A socially outcast young girl wanders alone into the wilderness, and what she finds there is wondrous and strange.
That’s basically the opening premise of an entire sub-genre of fantasy fiction—everything from Little Red Riding Wood to Alice in Wonderland to the 2009 stop-motion animated film Coraline. Sometimes the girl finds things that are scary, sometimes they’re just comical, but almost always, they’re strange.
The renowned fantasy author Neil Gaiman—who wrote, among other works, the graphic novel Coraline, the basis of the film—once said something to the effect that all fantasy writers start out imitating Alice in Wonderland.
“Even though I was like, I don’t want to do Alice in Wonderland, I still did,” says Reno artist Andrew Nixon.
Nixon, 30, is originally from Carson City but has lived in Reno for the last eight years. He’s a freelance designer whose work has appeared on covers of local publications like Reno-Tahoe Tonight and Nevada Silver & Blue, the University of Nevada, Reno’s alumni magazine. He also paints pet portraits, although he considers that a chore: “I hate it.”
His provocatively titled exhibition Wilderness, Pussy opens at the Holland Project on May 21, alongside Retro Catharsis, Powered by Gin, an exhibition by similarly imaginative local painter and tattoo artist Ron Rash.
Wilderness, Pussy is a multimedia exploration of the imaginative possibilities that could follow a classic fantasy beginning: A girl walks into the woods. (That line is to fantasy literature what “a guy walks into a bar” is to jokes.) Nixon’s girl is a 15-year-old named Posey. The “Pussy” in the title of his show is a reference to the nickname her bullies use to taunt her—what else would it be?
Nixon takes a kitchen-sink approach to art-making: the exhibition includes acrylic paintings of various sizes—from large canvases to tiny seed packets—as well as found-object sculptures, and a TV featuring the start screen of a mock video game: Xanaxyz II: Sharon’s Quest.
In addition to video games, Nixon also takes artistic inspiration from animation and comic books—these influences are apparent in his work, which, along with the fantastical subject matter, places him squarely in the contemporary art category of pop surrealism. But though video games, animation and comic books all played parts in forming his aesthetic sensibility, there’s an even larger influence on his work.
“Dreams are a big influence,” he says “I love the bizarre visual imagery. I was really into dreams as a kid. I used to listen to Art Bell’s radio show, and he used to talk about dreams all the time … I used to try to lucid dream and was really into writing down my dreams.”
In lieu of titles, Nixon’s works in this exhibition feature accompanying narrative paragraphs, which often describe the action depicted in the pieces, as in this paragraph, which accompanies an acrylic painting depicting roughly the same scene:
“Amid the orange glow intersecting bitter chill and fire-crackle was Posey, joined once more by her dinner companions: the turtle, the bear and the yeti. The bear was called ’Smoke-shop Indian’ and spent most of the evening pretending to read Posey’s old comics over and over again. The yeti did very little, his matted obsidian fur reflecting no light, painted with pine-sap runes and adorned with strings of beads and bobs and knick-knacks and nutshells. Posey thought he looked like the Devil, but when his trinkets rustled in the wind, he sounded and smelled exactly like Christmas.”
Nixon says his original plan, when he started to work on this exhibition, was that Posey would die in the woods, and the work in the exhibition would be all the artifacts she left behind. But, as he worked on the show, he moved away from that idea. He might have stumbled into an age-old problem for writers: It’s hard to kill the characters you love.