Painting a lonely Nevada

Greg Allen battles legal problems, while his paintings depict an isolated, yet colorful state

“Armed With Beer” by Greg Allen.

“Armed With Beer” by Greg Allen.

Photo by David Robert

By all accounts, Greg Allen’s exhibit opening at Gallery Cui-ui was going very well on March 17. The 39-year-old artist, well-known and well-liked throughout the Northern Nevada art community, was celebrating the start of one of his largest shows ever. Everyone was having a good time.

Then the police showed up. According to one eyewitness, an officer held a clipboard with an advertisement for the reception. Someone also had an arrest warrant.

The officers treated Allen politely—letting him stay as long as they could—before eventually taking him to the Washoe County Detention Facility. He’s been there ever since, held without bail, on two local misdemeanor warrants and one felony warrant from New Mexico for failure to appear.

It was with this knowledge that I viewed Allen’s exhibit, 40 Years in the Wilderness: Reno, Northwest Nevada and Beyond. I do not personally know Allen, although many of my friends and colleagues do. They like him. Therefore, I want to like him, too. I say this because, let’s face it, our emotions and our perceptions of an artist are going to color how we look at his or her art.

Having said all this, on to the show.

Most of the paintings on display in 40 Years in the Wilderness are some of Allen’s milder, less surreal works. However, the paintings at Cui-ui all carry a powerful message nonetheless. And I personally like many of his works, because they depict Nevada in a dangerous, lonely, yet vibrant fashion.

One of Allen’s milder works is “Alternate U.S. 50 Approaching Hazen Peak” (36 1/2 by 27 1/2). The viewer is in a blue pickup (we can tell from the reflection on the hood) on a mostly clear day, meandering down the highway behind a white and red pickup. A semi, yellow and white, carrying a full load of bright yellow hay, is coming toward the viewer in the opposite lane. Mountains and brush and the occasional cloud complete the scenery, and there may be a storm brewing near Hazen Peak. The roadway displays a patched crack, a common sight on Nevada roads thanks to the area’s weather extremes. This is a beautiful depiction of a typically lonely day along a rural Nevada highway.

Another scene out of rural Nevada is shown in “Armed With Beer” (66 by 36). It shows a goateed young man, a cigarette in his mouth, wearing an Anaheim Angels cap, a red sweatshirt or T-shirt, slacks and leather shoes. With an unemotional look on his face and squinting eyes, he is standing in the middle of the desert, the cracked playa under his feet.

And the man (perhaps Allen himself?) is armed. With beer. Hence the title. A Bud is in his right hand; a rifle, complete with a magazine, is in his left. Another item—it’s hard to tell what it is, although it may be a handgun—sticks out of his pants, his shirt getting caught behind the item. This is a painting that is kind of funny in a way, as it’s obvious there’s an element of satire. But seeing as I have met people like this in real life, it is actually kind of alarming.

Other works on display include “Land of Broken Dreams,” one of his better-known pieces showing a run-down mobile home in the middle of a desert area with the words “This is the land of broken dreams” scrawled on it; several Warhol-esque paintings of a former girlfriend; and several depicting various Nevada hotels.

Back to Allen’s legal issues: Some friends of his are trying to put together a benefit concert at the Zephyr Bar, and Gallery Cui-ui will raffle off a limited-edition giclee (a reproduction on a clay canvas) of Allen’s "Morris Hotel at 4 a.m., East Fourth Street Reno," valued at $275. Tickets are $5. Call Gallery Cui-ui at 786-1111 for more information about the benefit and the raffle.