Finding faces in rocks

Valerie Estvan

Photo by Jimmy Boegle

Valerie Estvan paints rock formations. But it’s more than that. Many people claim to see things in these rock paintings that even Estvan herself didn’t initially see—faces, brains, you name it. The 46-year-old artist moved to Reno nine years ago with her then-husband after a 15-year career in Hollywood; you may have seen her in Scarface or The Love Boat. Since coming to Reno, she’s graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno, with a degree in studio art, and now she’s a full-time artist. Her show of oil-on-paper paintings, The Guardians: Giving a Face to Reno’s Rock Structures, will be on display at the McKinley Arts & Culture Center, 925 Riverside Drive, through June 22. The RN&R spoke to Estvan on the eve of her show’s opening.

I understand you’ve been cooking all day.

For the opening, I made these tortilla roll-ups with salsa, cilantro, turkey and cream cheese. They’re really good. I also prepared salami with cream cheese. Tomorrow, I’ll be making guacamole, from the recipe of a girlfriend who lives in Mexico City. I wasn’t really cooking; I was just putting together. It keeps me on track, and it doesn’t let me get nervous about the opening. Hopefully.

Are you nervous?

I’m putting these paintings out there that are a little more provocative than in the past. I really don’t care what people think, but it will be interesting to see what people have to say. Whenever you are promoting an opening, you open yourself to a lot of questions and possible criticism. But it’s all good.

Why are these rocks referred to as The Guardians?

Because I’ve looked at these outcroppings, these rock structures, as being guardians of the land. They seem to have animation, because they have personalities. I really believe that. As ancient rock structures, they’re overseeing the land.

All the paintings have a March 2001 date on them. How long does each painting take to do?

I was given the grant by the Nevada Arts Council for the work to be done between December and the end of March. By the time I got the money and was able to start working, I had a month to do all seven paintings. They took about two to four days apiece.

People see faces in these paintings?

Yes. I’ve done all sorts of rock paintings in the past, in which people found frogs, snakes, whatever. I think people see what they need to see in them. More commonly, people see faces. I’m not sure why it happens. I think that they are spirits that want to be seen and talked about.

Whoa. Sounds kind of deep.

Well, I am not that deep. I might be somewhat spiritual, but I am not that deep. I am not cheap, either.

What’s next for Valerie Estvan?

I am going to stay with rock structures for a while. It informs me on a lot of different levels. If someone has a rock structure they want a painting of, give me a call.

But like you said, you’re not cheap.