Las Vegas Sun

October 25, 2014

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Trash course: Las Vegas artists celebrate their distinctive cultural roots

Dirk Vermin is white trash.

That is not a barroom-brawl enticing insult directed at the heavily tattooed frontman of punk-rock band The Vermin.

It's based on a gleeful acknowledgment by Vermin himself.

"I didn't grow up in a trailer park," he said. "But I wasn't far from it."

Vermin was born and raised in Las Vegas.

He jokes that most anyone who grew up in the glitz-and-glamour city is probably familiar with guzzling a lukewarm Pabst Blue Ribbon or wolfing down a bologna-and-mayonnaise sandwich.

So when considering themes for an exhibit at his new art gallery, Gallery Au Go-Go, Vermin didn't have to stray too far from home.

"White Trash Paradise" is the gallery's first multi-artist show. It opened Friday and runs through Aug. 30.

Adjacent to Pussykat Tattoo, which Vermin also co-owns, the Gallery Au Go-Go's exhibit is also decidedly lowbrow.

"I wanted a real light, fun approach to it," he said.

As such, the show came together quickly. It was less than a month ago that Vermin first decided on a theme. And within a week of talking with various local artists, four were booked for the show: Johnny Hancen, Shawn Hummel, Angee Jackson and Greg Higgins.

"I think Dirk starting off this gallery was a really good gesture to incorporate lowbrow and culture and art," Hummel said. "I think some of those counter-culture types of places are missing here in Las Vegas. For as large as this city is, there should be more places like this. Unfortunately, there isn't."

Hummel's contribution to the exhibit are detailed photos of classic cars, an artistic pursuit of his for several years.

As it happened, when approached by Vermin to participate in "White Trash Paradise," Hummel said his art fit well with the show's theme. Love of cars, he said, easily crosses social and economic boundaries.

"Everybody can appreciate it, from white trash to blue-collar to upper-middle class," Hummel said. "It's just one of a few things that emblematizes America."

The exhibit, while small, is fairly representational of what it means to be white trash.

In addition to the aforementioned photos of cars, there are paintings of half-naked pinup girls, vinyl cutouts of rock stars and four almost cartoonish portraits of the Las Vegas working class: a limo driver, a housekeeper, a gardener and a cocktail waitress.

While the occupations do not denote a low-class lifestyle, artist Higgins said the paintings represent the blue-collar work ethic, which is often mistaken and/or miscategorized as white trash.

"To me, white trash is registered as working class," Higgins said. "That's what people mean when they say it."

The artist opted to participate in the show, creating four paintings in three days, not to encourage the use of the term but to "bring to light that it's just another stereotype.

"I think white trash is the last derogatory phrase for people to use for lack of understanding that we live in a class-based society," Higgins said. "I consider it a derogatory statement, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist."

Johnny Hancen, who has 11 acrylics on plywood on display in the show, has more simplistic reasons for having his works in "White Trash Paradise."

"I think you should poke fun at everything and everybody -- including myself," he said.

While Hancen does not consider himself or most anyone he knows to be white trash, he said almost anyone can relate to the show's theme.

"Art that's more for the common man, the rock 'n' rollers -- that kind of thing," Hancen said.

And, despite its humorous theme, he said there is a purpose behind the show.

"The whole cool thing about the (exhibit) is it's a backlash to the coolness and to the pretentiousness of the '80s," Hancen said. "Real white trash is someone of low intelligence, low income who's pretty much up to no good and perpetuates no good.

"What better way to offend the BMW-driving crowd than to drink Pabst Blue Ribbon?"

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