Making people cry is a sign of success for artist Martin Kreloff

Artist Martin Kreloff has a bowl of big white buttons — the pin-on, campaign kind — on the coffee table in the living room of his vintage Vegas home, which doubles as his studio.

The buttons read, “I’m a friend of Marty Kreloff.”

Almost everybody is.

“If they’re not friends, almost everyone I’ve ever drawn has become a friend,” he notes.

Kreloff and Oscar-winning movie queen Joan Crawford were pen pals for five years. When he lived in Los Angeles, one of his best friends was “The Golden Girls’ ” Estelle Getty.

In Miami, where he lived for 25 years, Cary Grant saw his work and complimented him on his impressive resume, prompting Kreloff to respond, “ ‘Yes, but you’re Cary Grant’ ” — to which Grant replied, “ ‘People tell me that all the time.’ ”

A painting of underwater musical star Esther Williams — commissioned by a Miami film festival — prompted Williams to tell the artist it was “the happiest painting of her,” Kreloff recalls. “I told her, ‘You’re going to make me cry.’ And she said, ‘That’s what I’m aiming for.’ ”


When Kreloff met Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim — the subject of a portrait commissioned by Las Vegas-based David magazine — Kreloff told the legendary Tony-winner that he had a cat named Sondheim, prompting the cat’s namesake to burst into laughter.

And when Las Vegas’ own Matthew Gray Gubler (TV’s “Criminal Minds”) came to sit for a portrait, Kreloff started their session at the kitchen table, with a box of crayons.

“He’s an artist as well,” notes Kreloff, who told Gubler, “ ‘Let’s color together’ ” before taking the photographs that served as the basis for a portrait Gubler told Kreloff “ ‘captured my soul.’ ”

You can meet all these “friends of Marty” — and more, from his mother, as she looked when she graduated from high school in 1930, to his pool man’s soulful dog Bernie — at the Sahara West Library, where a 50-year retrospective of Kreloff’s Pop Art-influenced work continues through Aug. 6.

The exhibit charts Kreloff’s artistic journey, to be sure, but it also traces his life’s journey — from his Brooklyn boyhood to his 25 years in Miami (“where having a Brooklyn accent wasn’t a problem”), then California (“a couple years” in San Francisco, 14 in Los Angeles), then Las Vegas, where he’s lived for the past 12 years.

Kreloff moved to Miami in the late ’60s, accompanying his parents, who “thought it was the promised land,” he notes. “My dad asked, ‘Do you want to come to Florida — or do you want to freeze your ass off?’ ”

In Miami, Kreloff’s role in launching 1976’s “Miami Says Art” — photographs of more than 2,000 locals in the arts saying the word “art” — set the stage for the city becoming the North American headquarters of the Art Basel international art fair. (It also provided him with a role on TV’s “Miami Vice,” where he played a detective — not that he had any lines, but “I raised a mighty powerful eyebrow.”)

And, after a dozen years in Las Vegas, Kreloff, who’s now 71, believes “Las Vegas is very much where Miami was in the late ’60s — it’s about to explode, culturally.”

Kreloff’s life in art began long before then — back in Brooklyn, where he “started drawing at 5. I remember that clearly: I was on the floor, drawing,” and his mother came in, saw him in the process of creation, and asked, “ ‘Did you just do that? By yourself?’ ”

When he responded that he had, Kreloff’s mother replied, “ ‘Oh, my,’ ” he remembers. “Before the week was out,” a neighbor who worked as a fashion illustrator was instructing him. By 12, Kreloff was taking classes — life drawing classes. (“If you don’t think that’s embarrassing … ”)

As a New York kid, Kreloff was captivated by movies (he saw “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” seven times) and Broadway. He adorned his bedroom with “a giant Mary Martin flying across the room as Peter Pan” — and stood by the stage door to get Ethel Merman’s autograph during her run in “Gypsy,” which featured lyrics by none other than future portrait subject Sondheim.)

