Full disclosure: This article’s writer loved Nevada Hill. Stupid much.
When Scott Newton first encountered Guinea Pig, it wasn’t a sprawling backyard halfpipe.
Not even close.
It was one piece of wood, and Nevada Hill was obsessively sawing into it. On the ground. With a jigsaw. In the snow.
“I was like, dude — there’s no way this thing is getting built,” Newton remembers. “Then the ramp started expanding. … It was like he was building Noah’s ark.”
But that was Nevada Hill. He was a manic maker. A cosmic cowboy. An unstoppable force of art, music and skating who pulverized the line between creation and destruction. After he got his cancer diagnosis in the summer of 2013, he refused to lessen. Instead, he fought death down with an accelerated passion for life.
He made music and toured, despite the seizures. His saw his artwork share exhibition space with established heavy-hitters and former professors. He stood naked on mountaintops and built halfpipes in the snow. What strength he did keep on reserve belonged exclusively to his daughter Gillian. Everything else he pressed into the universe like some celestial explosion.
“I just really admired him for that one day,” Newton says. “He was out there in the freezing cold, without anything being built, with this one piece of wood. It just seemed like he had such a far distance to go, but he was so focused and wanted to get it done.”
When it was completed, Guinea Pig — named by Gillian — stood 4 feet tall and 16 feet wide. The size and shape of a small whale’s rib cage, the thing was a goddamn beast. It became a Dallas drop-in spot, where friends could thrash against life’s friction, and a symbol of Nevada’s determination to bare knuckle box his own mortality.
Hill died in early 2016. But this Sunday, Oct. 8, folks from around Dallas, Fort Worth and Denton will gather at Lola’s to celebrate him and his love of skating, music and art. The massive party features an onslaught of music by Hill’s favorite humans: Pinkish Black and Sarah Ruth, New Fumes, Drug Mountain, Def Rain and many more.
It will also be the reveal of a truly special project: the release of a Nevada Hill/Index limited-edition skateboard. The posthumous honor brings one of Hill’s beloved, but previously unfinished projects to life.
Daniel Huffman started thinking about making the skateboard collaboration the night Hill died. A friend had found a thumbnail image on Hill’s website — a mock-up of the deck art. It was pure Nevada Hill id: messy, beautiful, bold and weird.
On it, deconstructed facial features were color blocked by a word scramble. The letters spelled out his favorite skate shop: Index.
“I’m not sure what state of mind I was in,” Huffman says, thinking back to that night, “but I was like ‘It has to get done.’”
Huffman and Newton restructured the thumbnail into usable files. Then they began planting the seed at Index, hoping to eventually get Hill’s design accepted and turned into an artist’s board. It’s not something that’s done often. In fact, Index, a local shop that’s known worldwide, has only made a couple of them since it opened in ‘04.
“I can’t think of any artist in DFW who skates who wouldn’t want to have their graphic on an Index board,” Newton says. “Nevada used to go into Index all the time and he knew everybody there. It’s a really prestigious thing.”
To help make it happen, they tapped shop insider and friend of Hill’s, Isiac Ramirez.
Ramirez knew that Hill’s style was unconventional for a store-branded board. “It’s so totally different than the graphics I’ve seen them do with other people’s art work,” he says. Still, Ramirez pressed on until all of the right people had signed off.
Now more than a year and a half later, Ramirez, Huffman and Newton have finished the thing, and 100 Nevada HIll/Index collaborative graphic boards are ready to ride. “This is totally Nevada’s pro model,” Ramirez says.
Huffman and Newton knew that Hill wouldn’t want the things just hanging on walls. He’d want people to tear them up. Use 'em. Get rowdy with ‘em. So, they’re keeping the price low. At $40 bucks, each art board costs roughly the same price as a standard issue shop model. Any proceeds will go to charity.
“We didn’t think he’d want it to be this precious thing,” Newton explains.
Considering the board’s ephemeral nature, Huffman and Newton always knew they’d pair it with something designed to last. After Hill died in February 2016, they got started archiving his work to make an accompanying zine. As they entered his old Lakewood rent house they realized how much there was to do. Flats and boxes of the stuff spilled over from room to room, surface to surface. By their second visit, they settled in. They began scanning it, storing it and saving it.
“It was like Disneyland, sort of,” Huffman says. “You can’t see it all in one day. You have to go back several times. Every time you go, you experience something new. A journey into Nevada’s head, in a weird way.”
I know what he means. So does everyone who knew Nevada Hill.
I first met Nevada during his solo show in what Texas Theatre now calls the Safe Room Gallery. Paper was everywhere. It was a gerbil’s cage. A nest of art. The ceiling, walls — even the floor. They were simply covered, littered with his work. It was taped, pinned and scattered. Some was dumped. He’d pick a piece off the ground, smile mischievously and ask, “Did you see this one?”
Of course I hadn’t. I couldn’t possibly wade through it all, much less give each piece the attention it deserved.
The same could be said of the artist himself. Even if you were to conquer Hill’s entire body of visual art — from puppets to sculptures to silkscreens and sketches, drawings, lithographs, zines, collaborative books with artists in Portugal, show posters, comics, Xerox copies, computer renderings and hundreds of thousands of doodles — there’s still Nevada Hill the musician to contend with.
Zanzibar Snails, Drug Mountain, Bludded Head — it was all experimental, heavy, rich and exploratory — and like Hill, it was entirely all-consuming and uncompromising.
Sunday’s daylong celebration is an impressive tribute to all of it, especially to his influence across DFW’s sprawling music scenes. Hill grew up in Fort Worth, went to school in Denton and spent his last five years in Dallas; the lineup reflects those sedimentary layers of his musical friendships.
There will be sets by those he toured with, like Pinkish Black. Recorded with, like Drug Mountain. Hosted pranky radio programs with, like Sarah Ruth. Shared a brain with, like New Fume’s Daniel Huffman. And those he inspired, supported and loved, like Def Rain, Vaults of Zin, Big Hand/Big Knife, Aaron Gonzalez, Tim Delaughter, Chris Plavidal, Same Brain and more.
“One of [Nevada’s] wishes was ‘I just want my friends to meet at Lola’s for a drink,’” Huffman says. “But in my mind, we want to get his friends together and have a crazy party. Get a bunch of weird bands and skateboards and get Index involved.”
So, while the onstage energy builds, so will the efforts on the ground. Fort Worth’s John Shea is setting up a concrete slab’s worth of Open Streets skate obstacles, so folks can break in those brand-new Nevada Hill/Index boards. Or they can bring their own.
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“It’s everything we think encompassed Nevada,” Rodriguez says. “Skateboards. Screen print. Music. Everything he liked to do and was known for doing. We’re celebrating somebody who did it their way until the end. “
The party is free, all-ages and runs from noon to 10 p.m. at Lola’s Saloon, 2736 W. Sixth St., in Fort Worth. Each skateboard comes with a free zine. In honor of Hill’s daughter Gillian, there will be an artmaking area set up for kids.
There’s no cover, but all donations at the door and skateboard sales will be given to Denton Music and Art Collaborative, a group that helps connect musicians and artists with healthcare and other aid. Nevada Hill had no health insurance at the time of his cancer diagnosis and was blocked in attaining it due to his pre-existing condition. He leaned heavily on local nonprofit resources and community fundraising until the passing of the Affordable Care Act.
Nevada Hill x Index Skateboard Release Party, Lola's Saloon, 2736 W. Sixth St., Fort Worth, noon to 10 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 8, free, see Facebook.