You can hear the sounds of Downtown vibrating off the wall where Bicicleta Sem Freio created its new mural, which features some cool cats playing music themselves. Loud and vivid, Brazilian duo Renato Reno and Douglas de Castro’s latest piece conveys noise and the night in a city that rises after the sun sets.
“We wanted to do something fun and colorful and relate it to music because of the Life Is Beautiful Festival,” de Castro says. “And to also relate it to the night. This is why the [musicians] are cats because they are night creatures.”
Armed with house paint, brushes and straw hats, Sem Freio and their team quickly completed the project. Maybe it’s because they were already close friends with this particular wall on the east side of The Market (611 Fremont St.). In 2013, the artists covered the canvas in wheat pasted concert posters, which was replaced with two serene women in a garden in 2014, which was replaced this year with what you see now. (Their first large-scale piece was created for Life Is Beautiful in 2013 where the Felipe Pantone mural is now located.) But they’re not sentimental about their previous projects being gone, despite the time and sweat spent on creating the large and fleeting murals.
“I am more into the process than collecting my walls,” Reno says. De Castro adds: “It’s nice to have a wall in different countries and connect with the community, but I think [getting attached to them] is an ego thing. [Like] ‘Oh my precious wall, please don’t touch it.’”
Fresh eyes and an outside perspective will make you notice things you may have gotten used to. Like when your mom says you’ve put on weight after not seeing her for a few months, sometimes those perspectives are not flattering. The Thisismybworld (also known as b.) piece on the parking garage near Las Vegas Boulevard and Carson Avenue reminds us of the unflattering side to Las Vegas and American culture.
“The word ‘more’ is the keyword for Vegas. More of it. More money. More food. More everything,” b. says.
The Greek artist’s work often highlights mass consumption and the effects that has on us and the environment with cluttered and overwhelming compositions. His busy wall incorporates iconic Vegas symbols and stereotypical American junk food—a fat Elvis front and center, a smoking Vegas Vic, pizza, burgers, fries, pills and booze. This piece in particular comments on instant gratification and fast food in Las Buffetgas.
As someone who is consciously aware of symbols, b. says that the dollar sign is particularly prevalent in this city, which is why it is repeated multiple times on the wall. “The dollar bill, it’s iconic. It’s not like any other currency,” he says, adding that you will see it pasted everywhere in this town—on billboards and posters and inside casinos. “You can feel that money is moving things and [that] the whole city moves around money.”
Though b.’s work can be deceiving, the ideas behind them are often serious while the colors and characters are childlike and fun. “With the happy feeling and bright colors, I am luring the viewer, but then later they realize that the message is the exact opposite.”
There are only a few basic human emotions but thousands of ways to express them, and Kevin Lyons’ monsters run the spectrum, from over-caffeinated anxiety attack to too stoned to see straight. The Brooklyn artist who is known for these fuzzy rascals has done commercial work, graphic design, illustration and art directing. But he brought his “greatest hits”—his monsters— to the eastside wall of The Writer’s Block (1020 Fremont St.).
The monsters look like they could be inspired from the faces of hundreds of people, but are actually Lyons himself. “They are really self portraits in different ways. If you Google a picture of me you will see me screaming and yelling,” he says. “ The rest is nostalgia in my head.” Lyons is influenced by Jim Henson, Garfield and cartoons from his childhood, which is why Lyons’ fans range from kids to their parents who remember those same images from their own childhood. He says if he’s giving a kid a sticker, he’ll notice the eager look of dads resisting the urge to ask for one themselves. “There is a certain sense of, ‘I know what that reminds me of and it reminds me of something really joyful.’”
Certain characters will appear out of nowhere and he’ll start to incorporate them in future walls. The mouthless fluffs are new characters that were born on East Fremont. The little dude with the hat in the top right corner has appeared on every one of Lyons’ walls since 2016. “I started in Detroit last year; I start every mural with him now,” he says. “It just became this thing. It’s like the beginning of the sentence. It’s like the word ‘the’ to me and I can’t stop it.”
He says people also like the monsters because they’re looking at furry reflection. “When the work is finished, people tend to find themselves in the wall,” he says. “‘That’s me when I woke up’ and ‘that’s me tonight’ or ‘that’s me before coffee.’ So there is a nice little joke that comes with it.”
And people will be able to hang out with all of them at this year’s festival. “The characters are just having a good time and partying with everybody else at Life Is Beautiful, too,” he says. “That’s what my characters really are. They’re an assemblage of one big party.”
