September 2021: Luis Varela-Rico

The month of September now greets us, marking the unofficial end of Summer and welcome of Fall. This season traditionally offers arts and entertainment audiences -now returning indoors from summerlong getaways and outdoor activities – a robust calendar of premiers, launches, and re-openings to settle in and decide among for the remainder of the year.

Television, theater, film, museum, galleries, and of course fashion makes it boldest statements this time of year.  Our September Curator’s Corner features an item over 70 years old, yet is still stylish enough to be included in this year’s New York Fashion Week (September 7 – 12). This beautiful little black dress was donated to the Nevada State Museum by longtime volunteer, Noreen Humphrey. It is a simple, yet stunning look created by French fashion designer, Jacques Fath (1912 – 1954).

And coinciding with these Fall dates, let us tune in and root for Luis Valera-Rico, a Las Vegas sculptor, who is a contestant on ‘Metal Shop Masters’ airing on Netflix September 10! Luis has a portfolio of work which makes Nevadans proud. I am grateful to have him selected as our September artist in honoring Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 – October 15).

Together as Nevadans, let us study the past, honor the present, and envision the future.
This month, it is my pleasure to present… Luis Varela-Rico!

Luis Varela-Rico

“As bodies of work come and go, they represent time capsules of who you were at a specific time. These time capsules allow for reflection and hopefully a sense of growth which can be fulfilling.” – Luis Varela-Rico

Luis Varela-Rico is a Mexican-American artist located in Las Vegas, Nevada. Born in Guadalajara Mexico, Luis has been living in Southern Nevada since arriving to the United States at the age of 7. After graduating from high school, he went on to study art at the College of Southern Nevada receiving his associate degree. After graduating from CSN he went on to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas to continue his artistic pursuits. After a year of attending UNLV, he dropped out to pursue a career in the trades as an experienced elevator technician.

With a deeply grounded Mexican heritage, his professional education and career experience are uniquely positioned in the technological landscape of Las Vegas, Nevada. Valera-Rico’s diverse knowledge of machinery and its applications have formulated an artistic approach which integrates CNC, welding, and CAD design formats to create a number of highly acclaimed public art projects in Southern Nevada and private commissions across the United States. In 2021, his talent caught the eye of television producers inviting him as a participant in the Netflix original show ‘Metal Shop Masters’ Season 1.


A personal interest in bicycles, motorbikes, cars, and airplanes has notably influenced Luis Valera-Rico’s proclivity to see metal as aerodynamic and human-controlled. What we commonly view as heavy and lifeless, this Las Vegas artist sees as having the potential to be feathery and organic.

And while the drafting and cutting of these steel works are aided by computer technology, there is an attempt in the design itself to reference a larger than life, almost almighty, operator hand behind every work. Sometimes this ‘by hand’ reference is unseen and imagined, as in Radial Symmetry which was inspired by the practice of Southern Paiute basket weaving. At other times it is the subject matter itself such as in Organic Study #1, a suspended moment of godly giving or receiving, or as in Organic Study #2, which is a similar monument referencing a baseball having just been captured or ready to release.

It is likely Luis’ trade, as an elevator technician, has shaped how he understands metal as movement in the air and how easy it is for an operator, or a panel of circuited wired buttons, to make metal go up or down upon command. Over a decade ago the artist created a series of steel, origami birds in flight that he installed guerilla-style by climbing light poles, street signs, and buildings around Las Vegas. Eventually the sculptures caught public attention and his art career took off, you could say.

Akin to a patternmaker in fashion design, who calculates and cuts numerous flat shapes of fabric to be sewn together to make a voluminous one-of-a-kind garment, so too does Valera-Rico conceive what can only be imagined as an exhaustive cut sheet of numerous shapes to be arranged flat, cut individually, and then assembled to reflect the human form. Instead of scissors and a sewing machine, this artist utilizes a plasma cutter and welder to create his looks for the public runway.

For more information on Luis Varela-Rico, please visit:
Instagram @LuisValeroRico

The artist installing Origami Birds
Photo Courtesy: the artist

Radial Symmetry (detail), 2018
16′ x 16′ x 16′
.25″ Stainless Steel Plate
Collection: City of Las Vegas
Photo Courtesy: the artist

Organic Study #1, 2014-2017
5′ x 5′ x 10′
.0625″ Stainless Steel Plate
Collection: Public Us
Photo Courtesy: the artist

Organic Study #2, 2019
7′ x 7′ x 15′
.5″ Stacked steel plates
Collection: Clark County, Nevada
Photo Courtesy: the artist

Mark Steel Wool Salinas is a public art consultant based in Reno, Nevada.  Mark provides public art consulting, creative content, and program management both locally and nationally.  He serves as a board member for the City of Reno Arts & Culture Commission, the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts, the Nevada Arts Council, and Americans for the Arts Public Art Network. Along with First Lady Kathy Sisolak and the Nevada State Museum, he established ‘The First Lady presents…’ and serves as art curator.  FB / IG @MarkSteelWoolSalinas