Familiar places

Patricia Chidlaw

Patricia Chidlaw with her Elko-inspired painting “<i>White King</i>” at the Nevada Museum of Art.

Patricia Chidlaw with her Elko-inspired painting “White King” at the Nevada Museum of Art.

Photo/Allison Young

For more information, visit www.nevadaart.org.

Images of bustling diners, empty hotel pools, and neon-lit parking lots are common throughout the West. These are images that have a sense of modern timelessness, in a way—many Nevada diners, hotels and parking lots haven’t changed much in the past 60 years, and they’ve remained relevant and familiar. And within the scope of a day, the one thing that gives these images some grounding in time is light.

Artist Patricia Chidlaw’s photorealistic paintings capture exactly that. In the exhibitions slated for 2014 at the Nevada Museum of Art, there’s a theme of capturing landscapes—urban, rural and metaphorical. Chidlaw’s paintings rest somewhere in the middle of this nexus. Her work is exhibited in Realm of the Common Place, which opened Jan. 18 in NMA’s Feature Gallery North.

“Chidlaw breaks the landscape stereotype,” says NMA communications director Amanda Horn. “She paints the unexpected views, the vantages so many of us drive by, or sit in, and ignore. She extracts beauty from these often desolate or decrepit places.”

Some of the paintings feature people, but many don’t, choosing instead to depict overlooked scenes like shadowed freight trains or mud pits near the side of the road. Movement and travel thematically dominate Chidlaw’s work.

Chidlaw takes a mixed-medium approach to painting. She employs photographs as the first step, and uses them to establish frame and angle. Next comes the rendering through paint, often using oil on canvas. What’s most striking about transitioning from photo to painting is the way lighting is maintained and emphasized: late afternoon sunlight is reflected through a window, casting shadows on restaurant diners; evening sunsets are awash with deep orange and pink hues, punctuated by drifting blue and white clouds.

“Chidlaw is loyal to the photograph,” says Horn.

Photographs are rarely edited during this transition.

“Chidlaw is a faithful American realist,” says Horn. “It’s this authenticity that makes her work so engaging.” Horn cites early 20th century painter Edward Hopper, and there’s certainly evidence of influence in how both Hopper and Chidlaw use light to alter seemingly mundane activities. A 1996 painting entitled “The Hopper Calendar” is an homage to the painter, and features a calendar of Hopper paintings on the wall next to the subject. Depicting a woman sitting in a chair and gazing out the window, it’s directly reminiscent of Hopper’s “Pensive Lady in Pink.”

While Chidlaw’s paintings capture places throughout the country, particularly southern California, several take place in Nevada. She’s drawn to these regions because of colors and architecture. “White King, Elko,” a 2002 painting depicting the historical Commercial Casino in Elko, is part of the exhibit.

“Even for Nevadans who have never visited this locale, the scene will feel very familiar,” Horn says. “It captures the spirit of our history—neon-era motels and small casinos that pop out of the desert landscape on our highways.”

In essence, Chidlaw’s paintings support the notion that common place is a realm of its own—the community spaces we share and travel through daily are signs of progress, but also resistant of it.

“Her paintings provoke mystery in their familiarity” says Horn. “The viewer gets the feeling she should know what happened in this place, but is not sure why. Looking at them feels like a déja vu.”