Confession time: I am a late adopter of new technology. That’s me! A very bad Millennial, who—unlike most Millennials—was not born with a hunger for virtual communication. I’d like to blame being introverted, but I suspect it goes deeper than that. As far back as I can remember, screens have always made me feel like a total imposter.
As a kid, while my friends were busy playing video games and downloading free music on the internet, I was baking tiny FIMO clay food for no one and burning stacks of CDs for unrequited crushes. In college, instead of developing what is known in the education world as “21st century skills,” I marked time between farming stints by self-isolating in the printmaking studio at St. Olaf College, chemically etching greasy shapes into slabs of limestone and cranking them through a press like a crazed newsboy. I’m in my 30s now and, somehow, have managed to find a job that doesn’t require too much tech. Praise be to God (or the A.I. or whatever).
I’m not a Luddite, though. I’ve given technology a generous try, and in some cases, it has been fine-to-good. For example, I have a smartphone that I’m probably addicted to. I online bank. I have online dated. I’m typing on a computer right now.
In most cases, though, the virtual world—and social media in particular—has been one giant epigenetic switch for a defect that prevents me from acting like a normal person. My Instagram account is seven years old and has 13 posts. My Twitter presence consists of two tweets from 2014 about free fonts I like. On Facebook, I’ve tried being a person who posts, cycling through such classic performances as: look at my cute new kid; look at my cute new business; look at my cute commentary on beauty standards (for a month in 2015, I documented the daily growth of my facial mole hair).
That’s why no one is more surprised than me to discover that, in the past two weeks, I have spent every waking minute of free time I have on social media. More specifically, on Instagram, an app that, last time I checked, was saturated in Valencia filters and swimming with selfies and brunch photos. Mercifully, Valencia filters have been weeded out by time, and selfie and brunch accounts have been weeded out by me, so what I’m left with are only the images I want to see. Art, music, cats, and pictures of my closest friends’ meals and faces.
I know I have nothing to offer the seasoned Instagram user. I’m just a baby. But for those who are interested in a few of the art accounts that have brought me back from the brink of seclusion, here are my favorite Nevadan (and a few non-Nevadan) recommendations.
Every Instagram art list should begin with Eunkang Koh. The Reno artist and UNR printmaking professor’s food drawings are as native to Instagram as brunch, often depicting exactly that—along with breakfast, lunch, dinner, and other meal images that her followers have come to expect from her “100 Days of Drawing What I Eat” project—Koh’s daily sketches and watercolor paintings inspired by the artist’s fascination with our perverted relationship to food.
What is Justin Favela up to these days? If you want to know—like I do—follow the Las Vegas art star’s latest piñata-inspired “paintings” and installations from the comfort of your quarantine. Personally, I think having an Instagram account is worth it just to see “Untitled (Muppet Pile),” a recent throwback post from Favela’s installation at The Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art last year. It is just what it sounds like—Elmo on top of Grover on top of Big Bird on top of Mr. Snuffleupagus.
There’s the trope of the philosopher-poet, but I think philosopher-potters make more sense. For the newly relocated Clark (this past year he moved from Reno to the outskirts of Doyle, California), Instagram stories has been a way to publicly process change while covering everything from the material importance of handmade objects to coming to terms with taking over the late Paul Herman’s ceramic studio. Plus, of course, updates on Clark’s gorgeous, sturdy, pattern-language pottery.
Hidalgo is talented UNLV student and frequent poster whose acrylic paintings recall Microsoft Paint just as much as they do old masters like Picasso, Kandinsky and Matisse. Hiss feed is endlessly interesting and often updated, giving followers an inside look into the developing artist’s painterly process.
During more standard times, Reno-based Bray is an oil portrait artist, but lately she’s been experimenting with wonderful, wiggly pen sketches of family life amid the pandemic. Some of the drawings have text and some don’t, the former reading like cartoons without punchlines, because there’s just so much about being stuck at home with small children that is totally inexplicable, funny, and deeply unfunny.
The Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art
Another account to jump on #pandemicdrawings is The Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art. Since the UNLV museum closed its doors on March 18, they have seriously stepped up the call for COVID engagement, declaring that “a drawing a day keeps the pandemic away” as they post daily art prompts that are both perfectly ordinary (“draw a self-portrait”) and perfectly weird (“draw a virus as if it were a person”).
The Lilley Museum
Another museum that stands out is The Lilley at UNR, which has been making the best of the shutdown by showcasing different pieces from their extensive permanent collection—complete with historical details and questions that get you thinking. Recent additions to their interactive format include coloring pages inspired by pieces from the museum and live chats that director Vivian Zavataro conducts with both local and non-local creatives like Shen Wei (and our own Kris Vagner!).
Saint Maison Gallery
The last show-space on the list is an online gallery I stumbled upon because their current exhibition, “Blessing in Disguise,” features Nevada artists like Michael Sarich, Jaxon Northon, and Austin Pratt (who are all posting quite a lot on their own accounts too). Maybe it’s because I’m new here, but I really do get a secret thrill from seeing local favorites next to new-to-me artists from all over in this weirdly dissonant and often grotesque gallery.
One non-Nevadan whose artwork I have to include because it is the literal highlight of my day is Australian ceramicist Ebony Russell. Her squiggly piles of clay resemble garish icing that looks like a mix between drooping architecture and adorned dogshit. Topped with ultra-shiny glazes that heighten the effect of her decoration-run-amok, Russell’s pieces are the natural next step for anyone who might mistake ornamentation for substance and confection for nutrition (all of us). Of course, I also like her pieces for exactly what they appear to be—beautiful and sickly sweet.
Since I am primarily a lurker, not a poster, I might as well reveal the person I got onto Instagram to creep on in the first place. It’s Robyn O’Neil. In addition to being a badass artist who makes large-scale, panoramic, graphite drawings that feel like sinister, reoccurring dreams about cults and landscapes that will swallow you whole, O’Neil (based near Seattle) is also the host of “Me Reading Stuff”—the best poetry podcast on the internet. In true COVID-fashion, you can also see Robyn’s work in the new online group show, “Quote Landscape Unquote,” from Susan Inglett Gallery.