After three years at the Parsons School of Design, Kreloff opted to join the working world — as a commercial artist creating bus and subway ads for such movies as the 1965 Western spoof “Cat Ballou.” (Kreloff dryly recites the ad’s tagline: “ ‘Cat Ballou’ ain’t no Puss in Boots.”)

Around that time, Kreloff also found his own artistic style.

In the years after World War II, abstract expressionism ruled the American art world, he points out, but in the 1960s, the Pop Art boom — led by such artists as Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg — meant “you can paint movie stars and people will take it seriously,” Kreloff explains.

As “a second-generation pop artist,” as he describes himself, Kreloff is “a hard-edged painter,” creating distinct areas where “the color is mixed by the eye.” (In his portrait of Leonardo DiCaprio, for example, strips of purple, lavender, periwinkle, mauve, pink and beige form the actor’s face.)

“Every painting is a challenge beyond what you can see,” says Kreloff, who focuses on “looking beyond the eyes” of his subjects. “I paint the eyes in first. I know at that moment if I have the piece.”

As for capturing the likenesses of people he likes and admires, Kreloff admits that “I want to please them, but I don’t want to bend over backwards. There’s a balance between how they see themselves and how I see them.”

Along with pursuing his own art for decades, Kreloff has taught others — following his mother’s advice that “with talent comes responsibility.”

Sometimes he’ll see someone at First Friday and suggest, “ ‘Come to my studio and let me see if I can guide you.’ ” Sometimes he leads workshops; one he taught for Zappo’s employees focused on “Learning to See, Learning to Draw,” telling them art “is a magic wand. We’ll share some magic.”

And every time he does a portrait, “I’m totally the person I’m drawing,” explains Kreloff, who describes each painting as “a love affair — and then it ends.”

That is, until Kreloff unveils the portrait to the latest friend of Marty.

“Most times, when my paintings are unveiled,” the subjects “start to cry,” he notes. “The money is great, but crying is so powerful.”

Read more from Carol Cling at Contact her at and follow @CarolSCling on Twitter.

