Artists in residency

Reno can be a great place for young artists, especially those, like the Underbelly, willing to work collectively

“Two for One,” a painting by Tony Walker.

“Two for One,” a painting by Tony Walker.

Photo By Jett Myers

The sad fact that most local artists must come to terms with is that their art will remain local. Often, the least likely places contain a unique and diverse group of artists who, though remaining productive and loyal to their ethics, never quite break out of their familiar surroundings. However, the fact that they have managed to remain obscure is what makes these movements significant and allows artists to have profound effects on their own town’s culture. Reno is no exception.

Often, it’s difficult to bring art and artists to national attention from places like Reno. However, through the works of local artists’ collectives and community organizers, it seems Reno may be on the verge of breaking through that barrier. Could the Reno art community transcend the city limits and become a prominent fixture of art and culture? Some say it’s unlikely. Despite this, it’s becoming harder to ignore the fact that Reno’s art scene is growing, and the limitations on gallery space and local support have incubated a new breed of determined, outward thinking youth who are making themselves known, one show and one painting at a time.

Belly dance

One of these groups is the Underbelly, a Reno artists’ collective founded by Tony Walker, veteran of the Reno art scene. A resident since 2004, the 28-year-old has lived throughout the West, but calls Reno home. What distinguishes Walker from your run-of-the-mill starving artist is not only his talent, but his community ethic and personal drive. Along with painting, Walker has been involved in numerous bands, is a member of the Spoken Views poetry collective, dabbles in music production, and has had a hand in bringing about events and venues for local artists to share their work.

He and the 20 or so official and unofficial members of the Underbelly have been creating an outside art movement not connected to the University of Nevada, Reno or the Nevada Museum of Art, but also not completely detached.

“I thought I could better learn from my peers who were already talented, and they could learn from me,” says Walker, explaining the motive behind forming the Underbelly.

The Underbelly has no signature style.

“Everyone definitely had their own distinct styles, and each of those styles has definitely gotten way better,” says Walker.

Underbelly founder Tony Walker with his painting “In Line.”

Photo By Jett Myers

“The influences we gain from each other is one of the main principles behind the Underbelly,” says group member Emily Orellana, a junior at Rainshadow Community Charter High School. “Personally, they push me to always be doing more, looking for the next boundary to overcome.”

Naming every member of the group is a challenging task, especially when you consider the fact that many former members have left the group or never were officially members in the first place. But that in itself is what differentiates the Underbelly from more traditional artists’ collectives, the fact that they operate more as a group of friends rather than business associates.

Walker’s connections also run into the Holland Project, another local all-ages art and music based organization geared towards Reno’s youth. Through working with the Holland Project, and various other groups, the Underbelly has successfully bridged the gap between youth artists and community organizers. There has been an effort to generate interest in other cities through interactions between Underbelly members and artists and galleries around the country.

“We sent some stuff off to this place in Sacramento, but I don’t think it’s going to work out just because we’re from Reno,” says Walker.

This dismissal of other communities’ art is common in many cities, but it only strengthens the focus of the local artists. However, locality is not the only factor that plays into these views. The professionally oriented art world tends to cast aside younger artists, which is why organizations like Holland get formed, out of necessity for venues of youth expression.

The Underbelly has been holding art shows since 2007. One of their first shows was held at Se7en Tea House, to a modest but eager audience. Since then, they have held exhibitions at Tonic Lounge and Jungle Vino, among other places, and hope to broaden their range beyond the city limits and state lines. In the meantime, they continue to hang out as friends and paint as friends. Consequently, they are always sharing experiences and influencing each other, which is evident in the development of their individual styles.

Peer support

Some artists, despite their talent, are discouraged by their peers or by their surroundings. The artists themselves are the No. 1 killers of artists. It is important to write about young and aspiring artists’ collectives in order to give them a certain degree of recognition to continue to inspire others to take some of their ideas and put them into action. Whether you like or dislike the styles or even the people themselves, you can’t ignore the fact that these artists are working toward building a community in this town so that younger generations will be encouraged to move their canvases from their bedrooms to the galleries.

“The whole point is prove it to yourself, even if you’re not in the group, keep making art,” says Walker.

Ambition doesn’t have to mean being jaded and snobbish. As more people attend and support events that the Underbelly and organizations like it implement in the Reno arts scene, it inspires other people to create. It feeds into a self-sufficient community of youth of all types who are working toward the same goal through a diverse network of people, each with his or her own ideas and naiveté that allows them to create without limitations.