A painter and sculptor whose work has animal magnetism
There are a lot of dead birds outside of Natalie Delgado’s classroom. She doesn’t know why. But she does know they make an eerie, splattering sound when they fall from the sky. And she knows they inspire her.
It’s a little morbid, admittedly, but her fascination is rooted in science: Delgado is a Las Vegas Academy art major turned Las Vegas Academy art teacher who briefly taught high school biology — and it screams from her work, whether it’s a painting, a drawing, or a sculpture. Her subject matter is often dark and anatomical, part Audubon Society and part forensics lab. “Coming from a biology background, I find the whole system interesting,” she says. “I like the repetition, the symmetry in nature. I like trying to replicate the feathers in clay then cast that in glass.”
Under a microscope, her work is a mix of inspirations. “I really like biology. I really like systems. I like evolution,” she says. “I’m trying to bridge my biology background, my art background, symmetry and pareidolia,” the phenomenon of seeing familiar images where none exists, like spotting a face in a popcorn ceiling, or an elephant in the clouds.
She exercised that skill recently in Valley of the Faces, a group show at the Winchester Cultural Center where artists interpreted images they found in the rocks of Basin and Range National Monument. Delgado settled on a human lung, and a bird stiffened by rigor mortis. Both were rendered in graphite. For Clark County’s Zap! Project, she painted symmetrical desert hares, leaping into ethereal gardens. Now, she’s creating work for a solo show.
Delgado is shy about her own work, but becomes animated when discussing her students — ninth and 10th graders whom she teaches to draw, paint, and sculpt with infuriating skill. “She’s probably the best drawing and painting teacher in Nevada,” says Sierra Slentz, a fellow artist and art teacher at Las Vegas Academy. “If you see the progress in incoming freshmen in just nine weeks, it’s breathtaking, it’s mind-blowing. No one is producing the level of high-quality students she is.”
Delgado’s teaching philosophy hinges on method and discipline, and each lesson builds upon the last. In one exercise, she prompts students to follow an imaginary man walking along the edge of a drinking glass and illustrate his path. In another assignment, blindfolded students feel their way around a mystery object, and translate the shape to paper.
“It helps them become one with their pencil,” Delgado says. “It helps them to trust the pencil, that it’ll guide them to making their best art.”
She speaks from experience, after all. She was in their seat not too long ago, and clearly it’s guided her. —Kristy Totten
Visual storyteller with an eye for character
When Rachel Aston was an undergraduate at San Francisco State University, Roland De Wolk, her reporting professor, told her that she was going to do great things. Those words of encouragement turned out to be prophecy: Since then, the 28-year-old originally from Martinez, California, has won four Pacific Southwest Emmys and has been nominated for eight for the work she’s done as a videographer at the Review-Journal.
In 2015, the paper hired Aston fresh out of college because it wanted someone who could shoot photography and video. “I was really lucky that they hired me, because I didn’t even intern at a daily before,” Aston says. “They took a risk in taking me on.”
Aston has a weekly series called Vegas Stripped. Her goal is to show the world that Vegas contains much more than just the Strip, that there is a city of people living here, and they have dreams and struggles. In “Brothers Are Radically Superb,” Aston profiles a group of limb-contorting dancers on Fremont Street. One of the dancers tells her dancing keeps him from joining a gang. In “Gang Banging at 10, out at 13,” she examines a young man’s struggles to overcome a dark past and strive toward a better future. “I like covering people. I like finding the universal element that connects you to that person,” she says.
Aston says her best profile so far is “Ella,” which isn’t a part of Vegas Stripped, but a part of a series about rural healthcare the Review-Journal is working on. The closing of the Nye Regional Medical Center in 2015 in Tonopah left Ella, who has a rare genetic disorder, without treatment, and her family can’t afford to move because their business is there. Ella’s mother, Acacia Hathaway, opens up in the interview, saying that she feels like she’s a bad mom because of the circumstances preventing the family from moving closer to a different hospital. She’s afraid her daughter is going to die. Aston still keeps in contact with Acacia and Ella.
Lookback: September/October 2010: This issue marked our first "Ones to Watch" feature in which we profiled up-and-coming talents. Some of them are now local fixtures in the culture scene; others have moved on to exciting new horizons. Read these and more highlight culture stories from our 10 years.
