Off the wall
Victorian Square Mural
It’s about 90 degrees in Sparks, and Erik Burke and Chad Sorg are appropriately paint-splattered and sweating before a large wall facing Victorian Square and the Silver Club.
Sorg, in a straw hat and cargo pants, is on a ladder adding strokes of paint onto what looks like a landscape painting—perhaps a purpley-bronze sunset at Pyramid Lake. But this is a work in progress, one expected to take about three more weeks to complete, and it’s morphing each day the duo works.
“It’s so public, so you’re really naked,” says Burke, a soft-spoken guy in glasses, red cap and cut-off polyester shorts. He’s one of Reno’s most active muralists and is well-acquainted with the public’s reaction to unfinished murals. “People don’t understand the process. When you walk away at the end of the day, you’re leaving it open. People walk by and think, ‘Wow, I hope that gets better.'”
The end result—sketched out in detail on drawing paper and shifting slightly as paint goes to wall—is to include things like the cars of Hot August Nights, a Santa Claus leading a train full of presents for the Hometowne Christmas, a host of Farmers’ Market tents and vegetables and a man barbecuing ribs for the big Rib Cook-Off.
Greg Von Schottenstein, city special events supervisor, contacted the two artists to do the work for Sparks. The city chose most of the imagery involved, planting the focus on Victorian Square for this mural. They left the aesthetics and style up to the artists.
Sorg is a maker, hanger and curator of art and the former owner of the late Bleu Lion Gallery. He’s done a couple murals in his career—the first being at an Indiana baseball stadium when he was 18-years-old. But he almost always works alone.
Burke has left his mark all over town, from the Sutro Street motel mural of miners to the camera mural off Virginia and California streets. He’s a key instigator in street-art projects, such as this past summer’s Reno River Fest urban art mural and the (Con)temporary Gallery, which heads into its fifth year this July in a Virginia Street alleyway. He almost always collaborates with others.
Burke’s work has often been somewhat edgy and underground, so the idea of him painting a Santa Claus and girls in poodle skirts for the city of Sparks seems like a shift.
Sorg cuts to the chase: “Are you selling out, Erik?”
Burke admits this is more commercial work, but it’s not his first foray into the mainstream. He painted a mural for a casino in Dayton and also has been working on a project for McCarran International Airport.
“So I’ve been going all sorts of ways,” he says. “It gets you out of your element.”
While Burke and Sorg are well acquainted with each other, the two had never painted together. It’s a partnership that appears to work. Sorg is more prone to landscape images, while Burke is adept at painting figures. The two discuss an idea in detail, then play with colors and talk about changes as they go.
Sorg is on board for an adjacent, second mural later this summer that’s to focus on the city of Sparks. But his partner is yet undetermined. Burke, a Nevada native, leaves Reno in late July for New York City, to study at Parsons the New School for Design.
In the meantime, he and Sorg stand at the wall, veil off, working toward its completion.