The Utopian diorama

utopian diorama

I’ve been hinting at what’s been occupying most of my time the last two weeks here, but overtly giving peeks at it on Facebook, however, I haven’t completely revealed just what the heck I did in the windows of the Contemporary Arts Center until now. OK, technically the art installation itself was revealed to the public Thursday, when I put the finishing touch on it. But I haven’t really explained what the heck is going on.

Basically, the CAC separately curates its large, front window display facing Charleston Boulevard separately from the exhibits running inside the gallery. These “East Side Projects” essentially let an artist use the entire display to execute his or her vision. I was asked by the CAC board if I’d be interested in doing something with the window for March related to my comic book work, specifically The Utopian. I was honored, of course, but a bit apprehensive. After all, I’ve only had a few little piece of “art” shown in a few group shows, and had never done anything on the scale of filling a 22-foot-wide space, especially one that would be viewable 24 hours a day on one of the busiest thoroughfares in Las Vegas. Also, I didn’t want it to be (nor did the CAC) want it to be an overt ad for The Utopian, but I did know what I wanted it to be: fun, colorful and representative of my illustration style.

Left window design

The concept I ended up developing was the effect of a passerby looking at life-sized comic book panels. I wanted to get across a few of the major themes of The Utopian, including the tendency to render the past with overly nostalgic eyes, and of course, the message of real change coming from the group up — something extremely relevant in light of the uprisings in Iran, Egypt, Bahrain and elsewhere. To my surprise, the initial designs I submitted — a combination of art and text culled from or inspired by the original comics — were accepted wholeheartedly, which left me to figure out just how I’d fabricate all the parts of this giant diorama.

There were three major elements to this installation: The two different backgrounds, the “stand-up” characters, and the foreground lettering (speech balloons and captions). It became almost more like set design. After initially considering producing everything digitally and printing in large format (which would have cost much, much more than the approximately $200 I poured into this project), I ended up doing everything by hand. The back walls — one a forced “exterior” perspective, one a high school hallway — were hand-painted with a combo of house paints and  acrylics. The stand-ups (four of them) were drawn onto and cut out of 5-foot-tall foam board, painted with  acrylics and outlined with a Sharpie. I created stands from left-over foam board. The lettering was done (poorly) by hand on poster board, and then suspended from the rafters with clear thread. Other elements were also created on the cheap, such as the “PRINCIPAL” door plate (white adhesive letters on black foam board) and a homecoming poster.

right window display

It took me about three days to paint the backgrounds and a day and a half to cut and paint the stand-ups.  Installation of the stand-ups and hanging elements took another day and a half. I did it all myself, with some last-minute assistance from Sara.


Feedback so far has been very kind. I personally think it turned out just “OK.” Of course, you lose a lot going from a perfectly controlled digital design to a real-life environment. But the effect is there. And it definitely brings attention to the CAC’s windows. If you get a chance over the next few weeks, swing by the Arts Factory and check it out.

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