Harsh nature

Bobby Lukas

Artist Bobby Lukas wrestles with the mythology of the wide open spaces in his work.

Artist Bobby Lukas wrestles with the mythology of the wide open spaces in his work.

Photo By Cherie Louise Turner

A wonderful solo exhibition of work by Reno native Bobby Lukas is on show at Grayspace Gallery. The work, which varies both in genre as well as media, reflects the artist’s fascination with the West.

Lukas explores its history, land use issues, cultural mythologies and the landscape itself—vast, wild, sparse, wind-swept. He reveals, because of oversight or the passing of time, what may be hidden to most. In the artist’s own words: “I make the work I do out of my infatuation with open space, freedom, history, dirt roads, song, deserts, distances, hoboes, weather, sagebrush, alleys, depressed landscapes and found objects.” All of the work exhibited was created specifically for this show.

The front room of the gallery features two site-specific intervention works: Lukas’ “American River Raft Project” and “Comstock Silver Deposit” pieces. This type of work is a new pursuit for Lukas—who previously has worked mostly in the two-dimensional realm—aimed at putting the artist physically in the landscape, participating in it. Recalling the past but affecting the present, these projects compress time and space and meld what was with what is—an underlying pursuit in much of Lukas’ work.

The smaller back room features two-dimensional mixed-media works that were created not only specifically for this show but specifically for that gallery space.

The “American River Raft Project” consisted of launching a care package-carrying raft into the river. The care package included clothes, garbage bags, a copy of Huckleberry Finn as well as other books, maps, whiskey and other items. The idea behind the project was to reveal a section of the river near Sacramento State University—where Lukas is currently finishing his Bachelor of Arts degree—that is mostly hidden between levees. In exposing the area, the project also serves to honor the homeless population—for whom the floating gifts were intended—who live along the river’s shores. A Nalgene bottle, journal and photos documenting the raft represent the project in the show.

The “Comstock Silver Deposit” project is represented by a three minute and 15 second video which features the artist playing the role of a miner, in reverse. Filmed in the desert, the artist arrives on the scene with pickax and shovel, digs a hole in the hard-packed ground, tosses in a small chunk of silver and carefully refills the hole.

These front room pieces are engaging. The ideas behind them are elegantly straightforward and efficiently relayed to the viewer. Their simple beauty both in concept and execution makes them lovely works to experience. The artist’s true love of his subject is evident.

Additionally, he successfully translates his ideas and passions into this new media. However and predictably, it’s in the back room works, the two-dimensional realm in which Lukas has the bulk of his experience, where the artist’s more complex talents become evident.

Several large canvases set closely side-by-side around the room reflect Lukas’ interpretation of what one would see if looking outside in that particular direction. The works—featuring scribbles of writing in graphite, patches of canvas over the canvas, and string—are primarily the color of sand. The almost monotone presentation—a departure from the more colorful works Lukas used to create—lends a subtlety to the work. The raw, unabashedly handmade/unrefined quality of the works speak to the rough, harsh nature of the Nevada landscape. Like the subject itself, these pieces slowly reveal their beautiful complexity.