I’ll never forget the first time I walked into DePaul Vera’s studio, one, because of how many dicks lined the walls, but two because of his infectious energy that electrified the room whenever he spoke about his work. Hailing from a small town in Kentucky (Cadiz), Vera felt unable to make the work that he longed to create while studying at Murray State University; so when he moved to Reno to attend the University of Nevada, Reno’s Master of Fine Arts program, he went a little (dick) crazy. Fast-forward three years; Vera now presents “MY SOUL TO KEEP,” a representation of his growth as an artist and the culmination of his three years of study.
“MY SOUL TO KEEP” avoids simple classification; equal parts archive, collage, and interactive installation, the exhibition is made up of personal ephemera, collected images, digitally rendered collages, works on paper, flags, and a loose recreation of the artist’s childhood bedroom including a bed, porn, and a Nintendo 64 which the viewer is invited to play. Play actually seems to be the ethos of the exhibition; the looseness and lack of slick, defined lines give the exhibition an air of innocence that is immediately put on edge by explicit nudity, “vulgar” phrases, and highly charged political imagery. In many ways, “MY SOUL TO KEEP” functions like a personal Tumblr, a scrapbook, an I Spy book, or even the walls of a teenager’s bedroom.
The layering of images and texts—in any section you may be asked to make sense of memes, images of the KKK, gay porn, and Lindsay Lohan crying next to a burrito—is what makes “MY SOUL TO KEEP” so complex and compelling. Rather than reducing his existence to the prescribed stereotypes that often define and dictate queerness, Vera presents every aspect of what it means/could mean to be gay, black, American, and male in any and all combinations.
It’s not often that an artist presents something with such honesty. “MY SOUL TO KEEP” avoids the gimmicky pitfalls of contemporary (queer) art and speaks with sincerity. I don’t have enough space to fully capture the depth of Vera’s oeuvre, you just have to go see it, experience it, and then go back multiple times, you might cry, you might have a panic attack, or you might laugh a little bit too much.
If you go:
What: “My Soul to Keep,” DePaul Vera’s MFA Thesis Exhibition
When: The exhibit runs April 16 – 26. The reception will be April 19, from 5 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Where: Student Galleries South, in the Jot Travis Building, University of Nevada, Reno
By Häsler R. Gómez