“There’s visual information that we can’t explain that we inherit from culture,” said Gig —pronounced “Jig”— Depio. He’s a painter who was born and raised in the Philippines and lives in Las Vegas. His imagery, which is as funny and inviting as it is serious, is made up of politics and pop culture from past and present, say, JFK at a baseball game, a hefty, imposing Mexican wrestler in a luchador mask and jack-o’-lantern print shorts, Elvis wearing his usual wide lapels plus a tool belt full of oil-painting supplies.
Depio’s images teeter between celebratory and sardonic. They can come off as odes to realistic photojournalism, storybook fantasy, or, more often, both in one bite. Take the huge, vertical painting in which FDR drives past the Delano—a Las Vegas hotel, “a shimmering, Trump-like building,” as the artist put it. Gen. MacArthur stands outside the car with a muzzled canine on a leash, “the wolf of Wall Street.” MacArthur has his trademark aviators and corn cob pipe—and a not-so-trademark balloon animal on a string. Chunky, old-fashioned microphones from broadcast stations are clumped in the foreground. Cash, coins and a Mickey Mouse pocket watch fall from the sky, and a military drone flies by.
Somehow, this mashup—painted realistically in the kind of thick, oozy brushstrokes usually reserved for abstract expressionism—is nowhere near as heavy-handed as it might sound. It’s more like an easy combination of manic and precise.
Here’s how Depio decides on his subject matter: “I look at the news, and these are things I remember in my head. I remember images more than I remember the information.”
“You negotiate with culture,” he said. “You negotiate your knowledge with history. It changes. … You don’t inherit exactly what they put down there. You question it.”
Depio’s own perspective was largely informed by Marxist theory he studied as a philosophy minor in Manila. He’s also influenced by his position in the Las Vegas art scene—he has one foot in the world of self-taught artists and DIY galleries, and one foot in the academic and museum parts of the art world. He majored in business, not art, but in 2016 he was awarded what’s probably the highest honor given by the state, an Artist Fellowship grant.
One of his best examples of varying viewpoints on culture, though, comes from his own family. “The Elvis painting is the funniest to me,” he said. It carries not only all the cultural weight of Elvis himself—from trailblazer to subject of velvet kitsch paintings—but also an insider reference to a longstanding argument Depio and art critic Dave Hickey waged on social media. To Depio’s 16-year-old son, however, “The Elvis … means nothing.” The teen read the painting as none of the above. Through his cultural lens, made in present-day Las Vegas, it’s a picture of an Elvis impersonator.
“You look at my work, you’re understanding it in the way your generation tells you,” Depio said.