Nevada Landscape: The Painted Environment
Mimi Patrick says go upstairs. Linda Nazemian says go downstairs. The directors cheerfully disagree about how to best take in Nevada Landscape: The Painted Environment, the exhibit that’s scattered through the entryway, staircase and hallways of St. Mary’s Art Center in Virginia City.
"[Landscape art] may get old for the viewers,” says Ron Arthaud, an artist from Tuscarora whose morning-lit paintings of his extremely small hometown are in the show. “A lot of people see a landscape, and they go ‘ho-hum.'”
Not much ho-hum in these lively halls, though. Fans of more contemporary-looking painting can stop halfway up the stairs for Tom Gilbertson’s “Scenic View (Pyramid),” a Bahamas-blue watercolor rendering of Pyramid Lake, covered with broken plexiglass. Aficionados of more traditional scenes can take their pick from a list of well-known painters.
The arts center is a former hospital, a worn brick building with bright white, wood trim. The building seems bleached from 129 years in the sun. Inside, long hallways and high ceilings do more than just set a comfortable backdrop for the visiting paintings.
“We didn’t want it to look like a museum,” says Nazemian. It doesn’t. The only pristine white walls are the newly renovated ones in a soon-to-be rental studio in the attic (long reputed to be haunted by “the white nun") and a new classroom in the basement.
The non-museum approach allows for some juxtapositions of art and life that you don’t see every day. Phyllis Shafer’s High Sierra scenes, rendered in solid lines of color (think paint-by-numbers but with a hell of a lot more style) are just down the hall from an old upright piano with glass-bead-footed stool. Directly across from Sidne Teske’s pastel drawings of blocky, red-chalk boulders, you can peek into an old hospital room, decorated in that Pepto-Bismol pink. The venue and the exhibit all meld into one multi-tiered display of vantage points on the landscape—including, at the end of each hallway, unencumbered views through of the actual landscape.
The building’s renovation, underway for 41 years so far, is still a work in progress, with remnants from many eras. Worn metal hospital beds are still in use. Boxy, velvety couches at the end of the second-floor hallway lend a bit of atmosphere from the hang-out-and-chill 1960s. The new studio’s clean walls meet unfinished edges of brick and beam in a way that makes it apparent someone has been reading 21st century architecture magazines.
History could be graphed at the art center more in the shape of a Slaughterhouse Five-like tangle than an A-to-B timeline, which makes it easy to pause to consider each artist’s take on the landscape.
“It’s little things, the quiet things, things people just don’t have time for these days,” says Ron Arthaud. That’s what attracts me to painting the landscape. The way we live is pretty wacky, and people just don’t take the time to see it.”
Go upstairs with Nazemian, past a sunny room full of adult students painting big, bright watercolors. Go downstairs with Patrick to the photo darkroom. Or wander the historic halls on your own. Any way you approach it, Nevada Landscape: The Painted Environment brings a quiet, sometimes overlooked form of painting back home to the kind of context where it’s actually made, making it easy to see why artists commit their lives to painting Nevada’s landscape.