Vegas-based artist James Stanford (jamesstanfordart.com) reinvents classic Vegas neon signage through his hypnotic and colorful works.
In James Stanford’s eyes, the iconic neon signage of mid-20th-century Las Vegas served a single purpose, and did so very successfully. “The bright lights brought people in,” he says. “That’s what Las Vegas does. It dresses itself up and attracts people from the rest of the world.”
Stanford, a born-and-raised Las Vegas artist who grew up in the Rat Pack era—“Frank Sinatra sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to me on my 16th birthday,” he says—has preserved those symbols of long-gone resorts in his acclaimed exhibit Shimmering Zen. “I participated in the cruising of Fremont Street [in the ’60s and ’70s],” he says. “I was impressed by the signage and neon glow early on; these were the signs of my youth.” The digitally rendered mandala representations of classic signage from The Sands, Stardust and others premiered at the 20th anniversary of Asian Art in London last year, and were most recently showcased at Las Vegas’ Neon Museum and the galleries of the Sahara West Library.
As a practicing Zen Buddhist, Stanford explains, “What I’m trying to do is take people on a trip, and so to me it’s more than a kaleidoscope, which is really an effort to create a symmetrical image.” He says, “They’re meditations to me. I almost think that meditative quality can translate to others.”
Shimmering Zen has been re-created in the form of an eponymous book ($60, Smallworks Press) featuring 150 images (out of 3,000 taken between 1998 and 2017), and also inspired local designer David Tupaz’s spring/summer 2019 collection, which Tupaz unveiled at September’s New York Fashion Week.
With Shimmering Zen a success, Stanford is turning his eye toward the future of digital imaging, eager to evolve his talent just as he did when he transitioned from a painter into a photographer. “I would like to do some projection [mapping] on buildings in Las Vegas,” he says. “The fact that this city creates an environment that helps people to play, it has a real spiritual aspect to it.”