Zen Man

James Stanford, Desert Companion 2018

Jim Stanford makes art at the shimmering, surprisingly symmetrical intersection of Las Vegas and Buddhism

In the mid-’80s, tired of the life of an adjunct art teacher at UNLV, painter Jim Stanford opened a commercial design business — and kicked off an unexpected (and ongoing) evolution in his fine art. It turned out that his day-job tools, computers loaded with design programs such as Photoshop and Illustrator, handily solved a problem he had with painting: its slooooowness. “I basically got tired of the piece before I got done with it,” he recalls. At every step Stanford kept imagining the many things he could have done with the image but didn’t have time to try. He was, he says, “outgrowing the work” in real time. But Photoshop? It’s fast. Before long, the digital collages he created to speed up the concepting of his paintings became the focus of his artistic practice. “I was literally able to keep up with my growth as an artist.”

In the three decades since, Stanford has done a lot: opened (and eventually closed) a pioneering Downtown exhibit space, Smallworks Gallery; begun practicing Buddhism; opened (and eventually closed) a Zen center; owned, with his wife, Lynn, the iconic Bonanza Gifts. He also created thousands of digital collages, a selection of which, under the title Shimmering Zen, is now appearing in several ways: as an exhibit (opening September 27 in the Sahara West Library), in a book, even as fashion.

The phrase “digital collage” is inadequate shorthand for what Stanford’s doing. A blurt of adjectives gets us closer: They are intricate, detail-dense, neatly symmetrical, abstract, mandala-like. Most often they’re layers of accreted details cropped from photos of Vegas signage and architecture — a Sin City native’s way of honoring and exploring his hometown — and remixed in a process influenced by his Buddhist studies.

“The idea of showing these signs and turning them into objects of beauty and meditation,” he says, “to me, it was taking the profane and turning it into the sacred.”

Spend some time with Shimmering Zen, and its pieces reveal themselves as a sort of set of nesting dualities: visually complex, they are, as you might guess from the title, also meant to impart a luminescent mental stillness; being the product of intensive Photoshopping — up to 30 or 40 layers each, Stanford says — their aura is unabashedly technological, yet also unmistakably spiritual; thanks to the Photoshopping, these pieces retain a vestige of their commercial origins, but strive for the condition of fine art.

Then there’s their rigorous symmetry. In its way, Shimmering Zen claps back at the widely held artistic dislike of perfect symmetry, articulated by classic Victorian art critic John Ruskin thusly: “to banish imperfection is to destroy expression, to check exertion, to paralyze vitality.” Symmetry = boredom, goes this thinking; it’s a cheap effect that precludes innovation and individuality. “Something about me never bought that,” Stanford says.

“A mandala is more than a symmetrical image or a kaleidoscopic image. A mandala is a road map. And if you view them lightly and gently and involve yourself in them, they can take you on a real trip. And that was my goal, to take people on a trip.”

Some of the pieces in the exhibit are “lenticular” images — several layers of the same image, each treated and colored differently, backlit and viewed through a lenticular, or striated magnifying, lens. It’s a simple effect, really, one you’ve probably seen on knickknacks and souvenirs: The picture shifts as you move in front of it. A garden-variety optical trick, you might think. Except in this case, the image is a large, richly detailed kaleidoscopic mandala. So when you move, the image shift, while brief, is pronounced, a disruptive flutter before the picture snaps back to clarity, albeit now in a different alignment. Certainty becomes uncertainty becomes a new certainty — a trip initiated by your own movement.

This fall is a big season for Shimmering Zen. In addition to the Sahara West show, its second after a London exhibit in November, Stanford’s images will be integrated into a Style Fashion Week New York presentation by couture designer David Tupaz this month; they’ll serve as runway backdrops and be imprinted on scarves. That will be followed by the October 13 launch of the expensively printed and table-bendingly large book version of Shimmering Zen with an event at the Neon Museum.

So, it’s an apotheosis moment for a 30-year project, which Stanford is trying to take in stride. “Part of Zen Buddhism is being here in the now moment and being able to inhabit it,” he says, though he can step out of his now moment long enough for a quick backward glance: “I have faith in the work,” he says. “It was worth my time doing it.” - Read More


Las Vegas Inspires Style Fashion Week, NYC


David Tupaz’s Spring Summer 2019 collection looks to the arts and culture of Las Vegas, reflecting the bright neon lights and cosmopolitan glamour that is unique to the City as inspiration for his haute couture designs at Style Fashion Week New York, Los Angeles and Palm Springs. 

One of the many elements of his inspiration for collection comes from James Stanford, a digital painter who transforms his iconic photographs of Las Vegas neon signs and architecture into sumptuous mandalas. Stanford’s artistic interpretation of Las Vegas inspired Tupaz to create designs that captures the beauty, elegance, and luxury through the City’s arts and culture.

