Artist Profile: Ahren Hertel

It’s finally here: the last semester in my undergrad program! (Applause Now)

It’s true, I’m finally growing up, developing my self as a person, and moving my life in the direction I want it to go. I’ve worked very hard on this long road, and once I finally got to my last semester things seemed a bit surreal. Finally I was done with the majority of necessary classes–only needing two to graduate–and found myself with two spots open to take whichever classes my heart desired; that’s right, the world was my oyster. After much soul searching (okay really it came down to which classes were still available), I decided to follow through with my interest in art, and take a painting class.

I’ll be honest, I had hesitation at first (the class goes from 5:30 at night to 8:15 twice a week, yeah), but I could not be happier with my choice to suck-it-up and follow through. Of course there is the obvious fact that I get to paint for credit, but I also lucked out and got a really cool professor, who just happens to be a great artist as well.

Ahren Hertel is an art professor at UNR (kind of a mix between Michelangelo and Socrates in teaching methodology) as well as a fantastic local artist, who’s work to me has a modern feel, with a style that mixes both realism and abstractism subtly and successfully. His paintings are a mix-up of people, animals, and his local environment, all portrayed in interesting scenarios and situations. His choice medium is oil on canvas. This last week after a class that consisted of constructing canvases, I was able to sit down with him and really find out who he is, once his teaching hat comes off at the end of the day.

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My favorite (I have a slight polar bear obsession).

Lets start with the first question, why painting?
I started out really being interested in drawing, I was always interested in the representational. For a long time I was scared of color until I finally got into painting. There’s a rich history in painting, and I’m attracted to the paint itself. I actually think paint is kind of sexy, it’s really fluid. It sexy in a sense that you can get lush surfaces, and rich images– working with it it’s, I don’t know very personal and involved. Most of my favorite artists have always been painters. Starting with a flat surface and creating this allusion that someone can believe; you’ve created a narrative. It starts as a blank something and you are able to create something by just wiping colors onto something, it’s pretty cool.

Do you have schooling, or are you self-taught?
I think everything is a little of both. Got my BFA in illustration in 2002 from the Savana College of Art Design in Savana, and my MFA from UNR in 2009 in painting. I think that essentially all artists are self-taught in one way or another. School provides instruction, but I always felt it provided problems. School presents you with problems that you need to solve, in materials that you’ve never used before and then you get instruction on those materials. I think ultimately we are all left on our own to just do something, and the schooling is just a reassurance when it’s right.

Where do you find your inspiration?
That’s a tricky one. Lately I’ve been working on a series that has sort of more of an environmental theme to it. I think there’s this topic of conversation that’s out there in the world right now. As an artist I want to engage it, I think it’s an interesting topic and this is my way of engaging in the topic. For me, painting something I’m interested in is my way of starting a conversation.

Have a favorite artist?
I have a lot of artists that I really look up to, and there’s been a bunch that have been influential, especially Northern Renaissance artists, but to say that one is my favorite is to say that I think they are better than everyone else, and I just don’t think that way.

Dream job?
I think any artists dream job would just be to live off of their work, but I really enjoy teaching. I almost view them as one in the same, I kind of think that teaching is a big part of me. To me now in my mind they kind of go hand-in-hand.

What do you aim to do with your painting, other than making money?
I think, continue. I don’t know, cause I can’t really think of a particular thing I would like to do, or a particular–I mean I just want to do it, and keep doing it. Being an artist you put your work and ideas out into the community, and you can put your work and opinions out there and have a message with it, and it can sway people’s minds without directly telling them to change. Again it’s putting your work out and engaging in a conversation. I try to answer things, at least for myself in my work, but beyond that I don’t know what I want it to do. It seems cocky almost to want it to do something.

Best experience painting?
I think the best thing is when you’ve been struggling with something, and you finally figure out how to do it.

Worst experience?
Struggling with something and not figuring it out. I think because you have to make time for painting, it’s always enjoyable. Even if its frustrating, it’s still a hell of a lot better than something else. I think if it’s frustrating, either destroy it, or walk away and give it some space. I’m not a person to walk away from it, so I’ll beat my head over it until I figure it out.

What do you find most rewarding about it?
It almost becomes one of those things that you just do. Painting becomes rewarding, in and of itself, and I think it’s always rewarding in different ways. It’s rewarding when an artist you look up to tells you they like your painting, or a gallery invites you to bring your work in, but again these are fleeting, so you keep working. Looking back at how long I’ve been doing this, it’s rewarding to see that effort pays off, that I’ve gotten better.

What do you find most difficult?
Navigating the art world is difficult. It’s this weird sort of thing where, in a way you’ve always been taught or told or built into yourself ‘don’t try to fit in,’ but then you almost have to try and fit in. You have to find a gallery or something where you fit in. Pricing your work is really hard too.