Even with four Emmys under her belt, she wants to continue improving her craft and finding her style. “I definitely don’t have one yet,” Aston says.
Her mentor David Larson, from Early Light Media, describes her style as character-driven. “When you watch her films, she puts a lot focus on her character and their environments, showing you the struggles of the characters.”
Larson is confident that Aston has the chops and the drive to one day shoot full feature-length documentaries. Aston, however, is into shorts right now — because her attention span is short, she says. “It would have to be an interesting topic to do something bigger.” Her dream is to end up at noteworthy Brooklyn-based production company Blue Chalk Media, but she wants to stick around Vegas for a bit longer and continue to grow at the Review-Journal. “I definitely want to get better work done here,” she says. “I feel like I’m just starting the kind of work I want to be doing.” —Desiree Sheck
Deadpan prince of the indie-lit underground
Of The Collected Works of Noah Cicero Vol. 1, Amazon reviewer “mungscum” writes, “i already feel better about my life. i feel like i am going in a good direction, or at least a better direction than i was previously to purchasing the book.” Keyword: purchasing. Mungscum had barely ordered the book, much less received it, much less read it. But he/she had a good feeling about it. That’s not atypical of the kind of ardor Cicero’s writing — “think Hemingway meets Joe Strummer in a cubicle full of cat calendars,” writes another Amazon reviewer, not necessarily helpfully — inspires among a certain strata of indie-lit readers.
Here he is in a northwest valley Starbucks, the man himself, vibing neither Hemingway nor Strummer. We want to describe him as a sweet guy, because that’s how he comes off: alert, guileless, not attention-needy in the slightest. Ask about his fame — of which he’s accrued a modest measure — and he demurs. “I’ll never win a National Book Award,” he says, not begrudgingly. That’s his idea of fame. He’s just a guy who writes, who can’t stop writing — he dictated poems into his iPhone on the drive to this interview. Beginning with 2003’s The Human War, he’s put out 10 books so far, story collections, novels, best-of anthologies, a book of poetry, all on indie presses you’ve probably never heard of.
As it happens, Hemingway’s fussily sculpted style may not be the exactly right reference point for Cicero’s minimalism. There’s a more loose-limbed, uncalculated quality to Cicero’s stories of anomie and dissolution, most often set in Youngstown, Ohio, where he grew up. “Youngstown is considered the saddest place in America,” he says. “There was so much violence, the parents were on drugs, there was no hope. It all went into the writing.”
What emerged was a kind of craphole vérité, his characters adrift in the region’s spiritual and economic limbo, dribbling away their mundane lives in empty motion and rote sex. A character in Burning Babies speaks for many of Cicero’s people: “To stare into space at Denny’s is just demoralizing.”
There’s a #nofilter directness to Cicero’s writing, an eschewing of the narrative artifice and showy erudition of contemporary literature — there’s nothing in his work you’d call “Updikean.” In the mid-2000s, this lo-fi realness placed him alongside similar writers, such as Tao Lin and Sam Pink, in a movement forming in the many online venues and tiny presses festering beyond the literary industrial complex, as typified by swank New York publishers and the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.
“We were on the outside,” he says. “We were all kind of deadpan people, very sarcastic, very ironic. We loved Samuel Beckett, and old French modernist books where everything is dying and industrialism is killing everyone. We didn’t want to write like David Foster Wallace or Pynchon, we didn’t want to write the Iowa kind of literature, so it made us go a certain direction. We had that in common, and we found a bunch of kids.” Turns out there are a lot of places as sad as Youngtown.
If writing hasn’t made him Pynchon money — he’s still published by small presses, whereas Lin and others have mainstream publishers now — Cicero did see The Human War turned into a 2011 indie film, and he’s regularly whisked off to overseas book festivals or literary residencies.
Las Vegan Kris Saknussemm, author of Private Midnight, Zanesville, and other novels, is a fan. “I enjoy the squalor and the hopelessness, which is somehow cheering,” he says. “Cicero can make Youngstown, Ohio, seem like a spiritual condition.”
