Erik Holland, a 42-year-old Chicago native, came to Nevada in 1985, worked briefly as a reporter for the Battle Mountain Bugle newspaper (he was fired for being too much of an activist) and “never forgot the smell of sagebrush after a storm.” Today, Holland, who returned to Nevada from Alaska in 1999 to be closer to his 13-year-old daughter, works as a school bus driver for the Washoe County School District. However, the resident of the Riverside Artist Lofts is best known as an artist who specializes in paintings of old buildings and landscapes, as well as political cartoons and illustrations. The work of the former Alaskan Assembly candidate has appeared in the RN&R, and his paintings are currently on display at Not Too Shabby on First Street.
What attracts you to Nevada?
I first set eyes on Nevada in 1979, when I was taking a cross-country trip from Chicago. In Nevada, I saw wide-open spaces and great big skies. There was no traffic. No trees. I loved it—just big, open space. That’s what I still love about it. The high, wide skies, clear air and visibility.
Clear air? This time of year in Reno?
Not in Reno proper. But it’s like that in places, like Ely, where I was over the weekend. I like the people, too. There’s sort of a frontier spirit here.
What do you mean by “frontier spirit"?
People are more resourceful, more tolerant. I spent lots of time living in the Bay Area, where people are really status-conscious. It’s not that way here. People take you for what you’re worth here. I think the landscape does that to people. I know it does it to me. I’ve read that if there’s wide-open landscape around you, something about it makes you more open-minded.
How’d you get into art?
I just started drawing when I was 9 years old. I started drawing pictures of tenements in Chicago. I’ve always loved drawing old buildings. They have such great stories. I always carried around a sketch book in high school. People loved to look at it, and it became a way for me to communicate with people. I went through long periods of time in which I didn’t sell anything. Then, I read an article on plein-air painting [painting in public]. One day, I sold a painting to a fat lady coming out of a theater in San Francisco. Her name was Rosemary Clooney. One out of every five times I paint in public, it leads to a sale.
How many paintings have you sold in your life?
Oh, I’d guess about 200. I’ve never really counted. They hang all over the world.
What’s it like to be a school bus driver?
It’s more interesting of a job than I thought it would be. I get paid to get up and drive in the early morning hours, during what artists call "magic hour," because it is so motivational for artwork. Also, learning how to manage a rowdy group of middle school kids is a growing experience. Every day is different and interesting.