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March 21, 2023

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That brightly colored sculpture outside the Smith Center? It’s music to artist’s eyes

Smith Center sculpture

Tom Donoghue/

This 80-foot long sculpture outside the Smith Center for the Performing Arts is artist Tim Bavington’s vision of Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.”

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Las Vegas artist Tim Bavington has made a career of translating music into visual art, and for Las Vegas, he’s created a monumental work installed on the lawn outside the Smith Center for the Performing Arts.

The 80-foot long, colorfully striped sculpture, made with steel and automotive paint, is Bavington’s vision of Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.”

It makes sense that the Smith Center would turn to Bavington to create the monumental piece, designed to serve as a backdrop for the Smith Center’s outdoor concert series.

The artist is internationally recognized for his large-scale striped paintings that loosely translate rock songs by correlating the 12-tone music scale with a 12-tone color palette.

Bavington said he’d already been commissioned for a painting inside the Smith Center when he was asked to create the outdoor piece, but it was a new challenge for the artist, who had never created a public sculpture.

Designing an outdoor colorful piece in the desert required materials that could withstand the heat and sun. For this, he chose steel pipes and automotive paint, which he says also reflect Las Vegas and the music. Steel represents a common material, and the paint colors were derived from a sign painter palette, referencing Las Vegas’ rich history with signs. The vertically standing pipes are connected to one another on a base lined with ground lights that were placed every two feet to represent the 40 bars of the sheet music that begins in forte and ends in fortissimo. The tallest pipe stands 26 feet from the base. The width of the poles loosely marks the durations of the notes. An unpainted pole represents a musical rest at the end of the piece.

Bavington’s work is in the permanent collections of museums around the country, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

He says he selected the music for the sculpture in Symphony Park with representatives from the Smith Center and that Copland’s’ 1942 piece, written for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra — and covered by such artists as the Rolling Stones; Bob Dylan; and Emerson, Lake & Palmer — seemed to be a natural fit.

“It works,” he said — both for the park and for his style of art.

But if you’re looking for an exact interpretation, you’re not likely to find one. Bavington regards the piece as his translation: “The colors might get bent, just as with (a guitar solo by) Hendrix, a note might get bent.”

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