How would you describe your style?
If you follow the things that you’re interested in, textually, esthetically, your style kind of comes out of that. I’m not really trying to do anything. I’m trying to create paintings that are realistic, but also sort of romanticized in a way. I think style is kind of a biprodict of just not thinking about style.

Do you think your painting could change the world?
No. Maybe but it’s out of my hands.

Do you want it to?
Well, maybe change a couple people. I think it’s sort of your desire to want to be important, but to say that you’re important, or that you want to be, is difficult.

What other kinds of things do you do?
Not much anymore, really. I have an old motorcycle that I like to ride when it runs, that I’d like to sell more paintings to make it run. I like to hang out with the wife. I’m kind of looking for something new. After grad school, I started remembering that I used to do stuff other than art. It’s important to try to reconnect with things. I really like cooking with my wife, it’s really fun. I like doing things with my hands: gardening, cooking, working on my motorcycle.

You’ve lived in Reno for awhile, what are the ups and downs, artistically and otherwise?
I think it’s always had its own identity–even though its losing it a bit–but Reno, and Northern Nevada, and the West have their own identity, and I like being an artist in those identities, and using them in my work. I like our enviroment. You can always show your art elsewhere, but Reno has always been supportive to me as an artist. If you use your region in your art, people here can be attracted to your work because its familiar, but if you go elsewhere people are attracted to it because its different. I think it’s important to engage in that. I think Reno is kind of growing ad an art community, and it always has been, but I can’t even think of a flourishing art community elsewhere. I think most of the time when people say that they wish Reno had a bigger art community, they just mean bringing in artists from elsewhere.

Are you methodical and by the books, or impulsive and random?
I think that I’ve created methods that I like. I’ll alter those, but I like having kind of a game plan. I actually do think of painting as a long series of choices.

Ahren is really a really funny guy, so I had a great time talking with him and exploring the way that he sees the art world.

Ahren Hertel has a website that he can be reached at, which is also a great place to just check out his work. I recommend exploring his portfolio, and–if the chance ever arises–taking a class with him, because he is a blast to work with, but also just good at doing what he does–painting and teaching.

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From the heART: getting to know me

Is blogging about yourself anything like laughing at your own jokes?

I’m one of those people who, when I come to a stop sign at the same time as another person, always waves the other person through and waits stubbornly until they obey. You could say this makes me a giver, or you could say this makes me a pushover–either way the point is that I tend to bend for others.

This morning though, when I came to a stop sign, something told me to just go. I didn’t wait, didn’t hesitate, think and second-guess–just went. Now this may not seem like a very big deal, but for me this sense of inner-strength was liberating. It wasn’t an epic realization by any means–no light-bulb epiphany–but it reminded me that sometimes what’s most important is simply doing me. Which is precisely what this is all about right now: me.

I’m not entirely sure what the accepted definition of artist is today (someone who draws? Does photography? Makes less than enough money to eat and survives solely on paint-fumes and dreams?), but regardless of the technicalities, one thing I know for sure is that I love art. I love the inspirational, warm fuzzies I get inside when looking at it; I love the texture of the canvas, the weight of the brush in my hand; I love the rewarding feeling I get when looking at a completed piece. The truth, though, is that other than a few dabbles in self-endeavors and a previous drawing class, the painting class I’m currently in constitutes as my artistic experience. To me none of this matters though, because what I have is a deep respect and appreciation for the idea of starting with nothing but raw materials, manipulating them–experiencing them–trying (making mistakes, destroying, crying), trying again, and finally coming out with a finished product that reflects a thought in your head, or a feeling in your heart–It’s like you are God. 

Truly though, I just really like releasing myself creatively, and benefiting from its cathartic effects. So I’m putting myself out there, and showing you my first finished project of the semester. I leave out finished because–as one very wise artist once told me–a piece is never really ever done.

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Here’s my painting up in the hallway in Church Fine Arts at UNR. Let’s start with the obvious: I love Christopher Walken. Can you say celebrity crush? This was my first attempt at acrylic paint, and the canvas is self-made (that last bit can be read in a tone of slightly smug). The assignment was to practice blocking and layers, rather than blending, but I really liked the abstract effect, so I was glad with that.

bloggThe Walken head on: *swoon* As I said, the piece is almost finished, and after a few adjustments to the eyes, I will be entirely satisfied–that’s hard to say too, because when it comes to my character, self-critical would be one of the first words I used in describing me. My favorite thing about the project was how much of a learning process this was–not only artistically, but internally as well. It challenged me to push outside of my comfort zone, try something new, take risks (cry when those risks turned out totally wrong), practice patience, and accept that at the end of it all, I’m capable of a lot more than I give myself credit for. That’s what this post is about though: to show you that I am credible, and that I too am willing to put myself out there, with the hope that people appreciate what I do as much as I appreciate the work I review as well. 

