blow your mind by their supercharged palettes, dizzying figure-ground ambiguities, and amped-up artifice. A pair of vertical diptychs presents mirror images of goldfish and tigers, their fearful symmetry or Rorschach-style equilibrium knocked off balance by Gaikotsu’s handsomely printed initials and giddy addition of some cockeyed ornamentation.

His drawings are visual diaries that provide insights into his work in the studio. At the center of each is a carefully executed study of a painting. Around it, Gaikotsu has filled in the page’s border with all sorts of notations, including essential information, in Japanese and English, about size, design and palette, as well as incidental details from current news stories, popular music, TV programs and websites.

Gaikotsu’s luxurious paintings and casual, illuminated-manuscript-style drawings reveal an artist who has combined Eastern and Western traditions to fashion his own brand of Opulent Pop. His show is a homecoming that is not to be missed.

7 Don’t-Miss Events

Dream Factory

A new work by Biscuit Street Preacher.

Marty Walsh’s tiny Trifecta Gallery has long been a big part of the Arts Factory, and now she has a new 1,200-square-foot space to match her impact. Her upcoming exhibition program, featuring works by Suzanne Hackett-Morgan and Cirque du Soleil this month and Biscuit Street Preacher in October, offer great excuses to visit. In the Arts Factory, 107 E. Charleston Blvd., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon, Wed-Fri, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat-Sun, 366-7001.

Polychrome Fantasy

Sush Machida Gaikotsu’s body-surfing whale, “Chrome”.

Centerpiece Gallery celebrates Las Vegas artists with its new “Locals Only” series, and next up is one of our favorite contemporary painters, UNLV M.F.A. Sush Machida Gaikotsu. This will be his first solo gallery show here. In the Mandarin Oriental, opening with an artist’s reception at 6 p.m. Sept. 16 and running through Nov. 7, 10 a.m.- 6 p.m. daily, 739-3314, free.

The Best First Ever

Once a month, at the end of the workweek, locals gather in the Art District to marvel at art and other creations, listen to local bands and drink to the festivities. October’s First Friday promises to be better than ever, because it marks the event’s eighth anniversary. This month’s shindig will feature more artists, outdoor exhibition spaces and bands, including performances by the Las Vegas Youth Orchestra, the Billy Martini band, and Fallen Grace. 6-10 p.m. Oct. 1, firstfriday-lasvegas.org, free.

The Tradition Continues

Art in the Park in Boulder City.

For nearly a half century, Boulder City’s Art in the Park has been a favorite in Southern Nevada, delighting flocks of visitors each fall with its fine arts, creative crafts, live music, family activities, and food and drinks. And don’t forget that the festival benefits the Boulder City Hospital Foundation. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Oct. 2-3, Wilbur, Bicentennial and Escalante parks, 293-0214, free.

Life of the Dead Party

the Day of the Dead festival.

With all due respect to the county’s annual Day of the Dead festival as a whole, the best part is always the art show, which, following the Mexican “El Dia de los Muertos” tradition, consists of memorial altars (ofrendas) decorated in honor of our dearly departed with the stuff they loved in life. And we love how the county reminds the artists that the stuff should not include weapons. Nov. 1-2, Winchester Park, 3130 S. McLeod Dr., free.

Reinterpreting Exuberance

“Valet” by Linda Alterwitz from Concrete and Sparkle.

From the old cylindrical Sands tower to the late, great Stardust sign, Las Vegas built an identity around the art of the resort. At the Historic Fifth Street School’s new exhibit, Concrete & Sparkle: Influences of Las Vegas Signs and Architecture, artists will riff on this identity, with artists’ multimedia interpretations of Las Vegas signs and architecture. Open to the public by appointment through Oct. 24, 401 S. Fourth St., 229-1012, free.

The Place Where We Live

An Emily Silver painting from Periphery.

The city needs the desert. Whether the desert needs the city is another matter. But the intersection of the two makes for an impressive Periphery Exhibit (36 12’N x 115 19’W) at the Las Vegas Springs Preserve. Using layers of paint and mixed-media designs, artist Emily Silver creates a visual learning experience of Las Vegas’ geography, erosion, flow, sedimentation and topography. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sept. 18-Jan. 16, the Springs Preserve Gallery, 333 S. Valley View Blvd., 822-7705. Free for members or included with general admission.

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More a sketch of an idea for a horror movie than a fully formed film, The Last Exorcism is a yawn-inducing attempt to cash in on a combination of exhausted genre tropes. Following in the shaky-cam, found-footage footsteps of The Blair Witch Project, Daniel Stamm directs an incompetent script about an evangelical con man, Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian). Cotton carries on his family’s well-established business of conducting exorcisms for illiterate backwoods types who traditionally respond well to the power of material-supported suggestion.