This July, we have handed over the reins of Zeitgeist to whitespace gallery in Atlanta for an exchange show called Ineffable Domains. Gallery owner/director Susan Bridges took the time to talk to us about the difference between the Nashville and Atlanta art scenes and what we can learn from each other.
What makes the Atlanta art scene special?
The scene is in ATL is special because we have a tremendous number of very talented artists living within our city. We have several schools that support the scene; Georgia State, SCAD, Kennesaw and UGA, the students and faculty are energetic and supportive. We also have the High Museum, Atlanta Contemporary, MOCA GA and Art Papers. That said, Atlanta is much larger than Nashville but I feel you have the same vibe, just on a slightly smaller scale.
What could Nashville learn from Atlanta about how it supports art or vice versa?
I think Atlanta could learn a lot from Nashville by providing an art bus like the one you have. Our galleries are spread out in much the same way as yours which makes it a lot less fun to attend openings when you have to navigate traffic, worry about parking, etc. I love the idea of a bus!
What would you like to see more of in Atlanta?
Atlanta needs more serious collectors who buy locally, not in LA or NYC. Our artists are amazing and they need support.
How has the art scene changed over the years?
The energy here vacillates from year to year but, thankfully, we have an infusion of young people at this moment who are trying to create a district in downtown Atlanta. I think they will be successful because they are creative and have youth and energy on their side. After all these years, I thought we would have an arts district but the price of real estate gets in the way and artists don’t have the funds to pursue their dreams. I congratulate you in Nashville for your burgeoning district and scene at Zeitgeist, David Lusk and Packing Plant….it’s exciting!
What could the community/city be doing better to support arts?
Our city could do a better job of providing excellent public art and I mean art on an international scale. How do you educate the public? You give them something to think about. Take Chicago for example, the Anish Kapoor Cloudgate (or bean) is something everyone can relate to and enjoy. Cabbies, businessmen, students etc. everyone can find something they like about the bean. That’s a conversation! A positive thing that’s taking place here this year is the re-establishment of the Atlanta Biennial at the Atlanta Contemporary. By showing Atlanta artists alongside those in other cities, it allows ours to receive the recognition they so deserve, to know they are GOOD!
What is your favorite part of running a gallery?
Two things; I love the artists I work with, they’re just the best. They make me laugh and they make me cry but they always give me something to ponder. I love to see a client make a breakthrough when looking at work. When the “bulb” comes on, it’s exciting. It means they have connected to something deeper than they realize and then they’re hooked. I love it!
One last thought, I think it’s important to do exactly what you are doing at Zeitgeist, by taking local artists into different cities. If you do fairs that’s one thing but this is a more organic concept and I’m thrilled we at whitespace could be part of it. We are looking forward to hosting Zeitgeist/Nashville next August in Atlanta.
Paul Collins' studio is located in the 100 Taylor St artists collective in Germantown. He shares the space with his wife, Alex Blau. When Collins is not teaching at Austin Peay, or off doing a cool residency somewhere, he is painting in his studio. His new show, on display at Zeitgeist this month is called "Soft Bark."
What do the trees in “Soft Bark” mean to you?
The trees are all trees from my neighborhood. they’re all pictured as tree trunks in line with the parade of trees lost over the last few years. Some are pictured as cut, and some are drifting away under their own power.
When did you begin painting trees?
I’ve been painting trees since I’ve been painting (c.a. 1987). Like real trees they are sort of always around but infrequently appear as a focus.
How do you feel about trees?
I’m a tree hugger, but i’m a gardener so I’ve cut my fair share (it was for their own good!). Honestly, I am sincerely reverent and sadly passive for/about trees. The title is self-critical. I can look all day long and paint their forms but there’s a treemageddon going on and I’m just fiddling away.
How does the theme of suburbia tie into this work?
Well it’s where I live, and the setting for these images. I grew up in suburban new jersey and I love the sometimes uneven visual transitions that abound.
Where does all this yellow come from?
My connection started with the sunrise and the yellow world of dawn while walking around the neighborhood. I made my first yellow on yellow piece 3 years back for a show at Dane Carder’s studio and the silliness of it haunted me. Yellow is its own challenge- such a weird complicated color. In these tree paintings yellow comes in as journeyman actor with a lot of changing roles: demonic headlights, a flashbulb, dawn or the apocalypse, the golden background of a gilded icon, urine or tree sap.
How did the elements of collage come into this work?
I wanted to bring trees into the images with great detail but without the weight of a rendered or crafted mark. I wanted them to be entities that could variably participate in the picture or be aloof to my process of picture making. Collaging them in as photos was perfect. It excited my brain to drag the photograph’s reality and its perfect factual alienness into the warm soup of painting’s plastic image manipulation. Another reason collage took hold is that it established a practical link to my everyday iPhone photos and that’s a connection I don’t use enough. Lastly it’s been great because collage has offered a lot of opportunities to explore different ways to paint. In the latest pieces the collage elements are all painted but are still recognizable as composite realities. Those recognizable samples and seams are all from collage.