But for how much longer? He’s been here four years, arriving from Ohio by way of a teaching stint in South Korea. When he’s not writing at Starbucks or having a beer with friends at Atomic Liquors, he supports himself as a paralegal. He’s got a couple books coming out soon, a metaphysical treatise and a second book of poetry. the Midwest is behind him, he hasn’t talked to family in years — he loved writing in part because his father didn’t understand it well enough to criticize — and he’s thinking it’s time to move on from Youngstown. Thirty-six now, “I don’t want to be writing for 22-year-olds forever,” he says. But he feels like he’s going in a good direction.
An eloquent ambassador aiming to unite the poetry community
On a recent Saturday afternoon at the West Charleston Library, Vogue Robinson is reading “For Eryn,” a poem she wrote for a friend’s daughter’s 16th birthday: “Apparently, the manual on being a woman / Reads like the back of a shampoo bottle …” Her face tightens with emotion and she begins counting on her fingers: “Step 1: Find a man / Step 2: Keep ’em / Step 3: Make babies.” She points to the sky and swings her hips, encouraging the young woman to embrace instead a broader definition of happiness and womanhood: “Let the moon be your DJ / The stars your disco lights / And dance to the crashing of waves.”
Robinson is reading at the book release event for Clark: Poetry from Clark County, Nevada, an anthology showcasing 95 local poets. She’s not just a contributor. She helped edit the book and serves as host of today’s event. Robinson is used to playing multiple roles. Since moving from San Diego to Las Vegas four years ago, she has not only emerged as a major Vegas spoken-word artist, she’s also helped to bridge the gap between the written, spoken, and slam poetry communities. She serves as the executive director of Poetry Promise Inc., co-organizes the Battle Born Poetry Slam, and recently signed on to be a teaching artist with the Nevada Arts Council. Most recently, she was named the second Clark County Poet Laureate.
“Her impulse for truth and emotional honesty is unrivaled,” says poet Bruce Isaacson. He’s glad Robinson took on editing the anthology, a project that began when he was county poet laureate. “She saw enough value in it to organize all these readings. She didn’t have to do that.”
Robinson quotes U.K. Poet Laureate Adrian Mitchell when talking about her mission to get poetry to as many spaces as possible: “Most people ignore poetry because most poetry ignores most people.” Robinson explains: “There is a lot of older poetry from old dead white men who were mostly thinking about themselves.” Alternatively, she seeks inspiration from African and Hawaiian oral traditions that bring people together. “When you (write and perform) from the perspective of storytelling, it gives it another meaning and makes it accessible. It shows that you are thinking about your reader.”
As the county’s second poet laureate, Robinson aspires to take poetry to all corners of the valley, including local schools, retirement homes, and often-overlooked North Las Vegas. She’s also organizing Vegas’ first 24-hour poetry event, slated for 2018, which will include competitions, trivia, and open mics, as well as workshops helping women submit work to poetry journals and apply for grants.
And, amazingly, amid all this, Robinson finds time to write. She’s currently at work on a follow-up to her 2013 collection of poems, Vogue 3:16. It will explore storytelling and faith through the theme of fairy tales. Unlike a princess, however, Robinson is actively crafting her own story.
“I think I’m finally rooted,” she says about the home she’s built and the future she continues to shape in Las Vegas. “In a place with very little water, I decided to take root.” —Bruce Gil
Meticulous prog jazz that’s all brains — and beauty
In a town that birthed The Killers, launched a Britney Spears residency, and helped enshrine the nightclub DJ as a serious class of entertainer, Lockout Station comes out of left field. “I called it Lockout Station because I felt like this is locked out of everything,” says guitarist and songwriter Dirk Kleutgens. “‘Lockout’ because I felt like locked out of any kind of genre, any kind of style, any cliché. ‘Station’? I’m not sure.” He laughs.
