Oil paintings

Post-Petroleum: Envisioning the Future of Suburban Space in America

Michael Seltzer is one of 14 artists participating in the UNR exhibit <i>Post-Petroleum: Envisioning the Future of Suburban Space in America</i>.

Michael Seltzer is one of 14 artists participating in the UNR exhibit Post-Petroleum: Envisioning the Future of Suburban Space in America.

Photo By Nick Higman

The pain at the pump, like every social-crisis-turned-creative-muse should, has become art.

For the month of July, the University of Nevada, Reno’s Sheppard Fine Arts Gallery hosts 14 artists for an exhibition titled, Post-Petroleum: Envisioning the Future of Suburban Space in America.

The exhibit combines work from artists around the country, all of whom use a variety of media, such as hand stitching, acrylic painting, photography, sculpture and video, in their work. The pieces explore the consequences of the suburban-saturated, car-crazy American landscape as it is today and as it could be in the not-so-distant future because of our collective automobile dependence.

It would be easy to write the show off as an unthinking response to the spike in gas prices and the rising popularity of sustainability. However, curator Christine Pinney Karkow said that the exhibit is not a knee-jerk reaction to current events.

“This is something I’ve always thought about,” Karkow, a UNR art instructor, said. “I’ve always been concerned with how to utilize space and how we inhabit them as a society.”

The theme of space is often a subject of Karkow’s own work, and it operates in conjunction with her convictions as an environmentally concerned citizen, particularly during the selection process. The submissions that she received reflected what she calls a real anxiety on the part of the artists.

“I sensed a real enthusiasm because there are not a lot of shows on this subject matter,” she said. “These are issues that they’re concerned with and happy to have a venue to apply that to.”

Spanning from post-apocalyptic to inventive, the art represents oil-dependent American spaces as expansive and lonely. Panoramic shots expose the barren parking lots of mega marts, and oil paintings illustrate the empty stillness of a suburban street on trash day.

“There is a tradition of loneliness in American art history,” she said. “The suburban environment that we tend toward is extremely lonely and isolating. … That’s what we have come to believe as the lifestyle we’re supposed to have.”

Other works on display include fiercely accessorized, Pomeranian-sized Hummers, fashioned out of plywood by New York artist David Packer and a set of propagandistic, hand-sewn, screen-printed pieces from what artist Kim Jackson DeBord calls “The Ministry of Sustenance.” The Chicago artist’s pieces seem like a throwback to old textbooks—yellow pages stack the wall with retro, intricately woven designs that sit atop personal mantras for better living via permaculture-based thinking.

Also on display is a pedestal model and design sketches by artist Matthew Grover. His work was his thesis as an architectural student in Los Angeles, an experiment in redefining highway systems as multi-purpose avenues for living, including housing and hubs for mass transit. You might recognize the prototype—being a Reno native, Grover used the Wells Avenue overpass to create his design.

Karkow said that she hopes the exhibit sticks with people and that the effects reach beyond the walls of the gallery.

“I want to encourage people to do something proactive. … Art has always been something that reflects what people are thinking or makes people aware—and if it does that, then it does something,” she said.

And despite the pinch that is being felt at the pump these days, the exhibit does have this on the gasoline blues—though hours are limited, the exhibit is free.