Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013 | 2 a.m.
In the shadows of the Eiffel Tower, an erupting volcano, the Empire State Building and a sinking pirate ship lies another sight that’s often overlooked. It’s downtown’s art scene, growing into a village known as the arts community.
It’s in this village that you’ll find the Las Vegas Backyard Wall and four artists who are committed to bringing that art scene out of the shadows.
By day, Ashley Angelo works at Fashion Show mall selling upscale cowboy boots. But on her own time she fills notebooks with drawings or puts watercolor to canvas. Inspired by comic book artists such as Daniel Clowes and Charles Burns, Angelo creates “skewed realism” — right now she’s really into faces and lettering. Many of her friends and acquaintances have no idea that she’s an artist — her work is not in any galleries or print. That’s about to change. She's completing her first large-scale piece at the downtown home of Todd Miller and Ramona Burns.
Inside their large backyard, the couple has created a one-work art gallery. A year ago, Miller constructed a wall stretching nearly the length of the space and named it the Las Vegas Backyard Wall. The two then invited a variety of artists to create a mural. To date, four have brushed their visions upon the Backyard Wall. The fifth mural is Angelo’s. There’s already a sixth artist in the wings who plans to incorporate Angelo’s design into his.
“This is my first time doing a large mural," Angelo said. “It’s a little intimidating, and I’ve never worked with house paint.” But her mural, featuring huge lettering that reads “Rich Blood” and a seemingly familiar face, doesn’t give away the fact that this is her first time working in such a large format.
“Ashley is an amazing artist but we wouldn’t know that because she’s not in a gallery,” said Burns, an interior designer. “She shared her art with us and we were like, ‘This is not being shown?’ Maybe because it’s too new … so our wall gives her the opportunity to show her fresh, new art that needs to be nurtured.”
“I loved the idea of inviting artists into our home, giving them a challenge and freedom to do whatever they want, to make it great, to push themselves,” said Miller, a professional photographer who documents each mural, then creates a time-lapse video set to original music. (You can check out some of the videos on his YouTube channel).
Burns plays host in her home when the couple hold Backyard Wall parties in the artist’s honor once the artwork is complete. Those parties are also part of process, generating an environment “where people can get together and talk about art in the community,” Burns says.
And, it really is about community for all of them, including Lynn Vacek, a model and makeup artist who has collaborated with Miller for years on photo shoots. Angelo is Vacek’s daughter. “I’m more excited about what’s happening downtown then anywhere on the Strip or anywhere else around town,” said Vacek, who is currently working with recyclable materials for her personal art pieces. She also recently worked alongside Burns and a dozen other artists to create the flock of origami birds installed in the Arts Factory.
For Angelo, Burns, Vacek and Miller, the Backyard Wall project or the installation in the Arts Factory is a small, but important part of their work in building the downtown arts community. All four support the local scene and believe in its potential.
“It’s always been kind of bubbling,” Angelo says. “People want some place to go for art, people want downtown to be cool, everyone wants it to happen.”
Burns agrees. “I think a lot of people forget that the galleries are open more than once a month. There’s more going on than just on the weekends or events. The art community is doing stuff all the time. My dream would be for more people to partake in it. People got to give it some love and nurture for it to grow … it’s about the community.”
And the art community needs to talk about downtown, said Vacek. “First thing is communication, keeping that dialogue going … inspiring each other. We need to come together, inject ideas and keeping it going.”
“The downtown arts scene will grow as much as people want it to. It can fail easily, but if you believe it will happen, it will happen. It you focus on it, it will happen,” Miller said. “It’s a matter of time and a matter of determination. We need to believe that we can do it. I have all the hope in the world.”
That determination drives all four to continue working together for the betterment of the downtown arts community. And it’s that hope that is helping inspire the village, calling out to people in the community to continue moving downtown out of the shadows.