“Welcome To The Jungle”

“College” and “coffee;” I have it on good authority that soon these words will officially be considered one-in-the-same. At least for me, pulling 4 a.m. study nights rushing to class at 9:30 the next day, coffee is sort of a ritual. I am by no means what I would consider a coffee snob, and do not place myself above a watered-down cup from a nameless diner, or a slightly burnt one from the gas station near my house; for the nocturnals, anything with caffeine basically qualifies.

Every once in a while though, when I feel like a real treat, I’ll take myself somewhere nice and indulge. Generally this constitutes something as simple as an Americano from Starbucks, but sometimes I actually venture out and get creative, and find myself somewhere like the heart of the jungle!: the Java Jungle, that is.

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Most locals know Java Jungle for its eclectic crowd, Open Mic Night, and gourmet menu of homemade food and drinks, many made with locally bought ingredients. Personally I’ve always though of Java Jungle and its engagement to the arts. It is a place for artists to hangout, yes, and in that sense it encourages creativity, but that seems to be somewhat of a coffeehouse standard. What’s great about Java Jungle to me is the fact that on top of promoting local artists, the building itself is a work of art.

jungle2Just walking up outside you can already see this place is literally covered in art. The mural that blankets the building shows a half-nature, half-industrial scene–likely just a simple inspired idea, but I like to interpret it as a reflection on the marriage between the natural world and that of our own. There’s a fluid structure that challenges the general dichotomy of the two, almost implying a sense of codependency or intense sense of war; either that or someone just thought it looked cool, I tend to be over-fanciful.

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Inside looks like a, well, like a jungle, but it’s charming and great. The mosaic floor creates a pseudo-red-carpet path leading to the counter, which is covered in random fliers about local art shows, and bands, and the next Drag-party put on by ladies with names like Ambrosia Salad. 

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Trees; fitting in a jungle scene. The walls are covered in art, each piece different, each done by a different unknown artist (although apparently this street-artist is now somewhat big in LA).

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There is no distinguished theme, but it makes the place fluid, sort of avant garde; it’s a promotion of the creative, an encouragement of the imagination. Being surrounded by art, listening to and talking with artists, inspires a desire for creative action. After being in the Jungle for five minutes, I was ready to run home, grab my paintbrush and canvas, and slap together some artsy self-portrait or general nude–seriously though, it makes you want to get out and do something. 

There is a small gallery of sorts on the left wall, where small, no-name (not yet, at least) local artists are given a chance to sell and display their works. Each month is a new show, changing every first Thursday, with the artists just coming in a submitting since there’s no formal director. It’s not that simple for an artist though; there are a lot of people looking for the chance–so many in fact that generally they are booked out for a year in advanced. Right now it’s only a few months–(maybe you do have a chance!)

Right now and until April 4, artist Nicole Oshan has a few acrylic paintings up.

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Most of her pieces have sold, which goes to show that Java Jungle is an awesome place for exposure and artistic success.

Matt Buccambuso, who has worked at Java Jungle for roughly two years, talks about what goes into picking work for the wall. “It’s usually amateur, never big name artists, which I think is cool.”

Even during Art Town, which Java Jungle is a part of every year, the idea of local art is the main theme. Last year, every single empty space on the wall was covered by local tattoo artists’ work, and this year, the workers themselves will be contributing, since many of them are artists as well (no big surprise there though).

I like the funky-style, the fun people, and overall creative air that makes up the well-known Jungle place on the river in downtown Reno.

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All of the photos in this post are done by Russell Eck of Recked Photography. He can be accessed for sale and inquiry here (support local artists!):

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Artist Profile: REcked in Reno

Russell Eck

Local photographer on the rise in Reno, Nevada. Find him:

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In order to give back to the community, I figure I can start by getting to know it. Each member offers himself up as a piece to a larger puzzle, but in order to truly appreciate the big picture, one needs to focus in. Right now, I am going to zoom in on an up-and-coming local artist, born and bred, who is taking artistic standards and giving them a much needed modern spin.

Russell Eck is a photographer, specializing in long exposure, infrared, night, and landscape photography. He received a BS in Biology from UNR. He writes for and plays in a local post-hardcore band called A Place Before The Pines, and runs his own music recording studio, called 8 Bit Recording Studio.

Other than the fact that Russell Eck comes across as a busy Superman with a photo-hobby, he gave wonderfully down-to-earth and refreshing answers during my interview with him. A great person with great insight on what it’s like struggling to stay afloat in the river of amateur artists out there.

Lets start with the first question, why photography? What sparked your interest?

I just took it as a spur of the moment thing for school, and then decided that I wanted to do it on my own for the creative aspect of it. I took a class as an elective, and then decided, screw it, and did the rest on my own.

 Do you have schooling, or are you self-taught?

I took one photo class while in my undergrad, then went back and took another after I graduated. Other than that, I’m basically self-taught.

