On Route 86 with Miguel Rodriguez

Vivid orange, blue and green lines form a stylized electrocardiogram that zigzags across the wall of Nevada Humanities Program Gallery in Art Square. The image is part of an immersive three-wall interior mural painted by artist Miguel Rodriguez for his exhibit 8 miles out, 6 feet under on display through July 27.

Rodriguez may have switched from sculptures to mural painting, but he keeps his vibrant color palette and pop cultural explorations. Angular mountain ranges on the adjacent wall echo the crisp EKG lines. The electric colors and theme combined with a desert landscape allude to the Vegas Valley.

The notion of “86’ing” and electricity are loosely at work throughout the mural. The silhouette of an electrical substation resting upon the mountain range of the front wall nods at the “86 device” or kill switch built into power grids. The exhibit title riffs on the storied mob practice of taking victims eight miles out into the desert to put them six feet under.

Satisfying the exhibition title, a 1950s clip-art image portrays a wire entering the grip of a boy’s fist, winding around and tangling about the second wrist, his teeth clenched in pain. The figure has collapsed on a span of yellow and magenta desert.

“The kid is being 86’d.” Rodriguez offers, explaining the violently innocent image. “He’s like a metaphor for a desert metropolis. I’ve often thought about Las Vegas being like a prepubescent boy jacked up on steroids.”

Darkly humorous, the image works as a metaphor for our youngish gambling city, which seeths with risk and recklessness. The oversize youth stretches out—a spastic cityscape with electrical current racing through it.

Las Vegas is defined by its relationship with electricity. Not only is it required for the signature neon but, especially during the summer months, for air conditioning. A summer blackout has potential consequences of Biblical proportion.

“It’s a deadly dependency,” Rodriguez muses. “We’re so dependent on electricity.” The ghostly outline of a “hand of God” icon, hovering over the EKG line, pays subtle homage our patron saint of wattage.

Speaking of 86ing, buzz in to see this mural before it’s 86’d. Once the exhibit closes it will be painted over and gone forever.

8 miles out, 6 feet under

Through July 27, Nevada Humanities, 1017 S. First St., Suite 190, NevadaHumanities.org.

Vegas Seven