s a professor of digital art at the University of Nevada, Reno, Chris Lanier realized he needed to walk the talk. About a decade ago, after having numerous students refer him to photos they’d seen on Instagram, Lanier realized he may have been giving the social media channel short shrift.

With a Bachelor of Arts in art and society from the New College of California in San Francisco and a Master of Fine Arts in studio art from UC Davis, Lanier had formal training in drawing, painting, photography, video production, web design, and even animation. His professional experience included advertising design at major Bay Area firm J. Walter Thompson and teaching posts in California and Nevada. His work had even been screened at the Sundance Film Festival, earned him exhibitions and accolades at many international festivals and writing gigs (including for Double Scoop). But at that time, he had yet to fully grasp Instagram as an artistic medium.


“It just became kind of interesting to me, as a photographic space,” he recalls. “I sort of made a pact with myself, or an assignment to myself, that every day, I was going to post a thing, a picture of something I saw that day, and see what I could see, in an everyday way, that rises to the level of being an image.”


It’s an amorphous term that he essentially boils down to “a visualization of something that is encoded with meaning in some way, that usually takes more time to unpack and describe than it takes to see,” he explains. In other words, a picture that speaks 1,000 words. 


He concedes not all of it was profound, and some was even jokey. But it blossomed into a body of work that helped him earn an appointment as Reno City Artist for 2024 and comprises his own solo show, opening March 28 at the City Hall Metro Gallery, called Backyard Radiance.

Through a New Lens

Although he’s always liked taking pictures, Lanier says he’s never framed himself as a photographer. Yet what evolved from the student-inspired Instagram project was a sort of self-portrait of Reno—one that might be worth formally presenting to city officials.

Though he’d heard of the City Artist opportunity through the grapevine, it was an interview with last year’s artist, Rossitza Todorova, that helped him understand what the role entailed and piqued his interest in applying. 

The role of Reno City Artist is a yearlong appointment, for January through December, for a visual artist. The artist, who receives a small stipend, presents a solo exhibition in the Metro Gallery and public talks, plus curates an exhibition of other artists’ work. 

Lanier’s application detailed his vision for a solo exhibition called Backyard Radiance that would showcase his artistic investigation through Instagram: 

“The photos will be drawn from a photographic practice that, to date, has only been shown in the digital realm—a Metro Gallery exhibition would allow me to bring it into the ‘real world,’ as printed photographs that an audience can encounter as physical objects, rather than as transient pixels displayed on a screen.”


The exhibition, running March 28 through May 17 (with an artist reception on April 2), will feature Instagram images taken with his iPhone that capture moments of his everyday existence—running errands, commuting to work, or looking into his own backyard. 

They include a collection called #config, short for configuration, in which the natural world is juxtaposed with the manmade—seen through the bars of a shopping cart, for example, or street signage seemingly at odds with its natural surroundings. A subset of #config is comprised of Lanier’s takes on the Instagram selfie; the photos capture distorted, almost macabre iterations of his own portrait, as reflected in broken mirrors, shadows, dirty puddles, or convenience store cameras. 


The centerpiece of Backyard Radiance is an 18-minute video titled “In the Wind Her Nest Was Like a Ship at Sea,” starring a scrub jay nest discovered in a rosebush in Lanier’s backyard. Against a classical score by Beethoven and Schubert, high drama unfolds, from the expectant mother’s active bustling in the nest to the loss of a baby, environmental perils and fledglings flying away into adulthood. It’s breathtaking, foreboding, heartrending, and, ultimately, triumphant. 

His curated show, titled Slow Draw, is scheduled for Sept. 30-Nov. 22 at the Metro Gallery and will feature works by Reno-based artists Otis Boat, Kelly Chorpening and Jessica Hayworth. A play on the Wild West idea of a “quick draw,” the show is Lanier’s way of intentionally slowing down the artmaking process.


“There really is a value in slowness. We live in a very accelerated culture that wants to have people be as ‘productive’ as they can, and there are some ways where being quick is actually in opposition to the value of living and producing things,” he explains, adding that he has incorporated some play with and discussion about artificial intelligence and its ethical challenges into his classes. “With AI, you can literally have an image in seconds, but what that does is snip out the pleasure that you take in producing the image. … But there’s a pleasure in being absorbed in the process of making a thing. This show is built on the concept that taking your time actually has value.”

He’s living proof of this idea, having culled his solo exhibition from a decade-long project in a field he’s never considered a professional aspiration. He realizes just how fortunate that makes him. 

“I’d just like to share my gratitude that the city makes space for this role,” he says. “It’s great that there’s a culture embedded in our municipal institutions that welcomes that. It’s great to be acknowledged this way.”

Chris Lanier’s solo exhibition Backyard Radiance will be on view in the Metro Gallery in Reno City Hall March 28-May 17, with a reception on Tuesday, April 2, from 5-7 pm.

The exhibition Slow Draw—which will be curated by Lanier and feature Reno-based artists Otis Boat, Kelly Chorpening and Jessica Hayworth—is scheduled for Sept. 30-Nov. 22 at the Metro Gallery.

Photos courtesy of Chris Lanier

You can see more of Chris’s work on his website, and @chrislanier on Instagram, and you can view and download Chris’s long-form comic, An Anatomy of Institutional Racism, here.

His recent articles for Double Scoop include “Rituals and icons,” a writeup on Ruby Barrientos exhibition Raíces (Roots), “Contemporary Basque” on Spanish artist Liere Urbeltz’s downtown Reno mural, and “Fertile ground,” a profile on Tahoe painter Julia Schwadron Marianelli.

Posted by Jessica Santina

Jessica Santina is a freelance writer and editor who has been covering the arts and culture scene in the Reno area for nearly two decades. See more of her work at www.jessicasantina.com.