The Life Of A 'Starving Artist' In Nevada

Aug 1, 2019

Reno is home to many artists, some who paint, some who draw, and even those who perform on the streets to try and earn some extra cash, or in hopes of making a living. Hannah Mills, a reporter for Reno Youth Radio, met with painter Erik Holland at his apartment in the Riverside Artist Lofts. She hoped to learn a little bit more about the life of an artist in her hometown.

Here in The Biggest Little City In The World, there is a building tucked in the depths of downtown called the Riverside Artist Lofts. Overlooking the Truckee river, this former hotel for divorcees now has a different function. It houses many low-income artists, or what some may call “starving artists.” Erik Holland has been a resident in these lofts since 2000. I wanted to know what inspired him to become an artist in the first place.

I was about nine, I lived in Chicago, and I was fascinated by the inner city, so I begged my dad to take me on drives down this street called Stony Island Avenue. I would look at it, and I would draw it. That’s how I started, drawing Chicago buildings on the stoops of this bungalow in suburban Chicago, Dolton, at nine.

So, what is it like to paint in Nevada?

It’s amazingly awesome. I’ve driven to some of my favorite places to paint and just jumped up and down like a little kid all by myself with the wild horses. And then I just start painting. This state is incredibly beautiful.

When did you start making money off of your art?

The very first paintings I sold were in my teens to a couple friends of my mother's, but I started really making money [from my] art in my early 30's.

How did you get to where you are now?

Persistence. I just won’t give up. And a couple lucky breaks. One of my lucky breaks was meeting a man who talked me into waiting in a line at Sierra Arts to get a loft in this building, and being able to have this loft has been huge. I don’t have to worry about crazy rent increases or anything like that. If you’re not going to be a homeowner, this is the best situation you could possibly have.

Do you have any interesting stories about selling your art?

I would say that a true turning point for me was the day I was standing in front of the ACT Theater in San Francisco and [I was] painting a picture of the theater. And a large woman came out of the theater and said, "Oh, I like that. I’d like to buy it. But I can’t do it right now. But I’ll come back out and I’ll write you a check after I’m done, ‘cause I’m performing right now." I said, "Okay. That’s great." And she said, “My name is Rosemary Clooney.” I said, "Oh, that’s great. My name’s Erik Holland." But I didn’t know who Rosemary Clooney was.

Anyway, she came back out, and she said, "Would you be comfortable coming up to the hotel room, and I will write you a check?" So I go up to the hotel room and I’m like, "Man, this is nice up here. There’s, like, a lot of people sitting around and they all looked really interesting, like they’re in show business." So I was catching on that she was some kind of performer. And so, I collected my money, I took off, and I think I was meeting a friend for dinner. I said, "Gosh, I had a great day. I sold a painting to a performer named Rosemary Clooney." And [they said], "What?!" [and] I was like, "Oh...is she a big deal?" because I’m not very media-centric. So that’s one interesting story; there’s been a number of fun ways in which I’ve sold art.

That’s an amazing story; thank you for sharing that. So, I have one more question for you. What happens when you get discouraged?

My mother was fairly encouraging, but then, you know, she’s like, “You gotta pay bills!” Well, what I wish I had the gumption to say at that time, but I would say loudly to anyone that would say that to me now is, “Yeah, but I gotta paint!”

I like how you said that, Erik. I’m going to be graduating next year, and I want to paint, too, but I’m also worried about paying bills. I think what you said could really help inspire other artists to do what they love to do. Thank you for your time.

Reno Youth Radio is a program offered through KUNR and Washoe County School District to elevate the voices of local high school students.