Art Meets Street: Zap8! Project comes to Laughlin

If you haven’t been to Laughlin within the past year and are now making a return trip you will notice the center of Casino Drive has undergone a few changes. Where there were once cement dividers…or no dividers…between north and southbound lanes, there are now plants and aesthetic flourishes involving mobiles and metal artwork. The enhancements are all part of a plan to put a warmer, friendlier face on Casino Drive.      

The new look resulted in some of us taking a closer look at Casino Drive and noticing things we hadn’t really seen before. These would be the ugly and ubiquitous utility boxes found all along the way. (Ed note: We take that back. We have noticed more than a few of them, particularly those blocking views of traffic as we nose our cars onto Casino Drive from casino parking lots.)

Those boxes do not quite fit in with the new-look desired by roadway beautifiers. In fact, they can go the opposite way and serve as graffiti canvases for the vain without reason.

Well, Clark County, Nevada, sees those boxes as canvases as well and has placed Casino Drive into a project called ZAP8!, part of a county-wide effort to bring art to the masses and deter graffiti (see inset on facing page for more on this project). This is why you will see many nationally accredited artists turning those boxes and other open spaces in Laughlin into works of art in April and May in an effort to prove that you can put lipstick on a pig and get away with it.



A Primer on Art

One of the first artists to take paint to metal on April 6-9 is Joey DeRuy, a most interesting creative force who we will focus on here as illustrative of the layers that go into projects such as ZAP8! and that there is more to public art than just the finished product.

In his own words, he summed it up perfectly.

“I’m really into making art for arts sake,” he states. “I’m blessed with art and want to utilize it to the best of my abilities. I really love creating and have found over time that its the one thing I can do to give to the community, and hopefully, add to people’s daily lives. We all have different gifts So I’ll do what I can with what I have.”

What DeRuy has is abundance of artistic talent and insight. And he has cred. He was the commemorative artist for the Dallas Visitor and Convention Bureau; has been nominated for interpretive work at the Smithsonian Institute; was SF Weekly magazine’s Artist of the Year; and winner of numerous Best of Show awards throughout his career.

DeRuy claims Kenya (Africa), Montana, New Mexico, Maine and the San Francisco Bay Area as pivotal spots on his personal globe. We wondered if there is one spot possessing more influence on his art than another.

“I’ve always claimed Montana as home since I spent the majority of my formative years and had many of my ‘firsts’ happen there,” he states.

“Looking back though, I’ve come to realize that life is a constant of “first times” and everywhere I have lived has had some impact on my life and art. Africa rooted an organic influence of structure; I formed technique in Dallas; depth in Los Angeles; confidence in my work while in Washington DC; and panache in San Francisco, etc… I’ve yet to know what the present is teaching me while I go along for the ride. I’m sure it’s all good.”

Some of those teachers punching DeRuy’s ticket on that ride did so not knowing they signed on for the gig.

“I find inspiration every day from people all around me,” he says. “…from people I have known my whole life, from new friends, from complete strangers on the streets, and from individuals I have never met in a natural organic environment.”

Spoken like a true artist. The reference to “natural organic environment” encompasses the modern world’s increasing dependence upon electronic interaction. We all “know” people from a distance, whether it be celebrities or Facebook friends. DeRuy has his finger on that pulse through a “look behind the mirror” philosophy with his art. He sees things as others do but then deconstructs them and reconfigures them into something more meaningful. This results in the futuristic style of his paintings.

To many outside of art, abstract art and futuristic art translates to “he must not be able to draw…” Well, DeRuy can paint a realistic portrait or landscape as good as any, but his art has taken a deeper turn.

“Photorealism is actually how I started working,” states DeRuy. “I was noticed for this and those paintings are the reason I received my first showings. Realism takes talent for sure and is challenging, but in my opinion, it’s not as creative as abstraction. Realism is pretty straightforward with its finished result. With abstraction it’s important to know how to paint technically and then take that knowledge to deconstruct, distort the subject, and then rebuild and reconfigure it into another version or perspective.”

Going this route can meet with a few detours and false starts. If you are painting a still life of three pears, a banana and a vase, you pretty much know where you are heading at all times. But when you smash the fruit against a mental wall, sometimes it’s hard to see where the juices and pulp fit on a canvas.

