Using a loose style, combining blocks of bright color and pattern, artist Emily Reid creates whimsical portraits of animals. In her current exhibition at Never Ender, a pink cow sits next to a yellow hippo, while across the way is a walrus on a brilliant red background. On the adjacent walls, you can find a camel peeking into the frame, a duck, and a koala climbing a tree—among others.
Reid has a varied background and was always attracted to art, though she didn’t always paint portraits of pets and farm animals. As an undergraduate, she studied art but figured she’d never make money at it. She dropped out of graduate school, opened Chocolate Bar in Reno, worked for the Discovery Museum, and then decided she wanted to teach art. Reid currently teaches art to kindergarten through eighth graders at a private school, part time.
“I didn’t think you could ever make art and live here,” said Reid. It turned out that she found Reno’s arts community quite supportive, though.
She also has a farm of rescue animals. It started with the mini pigs that she had as pets. “The pigs were the gateway animal,” she said. “Once people find out that you have a few weird animals …”
Over the years, people have asked her to take in animals—including pigeons—and when she can, she does. Last September, she had an exhibition of her work at The Basement in the old post office building downtown—right around the time that West Elm opened its doors on the ground floor. A manager bought some of Reid’s work and heard her story about rescuing animals. That led to West Elm commissioning her to do a set of original paintings of rescue animals to be sold as prints on wood.
Her practice of painting animals started with all the chickens that Reid lived with and painted for her first solo show. She uses acrylic paints to create outlined sections that she fills in with color and then adds detail and pattern using colored pencils.
One of her favorite pieces in the exhibition at Never Ender is a painting of a duck. The duck is somewhat pastel in comparison to her other pieces with tints of yellow, pink, purple, and gray. A large section of the duck is decorated with a circular pattern. The animals Reid paints become characters, even projecting personalities, imbued with the artist’s reverence for her subjects.
“I do love animals—I think that’s why I paint them,” Reid said, after admitting that she doesn’t always get to make the art she wants to make because people are particular about the animals they love. Apparently, elephants are a big seller. “I’m often afraid that if I paint the animals that I really love, no one would want to hang them in their house,” she said.
She often starts with a color—like the red background on the painting of the walrus—then thinks about what might go well with it. In July, Reid will show some new work art at Süp. She has already made some shadowboxes, inspired by one of the first “real” pieces of art that she bought, and she likes the idea of incorporating moving parts. She is also considering doing a series of Aesop’s Fables.
Reid talked about how it is scary as an artist to step out of your comfort zone or to do something that your followers aren’t expecting. “I always think that if I do something new, people are going to be disappointed,” she said. “I’m excited and nervous at the same time.” What will come next remains to be seen.