The Walls Have Eyes

In the weeks leading up to the October 2013 debut of Life Is Beautiful, stunning murals began to appear one by one. Street artists from all over the world—including San Francisco-based Zio Ziegler, London artist D*Face and Brazilian team Bicicleta Sem Freio—descended on Fremont East en masse and began painting up the joint. They prettied up buildings previously so bland that we noticed some for the first time. Even if you don’t attend the festival, you get to enjoy its fringe benefits every day as you cruise around, looking for parking spots.

Working with Life Is Beautiful producers, Charlotte Dutoit of “multidisciplinary dynamic interface” JUSTKIDS is curating this year’s street-art program. We’re getting new works from D*Face, Ruben Sanchez, Sbagliato and others (see sidebar). One has been completed for months: an abstract mural by the German artist who calls himself 1010. (He steadfastly refuses to give his real name, implying that to do so would take the focus off his art.)

"Really simple work": 1010 paints his way out of "the darkness." | Photo by Anthony Mair.

“Really simple work”: 1010 paints his way out of “the darkness.” | Photo by Anthony Mair.

In order to meet the demands of his packed schedule, 1010 needed to paint his Life Is Beautiful piece in mid-June, which is when former Vegas Seven Arts & Entertainment editor Cindi Moon Reed and I met with him in front of his freshly painted mural at 211 N. Eighth St.

Previously, you may have seen photos of the optical illusion work 1010 created along a Parisian freeway. (If you haven’t, Google “1010 Paris” now.) His colorful 48,500-square-foot “chasm”—which reportedly took some 105 gallons of paint to realize—appears to be swallowing up Paris’ 13th district interchange. You could swear those waves of color are expanding outward as you look at it.

1010’s Las Vegas mural follows a similar approach. It looks like a pandimensional crack forming in the building’s façade—perhaps a kind of portal, Reed surmised.

“What’s on the other side of this portal?” Reed asked him.

“You have to tell me,” 1010 said. “I don’t know where you’re going. It’s bright. Maybe it’s a bright future, or it’s just a white end.”

“It looks a little bit like an inverted mushroom cloud,” Reed said. She pressed him a bit: Was he influenced by Las Vegas’ atomic past, perhaps unconsciously?

“Of course, since you told me, it’s really easy to see an atomic mushroom here,” he said. But he insisted that he didn’t set out to paint one; the 211 mural is just what came out of his head.

1010’s answers to simple questions often proved as complex and abstract as his art. More than once, he punctuated his answers to Reed’s questions with a verbal shrug: “I don’t know. You tell me.”

Asked to explain the meaning of his working name, he gave a response worthy of a Neal Stephenson novel: “At the end, it’s on/off, black/white, plus/minus. It’s a binary thinking system where everybody gets implanted by everything. Everyone who wants to govern you will divide and rule, and that’s the easiest way to do it: yes/no, black/white, bad/good/evil, whatever.”

He gave a more straightforward answer when Reed asked him about his method. “I’m basically painting layers, and I usually start in the darkness,” he said. “It’s really simple work. I have a complete idea of how it’s supposed to look, and then I start from the middle. It’s really nice, because when I arrive at the end, I’m already done. I don’t have to go back in and change something. It’s step by step—like this work is 15 layers, so when you work on layer 15 you know you’re done directly afterward.”

He spent about 28 hours painting his Life Is Beautiful mural. And if you remember, it started getting pretty warm out there in June.

“You definitely have to wake up early in the morning, otherwise you die here; you melt,” he said. “I would start around 5 a.m. and work until I had no shadow any more. The cans got so hot, I thought they’d explode.”

It was still pretty hot outside as we talked, and soon 1010 and his friend were visibly yearning to get inside. Reed wrapped up the interview by asking 1010 what he hoped festivalgoers would take away from his work, or if there was anything in particular he’d like us to know about it.

“I’m never answering this question, actually,” he said. “They will have to know. They will see it; they will know it. I see a transition: You come from one state and you go to another, like a state of mind, not just crossing from Nevada to California. Maybe it’s a shift in perspectives: thinking about the same thing in a different way. I don’t know.”

In the end, we all simply looked at his mural, as we would every single day until someone paints over it. So, what does 1010’s Life Is Beautiful represent? To my mind, it represents only another fine piece of work in the Las Vegas’ most visited art gallery. And on the other side of that otherworldly portal is a building we might not have noticed until now.

Meet the Street Team

1010 is just one of Life Is Beautiful’s urban art all-stars

A Life Is Beautiful fixture since 2013, London’s D*Face created the (appropriately) now-lost “Viva Lost Vegas” mural on the Western Hotel and the pouty zombie (“I gave her my heart and she left me for…”) on El Cortez’s Cabana Suites. Lovers entwined in the thick of decay and portraits of distraught women wondering why their men just can’t freaking surf are only a taste of the tragic beauty D*Face has to offer. He is an artist of moments, and he makes them all count.

Ruben Sanchez paints his mural on Inspire. | Photo by Cierra Pedro.

Ruben Sanchez paints his mural on Inspire. | Photo by Cierra Pedro.

Ruben Sanchez
Ruben Sanchez is what you get when you bottle up the essence of the ‘80s and you chuck it hard against a wall. His murals are the aftermath of a good piñata party; splashes from every corner of the color wheel help accentuate the life behind his art, some of which is composed from wood scraps. The Madrid-born artist’s knack for geometrics gives his pieces a puzzle-like quality you don’t see on many playgrounds.

Bordalo II
Bordalo II’s murals are trash. No, seriously. The Portugal artist constructs large-scale masterpieces out of everyday junk. Think kitten and raccoon murals that stretch from floor to ceiling, made with materials salvaged from common dumpsters. His installations leap off the walls, vivid and very much alive. But try not to look at them for too long: the animal eyes tend to follow you.

Bikismo is an artist that will trip you the fuck out. His chrome murals appear tangible, three-dimensional—and yet, when you reach out to touch its protruding elements, you realize they exist only on the surface of whatever building Bikismo has painted up. It’s absolute magic. Even more mind-boggling are the reflections of the murals, which have their own shape and dimension. Bikismo’s art will mess you up in the best way possible.

You have to be careful in the presence of Sbagliato’s conceptual art. What may appear to be a perfectly operable doorway could actually be a wall. Sbagliato takes photos and digital graphics of common sights such as walkways, prints them into posters and pastes them onto landscapes and buildings to get the desired effect: “Was that window always there?” This type of art is time-consuming, precise and jaw-dropping. Just take care not to run into it, like Wile E. Coyote chasing the Roadrunner.

–Amber Sampson

Vegas Seven