ISI Group, a local art agency, includes artwork from 40 different graffiti artists in their latest project
The Palms Casino Resort’s Brenden Theatres received a striking makeover. From the entranceway to the IMAX theater, graffiti transforms the cinema into an underground art world.
The newly reopened Las Vegas property marks another historical milestone. The property is home to the largest graffiti art collection in town. The ISI Group, a local art agency, played a major role in executing this immersive street art experience. Curators Dana Anderson and Phillip Limon, founders of ISI Group, met at the Palms. When this opportunity came along, it was a full circle moment.
ISI Group’s Project Manager, Phillip Limon, shares with Off The Strip the makings of this massive masterpiece. While opening up about his relationship with graffiti, he also clues us in about their forthcoming documentary.
Ninety Percent of the Graffiti Artists Are Locals
The first splash of spray paint hit the walls back in November 2019. However, between all of the challenges the pandemic brought and all the necessary preparations to conceive this vision, the graffiti gallery didn’t finish until this month.
With 40 artists, the collection showcases different styles of graffiti. Ninety percent of the artists Limon handpicked are local. Everything from old school tagging to 3D murals appear throughout the venue. None of the art is a wrap, which is usually a printed collage installed on a building. The artwork is 99.9 percent hand painted with spray paint. It’s the real deal. Although it’s not exactly the same as seeing graffiti out on the streets, it stays true to the spirit of the art form.
“So I want them to also know that this is 100 percent authentic graffiti and the closest thing that you can get to the real thing. Not only this, but to reconsider what art is like and to see how beautiful a mural is outside and to see how beautiful a mural is in the alley,” says Limon, “and to also take away that these are important tags. It starts here. Because that’s the most frowned upon.”
‘Graffiti is the Orphans of the Art World’
Graffiti made its way into the mainstream art scene, but it wasn’t always welcomed. Many works of graffiti bear political statements. The ISI Group curator acknowledges that not all graffiti artists will be supportive of this collaboration. He describes graffiti as “the orphans of the art world.”
Limon explains the significance of this work in context with its complicated past. He compares the artwork to outcasts. “So it’s like someone that has been pushed aside their whole life. It’s like someone that has been left out and looked at as dirty and illegal and wrong. For it to be included in here, man, does it deserve it and is long overdue! This should be everywhere, all other businesses. Look at what Johnny Brenden has done here. I’ve never been more proud of anything in my life.”
As he walks through the halls, he points out details that set this apart from other graffiti installations in other casinos.
“What you don’t see in any installations like this that are legitimate are the taggings, throwies, signatures, stuff that are quarter fills and half fills, not all the way fully rendered,” says Limon. “That’s what makes this special. That’s what makes this different in an artist’s eyes, especially a graffiti artist.”
A Collection of Diverse Female Superheroes
The project gave artists full creative freedom in their assigned spaces. However, the owner made a couple of small requests. The first was to paint the name, “Brenden Theatres,” on a designated wall. The second was for the artists to return to the graffiti gallery to paint only female superheroes and villains inside the auditoriums. Johnny Brenden didn’t explain to Limon why he wanted all female superheroes.
Limon adds that this was a cool addition because all their graffiti artists in this project were men. However, he does make it clear that his art collective is an inclusive group welcoming all genders.
Over 20 paintings of female comic characters are featured on the walls leading into the silver screens. The team consciously decided which icons to incorporate into this project. From the beginning, their intent was to include diverse female role models and represent all backgrounds. Limon signals to a vivid piece of a Marvel character, Moondragon, inside the IMAX Theater.
For those who are unfamiliar with this character, she is a telepathic, bisexual earth girl with impeccable marital art skills. Moondragon’s distinct traits include her shaved head, unmatched arrogance and her gift of excelling in all human achievements. To put it simply, she’s a badass.
Aside from the added female empowerment, the artwork also weaves in meaningful memorials by the artists. Graffiti has always been an act of rebellion, a political statement, but it also serves as a way to pay tribute to family members and friends. Names of the artists’ loved ones also adorn these hallways.
Tagging As Tributes and Memorials
One graffiti artist painted his children’s names on an auditorium wall. Another artist says he’s already bought tickets to see a show in the theater he painted. I asked Limon where he would like me to take his photograph for this story. He led me near the back of the cinema and chose a piece that held significant meaning to him.
He walks up to a painting of a Union Pacific Train by Aware and Jaber, which is adjacent to Aware’s skull and Indecline symbol.
“They are gods, they are giants in this industry. I’m honored to have a friendship with them. It’s crazy for us to have our own accidental memorial here. I couldn’t be more proud and grateful that I could touch this. I could put my hands on this,” says Limon, as he wipes tears from eyes. “It’s sad. Whenever I can get Jaber here, I’m gonna see if he wants to honor it by adding the halo above [Aware]. That’s what you do in graf when someone has fallen. When you write their name, you write a halo.”
Another addition coming soon to this mural gallery is a map. The map will show where to find each artist’s section in the cinema.
What Lies Ahead For Graffiti in Vegas
Throughout the interview, Limon briefly touched on ISI Group’s forthcoming documentary that covers the making of this graffiti masterpiece. They have a working title, but he wouldn’t reveal it. No date is set yet. Before it is released to the public, the documentary will be submitted to film festivals. He hopes this project inspires more local business owners to incorporate authentic graffiti art installations on their properties, too.
“There’s no telling what a project like this will do for [the Las Vegas arts community]. And it seems specifically the graffiti scene here in Las Vegas,” says Limon. “This is not the only one, but this a Las Vegas graffiti map moment; they put this on the map.”