Side of the road
One of the many advantages that bicycling has over other forms of transportation is that bicyclists develop a more intimate relationship with the road. Most local motorists are familiar with the basic route of the McCarran Boulevard loop, which encircles the Reno-Sparks community, but they aren’t necessarily familiar, as is a bicyclist, with every slight change of gradation, every peculiar odor, and the varieties of roadkill, litter and other debris along the road.
“One of the things I like about biking is seeing the weird things on the side of the road that you’d normally miss in a car,” says Erica Greif. “Cycling is partly a great time for me to reflect.”
Greif, 19, is an artist, a student at the University of Nevada, Reno, a nutrition major and art minor, and an avid bicyclist. Her first solo exhibition, Balasana, is on display at the Holland Project Gallery, 30 Cheney St. The work ranges across a variety of media, including prints, paintings and sculptures.
Many of her sculptures incorporate objects she has discovered while cycling. Her piece “Bird II” consists of a sepia-toned, pen-and-watercolor depiction of a trio of birds, placed in a deep, ramshackle frame made of scrap wood. Suspended from the frame, dangling in front of the painting, are delicate, fragile bird bones.
Greif says that the bones came from a “perfect bird,” a dead pigeon she discovered while bicycling along McCarran Boulevard near Skyline Boulevard. Pulling her bike off to the side of the road, she carefully collected the bird, wearing gloves she had with her just in case she made such a discovery, and took it home.
“My mom was really surprised when she looked in the fridge,” says Greif.
Greif later cleaned the bird, removed the feathers, gutted it, boiled it, and cleaned the bones.
“It’s really hard to clean those bones without breaking them,” she says.
The cooking smells, she says, were disgusting—especially since she’s a vegetarian.
The overall effect is somewhat reminiscent of the box-shaped, found-object assemblages of influential 20th century American artist Joseph Cornell. Greif says her work has drawn that comparison before, mostly from art professors, but that he wasn’t an initial influence on her, and that though there are some superficial similarities, she sees some key differences.
“My work has a more animalistic character,” she says.
Balasana, the title of her show, refers to a yoga pose, “the child’s pose,” where the practitioner curls up on the floor into an inward-facing ball.
“It’s a meditative, relaxing pose,” says Greif, “but also a retreating into yourself, a safe place, a fetal position.”
The image of the pose appears in some of the works in the show, and all of the work seems to come from a place of quiet introspection, but also a place of inner conflict: The pretty elements, like the birds, almost always appear near symbols of death or darkness, like the bones. And the effect of the found objects, the splintery wood frames and sepia tones, is that the work is aged well beyond its years.
“I like the juxtaposition of pretty things with the worn and dilapidated,” says Greif. “When my mom sees some of my work, she asks, ‘Are you depressed?’ … And she’ll suggest that I do a painting of flowers. So I say, ‘Mom, nobody gives a fuck about the flowers.’”