Something is disturbing about Maria Partridge’s watercolor portraits.
They’re males and females, young and old, wealthy and poor, white,
black and Latino.
They all have dark, cavernous stares – a collective emptiness.
The common thread of the more than 50 paintings on exhibit at the Sierra
Arts Gallery is the reason why Partridge painted their portrait.
She painted the collection from mug shots stored in a photo gallery
on the Reno Gazette-Journal’s Web page. Each person was arrested
from 2000 to 2010 for driving under the influence that resulted in death
or severe bodily harm.
“How many times are you in a gallery where this many people are
staring at you blankly?” Partridge said. “They’re
really beautiful because they’re watercolor. But there’s
something wrong with the fact that they’re all looking at you.
So people are a little nervous or disquieted by them.”
She considers the collection the “poetry of the everyday.”
Most people know someone - a relative, loved one, friend, co-worker
– who has had a few too many drinks and decided to get behind
the wheel or someone who is a problem drinker. For Partridge, it was
her sister who, she said, has been in and out of rehab.
“Luckily, she’s never killed anybody,” she said.
“She’s clean and sober right now but you never know.”
Partridge said she came upon the RGJ.com web site when her sister was
in rehab. She found herself clicking on the 113 photos and reading the
“How I got to the page I don’t know, but I ended up there,”
she said. “I read everything that had been written. And I started
thinking about my sister and I thought ‘there but for the grace
of God go I.’”
Partridge is preparing for the negative comments she might get about
the exhibit. However, she said the collection of paintings is a social
commentary on drug and alcohol abuse and its impact on community.
“This isn’t about individuals,” she said. “What
I didn’t want was for people to think I was celebrating or giving
them undue recognitions by painting their portraits. This is about us
as a society. That’s what it’s about. But I understand that
the people who have personal relationships with either these people
or the people that were killed, they have a personal agenda.”