Which artists do you see a connection to with this work?
Serial works toward a personal narrative of complicity: HC Westermann, Ed Ruscha, Andy Warhol and Llyn Faulkes.
Polyvocal paintings contributing to a narrative of complicity: Kippenberger, Polke, David Humphrey, and Nicole Eisenman
Love of energetic picturemaking emerging from personal experience: Robert Colescott, Peter Saul and Momma Anderson Ardent
Nature lovers: Charles Ray, Jay Defeo, Charles Long, Charles Burchfield, Lynda Benglis, Roy Deforrest, Forrest Bess and Naomi Fisher
Color fairy light lovers: Maxfield Parrish and Alex Katz.
Soft Bark by Paul Collins is on display at Zeitgeist March 5 - April 30, 2016
Architect Lesley Beeman has filled a music niche in Nashville, bringing together great thinkers with composers for a night of unforgettable performances and discussions since 2010.
How did the idea for Indeterminacies come about?
I was organizing a program I called Oblique Strategies, after an idea by Brian Eno, for the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects. The thought was to talk about design and architecture obliquely from a viewpoint such as archaeology or cooking or physics or medicine.
One program featured a discussion of criticism featuring philosopher, Jonathan Neufeld, using music played by members of the Alias Ensemble. During that program I had a kind of epiphany watching the cellist play more easily recognizable music against some very new music. The nature of the discussion changed from “How did he play this tune we all know?” to a deeper dive into the nature of the music itself. From there we started the Indeterminacies program as a way to dig into new music and find a foothold for understanding it.
What does Indeterminacies mean?
An indeterminate structure as defined by composer John Cage is, "the ability of a piece [of music] to be performed in substantially different ways." I’ve always seen it as a structure that has a bit of chance built into it. For instance, you can precisely design a series of occurrences to behave a certain way, turn them all loose at the same time in the same space, then watch/listen for new and unexpected patterns to emerge in the intersections. So Indeterminacies was designed to allow space for the un-predicted and for wonder. We told our artists Indeterminacies was the place where you could do that thing you never thought you could do anywhere.
What types of musicians do you showcase?
We sought out performers and composers who were operating at a high level in the frontiers of music. We featured music from sound manipulation using electronics, a’la Joo Won Park, to tightly written string quartets performed by the Blakemore Trio, to the completely improvised music of LaDonna Smith and Davey Williams, to solo tuba from Mark Snyder. I always wanted to find a rock band that would fit into the program.
What has been your most memorable performance?
Everyone who participated has been amazing. But if I have to choose, perhaps it’s the one in which I was most involved in the program’s birth. Portara New Music Quartet’s performance of David Lang’s “The Little Match Girl Passion.” John Pitcher’s discussion got right to the heart of the music and what Indeterminacies was all about.
The performance where I felt we most effected a paradigm shift for an audience member was the Rodger Coleman and Sam Byrd program with dancers from what would later become New Dialect. One member of the audience clearly had no idea what to expect (not that we did either) and didn’t understand what was happening. Sam and Rodger played a huge mass of improvised sound on piano and percussion while the dancers improvised their movement. During the discussion you could see a light click on as the audience member tried to come to grips with what she’d heard and seen. I hope it changed the way she listens. Again, this was a program where the discussion, led by Stan Link, was illuminating and struck right at the center of the performance when Stan asked, “How do I know this music was improvised?”
Stan Link, Associate Professor of the Philosophy and Analysis of Music at Vanderbilt’s Blair School, has been a guiding light for the series. In addition to being an outstanding and extremely relevant composer/performer, Stan provided us with the perspective of a contemporary music community that was looking to break out of the performance hall, find new audiences, and new platforms for critical discussion.
Rodger and Sam’s Indeterminacies performance was documented on their CD release “Indeterminate” available at CD Baby. The liner notes have a great discussion of the program.
Who makes up the audience?
A lot of musicians, people who live with musicians, and people whose brains operate differently than most other people’s brains. The works we offered were often unfamiliar to most people, so the best audiences were those who had to work to let the music into their psyche and then left thinking about music a little differently than they did when they arrived.
What has Indeterminacies done that nobody else in Nashville is doing?
At the time we were not the only program featuring the kind of music we were doing, but we were one of very few. Tony Youngblood, Chris Davis, Alias Ensemble and other pioneers were out there long before us. Our “hook” was the way we used the music as a catalyst for directly engaging our audience in discussion and criticism.
What are some of the things Indeterminacies artists have gone on to do?
Most are still performing and innovating and teaching. OZ Arts Nashville invited Ethel String Quartet to perform for the venue’s debut season. Tristan Perich got solo shows at MoMA and MASS MoCA. Ingrid Laubrock and Tom Rainey will be performing with Anthony Braxton at this Knoxville’s Big Ears Festival this year. Banning Bouldin started the New Dialect dance troupe, Rodger Coleman (who had not performed live since 1995 at his Indeterminaces debut) has gone on to record at least two albums and performs fairly often around Nashville.
