An Artist Has Transformed an Abandoned Las Vegas Gas Station Into a Neon Oasis in the Desert

The artist known as Neon Saltwater re-envisioned the 1930s relic for the Life Is Beautiful Festival.

Neon Saltwater, 'Mystery Cruise 1990' (2022). Courtesy of JustKids.

Revelers escaping regular life in Las Vegas still can’t fill their tank at the abandoned gas station on Fremont Street, but its sight alone will transport them. Digital artist Abigail Dougherty, better known by her art name Neon Saltwater, recently re-envisioned the 1930s relic, traveling from Seattle to Sin City this September to complete her ten-day install just in time for the city’s annual Life Is Beautiful Festival.

The revamp came at the request of local creative firm JustKids, which has handled the festival’s art curation since 2013. “I have always seen this structure abandoned,” JustKids director Charlotte Dutoit told Artnet News. “Previously it was a gas station, then a repair shop, and even a taco drive-through.”

Now, it’s a technicolor portal to simpler times titled Mystery Cruise 1990, in reference to Neon Saltwater’s birth year and “a feeling of surrendering and trusting the beautiful unplanned experiences that are around the corner,” the artist told JustKids. Authentic neon gleams from the overhang that once shielded gas pumps. Dougherty’s stage name crowns a single column painted atop the multicolored gradient that wraps the building proper.

A digital work by Neon Saltwater. Courtesy of JustKids.

The structure’s actual owner wasn’t involved, which meant the artist couldn’t set up a psychedelic minimart inside. Instead, magenta lights at once sensual and ominous illuminate the silhouettes of tropical plants against appropriately fogged windows.

If you’re still curious what’s inside, look no further than Neon Saltwater’s digital oeuvre. The artist, who’s also created IRL pop-ups for Barneys and hairclips for cult company Chunks, discovered 3D modeling while studying interior design. “I was too much of a designer to be a traditional artist and too much of an artist to be a traditional interior designer,” she told JustKids. “I always loved rooms and would rearrange my furniture as a kid by myself.”

Thus, most know Neon Saltwater for her digital scenes of ATM machines, malls, and offices rendered in neon tones—and entirely bereft of people. “The energy that exists in spaces feels spiritual to me and is my biggest muse,” she has remarked. Mystery Cruise 1990 marks her first time working with real neon.

Neon Saltwater, Mystery Cruise 1990. Courtesy of JustKids.

“In an era where many artists go from the physical to the digital space, we thought it would be interesting to actually export Neon Saltwater’s cyber wonders into a non-virtual art experience,” Dutoit said in a statement.

“I see Mystery Cruise 1990 as a nostalgic reinterpretation by the artist of the vintage neon pieces and tourist extravaganzas still visible in the old Vegas, but with new energy,” she told Artnet News. “I hope this artwork will spark curiosity and slow down the passerby, inviting them to escape for a moment in a weird glowing time travel.”

The portal is on view indefinitely. Don’t miss it the next time you’re on the lam from reality.

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