The typical genre labels certainly don’t apply. The trio plays meticulous, disciplined, liquid improv post-bop couch jams. That’s the best I’ve got, anyway. It’s a good sign when even the bandleader puzzles over how to describe their sound. “Most music styles are based on a groove. You have jazz and swing, reggae, rock, pop — everything has a certain beat to it,” Kleutgens says. “We don’t. In one song, we have 10 of those. In different time signatures. That’s why it’s kind of hard to say. I think it’s just really improvised.” He pauses. “But not really, because it’s also structured. So it’s kind of both. But in a way, it’s jazz-based. But then again …”
See? Which isn’t to say Lockout Station’s languorous underwater innerspace jazz is all brainy rigor at the cost of being fun or pleasurable. Consider a few tracks from their self-titled album from 2016, such as “7 Cs,” a sort of slinking deconstructed theme song to an imaginary noir detective show, or “Questions Answered,” in which Andrea D’Angelo’s understated but aerobic kit work and Kleutgens’ murmuring guitar carry on cocktail conversation while Dave Ostrem’s bass nimbly holds the center.
“Dirk is composing music you can’t find anywhere in the country, let alone this town,” Ostrem says. “Or anywhere in the world, I should say.”
Just as important as composition is execution. That’s when Kleutgens’ structured songwriting gives way to individual interpretation and expression within the group, something he encourages. As drummer D’Angelo explains it, there are some key “destination points” in every song, but the rest is very fluid and improvisational, as though each player is soloing — but with a shared melodic intent.
Their devotion to the band, which formed in 2015, is perhaps explained by the creative thirst that comes with the workaday musician’s life. Ostrem and D’Angelo freelance around town with everyone from Clint Holmes to The Rat Pack Is Back; German-born Kleutgens is a sound engineer at Zumanity, but also has 26 solo albums under his belt and frequently tours Europe. In creative tension with their commercial gigs, playing in Lockout Station gives them an opportunity to pursue pure art and push the limits of technique. “For me,” says drummer D’Angelo, “this is a great opportunity to be myself.”
(Lockout Station performs Sept. 3 at the Sand Dollar Lounge, 3355 Spring Mountain Road, thesanddollarlv.com) —Andrew Kiraly
A natural on the stage, embracing the role she was meant for
TV news reporter, personal trainer, magazine editor, art salon owner: All jobs that Sabrina Cofield held while avoiding her destiny as a full-time actor. With a BA in journalism from Clark Atlanta University, the Albuquerque, New Mexico, native went into broadcast news. She’d done performing arts throughout childhood; she acted in her first commercial at age 8. But heading to college on a choir scholarship, she thought, “What am I going to do to get a job?” Journalism was telling stories in front of a camera, so it seemed like a good fit. And it was more stable than acting. That was the start of more than a decade of professional insecurity.
Cofield quit TV news after eight years, succumbing to the taxing pace and emotional drain. In 2010, she moved to Las Vegas to be closer to family. A few years later, she was talking with Daria Riley, her partner at Downtown art salon Selah, about creative work. Cofield remembers Riley saying, “I’ll pray for you, that you finally figure out you should be onstage somewhere, stop playing around with all this other crazy stuff, and realize what you were put on this earth to do.” It was the first time someone had so bluntly stated the obvious, and Cofield knew her friend was right. Within a week, she dropped out of dental school (did we mention dental school?) and got serious about acting.
In 2015, Cofield made her local stage debut as Agnes in Cockroach Theatre’s production of Tracy Letts’ creepy psycho-thriller Bug, garnering a best-actress nomination in the Las Vegas Valley Theatre awards. She didn’t win that year, but she did this year — best supporting actress for her portrayal of Jenny in Lucas Hnath’s The Christians, also at Cockroach. In between, she’s racked up two pages of acting credits, from commercials to corporate gigs to film.
“Sabrina has an openness to her that is so alluring and captivating,” says Mindy Woodhead, who directed The Christians and is the development director at Cockroach. “She has a presence of spirit, clear thought process, and real devotion to specificity. That’s the most important thing to transcend you from doing it as a hobby to doing it as an artist.”
Acting full-time has been good to Cofield. She has a film, Domicile, that’s out on Amazon Prime, and she starts shooting a web series, Plan B, in the fall. She’s entertaining several offers for roles in the 2017-’18 theater season, and she’s on the board of experimental theater company The LAB, which recently staged an interactive version of Antigone on the steps of City Hall, drawing around 100 people at 6 a.m. on a Saturday.
“There are so many unbelievably, extraordinarily talented people in this city,” Cofield says, “and I think it’s our job to get the word out, to show people what’s here. As part of The LAB, I hope we’re going to do that.” —Heidi Kyser