Where do you find your inspiration?

Walking around. I just like to walk. When I want to do photography, I just choose a spot and go out and walk. I rarely go out with a goal in mind.

Have a favorite artist?

Jerry Uelsmann. His style reminds me of my own when I choose to do surreal photography.

Dream job?

Travel photographer, with my significant other. She would do the writing, I would take the pictures–it would be a team thing.

What do you aim to do with your photography, other than of course making money?

I just want people to appreciate it like I do.

Best experience doing photography?

I was doing a night time photo out at Lake Britton dam with my girlfriend and best friend after a long day of wake boarding. We went hiking at night to see the dam. My friend Jake almost stepped on a rattle snake; it was almost surreal just sitting under the stars listening to the incessantly loud dam. Doing night photography is like being in a whole different world; people are never outside, wandering about.

Worst experience?

Down by the Truckee River. I had a shady man approach me, and I had to fend him off because I was worried about him stealing my equipment, or mugging me. That’s what happens when you do night time photography, it’s not exactly safe.

 What do you find most rewarding about it?

I personally do it different than most people. I enjoy the meticulous process of sculpting my photos how I want them, and perfecting the things that 95% of people wouldn’t notice. With night photography, just being outside at night when you’re alone is interesting; you become hyper-aware of everything. I enjoy the guessing game of taking a 10 minute photo, and waiting another 10 minutes for it to process to find out that it was everything and more than I thought it would be. It reveals a completely different world than the human eye can see, especially at night.

 What do you find most difficult?

I don’t find the process of photography or editing difficult. Sometimes it’s hard to have people see my work and therefore care about it. Everything is so saturated now with the internet… It’s hard to be recognized with all the bullshit out there.

 You’ve sort of created your own unique style, why shy away from the typical artsy nudes and light painting niche?

It just doesn’t interest me. I don’t like posing people, or objects, just what I already see.

Do you think your photography could change the world?

Not now. Perhaps in the future when the world changes. I try to capture the way it is in interesting ways.

Do you want it to?

I want people to appreciate it like I do. If I had the chance to effect someone in a positive way, that would be great.

 What other kinds of things do you do?

I write and play music for a local post-hardcore band, called A Place Before The Pines.

I ride bikes, play video games, record bands and music in the recording studio, 8 Bit Recording Studio.

 You’ve lived in Reno you’re whole life, what are the ups and downs, artistically and otherwise?

So far I haven’t really seen any ups on the artistic side. I feel like people don’t appreciate art here–in music or photography. It’s a stifling environment where everyone thinks they are better than each other, even if they aren’t an artist. That’s why I am moving to Seattle.

 Are you methodical and by the books, or impulsive and random?

My subject is impulsive and random. My technique and editing are insanely technical. I hate all of the cheesy effects that people use as a crutch for their photography, but I do understand that it has a place–very seldom. I like to represent the scene as accurately as I can, to make the viewer feel like they were there.

 What’s your favorite piece of yours?

This may sound kind of douchy, but I like all of my work. I put a lot into it, I don’t just snap shoot.

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Know any good jokes?

Knock knock?

Who’s there?

Smell mop.

Smell mop who?

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Why Art Reno Today?

I pose this question to you because, a few years ago when I moved from Virginia City to Reno, I asked myself the same thing. When it came to a town fueled by gambling, alcohol, and people who’s personalities change like the weather, could a thriving art culture exist?

The question stewed at the back of my mind, coming to the surface when I came across one of the Art Town pieces scattered across town, as I wandered into coffee shops and browsed works of local artists, and inevitably as my eyes scanned the sun-soaked installations, resembling my sun-baked skin at the Annual Burning Man Festival. 

I’ve taken art classes, wandered through the museums and galleries, and networked with a few local artists in search of art in Reno. What I’ve found is pleasantly surprising; Reno not only has an art culture, but it has a thriving one–a community that has become one in its own, both taking definition from its surroundings, and influencing them. In fact, before we know it, Reno may reject its identity as a depressed black hole–void of light and color–and adopt a reputation anew, one that more accurately captures the imagination and ambition of the local crowd.

There seems to be a unique sense of creativity that comes from the isolated area; is it the water? The lack of further outlets for energy and idea? Or is it just that people in Reno recognize the need for beauty in expression for their savior, so they are willing to put in the added effort? Whatever the reason, Reno is a hidden gem of art and culture–a diamond in the rough–waiting to be dug up, polished, and put on display in the windows of the minds of the people of the world.

Here at Art Reno Today, I intend to display for everyone just how great Reno is. I want to take the reader behind the scenes and into the minds of local artists, explore the exhibits scattered around town, and dabble myself into the realm of local art. Each week will be a new interview, exhibit review, or DIY project centered on the city of Reno. 

I know how special Reno is, now it’s time for you!