Atsushi “Sush” Machida is quick to admit that his first painting was far from a masterpiece. But with a little help from his father, the finished product opened Machida’s eyes to the wonderment of art. In short, it was the first time his mind’s eye witnessed art coming to life.
“I was 4 years old, and I set out to paint a cruise ship,” recalls College of Fine Arts Alumnus of the Year Machida, who grew up in Japan before moving to Las Vegas at age 18. “But after I finished the painting, all it looked like was a ship-shaped chunk on the water. Then my father came in the room and helped me add some water ‘splashes’ and such. Suddenly, my painting really was a cruise ship — it started moving. I heard the sound. I smelled the ocean. I felt the breeze.
“It was a magical moment, one I’ll never forget.”
Machida didn’t know it at the time, but two years later his grandfather took a gander at his burgeoning “portfolio” and offered Machida’s parents some advice: “If Sush wants to be an artist, encourage, support and invest in him.”
Thus began Machida’s artistic journey that eventually led him to UNLV, where he pursued a master’s degree under the tutelage of then-professor Dave Hickey, a past recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship (also known as the “genius” grant). After completing his master’s in 2002, Machida remained in Las Vegas, where for the past two decades his unique style — modern pop art with traditional Japanese symmetry and animal themes — has enraptured art lovers both locally and abroad.
Machida’s works have been exhibited in studios in Las Vegas, Tokyo, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Santa Fe, New Mexico. He’s even completed commissioned works for — among other clients — Wynn Macau, Burton Snowboards, and Microsoft.
Machida credits much of his success to his UNLV professors who encouraged him to embrace his creative spirit and let his paintbrush lead the way.
“My professors basically let me do whatever I wanted to do,” he said. “And while that led to me making many mistakes, it also gave me confidence. I gained experience and learned how to be independent and spontaneous, and that everything I create is up to me.”
Hold old were you when you sold a piece of art for the first time, and what were the circumstances?
I was probably 14. I painted these small fish sculptures, and a couple of friends bought them for maybe $10 each. Several years ago, one of those friends approached me and asked to purchase one of the original paintings. Instead of selling it, I gave it to him. I believe in good karma.
The coronavirus pandemic has reminded all of us about the power and importance of being resilient. Share a moment from your time at UNLV that helped build resiliency in you.
My first solo show in Los Angeles opened during my third year at UNLV. The reception was on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2001. The gallery was closed on Sunday and Monday, so the first day of my exhibition was literally on 9/11.
With the nation in mourning, the exhibition wasn’t very well-attended, which was understandable but also disappointing to a young artist like myself. But those of us who were master’s students never stopped going to the studio to create art. It proved to be a lesson both in perseverance and the positive role art can have in helping people heal.
Finish this sentence: When I look back at my time at UNLV, I’m most grateful for …
… my graduate assistantship and the spacious studio where I worked, which at that time was at Liberace Plaza — it was so Vegas, and I loved it. I’m also grateful for professors Dave Hickey and Libby Lumpkin for introducing me to several art critics, museum directors, and artists, which showed me the real art world.
Also, the Donna Beam Fine Art Gallery at UNLV had a series of “museum-grade” contemporary art exhibitions, and I sometimes helped with those shows — an experience that enabled me to get an “insider” idea of how an art exhibition is staged. Director Jerry Schefcik has since offered me the opportunity to curate several exhibitions.
In other words, attending UNLV wasn’t just about obtaining a graduate certificate. It was about getting a true experience of becoming a professional artist, and I’m thankful for that. UNLV is microcosm of Las Vegas itself: It’s open to everyone and truly one of a kind.