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Skateboarding fish, spellbound lemurs: The murals of Life is Beautiful

Updated September 16, 2021 - 9:55 am

She steers the golf cart amid a landscape as brightly hued as her eraser-pink jumpsuit and matching sneakers.

Urban streets aren’t meant to be this colorful — parking garages and the facades of buildings alive with mailbox-sized butterflies and googly-eyed alien life forms — but then again, that’s why Charlotte Dutoit’s here.

It’s a bit past 9 a.m. on a Thursday, and the founder of art curator group JustKids is leading a tour of some of the latest murals her company has produced for the Life is Beautiful music, art and food festival.

“This year, Life is Beautiful really wanted things that are super-uplifting, very colorful, because it’s the comeback of Life is Beautiful,” Dutoit says through a French accent indebted to her native Paris. “We really wanted to make a statement and celebration, so our curation is a bit more oriented to that.

“For this project, we have to really match the spirit and the ethos of the festival,” she continues, “meaning that it needs to be positive, it needs to be inclusive. We always try to have artists from all around the world. It’s very important to us to have this eclectic lineup.”

That international bent has proven to be a challenge during a time when there are still plenty of COVID-19 travel restrictions in place, with numerous artists unable to create their works in person, relying on others to bring their art to life.

Still, Dutoit and JustKids have soldiered on.

A female-led company, JustKids has been overseeing Life is Beautiful’s art program since its beginning in 2013.

“I call it JustKids because it’s sort of a metaphor for keeping your eyes as kids look at things and stay curious about things — especially the art,” she explains.

And that art is meant to be lasting — long after a given Life is Beautiful comes and goes.

“For the curation, something that’s important when we do it is that we need to think that it’s for the festival, but it’s also for downtown,” she says. “We need to have this in mind, because it’s not only for the three days; it’s for all the year. And it’s not only for the festivalgoers; it’s for the community.”

Now, about those pink jumpsuits …

“We are in a mostly male environment,” Dutoit notes. “We are in the middle of this huge production, all of these guys, all of this construction, and we wanted to make a sort of statement and say, ‘Hey, we are female, but we work exactly like you.’ ”

And with that, let’s take a closer look at some of the artists and their murals that JustKids has brought to Life is Beautiful 2021:

Criola, ‘Black Girl Magic’

This bold eye-magnet brightening the El Cortez parking garage depicts an Indigenous South American woman with a constellation of Afro puffs. She lacks pupils but still seems to see right through you.

Sasha Rayevskiy, who goes by the name "Tigersasha," works on a mural by Criola titled "Black Gi ...
Sasha Rayevskiy, who goes by the name "Tigersasha," works on a mural by Criola titled "Black Girl Magic" for the Life is Beautiful music, art and food festival in downtown Las Vegas Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto

“She’s an Afro Brazilian. She’s all about Black girl magic,” Dutoit says of artist Criola. “It’s a statement. It’s important — especially now.”

Criola was one of the artists who couldn’t be here in person, so JustKids has recruited painters for her, using a projection of the art piece displayed on the structure to accurately create the piece.

“We work with so many painters, we’re also able to say, ‘Listen, I know you can’t travel, but we have this guy that painted this installation. He’s very good. We trust him,’ ” Dutoit explains. “We make sure we follow all the process, the picking of the color, the projection. After the projection, we send them (pictures) to make sure it’s OK.”

Keya Tama, ‘Found Again’

The big red lemur at the center of this mural on a building on Ogden Avenue near Seventh Street looks spellbound. You’ll probably feel the same taking in the latest work from this young South African artist.

Part of an in-progress mural titled "Found Again" by Keya Tama for the Life is Beautiful music, ...
Part of an in-progress mural titled "Found Again" by Keya Tama for the Life is Beautiful music, art and food festival in downtown Las Vegas Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto

“This piece is a mix of his identity and generation, like very Gen Z but also a mix with the legend of South Africa,” Dutoit says. “The color is very earth tone. It’s a reference to the color of South Africa — the ground, the dirt.

“His mom is a very famous artist called Faith 47 — a very, very famous muralist,” she continues. “We have worked with Faith in the past, and now we work with her son, so it’s incredible.”

Pretty Done, ‘Pretty Funk Alley’

“Follow the funk,” the one-eyed pyramid in pink heels commands next to a tri-clops fish piloting a skateboard on the facade of the Downtowner Boutique Hotel. Those orders will most assuredly be followed this weekend when Life is Beautiful comes to life.

An artist who goes by the name "Pretty Done" works on his mural titled "Pretty Funk Alley" for ...
An artist who goes by the name "Pretty Done" works on his mural titled "Pretty Funk Alley" for the Life is Beautiful music, art and food festival in downtown Las Vegas Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto

“It’s really about downtown and the music,” Dutoit says of the mural from Vegas artist Pretty Done. “These people are dancing; they are happy. We also wanted some colorful art.

“We wanted to wake up downtown,” she elaborates. “I feel that it’s almost like rebuilding again — in a way — at least with the arts and with the cultural scene. He does a lot of black and white, but here he says, ‘No, no, I’m going to go full color.’”

Agostino Iacurci, ‘Landscape n°1’

Transforming an otherwise nondescript building into a kaleidoscope of color, this work from Italian-born artist Agostino Iacurci will have necks craning on Seventh Street with its straightforward yet absorbing aesthetic. It makes you want to plunge into a bucket of paint like a human paint roller — or maybe that’s just us.

Part of a mural by Agostino Iacurci titled "Landscape n¡1" for the Life is Beautiful music, ar ...
Part of a mural by Agostino Iacurci titled "Landscape n¡1" for the Life is Beautiful music, art and food festival in downtown Las Vegas Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto

“His work is very simple, but very practical,” Dutoit says. “For me, it’s also kind of poetic. I think when an artist can do something really good and very simple, it’s difficult.”

Kim Sol, ‘Starlights & Rivulets’

Muted colors and a celestial bent lend an otherworldly aura to this pink-heavy portal to another dimension on 11th Street Records. What’s she pouring from that bowl? The sauce of dreams.

Kim Sol with her mural "Starlights & Rivulets" for the Life is Beautiful music, art and food fe ...
Kim Sol with her mural "Starlights & Rivulets" for the Life is Beautiful music, art and food festival in downtown Las Vegas Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto

“She has this influence of manga and comics, but she also has an influence with antique illustration. Her work is very poetic; it’s very fairylike,” Dutoit says of Sol, who was born in Korea but grew up in Las Vegas. “She was really fast. She was the first artist to finish. We are really grateful to have her. She’s such a famous artist — and she’s local.”

Contact Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter and @jbracelin76 on Instagram.

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