The next Indeterminacies will take place on Sunday, February 28th at 7pm at Zeitgeist and feature Mark Snyder playing songs from his new record. Dr. Snyder is Assistant Professor of Music at the University of Mary Washington teaching courses in electronic music, composition and audio production. More info here.
Alex Blau let us peak inside the industrial studio space she shares with her husband in Germantown, and see a bit of her process as an artist.
How did you end up at 100 Taylor St, and how has the community changed since you’ve been there?
Craigslist!! It went from being completely messy and under construction to filled with businesses. There are still a couple holdouts from the first year but many people have left including some really good friends.
How do you find the arts community in Nashville?
Love it! It has been such a welcoming and supportive community. We have been really fortunate to pick a place sight unseen and find so many great people to connect with.
How do you balance being an artist with being a teacher and a mom?
Uhhhh, it's interesting!! Now that the kids are in school full time I just head to the studio as early as I can. It does take some time to clear my head from the morning rush of getting the kids dressed, fed, and out the door. I usually arrive at the studio with coffee and do a little check of the newspapers, catch up on emails and get to work.
The pressure to make a few decisions before pick up has lead to some unexpected discoveries in my work.
How did you originally come up with the curved edge canvas?
I was intrigued by a stretcher bar that someone had discarded because they put the molding on backwards and it really suited me. I had always favored surfaces that were more like objects such as plexiglass or chunks of wood so it caught my eye. The slight curved edge allowed me paint on the sides which I really liked. From there, I started making them fully round and lozenge like. I really loved the object-like quality and being able to paint around to the wall.
How has your work changed recently?
Funny you should ask! It is always changing and right now I am smack in the middle of change. Don't ask me to explain it, I'm just trying to work my way through. Everything is looking strange and possible.
What inspires you? Other artists, travel, books?
Yes, all of it. Art, garbage, toys, and trips to the grocery store are some highlights. Traveling is great to see things without the familiarity, but I try to have that sense of newness throughout my day. I am always looking around trying to find unexpected connections.
What is the most important thing you get from doing residencies?
Precious time without distraction
What was the best advice you’ve gotten from a teacher?
Collect what you love in any way possible and dissect it.
What resource do you wish Nashville had for artists?
Affordable studio space and housing.
Any advice for recent art school grads?
Keep on making work and support your friends, they will help you.
What shows do you have coming up?
I am having a show at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Aspen this March titled "Rainbow Head"
Are there any challenges in sharing a studio with your husband?
Hah! No, not at all, it's great!
What are you working on that you are most excited about?
I have started a new series of paintings building on my last show at Zeitgeist. That show felt like a departure from my smaller more tightly controlled paintings. I am having fun making big moves and using my body more. The result is a wild bunch of paintings and drawings that are a bit confounding to me.
Who are your biggest influences?
At different times I have been excited by different artists … parts of their practice usually. Some recurring artists I adore include Agnes Martin, Andy Warhol, Eva Hesse, James Rosenquist, Vija Celmins, Sigmar Polke, Mark Rothko, Forrest Bess, Rosemarie Trockel. Too many to name, those are just some favorites, there are lots of contemporary artists as well.
We had a chance to visit with artist, Brady Haston at his home studio in East Nashville this October, and see the new paintings and drawings he's working on.
Where is your studio, and what do you like about it?
My studio is behind our house on the western edge of East Nashville just off Dickerson Pike. The studio feels like a creative space whenever I enter. The paintings and drawings are scattered around and it becomes easy to pick up where I left off during the last work session. Having a studio so close to the house compliments my teaching career and makes for easy access during the work week when time is limited.
How do you find the time to work on your art while also being a teacher at Watkins?
Teaching allows me to have large blocks of time during the summer and other times of the year to spend focusing on my painting. During the work week, the studio's close proximity allows for time to make drawings and keep up with my ideas in the sketchbook and on paper.
Is there anything about being a teacher that influences your work?
Teaching is rewarding because I am exposed to young artists and the energy they bring to their work.
How did you start making work about Nashville?
Local narrative/images/flavor have influenced my work for many years and when I moved to Nashville, it seemed only natural to let the place and history settle into my paintings and drawings.
How does your newest work differ from your last show at Zeitgeist?
In many ways, the recent work is a continuation of the content being explored in my last show,"A Brief History of Nashville". However, the recent work is beginning to go beyond the Nashville area and the painting,"Plateau" is inspired by a panorama of the Cumberland Plateau east of Nashville. "Traveler" also references the idea of a person walking through time and was inspired by stories of early immigrants walking from North Carolina westward. Both groups of work jump back and forth on the time line and play with the idea of sampling history. "Dickerson" from 2013 and "Station" from 2015 are references to architectural structures I pass in my East Nashville neighborhood. I would feel comfortable combing any of the paintings from the last show in with this recent body of work.
