Street Art Out Of The Shadows
A new book about street art in Las Vegas makes the case that street art belongs in the public eye as much as the city’s iconic neon.
You can see street art all over the city - if you look in the right places.
Photographer William Shea, along with Patrick Lai, is the author of "Street Art Las Vegas."
“What defines street art to me is basically a wall is like a raw canvas where outside of a museum where it’s basically a canvas you see in a museum in the street. Something that is painted that we can see in plain public view,“ Shea said.
Shea started photographing street art in downtown Las Vegas, along the alleyways, about five years ago.
He said those were the only places to find street art until the Life is Beautiful Festival brought it out into the open.
The Stencil Network – 2016, Las Vegas Arts District/Photo by William Shea and Patrick Lai
He was also taking pictures when Las Vegas Metro Police started an aggressive program to eradicate gang graffiti, which unfortunately took down street art as well.
Paco Alvarez is an art curator and historian. He and others mounted an effort to stop the destruction of the artwork by police.
“I think they finally figured it out that scribbles on the wall… they definitely have a gang affiliation,” he said.
Emmett Gates is the chief curator at M Modern Gallery and a street art expert. He said the tagging, or an artist signature, can be found around the city is a dialogue between artists, but it also a dialogue between gang members.
He points out there is a difference between Picasso's art and his signature.
But Gates said every street artist starts out as a tagger and eventually the very talented ones start to evolve. The difference between street art and graffiti is really in the eye of the beholder.
“Permission is the difference, but it doesn’t affect whether it's beautiful or if it’s making a powerful statement or not," Gates said.
ROA – 2016, Downtown Las Vegas Photo by William Shea and Patrick Lai
In fact, he said street art has become more and more acceptable.
“People are understanding that now with the viral age. If you put a nice, cool mural on the side of your building, you get more Instagrams, more tags, that helps your [search engine optimization],” he said.
For Gates, street art is a way to take art out of the galleries and museums where only those who want to see it will go.
“That’s what street art is to me. A statement whether you want it or not,” he said.
William Shea, photographer and co-author, "Street Art Las Vegas"; Emmett Gates, chief curator, M Modern Gallery; Paco Alvarez, art curator and historian.