On the patio of a Sparks nightclub, fantastical masks peer from the walls, presided over by an 8-foot-tall figure of La Catrina, the elegant skeleton who presides over the Day of the Dead in Mexico.
The colorful creatures and the new venue mark the crossroads of an entrepreneur from Reno and an artist from the Dominican Republic. The careers of both men, who share a common heritage, took off in new directions after the COVID-19 quarantine descended last year.
One started a business under challenging conditions; the other discovered a new medium for his art and a fresh outlet for his talent.
From soldier to entrepreneur
Rafael Pineda, 26, served four years in the Army and four more as a first lieutenant in the Nevada National Guard while he worked for Microsoft Corp. in Reno. It was a good job, but he dreamed of someday owning a nightclub. Then the pandemic hit.
“I was so tired of working at home,” said Pineda, who now owns the Oak Room Lounge, 1955 Oddie Boulevard. “I made the move.”
Property owners were wary about leasing to a young man about to open a service business in the midst of a lockdown. Then he came across the former Shakey’s Pizza building in Sparks, which had been vacant for more than a year. He made the deal and opened the lounge in December, under the 25% cap on patrons in force at the time.
“The limit went up to 50% in February and that was a relief,” Pineda said. When warmer weather arrived, he worked to get the club’s outdoor patio in shape for guests. He wanted to decorate it with artwork that was unique, yet complimentary to the venue’s Latin/Caribbean theme and dance music.
Connecting with an artist
When Pineda’s father recently visited Reno from the Dominican Republic, he mentioned his friend, Luis Rivas, a noted Dominican artist and sculptor. Rivas took the commission and came to Reno in June. He spent three weeks transforming the Oak Room Lounge patio into a gallery of bizarre entities – all made of recycled plastic.
Turning trash into art, while at the same time sending a message about recycling, was a new direction for Rivas. The artist is famous in the Dominican Republic for his public sculptures, his costume and crown designs for the nation’s Miss Universe contestants, and his elaborate floats and traditional masks that are an essential part of the country’s annual Carnival celebration in February.
Last year, as the pandemic kept people quarantined and plans for art projects and festivals in limbo, Rivas started to go stir crazy.
“I had no work, no projects, no income coming in,” Rivas said through a translator. “In April, I started looking around the house and saw a plastic gallon jug. It was a spontaneous idea.”
Elaborate masks are a big part of the Carnival celebration in the Dominican Republic, he explained, and each region has its own traditional characters drawn from religion, folklore and the nation’s rich history. Rivas uses wood, glass or metal when he makes masks for the celebration, but hadn’t worked with plastic before.
Read the full article here: Trash transformed by art • Reno News & Review
This portion of the article is shared as part of our collaboration with Reno News & Review. This story was originally published on Jun. 25, 2021, and written by Frank X. Mullen.