Desert Companion

Profile: Wayne Littlejohn, Artist

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Wayne LittleJohn
Bill Hughes

Public art can infuse a community with a shared sense of civic pride and cultural ownership. It can be a powerful, engaging and often emotional experience that is both collective and personal. It’s with that hope in mind that a piece of homegrown public art will soon adorn the still-under-construction, 20-acre Siegfried and Roy Park, on Russell Road between Maryland Parkway and Paradise Road. The distinctive art will be the work of Wayne Littlejohn.

“This large-scale piece will become a communal meeting place within the park,” says Littlejohn, who has tentatively entitled his work “Dream Machine.” “I have been hoping to do something like this for 15 years.”

The spiral-stem structure will measure 28 feet high, topped by a 14-to-18-foot wide offset mushroom-shaped cap. The sculpture will be built from stainless steel and cast bronze and feature a silver-like sheen achieved through a careful calibration of brass and copper. The underside of the cap will feature colorful translucent lacquers, while a graffiti-proof film is meant to protect the base. Continual display lighting will perennially showcase the sculpture.

The piece is a logical, large-scale extension of his recent work, interactive, three-dimensional, organic-shaped sculpture that draws inspiration from the natural world — particularly oceanic — and meteorological phenomena.  

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“This piece is an abstraction inspired by climatic energy spirals such as dust devils and tornadoes,” Littlejohn says. “It embodies the awkward yet resilient elegance of a desert lifestyle where dirt can be transformed into gold.”

 

“Dream Machine” promises to be a landmark element amid the tennis courts, splash pad and walking trail of the $11.5 million park.

Littlejohn, an art professor at the College of Southern Nevada, was among 26 artists who submitted proposals for the $261,900 contract; the trio of jury-selected semi-finalists also included Miguel Rodriguez and ARVs Collaborative.

It took a while for Littlejohn’s selection to sink in: “To be honest, it’s only in the past six weeks that this has actually felt real.”

The park is set to open by year’s end, with “Dream Machine” tentatively scheduled for installation in late January.

 

A painter and sculptor, Littlejohn was born in Winnipeg, Canada. After extensively traveling Asia, he landed in Las Vegas in 1994 and enrolled in UNLV’s Masters of Fine Arts program. Littlejohn studied under the influential MacArthur grant-winning art critic and curator Dave Hickey, who helped him find and refine his creative vision. Littlejohn’s work subsequently was included in Hickey’s Las Vegas Diaspora, a seminal 2008 group show exhibited in Laguna and Las Vegas, showcasing an exuberant and serious local art scene rich with under-recognized talent.

Littlejohn has since exhibited in galleries and museums worldwide, his best work drawing upon high and low, ancient and modern influences for wholly original, provocative compositions.

“Wayne is an egg and a merman and an aficionado of the tidal pool,” Hickey says. “He is also a Canadian, but I suspect he just started walking south until his toes thawed out here in Vegas, where he is a happy citizen. His work carves white primordial ooze the way Michelangelo carved his Pieta. An odd mix, but a good one.”

“The coolest thing about this project,” Littlejohn says, “is that I’m really just a conduit, and in the end this sculpture will continue to evolve long after I’m gone. Ultimately it belongs to the surrounding world.”

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