David Tupaz’s SS19 collection will premiere on 6 September 2018 at 5:00 pm, EST, at Style Fashion Week in New York City.

Dates and times for Los Angles and Palms Springs TBA.

About David Tupaz

David Tupaz is an acclaimed fashion designer who moved his atelier to Las Vegas, Nevada in 2010. He is the only established "Industry and Couture" designer in Nevada. Representing Las Vegas in every major fashion industry events in the country. Such as New York Fashion Week, Los Angeles Fashion Week, Palm Springs Fashion Week, MFW Seattle, Portland's FashioNxt, Fashion Week Columbus, Runway St. Petersburg, Metropolitan Fashion Week Beverly Hills, Warner Bros. and many others. He founded the Las Vegas Fashion Design Council in 2011, a nonprofit organization to develop a local fashion industry to assist young designers in their creative growth thru workshops and educational programs. He was appointed in 2014 by Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman to sit on the board of the Arts Commission for the City of Las Vegas. He is also the creative director/partner for Vegas Life TV, a television network in Las Vegas and a sister company of VAsian TV and ACTV (Asian Culture TV). Tupaz is a board of trustee for the Miss Nevada Scholarship Organization and also an advisory board for the Las Vegas Arts Institute. He is the Editor-In-Chief of Las Vegas Fashion magazine, L’Vegue.

About James Stanford

An international exhibiting artist, James Stanford studied painting at the University of Washington (MFA) and the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) (BFA) and also practices photography, digital illustration and drawing. Dedicated to creativity and the fine arts, he has taught at UNLV and UW, established the Smallworks Gallery/Lost Vegas, and curated exhibitions at various venues, including the Las Vegas Contemporary Arts Center. Stanford also served as the Arts Commission Chairman of the City of Las Vegas and later President of the Las Vegas Contemporary Arts Center.Stanford’s recent exhibition at Asia Art in London and the release of his book,Shimmering Zen, at The London Library, to create new and innovative art. Due to the success of Shimmering Zen, he has further broadened the scope Smallworks Press, a small publishing company specializing in books on arts and culture.  He currently lives and works in Las Vegas.

New Exhibition: September 21 - November 24, The Studio-Sahara Library, Las Vegas

Contemporary artist James Stanford presents a new exhibition featuring kaleidoscopic photomontages of vintage Las Vegas landmarks and its infamous neon signs. 

See where wonderment takes you. We are the universe’s way of knowing itself.” – Stanford

Heavily influenced by his native Las Vegas, Stanford is an innovative artist who revisits the vibrant energy of 1960s Vegas. In a new exhibition entitled Shimmering Zen, he will exhibit a range of intricate digital collages of original photographs that capture the city’s iconic aesthetic, its neon signs in particular. Drawing on his expertise as painter, photographer, professor of colour theory and pioneering advocate of new technologies in digital art, Stanford layers photographs to create and discover patterns in familiar yet completely revitalised images. Bold colours and intricate patterns create mesmerising designs.

Using a mix of traditional photography and digital techniques, Stanford’s works are made unique and compelling by vividly illuminated and moving networks and layers. Some of his works will be printed as backlit lenticulars, taking on a new and shimmeringlife. 

Of his work, Stanford comments, “When you open up your mind, you become so full of this one vision, everything becomes pure energy, pure light. So, that’s what it is: that’s Shimmering Zen”

Shimmering Zen reflects Stanford’s continued interest in transforming reality into imagined realms. As an artist, he is concerned with the development of a visual expression of spirituality. Drawing on the ancient traditions of Buddhism, he conceives of his digital montages as “modern mandalas” – maps towards inner zen. His work responds to the potency of the mandalaa symbol and its influence and importance to cultures worldwide.

Shimmering Zen features works created over the last 20 years. For this exhibition, Stanford will incorporate new works inspired by his recent visit to London. 

Shimmering Zen

Friday 21 September – Saturday 8 December 2018

The Studio, Sahara West Library

Las Vegas, NV 89117


About James Stanford

James Stanford studied painting at the University of Washington (UW) (MFA) and the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) (BFA) and also practices photography, digital illustration and drawing. Dedicated to creativity and the fine arts, he has taught at UNLV and UW, established the Smallworks Gallery, and curated exhibitions at various venues, including the Las Vegas Contemporary Arts Centre. Stanford also served as the Arts Commission Chairman of the City of Las Vegas and later President of the Las Vegas Contemporary Arts Collective (renamed Las VegasContemporary Arts Centre). He currently lives and works in Las Vegas.

Shimmering Zen premiered at 20th Anniversary of Asia Art in London, the global hub of Asian contemporary art and antiquities featuring over sixty of the world’s top dealers, major auction houses and museums for an annual ten-day celebration of the finest in Asian art.