Where did the symbolism of the black box come from?
On one of our hikes by the Tennessee River I saw an abandoned duck blind and did drawings based on its simple box like construction. A few days later, I read an article by Marc Scala in the "Nashville Arts" magazine describing the Kaaba in Mecca and decided to combine both of these primitive cube like structures. This seemed like an interesting way to incorporate the local into a painting.
Where did the symbolism of the tree come from?
The tree form entered my work several times over the past few years and for me it symbolizes nature fighting to coexist in an environment overwhelmed by the Anthropocene. Now, I am researching the legend of an early Tennessee explorer, Bigfoot Spencer, who lived in a large hollow tree and am curious to see where this will lead.
What books and experiences have inspired you recently?
My wife and I recently completed a 27 mile canoe and camp trip to the Big South Fork and just got back from a long weekend in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood. The float trip helped to think about the temporal aspect of travel and history while the Chicago trip provided a chance to experience the dynamics of contemporary art making.
Paul Clement's book "The Chronicles of the Cumberland" still has a few stories that I am considering basing paintings on.
How long before you feel like a piece is done? Do you have to force yourself to quit?
Typically, my paintings evolve over several months and at times, I can spend a couple years fighting to discover the image and then turning that into a finished piece.Usually, a painting begins to feel finished when I come up with a title and start to rationalize that with the evolving image.
What was the most important thing you learned in art school?
The importance of a strong work ethic and studio practice is essential .
What resource does Nashville need for artists?
Nashville seems to have a good number of places for artist to show now and I wish there was regular biennial or other type of strong curated show that could be inclusive and show the best of what is happening now. This might help develop a stronger critical dialogue between the artist and public which currently seems to be lacking.
Megan Lightell's studio is nestled in the attic of her East Nashville home. Downstairs is decorated with beautiful antique furniture and gorgeous art, while upstairs is packed with everything a painter might need (including some skulls and curiosities pictured below.) Zeitgeist's Anna Zeitlin dropped by recently for a studio visit and got the lowdown on what it's like to be a full-time artist and how to keep artists in Nashville.
What is your daily routine? Do you spend a lot of time painting?
Since I have a school-age daughter, most of my painting time is during school hours. I walk her to school in the morning and work in the studio until about 3 pm. Sometimes if I'm not quite finished working, she joins me in the studio after school. She has her own easel and work area in the studio, so it can be fun for us to work together.
How do you balance work and family?
This is an issue that every parent struggles with, but it is especially challenging for artists, I think. Since my family relies a great deal on income from sales of my work, it has always been a family priority to protect my studio time. I've always been grateful for that and known how much more difficult it would be to prioritize it otherwise. I took off three weeks after the birth of my daughter, but started painting again as soon as possible. My studio has been at my house since before she was born, allowing me to be at home with her in her infancy and early years, and she attended some half-day preschool programs starting at age two, which gave me some larger blocks of time to work.
I was certainly apprehensive about juggling studio time and motherhood, but a mentor told me that in her experience many people become even more disciplined in their creative lives after becoming parents because time management skills are a necessity, and looking at it through that lens helped. She was right-- you have so little time for yourself in the early years that you must make the most of the time you do have and learn to adapt. I have always been very disciplined about showing up in the studio whether I felt like painting or not, so it was a fairly easy transition. The biggest difference now is that I have more balance in my life. In my twenties I would easily spend 12-15 hour days in the studio, which in retrospect is not the most healthy way to live. It is a great thing to have more of a rhythm in my day that includes taking a break in the evening to cook or spend time outside with my family.
What is your background as an artist?
I studied at the School of Visual Arts in NYC (BFA 2000).
What inspired you in high school? In college?
I wasn't one of those kids who knew from early childhood what they wanted to do. I was always vaguely interested in drawing and painting, but I wouldn't say I was especially talented. Around age sixteen I had a series of experiences that led me in the direction of applying to art school, and I began to seek out teachers and mentors to help me build a portfolio. I studied with Christine Misencik-Bunn, who was a legendary art mentor in the region where I grew up, and she is responsible for many art careers today, including mine, as I never would have received a scholarship without her advice. At art school, it was clear that since I was from a rural area with fewer arts resources than my peers from bigger cities who had arts magnet options and many more years of immersion in their work, I had a great deal of catching up to do in technique. I spent 6-8 hours a day painting from life, more hours in the evenings, and Saturdays taking extra classes at the Art Students League. Living in New York, you can breathe art all day long. I think I really did live on paintings, both making them all day and into the night, and spending all of my spare time going to museums. I had so little money the whole time I lived there, and I existed on cheap carbs and coffee and spent most of my money on the best paint and materials I could buy. I was obsessed with learning to paint from the masters, current and past, and didn't care about much else.
What was it like the first time you visited The Met?
