Even if you're not an art hound, you've probably seen Nick San Pedro's work. Whether it was a portrait of Jack and Kelly on an episode of VH1's The Osbournes or the much-talked about human anatomy bodysuit rocked by CoCo Montrese on RuPaul's Drag Race, you've likely spotted a San Pedro original. As the local creative continues to make a name for himself—both in Las Vegas and the national spotlight—we sat down with San Pedro to discuss his chosen genre, his storied past and what's inspiring his next line of work.
What was your inspiration to pursue pop art? As a child, my father listened to a lot of Madonna, and he was in the nightlife scene. [Madonna] has a song called “La Isla Bonita” where she says, “I fell in love with San Pedro,” so we had this make-believe story where she wrote it for him. As a child, I was enamored by her look and her ability to change it like a chameleon; I was just so inspired by her music and painting beautiful women. I could paint her a million times and it’s always different.
You donate a lot of time and artwork to LGBT and AIDS causes. Why is it so important for you to fuse your art with activism? As a successful artist, I feel like it’s my duty to give back to my community. … Being able to create art and being able to sell it for $5,000, that’s the easiest way for me to give back to my community, and I feel so grateful and I’m so honored by all the charities who have asked me to make a contribution.
The first time I recognized your name on a national level was during Season 5 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, when one of your fashion designs was worn by local contestant CoCo Montrese. I’ve been very lucky to collaborate with many drag performers, and it started years ago. RuPaul had an art show for the first season of RuPaul’s Drag Race and I was one of the featured artists. … Frank Marino has had me do many things for him, more on a visual art level, and now with artists like CoCo Montrese and Derrick Barry, I’ve been able to actually start painting outfits. It’s almost like they’re body-painted, and it’s been very exciting to be able to dip into the fashion world with my art, and just really take things to a new level.
Do you design these outfits as well? Some of them I have designed. I can sell and create outfits from scratch. Some of them we use a brown pantie-type template or a leotard to inspire the work, but some of the pieces I’m working on for Derrick Barry right now I will be creating from scratch. … He auditioned for RuPaul’s Drag Race, so I have a feeling eventually he’ll end up on that show, so that could be a great platform for my artwork.
You have a lot of celebrity clients. Can you tell me a bit about that? My father’s always been very close with Siegfried and Roy, and so as a child I was always encouraged by them.
Eventually, I was doing the chalkboards at Hard Rock Hotel at Starbucks Coffee, and celebrities were taking notice of the work. So the art department decided to [start] gifting my paintings. … At one point I was doing artwork for the green room and dressing rooms at the Colosseum, and that’s what led to me doing a few different projects with Elton John. I’ve done some stuff for Jerry Seinfeld, as well as Celine Dion, and that’s really opened the door to me doing things with other celebrities. Christina Aguilera has a piece. Sarah McLachlan. I have been featured on Madonna’s YouTube channel for six years, and it’s kind of fun to see her manager like my Instagram posts.
We have a flourishing art community here, but your work is so heavily rooted in pop culture and celebrity. With Hollywood just a 45-minute flight away, why haven’t you moved? Being born and raised in Las Vegas, and having my roots here—my parents are here—I feel like it’s such a great place to live, and I’m so attracted to the entertainment. If you think about it, the biggest stars in the world all come to Las Vegas. Whether it be for a residency or a tour, everybody comes here. What a great place to live; to be based from. And I can sell my artwork from all over the world.
Do you see Las Vegas emerging as a respected art city? I’m really happy with the progress that Las Vegas has had, especially with the Downtown arts movement, and I feel like it will take time for it to continue [to] flourish, but we are in such a great direction. There are more and more people moving to Las Vegas who are big art collectors, and I think it’s just going to continue getting better for the artist community—and for the people who live here, as well, who love to enjoy the artwork.
What's next? Any plans to share? I am planning on auditioning for Season 2 of Skin Wars. I have been body painting for over 10 years, amassing one of the largest body painting portfolios with Ultra Violet ... I would love the opportunity to share my body painting skills on a global scale.
Portraits by Nick San Pedro Through July 20. Artist's reception, July 10, 4-7 p.m., free entry. Rachel's Kitchen, the Ogden, 150 Las Vegas Blvd. North, #160. 702-778-8800.