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July 29, 2014

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Eclectic Avenue: Painted Couch blends art, furniture in Arts District

City buses rattle past the storefront of the Painted Couch on East Charleston Boulevard.

Inside, Deborah Fagan, the store's artist-in-residence, is setting up shop in the boutique full of funky reupholstered vinyl furniture, accessories, antiques and art by Dray, Mark Zeilman and Fagan.

There are lamps outlandish lamps and mosaic tables paying homage to the Monkees and Pez. There is glass artwork and jewelry made by local artists and a working phone booth that sells for $1,000. Sprinkled throughout is plenty of kitsch.

Fagan, working out of a studio in the back, tends to customers. Her arrival means that the store will be open during regular hours daily, rather than only during First Fridays.

"I'm so happy that there's an Arts District," Fagan said, looking around the store.

"I worked out of my home studios for years and years. I'm in the process of bringing everything in. I went to Home Depot. I got my chicken wire, I got my gloves."

It's businesses such as the Painted Couch that are helping build a viable Arts District in Las Vegas.

The store, directly across from the S2Art Center, is wedged between Artz Gallery and Modify, a retro furniture store.

Owner Karen Crawford, a physical therapist with an office two miles away, opened the Painted Couch to accommodate the outlandish, somewhat whimsical assortment of art and furniture that she has accrued over the years.

"I've always been kind of eclectic," Crawford, a transplant from Houston, said with a Texas accent while fingering her waist-length auburn and magenta hair. "I guess I really should have been an artist, sat on the beach and sold beads."

But Crawford's focus is on her practice -- which is equally eclectic as her store. In her office a row of theater seats from a Philadelphia opera house faces her. Behind her is a blue-and-gold macaw named Casey, perched and uncaged.

Crawford's pink stethoscope and purple walls differ from the monochromatic grays found in more traditional medical offices. But Crawford doesn't see herself as traditional. In fact, she crinkles her nose at the very idea.

At 52, she looks like a young 40, rides a Harley, drives a Hummer and a Corvette, wears 7-inch metal heels and gets leathered up on the weekends. A sign at her practice reads, "Normal is just a setting on a washing machine."

"I thought I was going to do this thing where I'd do the art thing and mellow out," Crawford said. "But it isn't going to happen. There are people who have a lot of interest in the arts. I have too many patients. I make too much money. I'm too successful. It's like, 'Why would I go sell a couch?' "

Color connection

Crawford moved to Las Vegas 12 years ago from Houston and became acquainted with the Arts District through Cindy Funkhouser, the originator of First Friday, an ongoing monthly arts, entertainment and social event, as a customer at Funkhouser's antique store.

As Crawford's own collection began to overwhelm her, she opened a store in the Arts District that she could share with the growing masses on First Fridays.

"It was like, 'If I'm going to buy one more couch, what am I going to do with it? I have like 50 couches,' " Crawford said. "Some people collect teapots. I collect couches and chairs."

Besides, she said, "People used to come to my house and say, 'Why isn't this house on a Las Vegas tour? It's so amazing.'

"But I didn't have time for that so I brought it to the office and the same thing happened here. So then that space came up and I thought, 'Well, it's only $1,000 a month.' "

As she looked around her office, Crawford said, "The whole store came out of this. My house is real bizarre. People don't realize how good color makes them feel. That there's a certain positive energy."

This draw toward the colorful and outlandish created the connection between Crawford and Fagan, who met a few years prior when Crawford purchased soft sculpture from Fagan at an outdoor arts event.

Fagan creates work from everyday objects, colors and multimedia. Anything goes. Her "Ode to Andy Warhol Diva" (2000) is a decoupaged Barbie doll covered in form-fitting Campbell's soup can wrappers.

Fagan's soft-sculpture dolls are outlandish. Her refurbished 1800s wicker wheelchair painted sky blue with daisies has hands stemming from the armrest.

"I thought it had to come alive. So I found these hands," Fagan said, stroking the fingers. "I went through a two-year period just customizing dolls. Then I got into bigger things. I went into soft sculpture, then mannequins, wheelchairs, TVs, refrigerators, walls, you name it."

Her collages include paint, fibers, rocks, glass and wire beads.

A mannequin sculpture ("The Succulent Wild Woman") that she created on commission for Crawford is covered completely in text using only one issue of Rolling Stone magazine. It has beads for arms and a flashing heart behind a screen. It sells for $4,500.

Pieces and paint

Originally from Southern California, Fagan studied fine art. She performed in a band called the Martian Cowgirls, a punk band called Pandora's and was a hair stylist for 15 years before committing her time to raising a son and creating art.

She's busy setting up the store and trying to get an acquaintance to bring in a chandelier built out of Volkswagen parts. But mainly she's ready to get back to her painting.

Three-dimensional pieces are under way in her studio, including a half-complete mannequin torso named Lilleth, the mythical woman who existed in Eden before Eve.

"I can't even tell you where I'm going to go yet," Fagan said, looking at Lilleth, whose face is painted on the belly of the mannequin. "Usually my stuff is serendipitous. I don't have plans for a lot of things. I just improvise. I'm a huge fan of Peter Max and (I'm) a child of the '60s. The first thing I can think of is '60s art. My favorite colors are hot pinks and chartreuse. I'm very into psychedelic.

"I like figures, human bodies, faces. I like to work on something and have it sitting there."

Most of Fagan's subjects are women.

"Especially after having a child," she said. "I'm very into goddess types."

Her work mingles with everything else in the store. In addition to Fagan and the other local artists selling their work in the store, Crawford expects more art to cover the walls.

Even First Friday crowds, weaving through the store the Friday prior, stopped to work on a community canvas that Crawford said invited anyone to "Leave a piece of your creative spirit behind.

"I'm all for whoever wants to be in my store," Crawford said. "The more art the better. If we could be Melrose (Avenue) in 10 years, that would be great."

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