My first trip to the Met was also the first time I learned to use the subway-- my art school buddy Michael Panicello, who was a native of Queens, realized I was a country girl from Ohio and took me under his wing to show me how to navigate it. From then on, I was at the Met at least every week or two. It was like a second home. Eventually I would find myself visiting the same few pieces every time, like Vermeer's A Maid Asleep, Joan of Arc by Jules Bastien-Lepage, and the piece that probably most influenced my current work, Arques-la-Bataille by Twachtman. One of my teachers, Sal Catalano, used to say that you could tell the art students at the Met because they were the ones with their noses almost touching the canvases. That was me. My favorite game was to try to guess the pigments that the painters had used and try to bring back some trick or technique to my own work each time. There is just no substitute for looking at masterful paintings with your own eyes, and it's the thing I miss most about New York, being able to see such a huge variety of work in person anytime.
How did your experience after college shape your work today?
As wonderful as it was to be immersed in learning to paint in New York, there was a huge part of me that felt disconnected there. I had grown up among rolling hills, fields, forests, and rivers in a foothills farming community, and had no idea how much I would miss that landscape when I was surrounded by manmade structures and concrete. The community artist Anne Cornell had just taken the director position at the Pomerene Center for the Arts at the time I was graduating, and she offered me a show and long-term residency there, which afforded me the time and space to let my work develop beyond the school environment. It was a key turning point for me, being able to return to a rural landscape with new eyes, and also having my first experience of working in community and teaching as an artist. Having time and space to work was so important in the beginning. The first landscapes came out of that time, since I was still searching for a direction, and a group of artists in that community had formed, and we were doing figure drawing together and working out in the landscape on site every week. We were all working with different media and different approaches, but we enjoyed the way that each of us could take the same experience and come away with completely different work. Before I knew it, my studio was filled with large-scale landscapes. I started realizing that there were similarities in the sites I was choosing, and there was something I couldn't quite describe that was drawing me to a certain kind of image. Anne and I would take turns choosing sites, and we talked quite a bit about why we each liked certain things that the other didn't.
Because I didn't know what to do with all of the canvases I was painting, I entered some into a juried exhibit and was picked up for representation by Michael Orr at his gallery in Columbus, which was the beginning of my path as a gallery artist. He was so supportive and great to work with, and helped me navigate the process of doing exhibits and working with other galleries.
How do you discover new landscapes to paint?
It still feels more like they discover me. It's very intuitive, and I know an image when I see it. The time of day and the season are important, and I often find myself revisiting a spot many times if it's especially compelling. Some places are close by, and others we discover while driving out in the country. Sometimes my husband will drive, and I will just look, and over the years, he has come to just know when a place feels right and he will pull over without me asking. We love to take long drives, and that was one of our favorite things to do when we first met, but in the beginning he couldn't understand why some landscapes would require turning around on a country road and going back, and others we would pass right by. I don't understand it completely either, but somehow now we both often have the same gut reaction to a place.
What personal ties do you have to different landscapes?
Since I spent over half of my life in Ohio, the foothills landscape there is most intimate and familiar, and I will probably always be painting it. I have lived in Tennessee for almost a decade and a half, though, and it feels like home too. Painting the familiar brings a certain power and connection that only comes with knowing a place for a long time. When I did a series a few years ago from a trip out west, those images were all from unfamiliar places that were brand new to me. Those images can have a freshness and a new set of problems, so I've come to prefer working back and forth between familiar and unfamiliar places.
What advice do you wish someone had given you when you were starting?
I asked for advice constantly when I was younger, and still do. The thing I've learned the hard way is to manage the studio objectively as a business. I'm not the worst businessperson/artist, but I have a great deal to learn in that area. Choose your business partners very carefully and listen to your intuition. Expect to be paid, on time, and don't be afraid to walk away from people who are taking advantage of you. Be assertive and be professional. Preserve your best energy for the studio.
The best advice I got as a student was from the illustrator Stephen Kroninger, who told me to just keep doing the work, so matter what. He said that eventually, everyone else would drop away and you would still be left working...it sounds so simple but it really is the hardest thing to do when family, bills, and life are calling you away.
What resources do you wish Nashville had for artists?
Aside from wishing for a great visual arts MFA option here, my biggest concerns for the visual arts community are affordable housing and studio space. When I first moved here, it was a very reasonable cost of living and possible to live simply and have space to develop work. I've had some creative and cheap or free studio spaces in the past, but I fear that our rising cost of housing will prevent the next generation of young artists from relocating here. Continued investment in affordable housing for artists would be great public policy to keep the vibrant nature of the community from disappearing.
What do you like about being an artist in Nashville?
Nashville has always felt like a small town that just happens to have the perks of a larger city. I've always loved the kindness of people here, the openness of the arts community, the diverse cultures that merge here, and being surrounded by talented, creative people who are following their passions. The Nashville I fell in love with years ago still had a strong connection to the rural, almost as if we were all in a city by accident, but we would go canoeing on the weekends, and play music that sounded like a front porch in the mountains. I hope we will hold on to those roots in the years to come as we grow as a city.
