LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — "Take a deep look into a voice muted in cancellation."
That's what Dr. Lepper writes while sharing some of his recent work on social media. The artist, whose name is Justin Lepper, says he likes to showcase dissenting opinions to "create a highlighted moment of thought."
"We need to be more tolerant and understanding to our differences and this grander sense of what's actually happening today in America,” said Lepper.
His artwork is on view through early January as part of the DIE-O-RAMA exhibition at Recycled Propaganda on 1114 South Main Street in the Arts District. DIE-O-RAMA features work from Lepper as well as artists Byron Kemp Stout and Izaac Zevalking, known as Recycled Propaganda.
"It took over a year to make," said Lepper. "It involves 1,000 handmade molds.”
The show brings together almost a decade of his work and things he's been collecting over the years.
"Whether it is missile crates from the Korean War, collage ideas," said Lepper, the showcase involves stencils, collage, mold making, installations and dioramas that "reflect our times to the world right now.”
Take Dr. Lepper's piece called "Hebephrenia."
"This is probably my favorite piece out of the whole group,” he said. It's a diorama that features characters like Joker from Batman.
"Hebephrenia is a type of schizophrenic who actually laughs no matter how good a situation is or how bad a situation is,” said Lepper.
Inside the art piece, Joker is pointing a gun right back at himself.
"Inside of us are these two people, and we have to wrestle every day with all of these decisions that go on," he explained.
"The Penguin is part of the Joker's personality, and so is Moses," he said referencing additional characters in the diorama. "There's an internal conflict to do bad and good, or to make good, or you know, wholesome choices versus the hard choices.”
Lepper says he relates this to being part of modern society.
"Sometimes I feel that within our society we have to kind of be hebephrenics, no matter what. If we let too much bad happen to us, that can really destroy a part of us and if we let too much good come, then we forget about the bad."
"So we always kind of have to laugh, or have joy in the bad and the good on a daily basis,” said Lepper.
Social and political commentary
Lepper's work has many different kinds of social and political commentary, from modern love to vaccines.
"This piece is called 'Nobody Really Cares Who You Love' and it's actually about the diversity of what love is in a modern society," he said about the diorama pictured below. "But we're confined to all of these bulletproof cases, glass boxes.”
He has another piece titled "Dr. Fauci's Office" which shows people in hazard suits facing zombies.
“All the vaccinated people think that the unvaccinated will end up zombies, but all of the unvaccinated people think that the vaccinated people will turn into zombies.”
On the largest wall is a series of words: baiting, disposable, fully, critical, half-truth, braked, postindustrial and HODL, an acronym for "hold on for dear life."
Each corresponds with a different piece in his show.
"If we wanted to think about the verbal side of what has happened to us over the last 36 months, we have created new meanings for words,” he said. "We've said these words over and over and over in our vernacular, and we wouldn't have normally said the word 'disposable' as much, or 'critical.'"
Look closely and you'll notice the words all share one thing in common: General Motors stock certificates and Pfizer stock certificates.
Working in politics, George W. Bush's campaign
Lepper's background in politics runs deep. He has a degree in political science and criminal justice reform from Indiana University and worked in politics for years.
"I worked for the secretary of state. I did campaigns. I've worked for the president.”
In 2004 he was part of George W. Bush's reelection campaign.
"Being from Indiana, I was picked up with the campaign," he said, stating it was one of the main reasons he moved to Nevada. "I worked for a bunch of political action committees in that process."
As for the idea of "cancellation" referenced in his social media posts, Lepper says it's something that hits very close to him at times.
Just being an artist, he says, he runs into a "slew of opinions" from family and friends about the profession as a whole, let alone art that touches on more controversial subject choices.
Art for the community
But, like politics, the world of art is nothing new for Lepper, who comes from an artistic family.
"I'd say about 15 years now since I sold my first painting. I started when I was 14," he said.
And not all of his art is political.
Unveiled just last month was a PEACE bench he made in collaboration with wood and metal artist Kerm Sablan for Habitat for Humanity. It's part of a larger collaboration with the nonprofit and Santana.
The bench was made for Reuben Nieves, a homeowner through the Habitat for Humanity, and the plan is to make more benches for more homes.
"We're just going to keep rolling along and, hopefully, producing more benches over the next couple of years,” said Lepper.
The charity says the goal of the benches is to offer a way for neighbors to gather and get to know each other. It's a goal that's not far from what Justin describes for his work in DIE-O-RAMA.
"This show is actually really based in love and fulfillment," he said. "It's to come together in the fact that we are all different yet we are all a part of this kind of same path.”
This story is from our "Las Vegas Art Scene" segment in our dedicated digital show "How to Vegas." Watch "How to Vegas" at 10:30 p.m. on Fridays and throughout the weekend using the KTNV app on your favorite streaming device.
Do you know an artist or art experience that should be featured? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.