‘MacGyver of my neighborhood’ evolves into a distinctive Las Vegas artist

As a child, Dale Mathis, would sit in his room in Southern California and take things apart just to learn how they worked. He would tinker with and reassemble them, and he often made them better.

“I was the MacGyver of my neighborhood,” Mathis said. “… I back-engineered everything. That was my thing as a child.”

Mathis is 46 and still tinkering, but now it’s art that holds his interest. Mathis’ pieces are large and feature parts found in machine shops. He transforms all things mechanical into art that speaks beyond the gears and bolts that dominate his pieces, carving out a niche for himself. Mathis’ art resides in galleries and private collections in Japan, Britain, Italy, France, Russia, Indonesia, Turkey, Brazil, Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, China, India and Mexico, he said.

His piece “David” hangs above the fireplace in his living room. It was inspired by Michelangelo’s famous statue in Florence, Italy’s Galleria dell’Accademia. The gears represent the subject’s thinking patterns. Across the room is “Astronomical Clock,” which challenges one to envision how the solar system and stars fit into astrology. Oversized gears and colored, cut-out Plexiglas add a glossiness.

Oh, did we mention the gears work?

The inspiration for it came, in part, from finding a spare bolt on the ground. It was huge and a part for one of the giant cranes used to hoist materials skyward as casinos went up.

“I took it home and kept it for 15 years. … I made a mold of it and ended up using it in my art,” he said. “It’s part of my past.”

Mathis didn’t set out to be an artist. He came to Las Vegas in 1992 after high school and became a delivery truck driver. A couple of years later, he followed family members’ advice and worked as a union carpenter. He began by helping to build Vegas World, now The Stratosphere. Plenty of casinos were being built, so the work was constant. Tiring of that after more than 10 years, he switched to being a bouncer. At 6 feet, 3 inches and pushing 300 pounds, Mathis was a natural.

But that exposed him to the seedier side of life, he said, and he soon tired of it. Mathis lived in a warehouse storage unit for three years while he returned to his love of tinkering, which led to creating art. A friend got him into a gallery and Mathis sold his first piece in 1997, earning $1,000.

That exposure led to his meeting wealthy investors. Mathis was commissioned to build a stand-up liquor bar for the office of one of them. Pleased, the commissioner and others invested $70,000 to get a start-up going for Mathis. Having pieces made in the Philippines was the next step. There was already a shop there that could fabricate his pieces at a low cost. Mathis sold everything he owned, got a passport and moved to the Philippines. Dale Mathis Studio Inc., or DMSI, was born.

“It was a bit of a cultural shock … It’s an island, so everybody has a kick-back, laid-back kind of attitude,” Mathis said.

The country was great for allowing him the leeway to work at his own pace, he said. Inspired, he came up with 12 new pieces.

Back in the States, he did his first art show: Art Expo Las Vegas, in 2007. There, he sold $100,000 worth of art in two days.

Emmett Gates, a local cartoonist known as Iceberg Slick, has known Mathis for 17 years and said carpentry is not the usual discipline via which most artists emerge.

Mathis’ works are “beautiful, incredible work a genre all by himself; you have to see it for yourself,” Slick said, adding, “As a black man myself, art is generally not something fostered in African-American homes.”

Severine Schmitz, a former graphic artist, said Mathis’ art is “big and impactful. It’s like, ‘Wow.’”

These days, his art is made from templates into molds, with copies made and assembled overseas in limited editions. He still travels to the Philippines as needed. He can create a new piece in a month or two, with another month needed to refine it. An oversized piece like “David” sells for $13,000. There are only 100 editions. Other, smaller, pieces might sell for $5,000 but be made into 500 editions. Mathis also does entry-level art pieces, such as mechanical playing cards, that sell for $50 to $100.

“That’s what gets you into the Dale Mathis world, only on a budget,” he said and grinned. “Playing cards, because it’s Vegas.”

A smaller, 3D piece is based on a mannequin torso found in a dumpster behind Caesars Palace. It includes his boyhood street address, bullet holes and a tiny, lighted window.

“That’s me in there,” Mathis said, pointing to the window in the upper corner of the torso. “I’m in there with the light on as I (work) on another project.”

Contact Jan Hogan at jhogan@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2949.

