Painter Jaxon Northon painted the illustrations for this year’s Best of Northern Nevada issue. See his paintings between pages 12 and 43.

When you’re not illustrating the Best-of issue, how do you usually choose your subjects?

For a personal project … I’ve been interviewing local people, and I paint a painting, and I have audio that goes along with it. For those, I pick people with interesting stories that might not be normally heard. I want to find people from all walks of life that never would get the limelight/attention/spotlight on them.

How do you meet them?

Word of mouth. Parties. Other people that know that I’m interested will say, “You should talk to this person.”

How did you decide who to paint for this project?

A lot of them were just characters I remember from around town, growing up. … Some are obviously famous historical figures, but some are just kind of characters that—if you’re from Reno, maybe you remember; maybe you don’t. … They’re the cast of characters that made Reno what it was, and what it is now.

When you paint people’s faces, it looks like you don’t camouflage wrinkles or scars or chipped teeth, but the pictures still seem really reverent to your subjects.

It’s a tried-and-true old saying, but I try and paint what I see, how I see it, try not to embellish or smooth over any of the rough parts of humanity. That’s kind of my whole reason for picking the people I paint and painting the way I do—is to not gloss over anything, just show what’s real.

I’m curious about the backgrounds. It looks like you used them as an opportunity to do a little landscape painting—and a little character development.

I wanted to set the characters in their setting in Northern Nevada, but also just to capture every aspect of … landscape that I could, just because it’s such a geocentric project. … Some of them are tongue-in-check, like Bertha the elephant.

In your painting, she’s out in the Black Rock Desert, right?

Yeah, I just kind of imagined her rampant and free, away from the Nugget, running through the desert happy.

The images come off kind of as insider jokes for anyone who knows these characters.

That’s kind of the whole point. I wanted people from Reno to see the Waver and Skateboarder George and be like, “Oh yeah, I remember those guys!”

As a Reno native and someone who’s paid attention to culture here your whole life, do you have any particular feeling about change right now? Are you trying to hang onto some things?

Of course. Reno has always been such a unique place. I’ve lived in different cities. Reno’s just … built differently. Of course I miss Old Reno for … the rough edges and the grime. But I also feel like the world’s growing so fast, and it’s so connected now, that you can’t really find those little unique pockets anymore. And I feel like a city can grow in two ways, and Reno is growing in the best way a city can grow. It’s changing in good ways [with] new people coming in.

I’m getting the impression that you’re not big on critiquing political or social changes in your work, more like observing them.

No, I am. I’m a visual artist, so I like to let my art do the talking. … I’ve tried to let the people I’ve interviewed speak through their own struggles, to say what might be wrong with the world today. So, I definitely do put that stuff in there, but I try not to knock anybody over the head.

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