“Most works I do will reach a point that I think the art is not working out and frustrates me,” he explains. “The true professional will push through that point and keep working until the artwork starts to take shape and gets that breath of life…and jumps off the canvas with its own identity.

“I usually have a sketchpad with me at all times and tend to document every idea I get as they come so I can use them at a later date. If I’m feeling uninspired, I’ll go through my catalogue of ideas then pull from one of them that is contextually suitable for that project.”

Sometimes, DeRuy can overcome an obstacle simply by looking at a color.

“I can be into one color one day and then stumble upon a completely different color that is striking due to its values or hue that will ignite inspiration to utilize that color,” he states. “At the moment I’m really into white. I’m always thinking in multicolor. White can be the one color constant that allows me to relax, clear my mind, envision ideas, and create.”

So, if color can be inspiring, we had to know what qualities were to be found in Laughlin’s palette that he would draw upon to…er…draw. He did tell us he had visited the area a few weeks ago to get a feel for things, and he has been in Las Vegas working on similar projects.

“The entire state of Nevada, Laughlin and the Tri State Area inspired me,” he said. “The State Bird (mountain bluebird), State Flower (sagebrush), State Tree (Bristlecone Pine), motto (Silver State), etc.

“I’m up early daily to watch the sunrise and gain the extra hours of natural light to paint. During that time I am taken in by the colors and severe contrasts in nature.

“When I went to Laughlin, I fell in love with the area as it is unusual…and like most small cities it has a charm and beauty of its own.

“With this project…I really love more than anything to help further the dialogue Laughlin started with the arts projects. Laughlin is a magical place with friendly people and so much to offer. There’s plenty of room for all types of creative outlets and ways to utilize the area for the arts. I would hope to be a part of the inspiration where the youth can feel comfortable taking their voice and energy to contribute to the community. One never knows what can come out of imagination and the space to utilize it in an embracing environment.”

One thing to come out of a similar environment was DeRuy, who embraces his role.

“In the past, I was, in a sense, trying to find my voice and communicate it through art. Now, my goal is to create art that has substance and adds something to our world. Art that makes us think about situations—whether that is something bigger than us like spirituality, or something we can change and is tangible, like water conservation, a demand for accessible healthy food and basic mental and physical health awareness.”

So, DeRuy is off to painting utility boxes—on the surface a canvas beneath his qualifications. However, for DeRuy, the honors, awards and showings in top galleries and magazines are fine, but the real payoff is the work itself.

“My greatest achievement is to be allowed the honor of being…and having been…a full-time artist for 20 years,” he states. “It’s important not to take being a creative person for granted. I learned many people do respect artists and want to be a painter. This helped me look into why I should respect my ability and position.”

For an example of Joey DeRuy’s work, visit

So as you watch DeRuy and the other artists take to Casino Drive over the next couple of months, look beyond a simple beautification and anti-graffiti campaign and know there is more there than simply meets the eye, and we don’t mean just disguised utility boxes.

The other artists scheduled to provide works for the Laughlin project are Myranda Bair; Mark Brandvik; Lisa Dolan; Fawn Douglas; Ali Fathollahi; Maureen Halligan; Anne Hoff; Katie Hoffman; K.D. Matheson; Orlando Montenegro; Erica Ott; Andrea Pavles; Caitlyn Saville; Christopher Tsouras; and Ozzie Village.


Zap8! is an offshoot of a program started in San Diego years ago to help curb graffiti as well as beautify the city. Clark County, Nevada, via the efforts of Clark County Parks and Recreation, has become one of the biggest advocates of that program after initiating Zap1! in the Winchester area of Las Vegas back in 2005. The response of residents throughout all the “Zaps!,” between 1, and now 8, has been positive.

It’s probably one of our most well received projects,” says Michael Ogilvie, Clark County Parks and Recreation Cultural Specialist II. “We hardly ever hear any negative feedback about the art and residents—it gives them a sense of place, it gives them a sense of pride. The artists feel that, too. Here they come, often from a private studio or working in a graphic design or advertising firm where everything is fairly insular, to getting out into the world. Hearing that kind of positive feedback (from residents) really gives them a boost.”

The Zap8! project will encompass 64 utility boxes, not only on Casino Drive but throughout Laughlin.

“As long as artists can continue to get hired and the community is beautified, a good thing is happening,” sums up Ogilvie.