On the wall
A cartoon mouse, not unlike the mascot of a certain multinational corporation you might be familiar with, rides a grinning, goofy-looking horse. The rodent’s sombrero pops off his head to indicate the walloping gallop of the horse. All around the steed and rider are ghostly, swirling, scrawling lines, like images drawn and erased and then drawn again.
This image is one of 10 large squares, about 6 feet by 8 feet each, give or take, spread through the attic space of Silverland Gallery in Virginia City’s St. Mary’s Art Center. Artist Evan Dent picked stills from old, public domain 1910s and ’20s cartoons and projected them onto the walls of the gallery. Using charcoal, he filled in the drawings directly onto the walls of the gallery, adding or subtracting images as he saw fit, and obsessively worked and reworked the surfaces.
Dent is currently the preperator at the Albuquerque Museum in New Mexico, but he grew up in Northern Nevada and graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2005. He completed an MFA from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in ’08.
Because he was working directly on the gallery walls for this exhibition, titled Straight Shooter, Dent had a limited amount of time to complete the work. He and his wife, Renee, stayed at St. Mary’s, and he worked scrupulously and nonstop from Monday, Aug. 16, straight through to the opening reception on Friday, Aug. 20.
Responding to the space added an unanticipated element to the work, the site-specific nature of the drawings.
“I was thrown for a loop by the space,” says Dent. “I came here with a different show in my head.”
The Silverland Gallery walls curve and bend in relatively unexpected ways—it’s an attic, after all—and this distorted the projected images, stretching and contorting the cartoon faces. It adds a dynamic, 3-D quality to the finished work.
The work is also fundamentally collaborative. Each of Dent’s drawings started with the work of an anonymous animator.
“But that’s a great thing about that era,” says Dent. “Everybody was stealing from one another. It’s like, ‘Let’s put bunny ears on that character instead of mouse ears.’”
Working directly on the gallery walls also means that the work is transient. When the exhibition ends, on Sept. 17, the walls will be repainted and the work will only exist in photographs.
“It’s all temporary,” says Dent. “I’ve always made things … things that people can take with them, but this is more about the experience.”
Part of the experience for Dent was the short, intense process of creating the work, confined in the surreal space of the Silverland Gallery: the attic of an old hospital now overlooking a high school football field.
“They were having some kind of hell week, so they were practicing all the time,” says Dent of the Muckers, the Virginia City High School football team.
“Working with charcoal, my face and hands would get completely covered,” says Dent. “It almost looked like I was in blackface or something. But the best phone reception up here is right by the window. So I’d stand by the window and stare out into the football field. If any of them saw me up here, it would’ve really freaked them out.”
And that’s how haunted house legends are born.