On a super hot Saturday evening, I toured the Las Vegas Art Museum accompanied by a group of colleagues and a Cirque du Soleil performer who wore a tiny harmonica necklace and had a talent for making weird noises. The entire museum was a jackpot filled with the work of brilliant trompe l'oeil painter, Kaz Oshiro. Oshiro creates perfectly exact replicas of everyday objects like guitar amps, washer and dryer sets, and wood-paneled mini-fridges. There is not enough emphasis in the world to properly explain how realistic the objects are, aside from the fact that several triple stacks of Marshall speakers were painted Pepto pink and baby blue, but you'd swear Marshall had a new line of bubblegum gear if you saw them in a store.
Using canvas, paint, thin layers of gesso and a tiny bit of bondo, Oshiro expertly fools the eye. There were several Toyota tailgates leaning against the walls with perfectly raised, faded stickers and notes like "wash me" written in dust. The unbelievable realism and nostalgic American pop imagery evoked an inexplicable giddiness and a sense of awe. LVAM's new director, Libby Lumpkin, explained that one of the pieces, a set of pressboard cabinets, had been damaged when it fell off the wall during installation. Oshiro patched it with canvas, then painted a faux strip of duct tape over the hole -- a nice addition to the expertly reproduced peeling Sonic Youth sticker already decorating the piece.
Oshiro grew up on an American military base in Okinawa, and his favorite restaurant was Wienerschnitzel's. He liked it so much that he got a job at the hot dog joint in Japan, eventually transferring to their Los Angeles location to work and study art. I saw an Oshiro exhibition in San Francisco at the Steven Wolf gallery, and he's been fixed in my memory every since. Included in my top three best art moments, I saw a woman completely fooled by one of the artist's fast food trash cans -- she placed her empty wine glass on top of it as she walked by, and a perturbed gallery employee had to quickly remove the woman's garbage from the garbage-inspired art.
LVAM was also showing a small exhibit by Japanese-American artist, Sush Machida Gaikotsu, whose eye-candy paintings were so clean they looked like screen prints. Gaikotsu is a fisherman who attended UNLV and paints outdoors on hot desert evenings. Many of his works include colorful Koi fish. The largest piece was on four wood panels and included images of fish, several Warhol-esque bananas, a pack of Marlboro's, and an air freshener tree. The museum director told us she'd asked Gaikotsu why he'd included the tree, and he replied, "Fish are very stinky."
Still reeling from the joy of seeing Oshiro's work again, I almost forgot that I had to go back to my icky casino hotel. Stepping off the bus to the tune of "Proud to be an American" blasting in the street as part of the Bellagio's gun powder-fueled water fountain show brought me swiftly back to reality. Oh, Las Vegas -- with your re-circulated fake air, your overabundance of sparkly halter tops and three foot-long plastic cocktail glasses -- I have to credit you, at least you give good art.