Friends of Black Rock-High Rock and BLM Nevada hosted Clairissa Stephens and Teal Francis as part of a 2018 Artist-in-Residence program, giving each artist a place to stay in Gerlach, use of a BLM vehicle, and two weeks to explore the Black Rock Desert and let it inspire their creativity.

The artwork they made was on exhibit in Winnemucca earlier this month. Now it’s at The Potentialist Workshop in Reno through Feb. 28 with a reception Feb. 23 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Next, the exhibition stops at the Friends of Black Rock office in Gerlach, with a reception March 1 from 5-7p.m.

I asked Teal Francis—originally from Oregon, now an MFA candidate at the University of Nevada, Reno—about her experience as a resident artist in the desert.

Teal Francis added collage elements to her trademark animal drawings after a two-week artist’s residency in the Black Rock Desert. Photo: Teal Frances

What is your medium generally?

Primarily, I do printmaking. And for these … they’re collages of prints and then some other paper elements on wood. I have five pieces.

Do you spend a lot of time out in the Black Rock?

I had never been there before. … I was really excited about it. I moved to Nevada like a year and a half ago, and I’m a big outdoors lover, but I’ve only seen a smattering of places. So I was really excited to have two weeks to spend in this area, and, I mean, it’s huge. … It has the High Rock Canyon, which is giant, and has these crazy orange-red rocks. Then this northern part, Stephen’s Camp, that is way greener, has this creek, and is a totally different environment.

What was the concept that you proposed for the project?

I knew I was going to be working with personified animals of the West. I’ve been kind of working with them in white space. They weren’t grounded in any context before, and my proposal was relating them to the land of Nevada and the Black Rock.

Teal Francis’s foxes used to exist on a blank wall. Now they’re in the Nevada outdoors. Photo: Teal Francis

So you knew you’re going to be personifying animals. What animals were you going to personify, and how did you do it?

Some of them are animals specifically in the Black Rock, but a lot of them are animals in this area larger area, like Nevada and western Nevada. It was one of each type of animal, so, a mountain goat, a cougar, a fox, a vole, a mole, a bat.

And each of them has their own distinct personality in each piece?

I have these personified animals that are kind of in between humans and regular, on-all-fours creatures. They’re standing up, and they’re placed in the land, but they’re not really interacting with it. They’re kind of static. They’re in this weird, in-between area of existing within then the landscape but not totally there because there’s something that’s separating them. They’re not behaving like normal animals—which is a reflection on my mind state. … All I wanted to do was just be there. But I was also just worried about, “Am I using my time well” and that kind of thing.

That’s interesting, that you were attempting to capture that feeling of grappling with productivity in a wide open space.

It was literally just me alone in this place. No one said to me, “You have to get this much done by the end of this week. You have to read this much or draw this much.” I put that onto myself. … I definitely learned, if I have a similar opportunity again, I would be like, “OK, I’m just going to experience and see where this goes and be thoughtful about how I spend my time,” but I’m not going to, you know, have this weird set expectations for it.

Do you hope that people will gather that feeling from the characters in your pictures? Or see reflections of themselves?

I would hope so. I mean, I think there’s also kind of an element of humor to it because they’re just kind of weirdly standing there in the landscape, and I think that it’s kind of important to remember that—end of the day—we are just like animals, doing things and trying our best and relating to things.

Teal Francis’s animals mimic the ways humans interact in public—or, in the case, in an unfamiliar landscape. Photo: Teal Francis

What were the conditions like in Gerlach?

I stayed in a little cottage that I think someone who has connections to the nonprofit owns. … And then I camped another four nights while I was out there, all over the place. The nonprofit has a truck that they let the artist borrow. So I borrowed their truck to be able to go into the canyon and those back areas.

What was it like for so much time with so much solitude? Was it nerve-wracking ever?

Totally. Yeah, and I’m a pretty introverted person, and really like being by myself. I feel like I’ve been—especially with school and everything—I’ve been so overwhelmed for so long. I was so excited just to be somewhere, to be alone. But I think what I figured out … was having a routine was the best thing. If I could get out in the morning and hike for a bit or whatever, and then come back and draw or read for a while and then do something totally unrelated for a bit and, early evening, cook dinner and then maybe draw again or whatever. … That really helped.

It’s one thing to go out there and play, and it’s another to go out there with the intention to be productive.

That was something I don’t think I’ve ever had, and that was probably why I floundered with it, in the beginning especially. I’ve always gone out and hiked and backpacked and camped. That’s what I do. And then I come back and make stuff. They’ve always been separate. I’ve never been in this weird thing of balancing that with trying to make stuff.

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Posted by Luka Starmer

Luka moved to Reno from upstate New York in 2015, thinking he'd pass through for long enough to earn an MA in journalism, but Reno culture sunk its claws into him, and he's still here. He works in virtual reality research, makes videos, DJs at parties, and is good at pretty much everything.


  1. Where , in “Upstate new York” is Luka Starmer from?

  2. I’m from Cortland, New York — same town as Ronnie Dio. I love pizza. Anything else? 😉 haha

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