Art Imitating Nightlife

Brad Wilkinson’s journey from heartbroken dropout to the Strip’s most prolific lounge painter, mobile artist and self-proclaimed “art prostitute”

Photo by Maryanne Bilham

Photo by Maryanne Bilham

Brad Wilkinson breaks the artist mold. The former Navy SEAL hopeful is ripped and would not fit. He’s introspective and observant, using his art to portray feminine subjects, often beautiful and powerful ones. But other times, the extroverted jokester paints satires of the Las Vegas party girls he sees all around him, which has led to works including the “Whore-asaurus Rex.”

Wilkinson’s creative spark ignited during a challenging period of his life. He transferred to UNLV from a small art college in Georgia, chasing a dream that included designing casinos and mega-yachts. He soon felt out of place. “I was literally the only heterosexual male in a whole art college, and was hated for designing bachelor pads,” not to mention his risqué depictions of females walking around mansions in bikinis.

Fed up after learning he had been disenrolled because of missing paperwork, Wilkinson, 27, headed to the military recruitment office.

“Interior design to the Navy Special Warfare,” he recounts with a laugh. Before boot camp he executed “that total military classic boner move of getting engaged before you ship off,” he says. Following what he describes as a Jarhead-style heartbreak, he was caught hiding an eye ailment that required surgery, and could neither keep his SEAL nor marriage dreams alive. He returned to Las Vegas and spent two downtrodden weeks on his buddy’s couch when, finally, creativity came to his rescue.

“I got that miracle, like, boom! I looked at his blank walls and said, ‘Do you care if I just go paint this?’” Art became his therapy. He describes that first mural as a “Horrible, gigantic woman’s face.” Horrible or not, it was uplifting. “To see something tangible that came from your hands and your motor skills was fulfilling. I guess this is what you need when everything is depleted.”

As murals spread from wall to wall, Wilkinson gained momentum. Men commissioned him to paint their girlfriends. He landed a bussing job at Encore Beach Club, and then got his big break: The Deuce Lounge tapped him to start painting live. The Wilkinson Art Endeavor had begun.

Wilkinson’s “art as entertainment” business model has led to recurring live-painting jobs at Gold and Lily lounges, with gigs at Hyde and the now-shuttered Mario Barth’s King Ink along the way. He still paints serious female figures, often with powerful ancient Greek themes.

“[It’s] this whole idea of defining masculinity with the Spartan helmet, but very rough-looking, textured and abrasive.”

At the same time, Wilkinson is also unapologetically satirizing what he calls the Las Vegas party girl’s “Champagne is life” attitude, and channeling the frustration of how cocktail servers treat him and his fellow bussers. “We’re busting our asses, but ‘Here, let me move out the way real quick so you can spit on me,’” he says.

Wilkinson is not shy in doing his best (albeit not-too-flattering) impression of those cocktail servers. “Does anyone see the satire of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, walking around on stilettos with their little arms, texting, looking like a hot mess, extensions all fried out? I have to start painting it.” So, he did—that painting is the “Whore-asaurus Rex.”

Another time, an older gentleman bought a bottle of Armand de Brignac Champagne (a.k.a. Ace of Spades) and went to great lengths to ensure that every single nearby girl got a glass. “Don’t worry,” Wilkinson reassured him, “she’ll be Spaded, she’ll be Spaded … we’re all going to be Spaded.” That encounter would inspire Wilkinson’s painting, “The Corruption of Innocence,” where women with Ace of Spades bottles for heads frolic.

When he’s not live-painting in lounges, Wilkinson describes himself as a mobile artist and art prostitute. “I take my wagon, strap in these 60-by-72-inch canvases, and I pull it up and down the Strip and through casinos. When the wind blows I look like a total idiot,” he says. But he’s rolling with it. “I’ll go hang out with all the beggars on the Strip and I’ll tube-top my shirt and just be ridiculous, trying to sell these paintings.”

The lounge and Strip gigs are great, but Wilkinson has new goals: “Nightclubs are where it’s at. Bigger audience, the whole thing of being elevated, being more of a spectacle. Hopefully [I’ll] get someone’s attention, like, ‘Let’s get him a gallery.’” He’s also working on “the first graffiti fine art on Las Vegas Boulevard.”

In the meantime, Wilkinson continues his pursuits as a lounge-painting, mobile art prostitute satirist—you can find him on the Strip, curling his jacked arms to apply Chapstick, pouting his lips and rolling his shirt into a tube top before going in for the sale.


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