Home means the hills

Kelly Peyton

Kelly Peyton takes a moment to relax in her art studio in southwest Reno.

Kelly Peyton takes a moment to relax in her art studio in southwest Reno.

Photo By brad bynum

Kelly Peyton’s exhibition Nevadan will be on display at the Sheppard Fine Arts Gallery, UNR, from April 4 to April 9, with an opening reception on Thursday, April 7, at 5 p.m. For more information, visit www.unr.edu/art.

“What’s so sacred about Nevada is that we still have that open space,” says artist Kelly Peyton, expressing the love of wide open landscapes shared by many Nevadans.

Peyton, 23, is a lifelong Renoite and was recently announced as the poster artist for this year’s Artown festival. She’s the first university undergrad whose work has been selected to represent the festival and the region in Artown’s promotional materials. Nevadan, her Bachelor of Fine Arts thesis exhibition, opens at the University of Nevada, Reno on April 4.

Her painting used in the Artown poster depicts a sagebrush, and then deep below the surface of the ground, like a desert iceberg, is a mass of brightly colored roots.

“It’s like Reno,” says Peyton. “There’s this bright, colorful atmosphere underneath the surface.”

Peyton was awarded an undergraduate research grant to explore Nevada and process the experience in her artwork. She’s traveled throughout the state, and images collected from places like Elko and Pyramid Lake appear throughout her artwork. She says Nevada literature is another big inspiration, especially the poetry of nila northSun.

Nevada flora, like sagebrush, and fauna, like coyotes, make regular appearances in her artwork. “Blossomed Impossibility,” a painting that will be featured in her thesis exhibition, simultaneously depicts the flower of an Indian paintbrush and the mushroom burst of an atomic bomb.

“There’s a legacy of Nevada artists exploring images of the atomic bomb,” says Peyton.

Peyton is certainly not the first Nevada artist to paint images of sagebrush, coyotes, mountains and atomic bombs. But these images are part of the visual vernacular of the state.

“They might seem like clichés, but they’re intrinsic to the Nevada experience,” she says. “I keep drawing mountains … because mountains feel like home.”

She takes photographs during her travels and collects local artifacts—even all of her frames are finds from local antique and thrift stores.

Peyton sees parallels between the solitary creative processes of painting and drawing and the sublime solitude of the immense desert landscapes of Nevada. Beyond her interest in Nevada, Peyton also takes inspiration from Eastern philosophy, contemporary street art, and a variety of music.

The lines in her drawings and paintings are very lyrical. It’s possible to discern both the fluiditiy of a good graffiti writer and the serenity of a classical music fan. Like graffiti writing, many of the lines on her paintings begin as written words—they’re abstracted beyond recognition, but with lingering ghosts of meaning. And she says that listening to music is an important part of her process. Chopin is a favorite.

The moon is another recurring motif, often depicted in a cyclical way—waxing and waning—to denote the passing of time.

“Eerily Prophetic,” another piece that will will be in her thesis exhibition, features a central photograph of a little boy wearing a cowboy hat. Peyton took the photograph in Virginia City.

“I knew I had to use him,” says Peyton. “There’s something about him that just seems so Nevadan.”

It might be because his eyes seem to be looking far off to one side, well beyond the frame, as if scanning the mountains at the edge of the horizon.