Breakups suck. They’re messy, stressful, and somehow I always lose a pair of Ray Bans in the process. I’m not good at it. I’m the kind of person who tries to hold on desperately far beyond the obvious point of no return. Suffice to say, I hate change.

The other night I found myself shuffling to my car in the freezing cold at 2 a.m. All I could taste was disappointment, and as I looked at the Playa Park, the smallish patch of land showcasing sculptures from Burning Man, all I could feel was a dull enthusiasm that verged on animosity—not necessarily at the sculptures themselves, but at what they signified, or at least what a lot of people think they signify: Reno art = Burning Man art.

“I have always grappled with the challenge of making slow, non-flashy work in the age of the commodifiable selfie and trend-worthy hashtag.”

Reno has had a resurgence in art and culture in last decade. Everywhere you look, you find the signs of a budding art community, such as a growing group of local businesses centered on craft and quality and countless murals syncopating the architectural landscape of downtown. And as an emerging artist who grew up in Reno, studied art in Reno, and has exhibited his work in Reno, you’d think I would feel at home and would feel as if my work could exist within the developing art scene. However, as I continue to refine my practice and continue to understand and define what matters to me in my work, I realize more and more that Reno just isn’t “the one.”

My work is often described as “subtle, cerebral, and esoteric.” My exhibitions are characterized by an obsessive (almost religious) use of white and refined, minimal forms that play with the limitations of representation and abstraction. I often cast hands and domestic objects—dust-masks, cups, buckets—to create manipulatable copies, or I destroy objects—chairs, satellite dishes, tables—directly in order to abstract their forms and imbue them with emotional and psychological agency.

A 2018 installation at Holland Project included construction materials and “walls” delineated by string. Photo courtesy Häsler Gómez

In my work I aim to be honest, yet not confessional nor direct. I’m not interested in impressing my viewer with my abilities as a maker, nor am I interested in entertaining them. My work can be uncomfortable, confrontational, and difficult to get into. And while I believe that the work has an ability to speak to anyone who is willing to give it time and thought, I have always grappled with the challenge of making slow, non-flashy work in the age of the commodifiable selfie and trend-worthy hashtag. I’m making work that is irrevocably Western and affected by colonization, yet is infused with the traditions and strategies used by Latin American artists for centuries, such as the use and distortion of language and the move from figuration toward abstraction. But my audience is almost completely white, and these ancestral layers are often lost or written off as esotericism.

In school I was the only Latino and the only immigrant in my BFA cohort.”
In school I was the only Latino and the only immigrant in my BFA cohort. I was often used in promotional materials. Look at the School of the Arts poster next to the music department practice rooms in Church of Fine Arts, and you’ll see my bright orange visage purporting diversity. My professors devoted countless hours in critiques and studio time, but they were not able to relate to or understand or even see the political and social undertones of my work, not because they didn’t want to, they just couldn’t. There was not one Latinx faculty member in the art department, and it wasn’t until I met Lauren Cardenas, the Black Rock Press Redfield Fellow, that I came to understand that it wasn’t me—it was Reno. Lauren was able to understand my obsessive use of white, my use of construction materials, and the importance of physical labor in my work far beyond their aesthetic signifiers and for their socio-political significance.

A floor piece containing artificial turf, whitened sneakers and a section of white picket fence was part of a 2018 installation at Holland Project. Photo courtesy Häsler Gómez

Even with these challenges, I’ve had the privilege of exhibiting my work steadily while in and out of school, but I’m at the point where I don’t have many more places to show. Holland Project is an amazing place to start. They are professional yet not intimidating and are always open to ideas and willing to help. I presented my first solo exhibition there, but you can only show there a certain amount of times before you’re not learning anything new. The Nevada Museum of Art is out of the question even for many established artist, let alone an emerging one. The themes/exhibitions they present attempt to classify vastly different practices under vague and overly broad umbrellas (Tilting the Basin: Contemporary Art of Nevada, 2017) and bring together exhibitions that are riddled with clichés that fail to educate their audience outside of stereotypes, such as the trope-heavy Miradas: Ancient Roots in Modern & Contemporary Mexican Art, works from the Bank of America Collection. Sometimes you get big, blue-chip names like Ai Weiwei or Andy Warhol, but they are presented outside of context and come off merely as institutional flexes.

Sierra Arts’ space is very compromising, and its setup favors specific, representational kinds of art. Stremmel Gallery is a no. And coffee shops are not the best places to exhibit conceptual installations and sculptures. The atmosphere here favors art that is immediate, usable, and non-confrontational. We want different things.

A lot of Reno art could be defined by the tropes of kitsch, representation, and assemblage as well as hipster cool and craft. Exhibitions curated by local artists such as Joan Arrizabalaga or the programing at Holland Project and Sierra Arts do a fantastic job at cultivating what has been a long tradition of making in Reno and shedding light on new trends. The art scene here, at its best, serves the community by giving the people an outlet and access to the arts. At its worst, it is so insular that not even the people in the know actually know what is going on behind the obscure philosophical references.

I’ve been out of school now for close to two years, and this year marks the first time my work will be exhibited outside of Nevada in group exhibitions in Dallas, Portland, and Boston. It feels like dating. I’m nervous and excited and also wary of how expensive it’s going to be. This is also the year that I am applying to grad school. It all feels like a game of Tinder, full of self-doubt and pep talks from my family and friends, reassuring me that I’m great, that I’ll get in, and that I shouldn’t have a vasectomy even though my insurance covers it. I’ve researched for months and cut down my list to a couple of schools. As of this writing, I have swiped right, and now I have to wait to see if this will be my year. If not, I’ll edit my letters of intent and portfolios again and again, I’ll redo my bio and go for the funny angle, the arrogant angle, the self-deprecating angle, and the I’m-a-diversity-pick-for-sure angle until I find the place where I know my work can truly thrive. And if all else fails, never underestimate the power of a well-lit, low-resolution selfie.

I love you, Reno, and you will always be home, but in my mind I’ve already broken up with you. I’ve got a date with Dallas in March. So, #Sorry_Not_Sorry, and in the spirit of Ariana Grande, “Thank u next.”

Häsler Gómez at Holland Project in 2018. Photo: Kris Vagner

Posted by Häsler R. Gómez

Häsler R. Gómez is a sculptor and poet who deals with issues of personal, political and social desire. He creates narratives that serve as alternatives to the canonized representations of the oppressed. Häsler was born in Guatemala City, Guatemala in 1993 and holds degrees in studio art and psychology from the University of Nevada, Reno.