If you haven’t yet seen the Vegas Vernacular project’s show at the Amanda Harris Gallery of Contemporary Art in the Soho Lofts, there are three things you should know right now. One: It’s a photographic introduction to the classic hand-painted signage of downtown Las Vegas, and it’s kind of awesome. Two: This isn’t a city-funded project; the money from the sale of these photographs will help keep the Vegas Vernacular project going. And lastly: The show closes Saturday night, so you’d better hurry down there and see it.
The affable creative driver behind the project, Bryan McCormick, was kind enough to answer some questions about Vegas Vernacular via e-mail. Do yourself a favor: Find Bryan downtown—he’s a regular at Bar + Bistro—and get him talking about Vegas Vernacular, because he’ll get you hyped up on Vegas’ hand-drawn within five minutes. Or simply see the show at Amanda Harris, where the excitement takes you pretty much instantaneously.
How would you describe the Vegas Vernacular project?
Vegas Vernacular is about capturing hand-painted and other signage that is routinely ignored or over-looked. As the city recovers and new sign technologies become prevalent, we are losing more and more of these commercial works. And we probably won’t be seeing a great deal more of it, either. In many respects this is a dying art—and one that we believe is central to the very idea of what Vegas is all about.
At the same time we are photographing the core of the downtown, we’re also seeking to gather context and oral history from business owners and from the sign-makers themselves. The skills these craftsmen have are also at risk of being lost.
What makes our hand-drawn signage culturally significant?
In many respects, these signs are the last echoes of the heyday of the city. As a graphic identity, they are unique to this city. A visitor from the South actually made that association right away. It’s something that’s easy for locals to overlook.
This project is huge. How difficult was it to squeeze it down into a gallery show?
It was very difficult to cut down the number of works, and more so to give it meaning and shape. The sheer number of images was daunting. We started with a pool of about 400 from the several thousand we have shot. Having to cut some of them out was like deciding which of your favorite pets you were going to abandon. Despite that, there were surprisingly few deaths among team members when it came down to the final hours.
The process was made far simpler I think too, by deciding we were going to show collectively, without individual credit. We did that to avoid wall text labels for each piece. We wanted the works we photographed to be what you see.
That wall of hand-drawn ampersands is amazing. You could hang that in the Met.
In terms of style and form, the ampersands are the one thing that pops out at you in terms of type you see out there. It seemed to be where the sign maker had license to be freer in form and color, as has been the case in typography more generally. That made them too fun to resist.
Amanda Harris Gallery of Contemporary Art, 900 Las Vegas Blvd. S #150, (702) 769-6036. To get involved with the Vegas Vernacular project, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep informed of future Vernacular projects at Facebook or Twitter.