Life and Work
Las Vegas is a city of reproduction. You can find the great Pyramids of Giza there, the canals of Venice, a medieval castle and a miniature version of the actual city of New York.
To transport one away into a different realm was always its mission and one that the late artist, Katherine Gianaclis (1924-1999), specialized in.
Gianaclis was considered the foremost muralist in Las Vegas during the late Ratpack era of the 1960s and into the 1970s. She painted murals for nearly every hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. Upon her passing in 1999, she was recognized by the Las Vegas Art Museum as being an artist destined to make a name for herself on an international scale, not only for her importance to the city of Las Vegas, but for the paintings she meticulously crafted earlier in her career.
Former LVAM curator, Dr. James Mann, called her an artist who was “twenty years ahead of her time” and an “artist of the highest order.'”
Enter Pat Murphy. In the 1960s Murphy was a restaurant worker at The Copper Cart, a prime rib restaurant with an English theme nestled beside the Riviera Hotel/Casino. Gianaclis was contracted to paint a large painting for the restaurant. What she chose to do was to reproduce a painting by the 16th century Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens of an Italian contessa.
Staying true to the otherworldly ethos that Las Vegas fostered, she reproduced the work perfectly, but with one peculiar change: she painted an English face on Ruben’s very Italian and somewhat older contessa, transporting the work into the realm of the surreal without anybody really realizing it. Murphy lovingly preserved the work for over forty years.
The diners viewed the very alluring rouged cheeks of an English beauty, just what a British themed restaurant would expect. She said that painting the ruffled collar was one of the most difficult tasks she had ever attempted as an artist.
This surrealistic touch is perhaps one of the earliest signs that Vegas was destined to go over the top again and again when it came to delivering fantasy. Also, the painting is one of the last works still around from this period in Las Vegas history as it was painted on canvas with oils. Most of her other murals for the city were painted directly on to the hotel walls.
Murphy loves the work, but believes that it should be displayed. He has held on to it long enough. Unfortunately, none of the museums in Nevada can afford to make purchases at this time. The Smith Center, a new entertainment venue that displays fine art in its halls, is full. The classic painting remains with Murphy.
Dr. Mann said that his discovery of the work of Katherine Gianaclis after her death in 1999 was one of the proudest moments of his career. It made him truly believe that Las Vegas was capable of creating great art. Now Mr. Murphy is simply waiting for the rest of the world to catch on.