Meet Charlotte Dutoit
Occupation: Art producer and entrepreneur
In Vegas since: Temporary resident since 2013
Resume: Art curator for Life Is Beautiful (2013-present)
Favorite downtown haunts: PublicUs (morning), Triple George Grill (afternoon and evening), Commonwealth (night)
Favorite drink: Wine
Q. The production window for each artist’s Life Is Beautiful residency is short. How long are they usually in town to produce a mural?
Between seven to 10 days.
Q. That short window leaves very little time for an artist to research ideas for site-specific work. Do some artists send a sketch ahead of time?
They usually research before and try to understand the environment, learn its history, then work on their sketches. Others artists prefer to feel the energy of the location, and try to meet with the community to understand the ongoing situation, and then provide a sketch while they are on site.
Q. These murals are influencing others. What do you tell artists who ask you how to approach the content and practice the scale of works seen at Life Is Beautiful?
I provide them as much information as possible about the festival and downtown, then ask them to avoid the Vegas clichés: money, strip clubs, etc. Or if they do use them to bring a reflection, since Vegas has many other sides.
Q. The murals from Life Is Beautiful have contributed to the city’s public-art legacy. Do they affect that part of downtown by making it more walkable?
It definitely makes it more walk-friendly and builds a sense of community, too. Every time I come to Las Vegas I see art enthusiasts taking pictures of the murals and installations or a group of people getting together and celebrating next to the walls. It brings culture and creates a dialogue around art in a city traditionally more focused on gambling and entertainment, which now supports public art, thanks to Life Is Beautiful.
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Q. With Las Vegas being a popular destination, but with a lot of visual distractions, does it make it easier or harder to attract artists?
I think that any place with a singular history will attract and inspire artists for good or bad. Old Vegas doesn’t escape tradition. The neon signs, the vintage motels, the mob, the gangsters, the ’50’s and ’60’s stars and all the Vegas extravaganza have shaped a strong identity where artists want to be seen.
Q. The portfolio left behind in Las Vegas is a great mix of styles. How do you explain the way these murals differ from, say, the community-based murals of Los Angeles from the 1970s?
The Los Angeles scene from the pre-graffiti and graffiti era had a strong influence in the whole genre due to an incredible mix of style and influences that is proper to LA’s rich culture and diversity. That’s undeniable.
But for an artist born in Europe, (the murals I curate) might have been more influenced by the New York scene or the stencil style simply for geographical reasons. In the ’80s in Paris most of the writers were coming from New York or the East Coast, and influenced the local artists, exactly as an artist from Australia or New Zealand might have been more influenced by LA murals and graffiti artists since there were more exchanges from that side of the world.
In the case of Life Is Beautiful, since the first year we have been inviting artists from literally all the continents: the U.S. and Caribbean, Europe, Asia and Africa. Each brings their own flavor, folklore and techniques. We have also different generation of artists, from 20 to 50 year olds, and their references are not exactly the same.
We are inviting artists that don’t belong to the same scene. Some are street artists/urban artists. Others are contemporary artists or illustrators and have never worked in the street before. We had a few artists that had never traveled to the U.S. before. So for all these reasons we have a very eclectic gallery of murals.
Q. The installations have gotten bigger and more interactive. Is that a major component this year?
Absolutely. This year’s installations expand new possibilities for creations by artists and new forms of exchanging with the attendees, too. We have been doing installations since 2014 with artists such as Misaki Kawai, Edoardo Tresoldi and Li-Hill, and they were very successful and popular. It’s also fantastic when they become permanent installations like Bordalo’s bus (with meerkats) done in 2015, which has been on Fremont Street since then.
Q. Among the announced artists is Shepard Fairey, and it’s great to see his Life Is Beautiful debut. Norwegian stencil artist Martin Whatson will show innovative ways to use space. Which brings up the question: Is it getting harder to find walls?
It should be, but a twist of fate brought us new buildings in the footprint this year, and we are also creating site-specific installations, which, for some, do not need buildings.
Q. Deciding which mural to paint over must be a tough decision. Is there a mural we may lose?
Life Is Beautiful is one of the rare events to keep and preserve murals, while at many others events they paint over them each year. These murals are a fantastic collection. We need to preserve them as long as possible. However, if a mural is in bad shape, we will replace it with a new one.
Q. Is there an artist who is a great fit for Las Vegas and Life Is Beautiful that you hope to bring in the future?
Q. You are always running around the globe. Do you feel like you live on planes and in airports?
Pretty much, yes. In the next three weeks I will travel to Puerto Rico, Paris, Berlin, Barcelona, Lisbon, New York and Cincinnati. Traveling is a love-hate relationship. You always want to be home, but you can’t stay too much in the same place.
Life Is Beautiful takes place in downtown Las Vegas from September 23-25. For more information visit lifeisbeautiful.com
Ed Fuentes is a writer and artist focused on the public art sphere of murals and street art. As a recipient of a 2013 Creative Capital | Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant he began publishing paintthisdesert.com to cover Las Vegas and has written about L.A. for KCET and Hyperallergic.