New York artist Bobby Jacobs donated a sculpture to the Las Vegas Healing Garden
Bobby Jacobs, an artist from upstate New York, has spent much of the past year creating a sculpture of two separate angel wings. He donated the sculpture to the Las Vegas Healing Garden. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Weather will cool slightly through the end of the week
The weather will cool slightly through the end of the week., but highs are still expected to be slightly above normal for this year. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Mayor announces new public-private partnership
Mayor Carolyn Goodman announced the creation of the Mayor’s Fund for Las Vegas LIFE, a public-private partnership that will allocate money to the city’s neediest.
Fremont9 opens downtown
Fremont9 apartment complex has opened in downtown Las Vegas. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Fall fairytale gets cozy at Bellagio Conservatory
Bellagio Conservatory introduces its fall-themed garden titled "Falling Asleep." (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
What the house that Ted Binion died in looks like today
Casino heir Ted Binion died in this Las Vegas home in 1998. Current home owner Jane Popple spent over $600,000 to restore and modernize the home. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Rescue Mission employees terminated
Don James, a former employee for the Las Vegas Rescue Mission, talks about the day his team was terminated. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders Cupcakes at Freed's Bakery
Freed's Bakery will have Raiders-themed cupcakes available in store and for order during football season. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
51s fans say goodbye to Cashman Field
Las Vegas 51s fans said goodbye to Cashman Field in Las Vegas, Monday September, 3, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
51s owner Don Logan's last weekend at Cashman Field
Don Logan, owner of the Las Vegas 51s, gives a tour of Cashman Field before the team's final weekend using the field. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Metro Asst. Sheriff Brett Zimmerman on Aug. 8 officer-involved shooting
Metropolitan Police Department Assistant Sheriff Brett Zimmerman met with media Monday to discuss the details of the 14th officer-involved shooting of the year. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Matt Kelly Elementary School hosted its third annual Back-to-School Red Carpet Program
Matt Kelly Elementary School hosted its third annual Back-to-School Red Carpet Program where community and business leaders joined to welcome students back with an inspirational welcome. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Star Trek fans on show’s enduring popularity
Star Trek fans at the Star Trek Convention 2018 talk about why they think the show has stayed popular across the years Thursday, August 2, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Nonprofit provides clothing for homeless
Sydney Grover of Can You Spare A Story?, talks about how she founded the non-profit organization. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Family remembers deceased mother
Family members of Adriann Gallegos remember her. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Camp Broadway teaches kids how to sing and dance
The Smith Center's seventh annual Camp Broadway musical theater program gives 150 kids ages 6-17 an opportunity to learn musical theater skills from industry professionals over a five-day period. Marcus Villagran/ Las Vegas Review-Journal @brokejournalist
Restoring classic Corvettes to perfection
Members of the National Corvette Restorers Society Convention talk about what it takes to earn the NCRS Top Flight Award for a restored Corvette at South Point in Las Vegas on Tuesday July 17, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Watch Ruthless! at Las Vegas Little Theatre
The musical Ruthless! will be playing at Las Vegas Little Theatre from July 13-29. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Cadaver art and sword swallowing at The Dark Arts Market
Curator Erin Emrie talks about her inspiration for The Dark Arts Market at Cornish Pasty Co. in Las Vegas Tuesday, July 10, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
'NO H8' Campaign comes to Las Vegas
Hundreds of locals participate in the NO H8 campaign founded by Adam Bouska and Jeff Parshley as a response to Proposition 8, a California ban on same-sex marriage. The campaign has since evolved to represent equal treatment for all. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
What to expect at Station Casinos' Fourth of July celebration
Station Casinos' is hosting its annual 4th of July celebration with Fireworks by Grucci. Fireworks scheduled to go off on Wednesday, July 4 around 9 p.m. at Green Valley Ranch Resort, Red Rock Resort, Fiesta Rancho and Texas Station. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Star Wars and Golden Knights mashup at downtown art shop
Star Wars and Vegas Golden Knights fans attend the Boba Fett Golden Knight Paint Class at The Bubblegum Gallery in Las Vegas, Friday, June 29, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Tourists and locals enjoy Independence Day fireworks at Caesars Palace
Hundreds of tourists and locals gaze at the Independence Day fireworks show at Caesars Palace on Saturday, June 30, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Clark County recount votes in commission’s District E primary
Clark County staff begin the recount requested by candidate Marco Hernandez in the democratic primary for the County Commission's District E seat on Tuesday, June 26, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Long-running local hip hop producer wants Vegas rappers to shine
Las Vegas Hip Hop producer and co-owner of Digital Insight Recording Studios Tiger Stylz reflects on 30 years of music production in the city. (Marcus Villagran/Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
"Pawn Stars" fans visit Richard Harrison's memorial at Gold & Silver Pawn
"Pawn Stars" fans from around the world visit the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas following the passing of Richard "Old Man" Harrison on Monday, June 25, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like