Sunday, July 21, 2024

The business of ART: A BUSINESS conversation with RUEL JAMES

If you ever visit the Palazzo on the Strip, venture outside onto the north side escalators facing Wynn Las Vegas and look upward. There, you will see beautiful angels on the building, sculpted and created by Jamaican-born artist Ruel James.

A noted commissioned artist, James has been a Las Vegas resident for more than 15 years. Located in the heart of the city’s arts district, the recent opening of the Ruel James Art Gallery (2121 Industrial Road, Suite 215) is the culmination of a career that has earned him a reputation as one of the world’s premier artists. Among those who have recognized the quality of James’ work: former president Bill Clinton, the proud owner of a Ruel James’ portrait of his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

James’ latest high-profile project is part of Las Vegas Mob Experience at the Tropicana hotel and casino, which features his sculptures of some of the nation’s most famous organized crime figures. James recently sat down with Black Image to discuss the business of his art.

How did you win the contract to do the sculptures of mobsters for the Mob Experience exhibit?
One of the owners of the Mob Experience, Jay Bloom, saw some of my art pieces at the Forum Shops in Caesars Palace and inquired about me. We talked, and he told me about his Mob Experience project and asked if I could do some sculpting of people such as Bugsy Siegel and Sam Giancana, just to mention a few. I told him that would be great, and I would love to do it.

This is a separate project from Mayor Oscar Goodman’s Mob Museum?
Yes, it is totally a separate project. Nevertheless, it has a similar feel on how Las Vegas got started — but there is no connection.

Since the mobsters whose images you re-created are all dead, what was involved in the creative process of doing these sculptures?
The producers of the exhibit supplied me with photographs, because this was something they have been working on for a long time. I worked with the photographs they supplied to me, and I also did some research myself. I had to find out more about the mobsters for my sculpting process, because I didn’t know about most of them at all. The only one I had actually heard about was Bugsy Siegel; Sam Giancana, Charlie “Lucky” Luciano and Meyer Lansky … those mobster guys I never knew about. I had to do a lot of research, because one of the main problems is that I didn’t have a good view of their profiles. It was hard to work with a one-dimensional photo that didn’t show the mobster’s profiles, in order to get an exact likeness. Many of the mobsters had prison records, so it wasn’t hard to get their images. In fact, the mobsters that I sculpted had to be signed off by their family members — who viewed my sculptures with tears in their eyes, because they said the pieces looked exactly like them.

How are you able to get an exact image of the people you sculpt?

Experience. I have worked for the Paris hotel, the Venetian and all of the major sculpting jobs in the city for the last 15 years. The last one I actually did was at the Palazzo hotel. I did three angels for them which are on the side of the hotel on the north side facing the Wynn hotel.

Are you a painter as well?
Yes, I am. I am known for painting cars. Back in the 1980s and ’90s, I was booked by major manufacturers to paint cars for Ferrari, Jaguar, Aston Martin, and Shelby — which has a museum out at the race track where a few of my paintings can be seen. I have been commissioned a lot to paint women, because I am very good at it. Even on my website,, there are my paintings that have been commissioned. I really am the type of artist who wants to please everyone. I am not in a box creatively. I grew up in Jamaica and I have been all over the world.

How does world travel contribute to your art?

I would say to any artist that traveling gives you the best experience for your creative works. It opens all sorts of variety for you. It will change your entire outlook on life. Traveling was one of the best things that could have happened to me. Now, with my new gallery, I want to afford minority artists some opportunities to expose their work. Any artist who has a hard time getting their pieces in large galleries can come and speak to us. I want to showcase the artists from Las Vegas, because there are some really great ones.

What are the most frequent comments you hear about your sculptures at the Mob Experience?

“How do you do it?” I did the sculptures with reverse molds. For example, when you walk past the sculptures, they follow you. If you go left, right, up or down the faces of the sculptures follow you. They are not mechanical; it is a stationary piece that was just formed that way. It is different than just the eyes from a painting following you; the whole face follows you. There are only two other places in the world that has sculptures with reverse molds — and that is Disneyland and Caesars Palace. My sculptures go a little further than both of them, because I perfected it.

For additional information you can contact the Ruel James Gallery at (702) 466-8259.

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