Great Basin Stories
Admit it. At least once in your life, haven’t you wanted to drink tea from the mouth of a sharp-toothed fish or taken cookies from the belly of a raven? No? Maybe? Larry Williamson makes it happen, and in doing so, gives new meaning to the term “functional art.”
Nearly everything the Virginia City artist makes is injected with humor. One example is the “Oh Shit!” tea set featuring an anatomically correct man in a boat being swallowed by a giant fish. But the craftsmanship involved in his pieces leaves no doubt that Williamson takes his work seriously.
His art is on display this month, along with the work of Reno artists Jim McCormick and Ingrid Evans in Great Basin Stories at Stremmel Gallery.
The artists take as their focus the landscape of the Great Basin, but their interpretations of it differ widely.
McCormick, a mainstay of the Reno art scene since 1960 and a former UNR art chair and professor, exhibits some of his most impressive work yet. He almost stopped making art altogether in 1998, when he lost much of the feeling in his hands and feet to peripheral neuropathy. But, with encouragement from his doctor and gallery co-owner Turkey Stremmel, he came back in 2004 for a strong exhibit at Stremmel Gallery. Some of those works are in this show, and they help demonstrate how far his new work has come.
The basic idea of the mixed media collage is still there: Start with a flat playing field—a board, a tile—then add layers of found objects to create a desert landscape. But the objects have gotten more three-dimensional, the playing field more colorful, and the layering more intense. He’s wrapped small objects in a sort of string or wire—shroud-style. Some, viewed aerially, look like the site of a sprawling dinosaur excavation—the bones, tail and head wrapped and barren on the desert floor.
Also taking an aerial view are Ingrid Evans’ works. They’re topographical, geometrical, reserved and look much like Nevada does from an airplane except somehow richer with deep grays, canyon reds and cobalt blues. Evans begins with a base of paper, which she makes herself, spreading the pulp on a screen to dry in the air. She sets objects or images into the paper, pushing them into the landscape. She adds a circle, a square or a line to represent where the human footprint meets the natural world. Paint brings in the earth tones, and a desert emerges from a once plain surface.
One of the exhibit’s biggest conversation pieces, however, will likely be Williamson’s “Great Basin Cookie Jar Cage.” The work began as an old miner’s bath tub found in Eureka, Nev. Williamson turned it upright and fashioned a cage on its front. It features the face of a man who, Turkey jokes, resembles the grizzled Larry Williamson himself. Like most of his work, many of the materials on it were found while jogging with his dogs—pieces of piñon form the man’s eyes, bone make up his teeth, and horsehair grows from one side of the man’s face. Perched inside the cage is one of Williamson’s raven cookie jars, with a glazed, ceramic inside fit for real cookie storage.
With whimsy and grace, the imaginations of these local artists run in wildly different directions, showing that there’s no one way to see the Great Basin.
The New York International Independent Film Festival awards Reno filmmaker Bruce Lindsay “best dark comedy” for his Under the Radar on Feb. 10. To celebrate, the Green Room is holding a screening on Feb. 8 at 7:30 p.m. Artwork and live music kick it off at 6 p.m. Congrats, Bruce.