Visualizing the future: Art sales are not easily earned, but hold a huge key for the future of Las Vegas
By Jason W. Brooks
Copyright 2018 Las Vegas Optic
The colors of a sunset fade into the subject of a classic American southwest cowboy scene.
That’s one of many images found on art sold in Las Vegas, New Mexico — and often, it’s art made by artists who live locally in San Miguel or Mora counties. Artists, business and commerce organizations work hard to bring customers to town, but it’s the fascinating and unique artwork that sells itself, once visitors are in the door.
Tito Chavez is the owner of Tito’s Gallery, located on Bridge Street — a thoroughfare that, combined with the Las Vegas Plaza at its west end, house the main cluster of Las Vegas-area art galleries.
“About 80 percent of our customers are local, but 10 years ago, it was 90 percent,” Chavez said. “So there is still a lot of room for tourism to grow, but it’s really picked up the past few years.”
Chavez said having a presence online and in tourism publications helps, as does being connected to the art community. His gallery, and others, have strong ties to Santa Fe: some San Miguel and Mora county artists used local shows to get into the Santa Fe community, and some Santa Fe artists gain exposure from having work available in Chavez’s gallery and other Las Vegas venues.
“I make jewelry, and that’s what we sell the most,” Chavez said. “And second would be the smaller pieces. We like to sell the larger ones; those are a little tougher to move, as it usually involves a customer who appreciates the work more than most.”
Sign-in books reveal how much national and international appeal Las Vegas and its art community possess. Chavez has had recent visits from travelers from as far away as Massachusetts, Vermont and even Brazil.
Art admirers are all sorts, ranging from young artists trying to carve their own niche to older couples exploring the Southwest to lifelong “Norteños,” or northern New Mexicans. One visitor simply signed a guest book as “Cornbread.”
Nearly all the galleries on Bridge Street, or around other parts of Las Vegas, are housed in buildings as steeped in tradition and history as the city itself. Chavez’s gallery holds two jail cell “rooms” that were once part of the now leveled West Las Vegas Police Station.
His studio is adjacent to the under-restoration E. Romero Fire House, which is in the process of being converted into a museum. In the movie “Easy Rider,” actor Jack Nicholson’s character, as the character George Hanson, emerges from the studio’s storefront, made to look like a police station, and joins Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda in front of the “jail” that is the firehouse.
There are 1,000 other ways the galleries are attached to popular culture, through Las Vegas as a film location and other historical ties. According to Las Vegas Optic records, which date to the paper’s first edition in 1879, many famous Old West gunfights and other incidents took place on or near Bridge Street or the Plaza.
Fittingly, some of the motifs and scenes depicted in artwork available in Las Vegas captures people, ideas or images that formed and grew right out on the streets around the gallery where those same southwestern pieces are now sold.
Some of the artists who show in both Las Vegas and Santa Fe galleries include painter David P. Escudero of Las Vegas. His online profile says his work “features an impasto style of layered media characterized by what he calls a stylized impressionistic pointillism in a micropalette technique.”
Phillip Trujillo is a local artist who has made a considerable career for himself.
Not all art available in Las Vegas is one-dimensional.
Richard Rivera, who works with old roofing tin, cans, boards and yard-sale items, has shown at the Contemporary Spanish Market in Santa Fe and won acclaim there. Gene Gurulé displays his rustic metal work in Tito’s Gallery on a large door, which, in itself, is a piece with its own character and story.
Also, some of the art is extremely contemporary. A series of retablos, or Mexican folk art, specifically pokes fun at the sitting U.S. president.
In Gallery 140, located almost across Bridge Street from Tito’s, a recent display featured a recent gnome art display by local artist Adele Ludi, and featured ceramic lawn gnomes fashioned to resemble pop icons such as Cheech & Chong and the TV shows Duck Dynasty and Sons of Anarchy.
One piece of Las Vegas artwork became internationally known, even though it isn’t for sale. The wooden entry door located in the northwestern corner of the Plaza that bears a sheriff’s star isn’t actual law enforcement; it belongs to fictional Absaroka County and was used in the recently ended TV show “Longmire.”
Some Las Vegas galleries move work through themed events or shows. Gallery 140 used the month of April to showcase “recycled art” in honor of Earth Day and Earth Month, utilizing some of the most creative re-used items imaginable.
There is also a ton of work that isn’t from New Mexico, but gives artists from around the world a unique market and audience.
One of the March displays at Gallery 140 was simply a hood ornament titled “Trophy Wife”; it’s the work of Allison Oullette-Kirby, an Illinois artist.
Gallery 140, along with el Zócalo Cooperative Art Gallery, is an example of how New Mexico artists display their work collectively, without it being housed in a traditional business that has an owner. el Zócalo is a multimedia coop, located at the west end of the Plaza, that features the work of about 20 local artists.
Tito’s Gallery moved into its current building in the 1990s; it’s not uncommon for a Las Vegas art venue to migrate short distances for a variety of reasons.
“Being flexible is a big component of art,” Chavez said.
At 19 years old, Pablo Pecok is one of six young and gifted artists currently studying at Highlands University in Las Vegas New Mexico.
“You may be born with a small amount of talent, but that won’t take you anywhere,” Pecok said. “Dedication. Belief in yourself and rising towards not just your goal but something farther than you may ever become.”