As if riverfront property, oversized office windows with views of the foothills, and well-placed futons from which to sit and enjoy the changing seasons weren’t enough, the employees at the Patagonia Inc. outlet in Reno enjoy a number of rotating art installations each year. Their latest treat is a month-long exhibit by local artist and activist Erik Holland, in conjunction with the Nevada Wilderness Project, a nonprofit organization created by Patagonia alumni to protect Nevada’s vast wildlands.
The day before his opening (in mid May), Holland is found buzzing about the cafeteria at Patagonia, laughing and telling stories while hanging work with his friend and founder of the NWP, John Wallin.
“It’s kind of nice to be involved in hanging because I have feelings as to how they should be,” says Holland, reaching for one of his sky paintings.
The sky makes an appearance in nearly all of Holland’s acrylic and oil paintings, and as the general motif of his work focuses on the wilderness of Nevada, it is easy to understand how and why he chooses his subject matter.
“A lot of times it’s just thrust into my face—like yesterday’s sky,” he says. In typical spring fashion for the Sierra Nevadas, the twilight sky that evening was awash in color and clouds that had threatened rain earlier in the day. It’s rare, but Holland wasn’t around to lug his paints and canvases into the hills in search of the optimal vantage point.
“No, yesterday I was hanging the show,” he says.
Holland’s paintings may be primarily about the sky, but it is what frames each sky that sets them apart, lending a sense of place and scale to the firmament. His point of view ranges from grandiose, dramatic scenery, swirling atmospheres and distant mountain ranges, to more intimate details of fir trees against the night sky, with the occasional small-town scene thrown in for good measure. Some landscapes are recognizable as Mount Rose or Tallac, but others remain nondescript, stirring memories of your own trips into the mountains, maybe following a river, turning a bend, and discovering a private aspen grove all for yourself.
“From day one, I fought the art school ethos,” says Holland of his paintings. “It’s more about looking at Wheeler Peak and being thrilled that those places exist. These paintings aren’t about theory, they’re about ‘man, this is awesome.'”
The successful communication of that feeling is essential for Holland, especially in recent years as he has devoted more time to painting and less to direct activism. No stranger to acting on behalf of the environment, in the past Holland has chosen battles fighting deforestation in Alaska, petitioning against clear-cutting in the Sierras, working locally for the Sierra Club, and as of late, registering voters for a coming election crucial for the environment.
“I have made the biggest difference in my life through direct action, but art, too, has the potential to influence.”
With 50 percent of the proceeds from sales at this exhibition going to the Wilderness Project and their efforts to designate Nevada land as protected wilderness area, it looks as though Holland has found a comfortable and effective place from which he can pursue both passions.
“More and more, my activism is being reflected through my art," he says. "I’m generous about what I give to organizations, and I’m fast and prolific, so I can afford to do that."