Bye Bye Blackbird

I have three significant stories that Blackbird Studios played a character in. For some, this may be a paltry offering, likened to the comparison of a pulp magazine to a Gertrude Stein novel, but nonetheless a collection of memories that currently reside in the presidential suite of my mind.

The first encounter involves a basement, which I can say with the utmost certainty, was and will be a singular event as long as I live in Clark County. A basement in Las Vegas is an anomaly, and as I descended into it with my friends Hilary and Michael on that scorching summer afternoon in 2013, I can’t deny that I thought for a fleeting moment that I was going to encounter some sort of unspeakable horror. What I found instead was a painting.

Hanging on a rotting wooden beam, the artwork created by Michael could best be described as an impressionist portrait of Sloth from the film “The Goonies.” While I preceded to break out in a cold sweat and tried to decide if it was fantastically creepy or just fantastic, Michael explained that it had been part of a critically acclaimed art collective entitled “Goonies Never Say Die,” which had been held at Blackbird Studios back in 2010. A few minutes later we went upstairs and left the painting in its rightful place, but Blackbird Studios stayed with me.

The second time Blackbird entered into my life, I made contact. Long overdue, I was making my maiden voyage to First Friday and wandered towards the crowd standing outside the studio. Gina Quaranto, the owner, had put together a circus-themed collective and the space itself had been dressed to match. I have to admit my memory of the art itself is a bit hazy. What I remember most was a bus parked out in front that looked like it had been driven there right out of the 70’s with a quick stop at Burning Man. There were a couple of families living in it and it was gloriously painted using the same set of neurons that Hunter S. Thompson used when he wrote Fear and Loathing.

Inside the studio,  people were standing shoulder to shoulder and it was pretty difficult to move around, especially in that long narrow back hallway. Everybody seemed to be giddy with intoxication at the fact that they were there and this place existed. We didn’t feel like we were at an art show, we felt like we were in an art show. A slender man in a paint-splotched T-shirt grabbed my elbow and said “let me a have a photo with this pretty young lady,” and we posed together next to a painting. I would figure out later that this was Alex Huerta, a well respected and widely known Las Vegas artist. Six months later we officially met and became fast friends. I visited First Friday countless times after that, but would return to Blackbird only twice more.

The last story plays out in two parts and would also be the last encounter I or anybody would have with Blackbird. Sadly, at the end of last year, Quaranto decided it was time to close her doors. To soften the blow she left us with a parting gift, a final show which would live in the space until mid-January 2016. “A Life Artistic with Wes Anderson” was her swan song and an ode to a gallery that had culturally resuscitated the area several times over. Still grieving from the recent closures of several other downtown spaces I had grown to cherish, I felt compelled to attend the opening reception of “A Life Artistic” with my husband and two children. Once again I felt like I had been picked up and drenched in the show’s offerings, which was exactly what I was hoping for. I left that night with a painting and an idea that I knew I must bring to fruition before Blackbird was only a memory in people’s minds.

So my team and I decided to crash the closing reception of Blackbird Studios. The images above are our tribute and personal farewell to an institution that will be fondly missed. But, as art imitates life imitates art and so on and so forth, this will not mark the ending of what we now know as a rolling, thriving Las Vegas Arts District, just the close of one of its’ many chapters in what we hope to be a never-ending story.

Photographed by The Progeny Photo on location at Blackbird Studios
Margot Tenenbaum by Lauren Eliot
Richie Tenenbaum by Cromm Fallon
Styled by Katy Mahon
Creative Direction by Cat Treu
Social media by Mark Messina

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