A classic Nevada image: Wild horses run free as the sun sets behind the mountains. It’s the same image on the back of the state quarter. Touristy gift shops in downtown Reno sell T-shirts adorned with this kind of thing. But here, transposed in the sky, like a figure envisioned in a cloud, is a woman, with a torn and frayed flag slung wearily over her shoulder. She looks strong and sensual, but it’s a white flag, a symbol of surrender, so there’s a feeling of grace in defeat. She looks like a cross between Delacroix’s Lady Liberty and the ghost of a long dead Confederate.
This is a painting on wood by Reno artist Omar Pierce, 25. It’s called “Lockwood, NV,” and it’s one of the works featured in his exhibition Our Hearts Don’t Change, which opens at Bibo 3 on Oct. 10, with an opening reception at 6 p.m.
The woman in the painting is taken from a photograph Pierce took of a friend.
“I have a bad habit of turning my friends into metaphors,” he says. “I hate the idea of models, but I love photographing people.”
By using his friends as informal subjects and then using these photographs as the starting points for mixed media sculptures and paintings, Pierce imbues candid photos with big emotions.
“I like referring to the person in the image as the underpainting of the idea,” he says.
Pierce’s recent and current work is linked to an ongoing project—a book in the works—celebrating his first camera, an Instamatic 126, a childhood gift from his grandfather. The film cartridges for Instamatic cameras have been discontinued, so Pierce envisions the work as a farewell homage to the camera.
But the work has another central subject.
“It’s largely Nevada-themed,” says Pierce. “All the photos were shot here or very close. Some of them might have been just over the border.”
Pierce says there’s a unique quality shared by most Northern Nevadans.
“In part, it’s a general underdog mentality,” he says. “But it’s also a really palpable sincerity. People here try harder. They put their heart and soul into what they do. You can’t just walk down the street here and see your favorite band. You can’t just turn the corner and see mind-boggling art … but that just means there’s more space to branch out and strive to create what you want to see.”
Pierce says this quality extends to the Nevada landscape, as well, like the place mentioned in the title of “Lockwood, NV.”
“It’s a really beautiful place, but it’s kind of sad and next to a dump,” he says. “Lockwood’s not what people think of when they think of the majestic West, but it’s one of my favorite places to spend time. You see the most amazing stuff out there. There’s always wildlife.”
Pierce saw the wild horses depicted in the painting during a recent visit there.
“It had all the elements of classic Western images, but dirtier or greasier,” he says.
There’s an inverted cross in the middle of the setting sun in the center of the painting. A close look reveals that the cross was made with embossing tape, like the kind used in grocery store label-makers.
There are words on the tape, but they’ve been painted over and are difficult to read.
“It’s a Smashing Pumpkins lyric,” says Pierce, with a laugh. “I’ve been using a lot of outdated alt-rock lyrics lately.”
What’s it say?
“Crucify the insincere,” he says, flashing a big grin.