The UNLV Collection
In January 2016 UNLV became aware of the art of Rita Asfour. An exhibition of her paintings was then displayed from August 2016 through January 2017. The subjects included ballerinas, showgirls, and self-portraits. Accompanying the opening was a ballet performance by a UNLV ensemble and a parade of showgirl costumes.
Robert Tracy, Ph.D., Curator, College of Fine Arts, UNLV
I first met Rita Asfour in January of 2016, and have since interviewed her several times.
After spending considerable time curating her private collection, I recognized that her artistic leanings are an accumulation of personal beliefs, customs, and knowledge. All experienced over decades. A fountainhead that took the artist a lifetime to discover.
How is it that a blank canvas ceases to be an image of nothingness once an artist like Rita turns her gaze on it? Where do these unabashed and bursting colors come from? How are these expressive and powerfully defiant brush-strokes applied? Her palette is a rainbow and her brush-strokes celebrate the movement of her dancers.
In a recent discussion with the artist, I asked if she was surrounded by art when she was growing up. I learned that in her home there were colorful paintings of beautiful women that were done by her father. Maybe that is where it all came from. At an early age, Rita must have understood that Art is not just the production of an object. Art is a way of life. Art is a way of finding oneself. Or, of losing oneself, in one’s own world.
Rita’s secret is that she is not driven by monetary success or notoriety. She does not paint based on a schedule or is bound by any kind of routine. Rita is first and foremost a free and curious spirit.
Rita prefers to work in her studio alone and in solitude. She works fast. Her momentum is her strength and her energy is pounded by impatience. Her studio is not messy so she always finds things quickly. She does not work from sketches but creates immediately from her heart. Her hand flows smoothly on the canvas to draw the correct proportions of the figures she paints. It is her courage to start and finish a painting without any physical sketches that is amazing. But in reality, she must have these paintings in her imagination before she even enters her studio. Rita is at one with her studio. Rita races to put down her strokes before the vision she has is impacted by the phone ringing or the cats meowing or the dogs barking or the pot boiling. Once the idea takes shape, Rita would then go back in for the finishing touches. Rita told me she ‘knew’ when the work was done—she just ‘knew.’ The artist never agonized over when to stop making her marks on the canvas. She knew!
As I reflect and ponder upon the large body of work by Rita Asfour, I am amazed by Rita’s decades of aesthetic creativity and unrelenting drive to produce new works. This exhibit is but a small sample of the many paintings, sculptures, and jewelry, that Rita created over the years.
Rita Asfour’s legacy will be that of an enabled artist who never gave up on doing it – Her Way!
Most of my ballet scenes were painted in Malibu as I watched two different age groups perform.
Young toddlers studied ballet at a private school called Ballet Studio By The Sea. I used to go there and watch them get excited as they got into their costumes. The owner of the studio was a nice lady who allowed me to visit during rehearsals when chaos was at the utmost. It was a joy to watch the little marvels give it all they had in a show that sometimes lasted only a few minutes.
Older students were studying at Pepperdine University. Some were very sophisticated and projected promising careers. There also, I was allowed to go backstage to experience the energy that went into their performances. I tried to catch their happiness when their dances went well as well as disappointments when that did not happen.
When I had my gallery in Beverly Hills I met Edgardo Acosta. He was the most sophisticated art dealer who dealt exclusively in authentic Impressionistic paintings. He saw my work and advised me to paint forward and never look back. He only sold works of artists who were no longer with us so I was too young for his clients. When Mr. Acosta retired he had dozens of empty authentic French frames. His clients liked the paintings but insisted he replace the exquisite and ornate French frames with frames that matched their sofas. Which he did. So I bought them all. That is how I acquired the French frames you see in this exhibit.
The challenge was to fit American sized canvases into French sized frames. And I still do not have the answer. But the easy way out was to cut a paper board the size of the French frames and then paint on it. So you will notice that most of my French frames are populated with pastels on board.
In 1965 I was married and spent my honeymoon at the Tropicana in Las Vegas. An enchanting trip never to be forgotten. Since then I visited many times to see the big Las Vegas shows. I can still hear the female audience screaming when Elvis Presley or Tom Jones jiggled on stage.
I also remember the first time I saw showgirls parading their colorful and revealing costumes. It was dazzling. All the girls were tall and seemed to have been cast from the same mold.
In the late sixties, I met a young woman in Los Angeles who left her family and came to Las Vegas to become a showgirl. Whenever I visited Las Vegas I checked on her. She was having a great time. But as time went by she lost her stage magic and her final years were not as glamorous as her first. So in 2012 when I retired in Las Vegas I decided to do something for showgirls. Not all of them are snatched by prince charming and flown to their dream mansion in the sky.
In the following pages, you will see my impression and memory of the life and joy the showgirls gave us. Their stride and poise defined the word dignity.
As this exhibition guidebook goes to print I am still painting showgirls.
Dr. Tracy insisted that I include two self-portraits, one for each side of the Artemus Concert Hall display wall.
Self-portraits are not easy to do. For some artists, they may be an ego trip. In my case, I was always pressured by dealers to paint them because they implied the artist had arrived. I did what I had to do but with great difficulty.
The first self-portrait was painted shortly after I started selling my paintings in Beverly Hills. The challenge was that all the other artists were doing it and so what was I afraid of.
The second portrait was two years later. There you can see I had slowed down a little and was having second thoughts about everything.
In both cases, I painted them from a photograph because I don’t have the patience to sit still in front of a mirror to paint myself.
I have since painted a few more but just to see how my portraiture techniques have changed with time.