An exhibit by art-world veterans Ron Arthaud, Nolan Preece and Michael Sarich shows Nevada’s land and culture from a range of angles
What happens when you bring together three established, groundbreaking artists and create a show about Nevada?
The result is an exhibition with depth, unique interpretations of place and landscape, and an inescapable tension between light and dark. But that’s to be expected when Ron Arthaud, Nolan Preece and Michael Sarich come together for one exhibition. This one opened at Stremmel Gallery on Sept. 14.
Parker Stremmel, gallery manager, said the show is loosely themed, and it serves more as three solo shows combined into one. These particular artists were chosen for their work and thier different approaches to landscape and the natural world—and also for their significant impact on Reno’s art scene.
“Their influence in this region has been powerful,” said Stremmel.
The artists themselves are humble about this claim. Much of their influence can be attributed to their careers not only as artists, but as educators. Sarich has taught painting and drawing at the University of Nevada, Reno for 28 years. Preece taught photography at Truckee Meadows Community College before retiring in 2010 to focus on art. Arthaud has led drawing and painting workshops for aspiring artists.
Being in classrooms has allowed each them to impart their knowledge to students, along with their often groundbreaking approaches to creating art. That’s what also makes them so influential—it’s hard to look at the work of these artists and easily connect it to the work of others.
Regardless, they are each reluctant to take credit for any derivations on their work.
“I want them to form their own voice,” said Sarich of his students.
However, that hasn’t stopped the community from giving credit where it’s due. In 2008, artists created an homage to Sarich in a show called Inkspiration, in which attendees wore temporary tattoos featuring his well-known “Devil Girl.”
The big picture
What all three artists share is a love of texture, and it permeates the whole show. Arthaud is a plein air painter who lives in Tuscarora, and his paintings feature vivid, intentional brushstrokes depicting familiar Nevada sights: an abandoned barn, a luminous sky, a cluster of sagebrush.
“It’s very fractured,” said Arthaud. “[I use] dabs of color, and I see the atmosphere in nature. Nothing exists in isolation.” He referred to sunlight glinting on sagebrush, for instance, and the colors of the plant that can change profoundly in the course of a day.
“It’s almost like a fluid, air and light and color,” he said. “It’s almost pixelated. The colors are lush and very moody.”
He cited impressionists such as Monet. Up close, the viewer only sees the texture of canvas and the paint superimposed on it, but, from a distance, the whole image comes into view.
Arthaud used words like “dreamy,” although the process of plein air painting can be physically demanding, and sometimes the weather doesn’t comply. When he paints in the open air of Tuscarora, he’s immersed in the landscape entirely, although viewers may not see the impact of wind or heat on the painting itself.
“For me, I enjoy the feeling and the melancholy and spending time in the abstract,” said Arthaud. “I look at lines and movement, and it’s cacophonous. I get really excited about that.”
Preece, a longtime photographer, creates “chemigrams,” in which he uses photo processing chemicals to “paint” on photo paper. He then enhances the designs digitally. His father was a hobby photographer, and Preece learned at a young age how to mix chemicals in a darkroom.
The results are fragmented vignettes of places that Preece pulls from his memory, usually a mix of locations around the West. He referred to them as “dystopian and apocalyptic landscapes.”
“I’m working a lot with environment and climate change,” he said, mentioning wildfires and fossil fuels.
Preece sees his work as a center point between the vibrancy of Arthaud’s paintings, and the abstraction of Sarich’s. The black outlines and bursts of bright color in Preece’s chemigrams transition well into Sarich’s bold paintings. What distinguishes Sarich’s work in the show is the presence of humans and human creations, skulls being the most obvious, but also buildings and boats. For Arthaud, the human impact on nature blends into the landscape, as if a collapsing wooden structure was meant to be there just as much as the trees it was sourced from. But for Sarich, the dichotomy is more glaring. He place humans in the literal center of each piece.
“It can be read in layers,” said Sarich of his paintings, and it’s true. It takes a few repeat viewings to really see everything in each one.
“A lot of it comes from personal storylines,” he said. He also mentioned agriculture as a common theme in his paintings, which links humans to the environment they cultivate.
The different approaches to nature, human or otherwise, connect the three artists across their chosen media.
The result of the show is a sort of spectrum of feeling and attitude, and longtime Nevadans can relate. A Nevadan may first be drawn to the beauty and awe of the state’s diverse terrain, as captured by Arthaud. Then, they become more aware of the complexity of Nevada, the ebb of its seasons that reveals a starkness, which Preece evokes through his more fragmented interpretations of familiar sights, such as an orb of moonlight shining through a thicket of trees at dusk. The colors become more muted in his work, dusky dark gold and crimson. Then comes a deeper fall into abstraction with Sarich’s imagery, featuring skulls and shadowed shapes immersed in vibrancy, embodying the feeling of Nevada—a lingering sense of discordance, the desolation of the beautiful landscape and the creatures who both perish and thrive in it.