By Blake Nelson
After little over an hour of driving, a few turns onto and off highways and miles of characteristically drab northern Nevada scenery, you arrive at Oats Park Art Center. Oats Park sits on the eastern side of Fallon, Nevada, an out-of-the-way small town east of Reno. Out of the way because not only is it on the “Loneliest Road in America,” U.S. Highway 50, but unless you want to visit a Pizza Hut or one the other miscellaneous pizza joints in town, then there isn’t really much there for the average person.
Making the trek to the historical yet culturally sparse town last weekend would have been one of the few times Fallon appealed to the average person. The receptions for “I Wonder If I Care As Much” and “Cirque” both happened on the same Saturday at Oats Park Art Center.
“I Wonder If I Care As Much” is a collaborative, mixed-media exhibit by Reno artists Tim Conder, Nick Larsen and Omar Pierce. The exhibit also included music from Kyle Walker Akins, Shane Oakley, Lauren Baker and other musicians.
“Cirque,” on the other hand, is an exhibit by Michelle Lassaline that showcases watercolor paintings and found object sculptures by Lassaline.
As we entered Oats Park we were greeted by a large, warmly lit hall. Groups of people were bustling about the early 20th-century building.
Oats Park, a location funded and run by the Churchill Arts Council, shows art exhibits and performance art pieces, including music. The building houses some of the best lighting and gallery spaces in Nevada, which may seem a bit odd considering the somewhat isolated location of the venue.
Toward the north of the building is the E.L. Wiegand Gallery which currently houses the “I Wonder If I Care As Much” exhibit. The focus piece as you enter the gallery is an inverted image of Nevada, posed in such a way to symbolize the theme of the exhibit and slightly unsettle the viewer upon entering due to its being dark black and made of waxed horse hair.
“[The] shape of Nevada upside down recalls the silhouette of a house or, more specifically, a house on fire,” reads one of three handouts that go along with the exhibit.
This symbol of Nevada upside down or a house on fire lends its melancholy and various interpretations to the overall theme of the exhibit: an ambivalence toward a home that no longer holds the same value as before — wanting to leave, yet haunted by inaction.
The title of the exhibit itself is derived from a song of the same name by The Everly Brothers. This song chronicles the tale of a lover who is wondering whether they care about their partner in the same way they once did.
A video plays on loop in the exhibit: images of bears’ heads, Pyramid Lake and people being tattooed appear on the screen for around 30 seconds, long enough to become symbols to the viewer. A particularly portentous image in the video is that of a crossroads street sign that reads “Darkhorse Ct.” and “Rock Bottom Rd.” The video is set to a soundtrack composed by the con-
tributing musicians. Each song is a reinterpretation by the musicians of “I Wonder If I Care As Much” by The Everly Brothers, all of which are slow and haunting, awash in reverb and ambivalence. The sound of the video is just loud enough to be mildly distressing throughout the gallery.
Each of the main artists collaborated on three pieces to flesh out the shared interpretation of the theme of the exhibit and contributed a single individual work to give their own take on the theme.
“Collaborating with artists is always really hard, but [Conder and Larsen] are really good guys to work with,” Pierce said.
The three artists put the exhibit together as a farewell to the Reno community. Each of the artists is leaving their home state soon after the exhibit comes to a close.
In the Classroom Gallery across from a full bar is Lassaline’s exhibit “Cirque.” On the walls are vibrant and detailed watercolors by the artist depicting various landscapes in the Nevada area. In the conjoining room are sculptures, also part of the exhibit, of found objects crafted into flagpoles and other contraptions.
The artist statement for the exhibit describes the dual meaning of the word “cirque.” And both rooms play with this dualism derived from the word in various ways. One is the geological term referring to the formation of land that occurs when a glacier carves out an amphitheater-like valley in a mountain. The other is the French word for circus.
Lassaline’s beautifully detailed watercolors depict landscapes she experienced while hiking. The colors in each were vibrant and the skill that went into making them shows; some of the pieces looked more like prints than hand-painted pieces. Paying close attention to the geography of the landscape, each piece is crafted around her intimate relationship with it.
The paintings are fraught with nuances that could only come from an experience by the artist, lending themselves to the overall subjective nature of a hike in solitude. How the rich landscapes presented show a side of Nevada that some overlook when getting to and from different parts of the state. Lassaline’s portrayals help open the eyes of the viewer to what an experience in the high desert landscape could consist of.
On the other hand Lassaline’s sculptures play to the circus aspect of ‘cirque’. Looking almost like Dadaist works that include found objects, each piece evokes a lightheartedness through its smaller size and soft colors. I found myself spending more time in this room studying the various ways Lassaline reimagined small items into sculptures that represented flagpoles all the way to ballasts.
Although the works were personal, the artists didn’t let on that they felt overly exposed or in any way uncomfortable. The artists all seemed excited by the turnout of people, milling about and thanking all the attendees.
To the favor of both exhibits, their differences in tone were able to play to each of their strengths without overshadowing the other, allowing the viewer to par- take in two unique experiences. The exhibits are avail- able for viewing through March 12. Although Oats Park is around an hour outside of Reno, it’s worth the trip. Though the drive isn’t very interesting, the long and lonely road might instill either the sense of melancholy that is represented in “I Wonder If I Care As Much” or the geographical awe in “Cirque.” Either way, you’ll appreciate it.
Blake Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. edu or on Twitter @b_e_nelson.