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Keeping Arts Alive in Las Vegas

How local artists are finding community support amid the pandemic

Article by Patranya Bhoolsuwan

Photography by Gian Sapienza

Originally published in Red Rock Lifestyle

“How quickly things can change in a year.” That phrase has come up a lot in 2020, and it can easily paint the picture of the impact on the local art scene in Las Vegas.

“2019 was definitely my best year yet as an artist. Then, 2020 happened.”

That is Rocky Asbury, a 44-year-old self-taught artist who said just a few years ago, he would never have thought art would become his life’s work. Now his paintings, which range in various styles and created mainly with acrylic spray paint and oil sticks, have made him one of the most prominent new artists in Southern Nevada.

“I love colors, vibrant colors. I want my paintings to essentially punch people in the face when they see it,” said Asbury. “And I always want my work to tell a story and make a connection with people.”

One person that found a connection with Asbury’s work was Heiko Katins, CEO and owner of ART 2 art Gallery and District at Tivoli Village.

“I am proud of how well he’s done in such a short time,” said Katins. “Just look at his work and you can see that each piece stands out. The color, the size, the perfect composition. People just identify with his work.”

Katins’ passion for local artists is evident throughout his business. At ART 2 art District, which can be described as a “co-op for artists," currently houses about 1300 hundred pieces of artwork. He said about 60-70 percent of the art is from local artists. The ART 2 art Gallery, which is steps away from the District, is a showcase area focusing on modern and abstract artwork, along with a framing workshop.

“I want to support as many artists as I can,” said Katins. “I hope this is where they can grow not just an artist, but as a community.”

But this community, like many others, has been hit hard by the pandemic. Katins shut down earlier this year to comply with state regulations. Despite business picking up in the summertime, sales are down again. But he said all this has reinforced why support for local artists is more critical than ever.

Among the Las Vegas-based artists whose work are displayed at Katin’s gallery are husband and wife, Robb Rocket and Roswell. The couple moved to Las Vegas at the beginning of this year, just before the pandemic hit.

“This whole experience for us has been a testament of faith,” said Rocket. “When we left New Mexico, we sold everything to make a new life here. We knew Vegas was the right place for us.”

Rocket, who describes his work as “free brow” influenced by everything from mid-century pop culture to comic art said he and his wife were drawn to the city, that up until earlier this year was at the brink of becoming a world class arts scene. The couple said they loved the eclectic spirit of the Arts District in Downtown, but also appreciate the vibe at ART 2 art in Tivoli. Rocket said having the space where they can meet people is a blessing during this challenging year. “It’s harder to get exposure when you can’t see your customers in person. You can use social media, but we'd rather develop relationships, not just with clients, but with other artists as well.” Katin has created just that space.

Rocket’s wife, Roswell, who describes her art as mid-century abstract, said her experience with a recent patron proves that art is alive. “I had a teenager who came in and talked with me about my art, and it was wonderful,” said Roswell. “I just loved seeing their face light up as they learned more about what I do. It was a true privilege.”

Another local artist showing her work at Art 2 art is Teresa Stidham. She specializes in what she called “healing and fluid” art ranging from abstract paintings and functional pieces.

“I started to show my work at First Friday in Downtown and that’s where I slowly gained my confidence as an artist,” said Stidham. “When ART 2 art offered me the opportunity to show my work here, I was so excited. I was literally jumping up and down! It’s a huge opportunity. This is where my customers are.”

For Katins, his goal for 2021 is to keep giving local artists more exposure and wants to expand the educational component of his business, including more art classes for the public.

“I feel like Las Vegas is on its way to become an arts town. We may not be there yet, but we will. It’s about education and I really believe we are doing that here.”

For artist Rocky Asbury, despite the pandemic, he continues to paint every day. Soon, his talent will get attention halfway around the world, as he was asked to showcase his work at a big art show in Taiwan.

“I can’t wait,” said Asbury. “I’m thankful for all the opportunities I’ve been given, including from Heiko. He gave me a chance when many other galleries won’t. We need more of that kind of support for sure.”

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