Desert Companion

Profile: Evgeni Vodenitcharov, Sculptor


Evengi Vodenitcharov
Aaron Mayes

He generally avoids the Strip, but every couple of years, sculptor Evgeni Vodenitcharov and his teenage daughter will walk it, the whole freaky thing, tip to tail. “She’s still on the verge of being fascinated by the fact that she’s living in Las Vegas, and being embarrassed at the same time,” he says. But a definite highlight is his daughter seeing her dad’s work. It’s practically everywhere. The 14-foot she-devil towering in front of El Diablo? His. The 23-foot bull bursting out of Planet Hollywood? His. The massive Buddha inside Tao? His. It’s hard to keep track of it all. “Is the siren still out in front of TI, the big girl on the ship?” he asks. If so, that’s his, too. She gets a kick out of it, his daughter, but that’s to be expected: One of her first words as a baby was “statue.”

“Inside and outside?” he answers, a bit of a Bulgarian lilt still in his voice. (He grew up there.) “Hundreds, hundreds.” He’s just been asked how many of his sculptures might adorn the Strip at this moment. Sitting in the warm office of his December-chilled studio on Arville Street — he has another, heated studio he leases at YESCO, with whom he works a lot — you can see him running the mental tally: his years creating pieces for the Venetian + the many commissions through his company Icon Sculpting … alas, an exact number is impossible. For every giant raging bull, he’s created dozens of smaller pieces — sconces, figurines for slot banks, niche sculptures, friezes. However cool and ambience-enhancing they are, each is only a theme-adjustment away from the Dumpster, and no one ever tells the sculptor when that happens. (He’s been pleasantly surprised to find sculptures he made for one casino repurposed in another.) Disposability — it’s the fate of the commercial artist.

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“Probably no one else in town has as many sculptures as I do,” he offers. He’s not bragging, just laying it out there. When he arrived in 1994 (with $35, no English, nowhere to stay, he says), the city was deep in the gullet of casino theming, with ornate resorts like Venetian and the Paris keeping platoons of commercial sculptors busy — some 200, he estimates. And now? “Probably five.”

There’s an old joke about sculpture: It’s the thing you bump into when you’re looking at paintings. But it’s what 13-year-old Evgeni wanted to study when, because the Bulgarian education system made you choose, he decided to learn art instead of sports. Five years of art school followed, and later college. Now 50, he still prefers the immediacy of working with both hands, shaping clay, creating symmetries. “It’s a lot better brain-hand connection to me,” he says. “If you’re a painter, you have that stick between your hand and the canvas.” Sculpture's expensive, though; he jokes that it's like a cocaine addiction. Fortunately, his big-ticket commercial work bankrolls his fine art, giving him ample free time and the chance to work with materials he couldn’t otherwise afford. “I completely juggle between fine art and commercial art.” Though it often happens that commercial clients want to put his personal work — enigmatic figurative pieces, mostly (see photo) — into projects as well. He's ... ambivalent about that. He likes to make a sale, sure. “But I feel a lot more protective over my personal artwork.”

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