Students Show Art in the Community

tmcc student-artist chris thigpen
Rebecca A. Eckland

Chris Thigpen remembers his father telling him “he had beautiful hands”--hands, in other words, that were capable of creating meaningful art. As an immigrant from the Philippines, however, Thigpen didn’t pursue art as a profession at first. Yet, when studying medicine was less than satisfying, he returned to his lifelong passion. ”Even when I was in the military, I was doing art installations, group shows, and trying to further my education,” he said. A professional photographer, Thigpen will graduate with his Associate of Arts degree from TMCC this semester and hopes to pursue a BFA at UNR in the future. 

Starting Sunday, Dec 5. at Ace Studios, Thigpen will exhibit the result of his education, experience, and artistic vision in a show entitled “I am Fem” that combines his skills as a photographer with an exploration into identity, gender, and expression through a series of portraits that examine the stories—and painful history—of drag. 

“Concept-wise, I was inspired by the pain and struggle that is a part of drag history,” Thigpen said, explaining that drag culture is, in many ways at the forefront of evolving ideas around identity, gender, and its accompanying politics. For Thigpen, a question emerged: what is feminine power, and what does that mean for him? Can men also embrace femininity as a strength? 

“Drag is that in-between form that really addresses stereotypical gender and really forces people to question what we’ve always just accepted as static definitions of masculinity and femininity,” he said. 

Each piece in “I am Fem” is a multidimensional portrait that is composed of the model’s “bare look”, as Thigpen describes as: “What they have to be.” This is contrasted with the model dressed in drag, or “how they want to look” and a final shot that is “deconstructed” when the model’s emotions are visually captured by the camera. 

“I had to dig deep originally to come up with the concept for this exhibition,” Thigpen said. “Drag is something that is perceived as taboo, but is also a form of empowerment, and I want people to walk away from this show thinking about what masculinity really means. In the end, I want people to challenge themselves, to see what lies behind these portraits.” Or, as one of Thigpen’s models said during the combined interview and photoshoot: “They took my power from me, and I’ll never let them take my power again.”

Inspiring, beautiful, and touching, Thigpen’s exhibition is one of several by TMCC students hosted in the community this winter as the final result of a semester-long journey into the professional world of art.

Art Into the World

This semester, twelve students in Art Instructor Rossitza Todorova’s Portfolio Emphasis class are showing their work in the community. The class, which teaches art students the business side of being an artist, requires not only the creation of a portfolio and marketing materials but the culmination of every creative artist: showing your work in public spaces and allowing it to have a life of its own.  

The work itself ranges the gamut of media and subject matter. “The students’ artworks cover everything, from black and white photography which will be on display at the Depot Gallery in Sparks, to another student who is working with the SPCA to create portraits of cats and dogs, and who will be showing her work at the SPCA thrift store as a way of encouraging customers to adopt a pet,” Todorova explained. 

Throughout the Fall Semester, students work on creating a cohesive exhibition, artist statement, bio, and marketing materials that are then used to secure an exhibition venue out in the community. While exhibiting in traditional gallery spaces is always an option, Todorova also encourages students to seek out spaces that can complement the work itself. 

This semester, Tiana Keeler is also exhibiting her work, collectively titled “Embers of Consequence” at Reno Fire Station 11. “My current series of paintings and photographs focus on the current and future impacts of wildfires,” wrote artist Tiana Keeler in her artist statement. Keeler, who grew up with parents who were both fire professionals, has long understood the danger and consequences of wildfire, but never thought that a fire would impact her directly. However, in 2015 the Butte Fire would destroy the family home. 

“In this series, I want to shine a light on the pain that so many of us have experienced. [...] What was a once-in-a-lifetime traumatic experience has become a yearly event in Northern Nevada… It is an inevitable future if we don’t make drastic changes in society, and want see that,” she wrote, explaining that the goal of her work is to “capture the emotions that engulf us just like wildfire.” 

As Keeler and Thigpen demonstrate, art may come from personal experiences, but then becomes a public statement about something much larger than the artist him or herself--and that leaves a lasting change. “As an immigrant from the Philippines and growing up as a person of color, doing this work made me feel like I wasn’t alone,” Thigpen said. “The beautiful souls I photographed shared their stories with me...and I feel like they left a little piece of them with me.” 

Visit and Support TMCC Student-Artists

These exhibitions in the community began on Nov. 17 and will continue through Dec. 12 at their respective locations.
Lily Hargrave, Liminal Landscapes 
Reception: Nov. 17, 4–6 p.m.
Nov. 12–Dec. 9
TMCC Red Mountain Gallery, 7000 Dandini Blvd., Reno NV 89512

Greg Luippold, Moving Forward 
Reception: Nov. 17, 4–6 p.m.
Nov. 12–Dec. 9
TMCC Student Gallery, 7000 Dandini Blvd., Reno NV 89512

Kayla James, Pet Portraits 
Nov. 30–Dec. 6
SPCA of Northern Nevada Thrift Store, 75 E. Moana Lane, Reno NV 89502

Kuuipo Hunter, Mysterious Worlds 
Nov. 26, 4–7 p.m. 
Nov. 26, 27, and 28
Games Galore Entertainment Store, Meadowood Mall, 5130 Meadowood Mall Cir., Reno NV 89502
View the website 

Matthew Woda, The World of Cherry Hallows 
Preview: Dec. 1, 3–5 p.m. 
Reception: Dec. 2, 5:30–7:30 p.m.
Living Stones Church, 445 S. Virginia St., Reno, NV 89501

Christian Doyle, Lost Identity 
Reception: Dec. 2, 5–7 p.m. 
Nov. 26–Dec. 4, 2021
The Depot Gallery, 831 Victorian Ave., Sparks, NV 89431

Alfredo Robles, Tee Time 
Reception: Dec. 2, 5–7 p.m. 
Nov. 26–Dec.4 
The Depot Gallery, 831 Victorian Ave., Sparks, NV 89431

Tyler Sullivan, Unspoken 
Reception: Friday, Dec. 3, 5–7 p.m. 
Dec. 1–11
Artemisia Studios, 255 Bell St., Reno, NV 89503

Hannah Buckingham, To Love You On A Dying Planet
Reception: Saturday, Dec. 4, 7 p.m. 
Dec. 4–20
West St. Market, 148 West St., Reno, NV 89501

Tiana Keeler, Embers of Consequence
Reception: Sunday, Dec. 5, 9 a.m.–9 p.m. 
Reno Fire Dept Station 11, 7105 Mae Anne Ave., Reno NV 89523

Christopher Thigpen, I AM FEM 
Reception: Sunday, Dec. 5, 7:30–9 p.m.
Ace Studios, 150 Ridge St., Suite 1, Reno, NV 89501

Linda Pinching, Seasons of My Life 
Reception: Saturday, Dec. 11, 12–4 p.m.    
Artech, 130 Woodland Ave., Reno, NV 89523