The first things you will notice at Foxtail, the intimate new nightclub at SLS, are the walls and ceilings. Its interior surfaces are covered in a collage of swirling texts and fonts. The different styles and sizes (mostly large-scale, limited only by the shape of the room and the swooping arm span of the artist) create their own kinetic energy, making you feel like you’re inside a party nerve center.
No doubt that many a future clubgoer will idly wonder who created such designs and what they all mean—some fonts are more gestural than legible. So before the first bottle is popped and artistic concerns temporarily forgotten, we set out to investigate. Armed with a fading knowledge of French, I interviewed the Moroccan-born Parisian Tarek Benaoum while he was finishing a month in Las Vegas.
Benaoum, who’s worked with SLS architect Philippe Starck on other projects including the SLS hotel in Miami, finds inspiration for his calligraphy murals in the location itself. This Las Vegas spot, with its previous incarnation as the Sahara, offered a fertile ground for exploration. “SLS is a new place. It’s completely different than it was before,” Benaoum says in French, “but it still has some of its old soul, so I was inspired by that. And I tried to include writings that transmitted that soul.”
Evidence of an Old Vegas past include “little winks” at Elvis and Le Rat Pack, including a giant rendition of the song title “Fly Me to the Moon.” Benaoum’s favorite Rat Pack member is Frank Sinatra because of his mobbed-up glamour, and this Frenchman’s fascination with our local history reflects through the theme of the mural in a way that is oddly satisfying, even flattering.
The artist has undergone extensive formal training in calligraphy, but he got his start in graffiti at age 14 under the nom-de-spraycan “Clone.” This high-low dynamic is evident in Benaoum’s murals, which range stylistically from loose sketches to Latin calligraphy that resembles an illuminated manuscript. Ditto for the topics, which could be lyrics from the Doors or quotes from authors Jack Kerouac, Ernest Hemingway, Allen Ginsberg and Lewis Carroll. He studied a bilingual edition of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, for example, referencing back and forth between the two languages to find the perfect excerpts for his walls. “I’m much more inspired by the great American authors than the French authors,” Benaoum says. “It’s also the culture. I have the desire to live in the culture of the Beat Generation.”
And while Benaoum has no plans to make a home in our contemporary Las Vegas culture, he’s created something in that world of his imagination in which we can all briefly reside.