Where is your studio?
I have a studio at the Downtown Presbyterian Church through their artists residency program. It's so generous and I'm lucky to share the space with some really fine artists.
What are the positives and negatives of having a studio separate from your home?
My working process can be really messy, given the wide array of materials I use - spray paint, pigments, oil paint, adhesives - so I know I wouldn't want to use those things in a shared living space. In general, I think I like the separation of studio-time and home-time, but who knows, I might really enjoy being able to wander into my studio at 3am to ponder something in-progress.
What are your work habits? Do you set hours for yourself or go when inspiration strikes? Do you find it hard to be disciplined?
Like so many artists, I have a full time job during the weekdays, so my studio time is on off-hours, mostly early mornings, lunch breaks, evenings and sometimes weekends. I am a big believer in getting the work done whenever you can, even if some days that means only having 1 or 2 hours in the studio. Entire novels have been written this way! Fortunately, the processes I use allow me to work this way. So if I'm doing, say, a big pour of paint early one morning, it might need a day of dry-time before I can continue with it. Sometimes I think I have adapted my work to accommodate this schedule, and I think that's OK.
What’s inspiring you right now?
Right now I'm reading about the events of the late-sixties/early-seventies, and viewing media related to that, so I'm thinking about the popular imagery of that time. This was the period of my childhood, so anything from that time has so many personal connotations and memories, and I enjoy considering how media acts as an anchor or a lens through which we must view historical documentation. Of course I'm obsessed with the music of that period, and I've become especially interested in the sorts of early video effects that were being used to try and appear psychedelic and compliment the music. Think of the video for Black Sabbath's Paranoid.
What is your process for the new art you’re working on?
My newest work is all made on Mylar, which has a surface I value for its near-perfect smoothness. I'm collecting different types of marks, stains, drips, brush strokes, all on Mylar. I make the final work by collaging all of these elements together onto a new sheet. It's a way of controlling and ordering actions that are at their core spontaneous. To me it feels analogous to working with recorded sound, in that you are capturing performative actions and editing them together in a non-linear way. The final product can be deceptive unless you know what clues to look for, which for me is part of the challenge of looking at a painting, particularly if it is abstract.
What would you change about the Nashville art scene?
It seems like we are in an exciting place where the art-scene is still small enough to know most everybody, but at the same time is starting to feel important in a way that resonates to other places, especially with the rise of social media in the last 10 years. One thing I think everybody would like would like to see is the emergence of a strong collector base within Nashville, and I think we are starting to see a bit more of that.
What resources do you wish there were more of for artists?
I'd like to see more opportunity and assistance for Nashville artists to exhibit their work in other cities and countries. Groups like COOP are taking this on themselves, which is great for everybody, and I think any help that the state or city could provide for traveling exhibitions would be a very welcome development.
What advice do you wish you’d been given when you were starting your career?
I wish that I'd have had more of a chance to visit working artists' studios when I was growing up. Often you aren't given much practical advice as a student and have to figure things out as you go along. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it would have been helpful to have known how to build a decent stretcher when I was just 15 or 16 and really starting to think about being an artist!
Whose art still fills you with awe?
Picasso will always do that for me. Degas. Matisse. Miro. The Post-Impressionists. So many artists of the 20th Century. de Kooning. Michaux. Polke still holds up for me. The Polke retrospective at MoMA was just incredible, and it was a real pleasure seeing it with my son, who was just 8 at the time. In the early 90's I was really inspired the painters Mary Heilmann and Moira Dryer. There are many emerging artists that I follow. There are far too many to name!
Zeitgeist and University Art Gallery, Sewanee are pleased to host internationally recognized composer, multi-media artist, and writer Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky for a reception presenting his most recent written anthology,
THE IMAGINARY APP, about Apps and the way they have changed everything.
Featuring essays and articles by writers, artists, and theoreticians, anthology Edited By Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky and Svitlana Matviyenko
Purchase copies of the book here http://amzn.com/0262027488
Zeitgeist Gallery - Thursday, September 10, 6pm
How would you describe your work as an artist? Your process?
I consider every experience and thought as a process to an action, so each work made, to me is an image of the present, or a present moment. My art attempts to still the motion of mental and physical encounters in one frame as something in between a mental image and a physical action. I think sometimes it can look very psychedelic or subdued, either way I want a verbal quality to my work. As if a being is conjured up from inanimate materials.
My process is simple, I respond to any complex feeling I get from an experience and then work it out with material, usually paint. The work is never an answer or reaction, but a question or proposal for an alternative view.
Who are your main influences?
Shunryu Suzuki, Agnes Martin, Hamlett Dobbins, Robert Gober, Richard Aldrich, Burzum
How do you discover the Nashville arts community?
