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Artistic painter helped forge modern Las Vegas

Rod Wagner is an artist but it is highly doubtful that you have a painting of his hanging in your home for he is not that kind of painter.

His artwork is in the form of buildings. Wagner has a distinct talent in the business of painting to be able to mimic almost any type of surface. It’s a talent that he first discovered when he was 8 years old.

“At eight, I remember painting footprints in the sand and a lady offered to buy the painting,” Wagner said. “I remember taking art lessons as a child. I have a good eye for art and color schemes.”

It was with his father that he realized how good he was with color.

The father and son team started out doing homes in San Fernando Valley in California.

“I was just good at picking colors at a young age,” he said. “My father had a lot of confidence in me and would let me run with things. He said I was better at the color thing than he was.”

Wagner said his father gave up total control of that aspect to him. “He also said I would make more money on that than he would.”

The two painters gradually worked their way up to doing Hollywood homes.

“We were not far from homes in Hollywood and so it was only a matter of time before we started doing those homes,” Wagner said. “We did some well-known stars at the time, like John Aniston, who was Jennifer Aniston’s father and we did a home for John Barrymore. But the majority of our homes in this area were of people who worked in the business, like stuntmen and producers.”

Why didn’t Wagner go to art school and become a painter of paintings?

“My father never forced me to paint houses with him,” he said. “He just wanted to see if I liked it. I thought of it back then as easy money that wasn’t too hard to make and I did like it.

My mother wanted me to have a life. She didn’t want me to paint and work too hard. She always thought I was growing up too fast.”

Wagner’s real test as a true artist came in 1996 when he moved to Pahrump and started working for the union in Las Vegas. Back then the big hotels needed true artists to help them with their large casino projects. The union needed artists that could do faux finishes.

A faux finish is a term used to describe decorative paint finishes that replicate the appearance of materials such as marble, wood or stone.

“My first faux work began with just copying the patina on a penny,” Wagner said.

“I also did boulders and rocks.”

He said he was so good at painting boulders that while he drove down the street with the fake boulders the California Highway patrol pulled him over. The trailer he was using was weighing down the truck and the trooper thought it was the rocks.

“Once the trooper saw that they were fake he let me go on my way, but he had to look at them closely,” he said.

By the time he started with the union he was pretty good at faux finishes.

“This guy came up to me from the union and I had only been in the union for a matter of months and asked if I could do marble,” Wagner said. “I had a day to replicate a piece of marble on a piece of particle board.”

The union rep was impressed. Wagner said the rep picked the particle board over the marble, that’s how good his finish was.

“I made foreman my third month,” he said. “Within six months I was superintendent. I was the art director’s right-hand man and put together a talented team of painters or artists. There were very few people then that could mimic the real thing like I could.”

Wagner ended up doing the horse in front of Caesars Palace and many of the faux finishes at the Bellagio, the Venetian and the Paris. He has also done major renovations such as the Goldfield restoration of Virgil Earp’s house (2006).

He now has his own company in Pahrump called Alternatives N Paint, and has been here in town since 2001 doing business. Many of the developers out in the valley had asked Wagner to do faux finishes in Pahrump and so if you see some pillars that look like marble pillars, chances are they are fake and were done by Wagner.

Contact reporter Vern Hee at vhee@pvtimes.com


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