NEON SALTWATER brings a digital oasis to the real world, Downtown Las Vegas 2022

The up-and-coming digital artist and designer Abigail Dougherty, better known as Neon Saltwater, travelled from Seattle to Downtown Las Vegas, invited by female curator group Justkids to freshen up a 1930’s gas station on Fremont Street for this year’s Life is Beautiful Festival.

Neon Saltwater’s work primarily consists of digital environments created with architectural 3D modelling programs. All imaginary spaces are tied together by consistent use of light, colour, and nostalgic architectural details. While elements are often referenced from familiar environments, they are contrasted with impossible sunsets, complex colour dynamics, and cinematic emotions. The artist is heavily inspired by vintage production sets, old magazines and catalogues, and photography. The digital medium has become an outlet to create her photographs from scratch, depicting places that don’t exist in earth’s tangible world. In addition to her digital work, she has produced a handful of experiential environments in pop-ups, installations, and exhibits with collaborators, including Barneys New York. This colour-saturated make-believe world of Neon Saltwater portrays nostalgia and euphoria, central themes in all of her works, effectively striking a chord with the digitally-raised Gen Z generation and their love for all things the ’90s and the resurgence of the Y2K aesthetics.

The 1930’s gas station for Life is Beautiful was the perfect fit for Neon Saltwater to breathe new life into the vintage architecture. The building was transformed into a beautiful retro landscape rendered in dreamy colours bouncing off bright fluorescent neon lights. Notorious for her rooms and space renderings, Neon Saltwater’s digital images come forward in a non-virtual 3D dreamscape titled Mystery Cruise 1990 and provide the viewer with a real environment created by an artist whose work is mainly known on a screen.

“In an era where many artists go from the physical to the digital space, we thought it would be interesting to export Neon Saltwater’s cyber wonders into a non-virtual art experience, not just on a screen, but in a tangible public art form. Physically manifesting Mystery Cruise 1990, an exclusive digital rendering space with dreamy colours, neon lights, and spooky ’90s vibes, into an immersive piece outside of a social media platform is almost like a paranormal experience and so satisfying for the Neon Saltwater’s fans like myself.” Charlotte Dutoit Justkids Curator and Director.

“I am a colour-obsessed artist based in Seattle, and I can’t stop making rooms. I have been into art for as long as I can remember, and I have played with about every medium, from being obsessed with crayons as a kid to oil paint later in life. I went to school for interior design and became fascinated with 3D modelling because I felt I could most accurately produce what was in my mind. I shifted away from a traditional interior design career and focused on making the aesthetic that felt meaningful to me. In the end, I was too much of a designer to be a traditional artist and too much of an artist to be a traditional interior designer. I always loved rooms and would rearrange my furniture as a kid by myself, and I loved the feeling of changing up my space. It is more than just a functional form of expression or aesthetics. The energy that exists in spaces feels spiritual to me and is my biggest muse.” Neon Saltwater

“I love film photography, cinematography, music videos, fashion, vintage signage and fonts, vintage neon lights, old catalogues, and magazine ads from the ’70s and onward. I have a collection of old magazines, and all I have to do is skim through them for a few seconds, and I get into my zone.” Neon Saltwater

“This installation was an opportunity for me to adapt to a building in Vegas that is abandoned and has existed as many things. The shape of the building already sort of looked like something I would create in 3D, so it was perfect. It reminded me of a convenience store, and I wanted to make it into something that looked like ecstasy, using colour and light. A lot of my digital work depicts very ordinary things like ATMs machines, malls, corridors, lobbies, office spaces, hotels, mini-marts, stores, and my goal is always to make these ordinary spaces into heightened versions of them while also keeping very familiar aspects. This installation is a very exaggerated version of a gas station or mini-mart in an abstract way. There are haunting elements to it, such as my hand-designed font that is inspired by teenage horror novels from the ’80s and ’90s and the plants inside the glowing room. Mystery Cruise 1990 is a phrase that I created that represents aspects of my childhood (my birth year) mixed with a feeling of surrendering and trusting the beautiful unplanned experiences that are around the corner. This is the first installation where I have been able to use real custom neon. I also have vivid and abstract memories of my first exposure to neon and neon-coloured materials. As a child, I felt emotionally impacted by their arrival into my awareness, and the memory of that feeling is what drives my need to create Neon Saltwater, so the title made sense for this piece.” Neon Saltwater

“I enjoy making real-life spaces for the public because it is a way for me to make my own fantasies into tangible things. If other people get joy out of it or feel good in my spaces, that makes the production and complication of it feel worth it and is one of the best things I can offer the world.” Neon Saltwater

“Las Vegas was more than I had ever imagined. I was actually surprised by how much inspiration I felt. I had an amazing time at the festival and loved seeing the energy flow in and out of the space. Typically, festival guests are there to have the most fun and feel a sense of escape from their life, so it felt like an appropriate setting for my work.” Neon Saltwater

This neontastic installation was created for the latest Life is Beautiful Festival edition, curated by Justkids. Since its first edition in 2013, Justkids has consecutively curated the Art Program for the Music Festival, changing up the event footprint into a colourful playground and creating a growing portfolio of artworks that the local community and its visitors can enjoy, aiming to enhance this under-utilised space and encourage more pedestrian activity in the area, even after the fun is over.

Life is Beautiful is curated by Justkids

Photo Credit Justkids



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