Hollywood movie stars and Japanese sumo wrestlers -- Las Vegas painter Martin Kreloff sees a connection.
"They're both larger than life," he says, "one in one way, one in another."
Actually, a couple are large in both ways. Kreloff's painting, "There's No Business Like Sumo Business," makes Ethel Merman the meat in a sumo sandwich. It's a centerpiece of his first solo Las Vegas show, "Stars and Sumos," tonight at the Laura Henkel Fine Art Gallery inside the Arts Factory.
"Wouldn't you have loved to have seen Merman take a sumo to the mat?" Kreloff asks.
Kreloff, 65, is a second-generation pop artist inspired not only by the Andy Warhols of pop culture but by its Disney cartoons.
"It's all fascinating to me," he says.
Kreloff's obsession with Hollywood stars began early in a childhood spent a few bus stops from Brooklyn's Paramount movie theater. (Rare was the quarter he held on to for long.)
"Stars is my fantasy life," Kreloff says.
The sumos trace back to 1980, when pop figures from another culture jumped out at Kreloff from the pages of "Shogun." It started with geishas and Kabuki players, whom Kreloff occasionally decked out as Western cowboys.
"I started to see a thread between art deco and Japanese wood block prints from the 1800s," Kreloff explains.
The sumo images in tonight's show all come from a book Kreloff bought long ago in the Los Angeles County Museum gift shop. They might or might not represent real people.
"Since I can't read Japanese, I can't tell," Kreloff says.
Henkel was introduced to Kreloff's work 20 years ago in Miami.
"He was enormously influential towards the revitalization of South Beach's rebirth in the late 1980s," she says. "It was divine direction that he and I would meet all these years later in Las Vegas."
Kreloff also dipped his brush in San Francisco and L.A. before relocating six years ago to a midcentury modern in the east valley. Painting in vibrant colors in its living room, Kreloff has designed the poster for the Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival and banners designating the Cultural Corridor, which are slated for installation this fall.
"I have a mission to contribute culturally to where this city is going," Kreloff says.
Contact reporter Corey Levitan at clevitan @reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0456.