Desert Companion

Artist Noelle Garcia: 'I heard he had strangled a man.'

Noelle Garcia

The faces in the paintings are featureless. You squint at them, hoping they resolve into recognition. It's useless. Welcome to Noelle Garcia's childhood memories. "There were so many myths and legends about my father while I was growing up," says Garcia. "It kind of started off when I heard he had strangled a man." UNLV MFA student Garcia uses paint as a mnemonic device to recall her father. But the past she conjures isn't made of Disneyland trips and backyard tea parties. Her father, Walter Garcia, was convicted of murder in 1959. He shot a man to death in Elko after a drunken argument. "I guess I'm trying to buy time, or establish a relationship with him through the painting process," says Garcia. "That's the only way I have of understanding who he was." Her quiet studio off Tropicana Avenue is piled with paperwork - grainy photocopies of court records, government certificates and reports about her father, who spent as much time inside prison (for frequent parole violations) as outside before he died in January 2000. How do you love a largely absent father who lived his life in the shadow of a murder? "It's a weird straddling between hating, loving and admiring him at the same time. Especially as I discovered the murder, his other wives, the abandoned children." Garcia's work - which ranges from coloring books to ceremonial clothing - also explores her struggles with depression and her identity as a Native American; she grew up in the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, and traces her bloodline on her father's side to Oregon's Klamath Tribes. Coloring books? See for yourself. Her work is on exhibit Sept. 16-23 at Caramel in the Bellagio, and Nov. 12-Jan. 17 at Winchester Cultural Center Gallery. Why put such a personal story on public view? "When I tell my secrets, it makes them less painful."

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