Full steam ahead
Great artists tend to be somewhat eccentric. This manifests itself differently for each artist, and this uniqueness pushes artists to challenge the limits of their creativity—often with memorable results.
For the artist known as Killbuck, this comes through his ability to be effectively versatile at multiple mediums. Killbuck, a Reno resident, is a freelance illustrator, painter, sculptor and costume maker, and his work is currently exhibited at Reno Art Works.
It doesn’t feel accurate to simply classify Killbuck’s art as “steampunk.” The genre is certainly prevalent through the top hats and gas masks adorned with copper, gears and goggles. His paintings also feature imagery from circuses and sideshows, and these canvases have been displayed at multiple events, including the playa of Burning Man.
His latest exhibit has been in the making since July.
“I was approached by Pan Pantoja and Aric Shapiro of Reno Art Works back in late summer of this year,”said Killbuck. “They asked if I’d like to do the December show, and I said, ’Yes.’”
Pantoja tells it a bit differently. “I got him totally wasted to agree to do this,” he says, recalling a drunken night in July. This is where the name of the show came from.
Shapiro confirms this story.
“[Killbuck] rarely does solo gallery shows like this,”he says.
Both Shapiro and Pantoja speak of Killbuck with reverence. They note that his work is sold far below what they consider to be its value. “He practically gives it away,”said Pantoja.
“It’s just amazing for Killbuck to do a show here,” says Shapiro. “We’re just really honored. Killbuck has done a lot for Burning Man. He’s a pillar of the creative community.”
Killbuck has been an artist since he was a child. He started drawing when he was 5 and started painting when he was 8. He then attended Laguna Beach School of Art in the early 1980s, and has spent most of his life since as a freelance artist. He mentions a “minor, three-decade detour career as a park ranger and U.S. Forest Service employee” before returning to art full-time in 2010.
Killbuck says that focusing on just one medium is challenging.
“That’s actually hard to settle on,” says Killbuck. “By nature I am mostly a cartoonist, and as such, cartoon arts has always been a huge influence. I also like working in the three dimensions—not in traditional sculpture, but more in assemblages. This also extends to the hats and masks I enjoy making, sort of wearable sculptures. Painting is a delight, and once I start, it’s hard to stop.”
He also says he identifies as an aestheticist, and this philosophy drives much of his process
“Aestheticism might be said to be more of an approach than any movement,” he said. “To me, it’s inspiration and application of art for its aesthetic value, rather than any meaning or message. I have rarely ever created anything in order to express a social, political or personal meaning or message. … If 100 people view any visual art piece and are asked to relate the ’meaning,’ you will get 100 different meanings. Art is not objective; it is subjective. There has never been a definition of what art is that everyone can agree upon. So, I say the heck with meaning. The aesthetic value has always been what draws me to art, and it’s the motivation for me.”