words by Dave Sims
The Denton music scene goes through fluid but distinct phases over the years, and to me Nevada Hill's art evokes the essence of a very specific era. The memories of the music, the people, the sounds and feel of the Denton community of the late oughts are inseparable in my mind from Nevada's work. Like the music it has bravery, ugliness, beauty. A hard inner logic. Uncompromising and jarring, raw but organized. Chaos & flow. Never completely abstract, with intricacy and detail always pulling my eye closer, to look for a deeper theme. The demanding images want truth, and aren't afraid of what they might find.
It's a record of someone who stared hard, past skin-deep artifice to the reality of viscera and veins, death and defecation. It's like Nevada had spiritual X-Ray vision. It was down in the guts of things where he did his hardest work, wrestling with a writhing mass of almost gothic horror until he'd wrangled what meaning he could out of it: intestines turned into roots, growing, maybe strangling; an exposed heart like a map of the world, arterial paths that wind and wrap and return. A necktie of people, climbing up into a chokehold. Lumpy, malignant folds threatening to overtake the frame.
Nevada's posts about the disease that took his life astonished but never surprised me. He exposed his dying self to us like his art exposed the world. Pictures of tumors protruding from his body seemed natural coming from him. When he described his pain and suffering he was cool and predictably distant. He never asked for sympathy but seemed grateful to receive it. A frank account of a ruptured colostomy bag was just a continuation of his discoveries. His art never hid weakness or humiliation, why would he start now?
One of his last images, drawn with little more than two weeks left to live, wasn't grotesque or jarring, but rather simple and affecting. A small figure with what looks like an outstretched arm and anxious, uplifted eyes sits atop roiling waves about to overwhelm and consume. It's as if Nevada created courage by staring at the hardest, most terrifying things and revealing them. The world, his tumors, his own fear.
I only really knew Nevada through his art. We spoke infrequently, and not long after we were introduced he moved out of Denton. He gave me a long interview once that was one of the most illuminating conversations I've ever had with anyone about the local music community, but at a 400 word limit a lot was left out. What struck me about him, and what's always struck me about so many of the artists I've been ridiculously fortunate to know in this town, was his integrity and his drive to create, to do hard work. It gave him joy to be nakedly honest. That last, frail figure was drawn with donated supplies at the hospital. In the midst of all he was going through, he wrestled a little more meaning out of the chaos. "I received some very nice brush pens and paper this morning," he wrote. "It made me so happy."