I hate Las Vegas. I like it only in theory: I like the idea that there is a city where some of the nation's victimless crime laws don't apply, and I like the way it's depicted in the movies — everyone is quick-witted, well-dressed, and moves with a confident urban tempo, regardless of his or her lot (drunk, showgirl, high roller). The Vegas I visited was nothing like that; I saw a Jell-O-like sea of pink pudgy people wearing Bermuda shorts and presidential grins.

Mine could be a highly misrepresentative take on the city. Although, for generations, people smarter than I have gone to Vegas to make or lose their fortunes — they believe it's the place where anything can happen. There has been a recent undercurrent of treasure-seekers, talented artists who call Vegas home — in addition to the Guggenheim or a Smithsonian-affiliated museum — who have made their fortunes in art.

Sala Diaz plays on this concept in its current show, "Live Like There's Yes Tomorrow." The exhibit features five painters with an affiliation to and an affinity for Sin City. The title plays with the notion that art is a gamble for everyone — from the creator to the viewer. The show will travel to the Angstrom Gallery in Dallas after its debut here.

Jack Halberg's large Hairy House acts as an initial invitation, appearing on the wall just to the left of the entryway. The painting depicts a Godzilla-like monster in the sea beside an industrial city. The dinosaurish form is a peachy shade of pink and covered with raised neat, bright green circles and scales of varying size. In what may be the monster's mouth is a primarily blue, multi-level creature constructed by a series of larger and smaller circles. This form and its background take up the left three-fourths of the piece; to its right, a spiraling series of raised orange circles fall onto a few similarly shaped black vertical designs, interrupted by sporadic and non-identical circles similar in design both to the creature in the monster's mouth and the falling orange spiral.

Jane Callister's Anxious Ooze and Warped are each centered by large, multi-colored drip areas, and work as a narrative with the neatly boxed, single-color patches and lacy string of raised black paint that concentrates on color borders yet also appears throughout the paintings. Callister's show at UTSA's Satellite Space a few years ago was convincing enough to lure members of the starving artist set to collect her work.

Phil Argent's playful, cartoony Untitled 5.3 features '70s-inspired shapes symmetrically framing a middle that is centered with a star. Pill and capsule shapes are enlarged and repeated, and a glittery "diamond dust" shape pulls the eye to the lower left section.

Tim Bavington, I'm Free (solo #2), 2002, Acrylic on canvas over panel

The show's two international — and perhaps best-known — artists share the second room (I don't know why an American would move to Las Vegas — I'm shocked to learn that people from foreign shores would choose it as their American home, yet Callister and Argent are English immigrants, as well). Yek, originally from Singapore, and Tim Bavington, a Londoner who at one time worked drawing comics for The Simpsons, paint with a similar softness (of implied or actual airbrushing). Yek's Raw is a large concave square panel that gradually fades from a shade of fuchsia on top to black at the bottom. A thin, cursive-like line seamlessly alternates shades and exits and returns to the panel forming what could be a described as an extreme close-up of a long-petaled flower. On the opposite side of the room are Bavington's two rectangular, horizontal pieces, I'm Free (solo #2) and Brand New Start (solo #1) — both paintings are a continuation of Bavington's work with cartoony, tightly grouped, fuzzy vertical lines.

The pieces in the Sala Diaz' show share a penchant for bright colors and an optimistic, things-are-better-than-you-think feel. Maybe I was wrong about Las Vegas. Maybe there is some hope.

7-11pm June 28 opening, 9pm July 5 or by appointment
Through July 28, Free
Sala Diaz, 517 Stieren, 695-5132,

More by Noah Sternthal



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