Desert dwellers are too familiar with the sun. Its power and heat can direct our lives, keeping us locked in with the shades drawn or pulling us outside to feel its warmth. British designer Morag Myerscough’s temporary installation for Life Is Beautiful nudges us to take advantage of the sunshine.
The phrase “Surrender to its warm embrace” will line the walls on the outside of an old motel near Seventh Street and Stewart Avenue in yellow neon letters. But the message doesn’t have to be taken so literally, it is meant to create a sense of belonging at the festival.
“I think the hardest thing for me is to come up with is the idea in the first place,” Myerscough says, adding she was intrigued by the location of the motel. “I think I need to go to a therapist to try and get it out quicker. I’m always fraught with trauma until I get it out.”
Once it is out, her projects can take anywhere from two to three weeks to complete. Myerscough—who is known for her vibrant colors, geometric patterns and typography—and her small team worked without cutting any corners in the face of the time constraint.
“I like everything really perfect, like super perfect,” she says. So although friends have asked her to use vinyl to save time, Myerscough and her team cut, stenciled and hand-painted tedious layers of paint on around 100 pieces of plywood. She prefers the paint because of a richer color and its ability to reflect light better. The artificial neon against the wood grain creates a striking juxtaposition. The completed letters looked beautiful on their own leaning against the old motel, half in shadows, waiting to be installed.
“I love putting things in a situation that you don’t expect and they’re just there,” she says. “Obviously, I like the whole big piece together, but I like those moments.” She even likes the scaffolding itself. “I have a fetish,” she says, laughing. “Seeing backs of signs and just the backs—I don’t really like what’s on the front.”
One half of Faile, Patrick McNeil, seemed surprised about the limited visibility of his 21-story canvas on the west side of the Plaza Hotel & Casino (1 S. Main St.). Fellow artists Shepard Fairey and D*Face’s works landed the prime real estate facing the highly trafficked Main Street, while Faile’s piece is on display to an empty lot and the 95 onramp. So what does the Brooklyn-based artist think of his mural’s home?
“Oh, I don’t care,” he says. “It is what it is. I’m just happy to be here in the Plaza. The Plaza’s cool. It’s one of the first hotels I visited when I first came to Las Vegas in ‘86.” He was around 11 years old at the time and he remembers the lights and excitement at night.
Both he and his partner Patrick Miller came up with the concept for the piece, keeping Las Vegas in mind. It’s their take on the famous Cassius Marcellus Coolidge paintings of dogs sitting around a poker table. Dogs often appear in their work. “A lot of the characters that are men usually tend to be animals,” McNeil says.
Although the guys on his team seem to be pretty refined. “The guys that we work with are awesome,” he says. “They’re all vegetarian. No smoking. No hangovers the next day. Everyone’s super pro and super fun to work with.” And it’s not something he gets to do too often.
“I like getting out of the studio because 95 percent of my life is pretty routine. Home, work, home, work. I don’t go out a lot,” he says. “In the studio you’re constantly thinking about the next moves and painting and trying to navigate that through the day. It just feels relaxing to get up on a wall, have headphones on, and it’s really color by numbers kind of stuff. It’s nice.”
French graffiti artist Zest (also known as Franck Noto) has been tagging walls since he was 14 years old. Now 37, his style has shifted multiple times, especially in the studio and on canvas, but he says the inspiration has always been graffiti.
With the translation help of Justkids curator, Charlotte Dutoit, Zest says when he was younger, his work was edgier and more energetic. Now he has slowed down and takes more time, especially in the studio. But the reason for the changes is simply a natural progression of growth rather than being prompted by a specific moment in his life.
His latest piece is a diptych wall at the west end of the Art Motel (225 N. Seventh St.). It’s an abstract, zoomed-in look at graffiti depicting the different tools used to make street art. Lines with sharp edges represent a large flat-tipped Sharpie. The prominent blue with the round edges portray Baranne shoe polish that Zest used to use as a plan B when he didn’t have the traditional materials. The warmer colors depict the spray can marks.
He also likes the contrast of the calm and quiet blue and the vigorous warm tones that similarly reflect his styles as a younger artist to now. Dutoit adds the blue could represent his home. He is from the south of France where the “good French come from,” where the ocean and sunshine are and where people are more relaxed.
It’s just like that in life, Zest says: A mixture of peace and energy.