I try to always participate at the monthly Art Crawls, I look into different local artists websites if they’re work interests me, and I look through different gallery and collective rosters online and browse through their portfolios. Some artists really stick out to me and I’ll then try to arrange a studio visit or just hang out with them. I can handle one on one conversation way better than trying to have an in depth conversation in a crowded gallery. New artists move in all the time too, so I keep my eye out for them.
What is the Nashville arts scene missing?
There seems to be a shortage of critical writing as well as art collecting/buying.
What classes have you grown the most from at Watkins?
Terry Thacker’s painting classes definitely helped me discover my voice as a painter, and Patrick DeGuira and Kristi Hargrove’s seminar classes have helped me develop more of a multidisciplinary approach to my practice. All these mentioned professors offer great readings, one on one time, and thorough and constructive criticism. They are now good friends of mine.
What does Watkins need to be doing differently?
I think they should provide more opportunities to use new media tools and devices, and attach a nice grad program to the whole deal (high hopes).
What part of putting on an art show do you most enjoy?
The best part to me is arranging the work in a way that signifies relationships between different pieces while simultaneously activating the space and rhythm of the room in which they are situated. It’s always so different so I can’t have a formula for it, and that to me is what is special about doing it yourself.
What nugget of wisdom have you gleaned from working with Lain York?
Lain has always emphasized the importance of having a conversation. That to me means that whenever a perspective becomes one sided or overly subjective, the work or idea can begin to suffer and close up. To have a conversation or to allow a work to have a dialogue is to open up to new possibilities while still maintaining an initial integrity.
What areas of art would you like to explore more?
I have recently been interested in the debris from all the development in different neighborhoods all over town. I think there is something that can be done creatively with the detritus that used to be a neighborhood’s identity or someone’s home.
What’s the best burger in Nashville?
I usually don’t eat out, but one time I had a killer bison burger at Burger Up. I hear Gabby’s is amazing too.
How did you get together this group of artists from all over the globe? And is the group still growing or is it an established selection of artists?
I made contact with Guido and Iemke about 10 years ago. Through early diy blogs and artist run spaces. It's grown over time organically. I came across Kwangyup's work about 20 years ago but have just been in direct contact with him for the past couple of years. The line up isn't written in stone but there is a core group of engaged people. We would like to add some younger artists for future projects, but of course they'd need to be a good fit.
What criteria do you look at when choosing participating artists?
Well of course it has to be non-objective. Beyond that, it's all about what the work looks like and whether it's interesting or not. The work has to be smart. We know what we like when we see it. We’re not interested in art that has too much of a narrative to it or that employs too much “illusionistic” space. What we don't look at is nationality, resume, age, gender, whether you are an established artist etc.
Therely Bare has been an ongoing, traveling exhibition. Where did it first start and who was a part of its genesis?
Our first show was in Chattanooga in 2011, then it went to Zeitgeist and then Kent State U. That time I co-curated with Ron Buffington. Most of the artists that time were people I had been in contact with previous to that. It seemed to me there were these artists making paintings that were subverting the notion of painting from the inside. Not taking any of the standard practices for granted.
What is the significance of making non-objective art in a culture that tends to objectify and commodify?
Very significant. Just doing or making any kind of art is a political statement and making non-objective art is saying something radical, I think. For exactly that reason, how do you commodify something that many people approach and say “what is it”? It’s an object but people don’t know how to “put it to use”. Art that makes an overt “statement” people can handle, “oh he makes paintings of trees, he wants to save the environment”. But with non-objective art, unless you’re at the really high end, it resists commodification to a large degree. Which is neither good nor bad, it just is.
What are the connections with Robert Ryman that you most feel connected to?
Ryman’s whole program is investigating the materiality of paint on a support. Early on in his career he decided that he wasn’t making a “picture”, so it was like, anything goes within certain limitations. All his logic followed after that. People get caught up in the white painting, thinking it’s a kind of negation when it really is not. Using white freed him to endlessly explore other areas of painting. I feel connected to Ryman’s focus on a practical level and on an emotional level I love the beauty of his work.
How has living in Tennessee effected your practice?
The beauty of this type of non-objective work is, you can make it anywhere. It’s an international style. You can’t tell by looking at Gudio’s work that it was made in the Netherlands or that Mel Prest lived in San Francisco. That doesn’t mean any artist’s environment isn’t somehow in there, it just doesn’t proclaim itself to the viewer directly. (the exception to this might be Kate Beck). So I could say living in Tennessee hasn’t affected my practice at all. I’m surrounded by nice trees and lawns, etc along the Appalachian Mountains so from Maine to Georgia it all looks pretty much the same. Perhaps if my studio was in Iceland where the light and landscape were quite different it would affect my practice.
What are some differing receptions to your collective as you exhibit from region to region?
We’ve gotten great reactions wherever we’ve gone. I think when people see the work in person, they get it. It’s harder to react to the work in photographs because it really is experiential and how the work exists within the exhibition space is crucial. People in Greece at Art Athina where great, coming up and asking questions about it, very curious because we were so different from anything else there. About 35,000 people came through for that Art Fair. We matched what people were wearing to the work on view and took their picture. We’re not snobs about it, and we talk to everybody. We want the work to be accessible. Nashville has been great too, we’ve loved the write ups we’ve had.
