“Sheppard Gallery is no longer Sheppard Gallery,” says muralist Erik Burke. He’s not really exaggerating. For the exhibit Peripheral Vision, 12 artists have transformed the University of Nevada, Reno’s art gallery from its usual white-walled-echo-chamber self into a series of small rooms and dark, fun-house passageways.
It’s not just the twisting plywood maze that turns everything inside out in this show. Artwork you’d expect to see outdoors, such as a couple of rough walls elaborately tagged with graffiti, has been recreated inside the usually pristine gallery. Some artists have done just the opposite: given work that’s usually formatted in a nice rectangle on a nice canvas to hang in a nice gallery a more outdoor, urban feel. For example, painter Ahren Hertel’s forlorn, doll-like characters step off their usual canvas and stoop larger than life on what look like exterior walls, mural-like. By the time you reach the center of the maze, where framed pictures hang in alley-like spaces, and where, according to Burke, “There’s going to be food and drink and explosions,” the distinction between indoor art and outdoor art no longer matters.
Painter Brian Porray, the exhibit’s organizer, is no stranger to the idea of bridging distinctions between indoor gallery art and outdoor public art. He was one of the artists behind the temporary mural painted in Wingfield Park during the River Festival in June. During previous exhibits at Sheppard and elsewhere, he’s painted his hallmark creatures—which would look right at home on a Hunter S. Thompson book jacket—on canvasses, directly on the wall or both.
Porray loosely curated the show by inviting artists he thought could work together, including Tim Smith and Mark Powell, whom he flew in from Huddersfield, England, where they both just graduated from art school.
The group mapped out an approach to dividing up the space, and then the artists worked independently on their own wall, hall or room. Though some artists paint, some build and some hang things from ceilings, Peripheral Vision is presented as one big piece by 12 collaborators. A few distinct styles, such as Rob Brown’s distorted, line-drawn caricatures of people with prominent teeth at impossible angles, will be recognizable to anyone who frequents Never Ender Gallery or other outposts of the younger local painters’ scene, but none of the work in this exhibit is presented with an artist’s signature or wall label.
Burke says even though everyone worked on their own section, there was a sense of working together. “Even when you’re not physically collaborating, you’re kind of neighborly collaborating,” he says. Burke, who organizes the once-a-year collaborative redecorating of a South Virginia Street alley known as the (con)Temporary Gallery, says making art in such close quarters with other artists is good for the idea mill.
The artists won’t be the only ones who can say they’ve experienced the exhibit in close quarters. There’s no way to stand far away from anything in the cramped little rooms. Wallflowering would be impossible; if you tried to back away from one piece, you’d be sitting on another. Soft, appendage-like sculptures protruding from one wall are hard to avoid, and one space is impossible to walk through without being tickled by dangling pink yarn. Around certain corners, bare plywood makes it seem like you’re outdoors, or at least in some behind-the-scenes version of an outdoor, urban space you’d see at Disneyland.