How I met your motor

Craig Smyres

Artist Craig Smyres’s exhibition <i>autolust</i> explores his lifelong fascination with automobiles.

Artist Craig Smyres’s exhibition autolust explores his lifelong fascination with automobiles.


“There will be a rhythmic, mechanical sound,” Craig Smyres says and smiles. He dreamed up autolust 15 years ago, and the creative synthesis of his art will be displayed in full for the first time this month at Sheppard Fine Arts Gallery. The exhibit includes a number of bronze sculptures, glass, cement and steel elements, video, 10 foot prints, photography and a novel written by Smyres titled The Timbers Were Hewn. The exhibition will run for the month of July, and Smyres will give a lecture at the opening on July 8.

The Timbers Were Hewn, which is available for free download on his website, took two decades to write. The idea for the show came five years later, and Smyres created the concept of the exhibit in seven days.

“I thought it all up one week, one summer, 15 years ago,” he says.

When Smyres envisioned the exhibition in the mid-1990s, “global warming” and “carbon imprint” were emerging household terms. His art is an interpretation of what those terms signify and how humanity has arrived to a point where innovation has adversely affected the environment.

autolust is a social commentary that examines man’s relationship with industrialization. Some of his sculptures intertwine women and cars, juxtaposing the love and tenderness a mother feels for her child with humanity’s amazement at its industrial innovation. One piece features a woman sitting on the world, cradling a small car as if it were a newborn. Smyres calls her Diana Delahaye, combining the name of the Roman goddess of the hunt with Delahaye, a “very pretty French car that was made just before World War II.”

The expression on Diana’s face implies the story of material desire: the mother of humanity holding newborn industry. The infant automobile has a face that any mother, motorist and art aficionado would love.

“There’s another one just like her done in a traditional patina,” says Smyres. “She has sort of this winking look, a knowing look. I don’t know if anybody ever gets that, but that’s what I was thinking of when I made her.”

Like the mother staring at her child and speculating about its future, Smyres effectively raises the question of humanity’s impact on the planet in the name of progress.

A longtime resident of Reno, Smyres has seen it change dramatically in the past 40 years.

“It’s nothing but change,” he says. “The constant in Reno is change.”

The story of human evolution revolves around progress, and Smyres has noted both the difference in the city he’s lived in for 40 years and, on a larger scale, the global impact of industrialization. He’s a full-time artist, but also a writer, an activist and a teacher.

He received his degree in education at the University of Nevada, Reno and was a pioneer in the creation of the Adult Special Education program at Truckee Meadows Community College, where he taught for 10 years. He has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair.

“Because of my disability I had to choose if I was going to be a serious artist or I was going to be a teacher,” he says. “I love teaching, but I am an artist, so it was a pretty easy choice.”

When he was younger, he worked on cars. He’s held a lifelong fascination with automobiles, and his work encourages viewers to think about their place in our history. autolust portrays the many faces of industrialization as much as it represents the artist’s reverence towards his craft.

“I just love being a sculptor,” he says. “I like grinding metal.”