Entertainment Videos
Masso Osteria first anniversary in Las Vegas
Scott Conant was in town Tuesday to host a one-year anniversary party for his Red Rock Resort restaurant Masso Osteria.
Baked Alaska a specialty at Favorite Bistro in Las Vegas
Award-winning pastry chef Claude Escamilla makes Baked Alaska with strawberry sorbet and vanilla gelato and flames it at Favorite Bistro at The Linq Promenade in Las Vegas. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Chili cooks face fierce and friendly competition at Nevada cook-off
Forty chili cooks competed in the Nevada State Chili Cookoff in Pahrump on Sunday, March 17, 2019, with the winners advancing to the World Championship Chili Cook-off in Des Moines, Iowa. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Arcade ‘speakeasy’ leads to secret door and Banksy art in Las Vegas
Arcade ‘speakeasy’ leads to secret door, Banksy art in Las Vegas (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Hazel in Las Vegas serves modern takes on traditional cocktails
Hazel serves modern takes on traditional cocktails (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas celebrates St. Patrick's Day
Tonight the city lit the Welcome sign green, McMullan's Irish Pub and the Guinness store also prepare for this weekend's St. Patrick's Day festivities. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Reuben sandwich at Served in Henderson, near Las Vegas
Matthew Meyer, chef/owner of Served, makes a Reuben sandwich with house-brined corned beef, house-made sauerkraut and gooey melted cheese at his restaurant in Henderson, outside Las Vegas. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Las Vegas day club season returns with big-name DJs
Rick Ross, March 23, at Daylight Beach Club at Mandalay Bay The Chainsmokers, March 30, at Encore Beach Club Marshmello, April 6, Kaos Dayclub at the Palms Chuckie, May 11, Marquee Dayclub at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas Calvin Harris, May 11, Wet Republic at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino
Pizza expert Chris Bianco makes meatballs in Las Vegas
Chris Bianco, who was the keynote speaker at the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, demonstrates meatball making for expo attendees. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Las Vegas pulmonologist talks about new movie dealing with cystic fibrosis
Dr. Craig Nakamura, Director of Cystic Fibrosis Center of Southern Nevada, talks about the upcoming romantic drama “Five Feet Apart” where both of the lead characters suffer from cystic fibrosis. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
World Pizza Champion crowned in Las Vegas
At the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, Italian pizzaiolo Federico De Silvestri took the top prize and more than $12,000. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Italian wins Pizza Maker of the Year at Pizza Expo
Federico De Silvestri of Verona, Italy, wins the finals in the non-traditional pizza category during the International Pizza Challenge at the International Pizza Expo at the Las Vegas Convention Center Thursday, March 7, 2019. De Silvestri went on to beat winners from each of the four other categories — traditional, pan, pizza Napoletana and Roman — to win Pizza Maker of the Year. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Good Pie Coming To Arts District
Local pizzaiolo Vincent Rotolo says Good Pie is coming to the Arts District. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Local comedian says "It's ok to laugh, ...the comedy club is dark."
K-Von, a half-Persian comedian, talks about his style of comedy which keeps audiences entertained.
Pizza Dough Throwing Competition
Contestants participate in the World Pizza Games at the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, Wednesday night. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
World Pizza Games showcased in Las Vegas
The World Pizza Games, part of the International Pizza Expo, drew competitors from all over the world to Las Vegas to compete in events such as dough stretching and box folding. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Pizza competitors dazzle at international expo
The International Pizza Expo at Las Vegas Convention Center included the first rounds of the World Pizza Games. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas showcases products and trends
At the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, vegan and gluten-free menu choices and compostable packaging were highlighted, as well as Detroit-style and Roman-style pizza. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Chef Dan Krohmer talks about a new restaurant
Chef Dan Krohmer talks about the construction of his new restaurant at Fremont Street’s Fergusons Downtown complex in downtown Las Vegas. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Neon Museum lights up the Hard Rock Cafe guitar sign
The Neon Museum in Las Vegas flipped the switch on its latest acquisition Monday night, the Hard Rock Cafe guitar sign. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
A Taste of Eataly Las Vegas
Executive Chef Nicole Brisson gives a tour around Eataly Las Vegas, located in the Park MGM. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Order a pretty purple cocktail at North Italia in Las Vegas
Order a pretty purple cocktail at North Italia in Las Vegas (Janna Karel/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Towering triple decker sandwich at Sadelle’s at Bellagio in Las Vegas
Jonah Resnick, executive chef of Sadelle’s, the newest restaurant at Bellagio in Las Vegas, serves a daunting concoction of roast beef layered with house-made cole slaw, turkey and more cole slaw, on rye bread. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal)
Paris Las Vegas Debuts New Eiffel Tower Light Show
The Paris in Las Vegas unveiled its latest Eiffel Tower light show, Wednesday evening. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Video: Las Vegas Omelet House Marks 40th anniversary
Omelet House at Charleston Boulevard and Rancho Drive in Las Vegas, which opened in 1979, is a locals’ favorite, known for fluffy six-egg omelets. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Golden Knights' Ryan Reaves readying new beer
Ryan Reaves, a forward with the Golden Knights, has plans for a second beer, a lager, through his 7Five Brewing Co. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Bellagio Adds Lady Gaga To The Fountain Playlist
Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” has been added to the rotation of classic tunes played for the dancing waters at Lake Bellagio. The song debuted at 6 p.m. Monday. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Comedian uses laughter to bring understanding about AIDS
Comedian Brandon Cox Sanford talks about how he uses his comedy sketches to bring light to his AIDS diagnosis. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
20th anniversary of the House of Blues in Las Vegas
Sasha Rincon-Camacho, regional marketing director, talks about the 20th anniversary of the House of Blues in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Meow Wolf opening an 'otherworldly' art experience in Las Vegas
Meow Wolf opening "otherworldly" art experience in Las Vegas (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Home Front Page Footer Listing