Off the job
By Frank Haxton’s own description, his life is blessed. He and wife Becky Murway own Digiman Studio, where they photograph models, products, opulently garnished cocktails and similar subjects for ads and magazine spreads. Haxton loves his work, and he likes the travel opportunities it affords. For his interview with RN&R, he called from a Northern California wine-making region, where he was shooting an old bed and breakfast.
He decided early on to be a commercial artist, rather than scale the tenuous career ladder of making gallery or museum work.
“I knew what I wanted to do,” he said. “Photography is it. … I didn’t want to be a struggling artist.”
He started as a portrait studio assistant in the Bay Area, then launched out on his own and was successful right out of the gate. And don’t get him wrong—he loves his work. But there’s an itch that it doesn’t quite scratch. “Everything we do in this world of employment is directed by somebody else,” Haxton said. “You still feel at the end of the day like, ’Wow, but what do I want to do for me?’”
Back in his Bay Area days, in the ’90s, Haxton and his colleagues used to mount exhibitions of the creative work they did when they were off the clock. When he moved to Reno in 1995, he didn’t find a group doing anything similar, so the following year, he started one. The group, Art Slaves, has shown artwork together at venues such as the National Bowling Stadium and the retail space at First and Sierra Streets that now houses Silver Peak—at the time, it was unoccupied.
This summer, Haxton—along with several others in advertising, graphic design and similar fields—are hosting their 22nd annual show in the Renaissance hotel.
So, how did the commercial artists do as after-hours fine artists? Group shows can be hard to pull off, especially ones without a strong curatorial theme, but this assorted collection of paintings, photographs and sculptures is a strong showing.
On the whole, the artists here tended to skip the theoretical mental processing that art schools prioritize, but it doesn’t seem like that mental process went missing. This work just has the expert compositions, great lighting and often snazzy subject matter of people who spend all day, every day fussing over a 2D frame.
A lot of the exhibition’s various aesthetics could have come from a magazine—everything from National Geographic to Hi Fructose. And, while there was no specific theme for the artists to aim for, one emerged organically—a celebration of local culture. Subject matters include skateboarding, snow hiking and traditional Nevada themes like landscapes and powwows. All of the above strongly prioritize technical accomplishment, whether in the form of super-steady brushstrokes in Randy Post’s desert swimming hole painting or the incredibly sharp focus—so close you can see pores—in Haxton’s giant photo of Reno Tahoe Tonight editor Oliver X.
One highlight is a series of three new works by illustrator Kate O’Hara, whose drawings are a little creepy, a little cute and almost painfully detailed, with equal measures of gloss and unease, a lot of heart and incredible draftsmanship.
If any of this sounds appealing to people considering a career in graphic design, commercial photography or marketing, these artists are prepared to sweeten a few students’ entry into their fields.
The works in this show are for sale, and part of the proceeds go toward two scholarships, one at Truckee Meadows Community College and one at the University of Nevada, Reno.