At The Believer, Amanda Fortini suggests that Las Vegas is deep and interesting, and a pretty decent place to live, if you care to meet people and look closely, beyond the glittering lure of unbridled debauchery on the Vegas strip.
What does it mean to write about people who are usually overlooked or ignored? I am thinking about this as I walk back to my office that afternoon, through a corridor on campus where someone often builds little sculpture-towers out of rocks—they remind me of Stonehenge in miniature. I see this found art every day; I wonder who creates these sculptures, and I marvel that the artist persists in re-creating them when students or maintenance workers topple them, as they always do. As I walk across the quad, I see a wire-thin man with close-cropped gray hair placing the rocks, rough-hewn and triangular, one on top of another. They stand as if by some ineffable magic. He tells me his name is Ken; he’s part Mi’Kmaq Indian, a civil engineer who ran an environmental remediation business for eleven years but is no longer practicing. He says his company removed asbestos from underneath the Statue of Liberty. He became an artist seventeen years ago, when he had a vision while planting a garden for his disabled mother in Upstate New York, and he moved to Las Vegas in 2013. He calls his pieces “geoglyphs.”
I’m always curious what compels people to create art outside the spotlight or the marketplace, so I ask him why he does it. He tells me that he can look at a pile of rocks—he gestures to a river of stones on the grass, an undifferentiated mass to my eye—and see how they could be beautiful. The shapes, angles, planes speak to him. They’re puzzle pieces he has to make fit. Every morning when he walks his dog, he will be here, making his towers, one rock precariously balanced on another. When they get knocked down, he will pile them up again. He will do this whether I write about him or not.