Would you say the approach to make non-objective, minimal art is universal?
Every artist has their own approach to making. However they arrived at approach exactly is probably a mystery and involved many factors, like their education, philosophy, upbringing, environment, temperament, sensibility and on and on. What’s interesting to me is how artists of these different backgrounds and histories have arrived at approaches that address similar concerns about this thing we call Art, or Painting or Minimal Art. There are similar roots like an interest in Ryman or Donald Judd. It’s a universal language that has certain vocabulary and certain grammar rules, but we say something different with it (sometimes it can be very subtle). That might be an over simplification but there you go.
How did the idea come about to start a traveling group exhibition?
It’s art I want to see exhibited. It’s art I want to promote and put out there. It’s a great way to make connections with people, the artists themselves, the exhibitors and the general public. These days, and this has been going on for awhile, you can’t just sit back and wait for things to happen as an artist. I was influenced and inspired by different projects around the globe—Sydney Non Objective (run by Billy Gruner), IS Projects in the Netherlands (run by Guido & Imeke), and Jeffrey Cortland Jones too has done a lot of curating. We all feed off each other and support each other.
Where did the imagery in this exhibit come from? Whose cars are these? What made you want to paint them? The trees? The interiors?
The imagery comes from daily life. That’s the way things usually work for me. My viewable daily life through a filter blend of mood, concern, fantasy, space-out and cultivated bias. The images organize themselves into narratives that reflect how I perceive their identities. I am most strongly drawn to images whose identities are not settled and flip-flop between positive and negative, or knowable and unknowable. I am strongly drawn to obvious things whose omnipresence belie the texture of their identity. That apparent obviousness and ubiquity is something shared by the cars, trees, windows, stone animals etc. The MOST ubiquitous element in these works is the scouring yellow light. I have become obsessed with yellow as both the strongest and the most conflicted color in the world.
In your last show at Zeitgeist, the work was on a much larger scale. How did it differ working in this smaller scale?
It’s been interesting and fun. More than the scale the switch in medium from ink and sculptural materials to canvas, oil paint and photographs has been exciting and challenging. I think I have been able to increase the complexity and intensity of the color experience and that was the goal. The process requires more patience but working small I can have SO many more pieces going, there gets to be a chorus of discussion between them and that is providing me with a lot of options. They are continuing to grow in scale in my studio, and I hope to have a ton of them for my show this march.
Your last show dealt with themes of fatherhood and loss of control, are you dealing with any larger themes/feelings with this work?
I think the themes in the work are consistent but wider than the personal experiences that served as a foil for my last show. In both I am interested in the foolishness of man, of ME as a man, of dreams of permanence and conquest and building a forever future. In these works I’m speaking with the egotism and arrogance of a tree hugger and real estate developer rolled up into the same dude. We usually think of the naturalist or the gardener as a sympathetic cultivator of nature, but do you think nature gives a hoot, ha! I am talking about myself here. I really do believe that there are beautiful trees and therefore ugly trees and that's a pile of horsepucky. On one cushy abstract level I’m playing aesthetic games with these symbols to poke fun at uncontested recipes of beauty in my own mind, but at the same time I can look out my window and see this city remade in front of us based on the same phony calculations and romanticisms.
Were some of these done at an artist retreat? How was that?
All the cars were made at Gallery Protocol in Gainesville during a 2 week residency. It was awesome. I made 50 drawings in 10 days- a real binge. I drew one 2 years ago from photograph I took driving of a tailgating truck. That truck was going so fast and was so close plowing up route 24 towards Clarksville where I work. My reaction was to take a phone snap (brilliant, right?) But I actually drew it because I thought my then 4 year old son would love it as he does all cars. So there it is again: a simple image that looks one way to one person and another to another. I am an early riser and walk for an hour usually before the sun comes up. I have thought of those cars as middle-aged exercise nightmares. They are not my cars. I just come across them and if I see the face first I try to get real low and close so you’re going to get bumped into.
How do the elements of collage effect the work?
Making things fun. I take photos every day and collage has allowed me to plug that stream of images and image capture into my studio work.
What books and music are you digging right now?
“Going Clear” on scientology, “Chromophobia” by David Batchelor and “6 years” by Lucy Lippard is making my head spin,
My colleague Billy Renkl lent me Sufjan Steven’s Carey and Lowell and I have been listening to it on loop for 6 weeks now. Haunting, transcendental and grounded. I think it’s changing my brain.
Jessica Wohl's collages of found fabrics are eerily personal
Sewanee professor and multimedia artist Jessica Wohl has spent most of her career creating artwork about the underbelly of domestic life. From collages to embroidered photographs to sculpture, Wohl is known for exposing dark sides of family units, housekeeping and the so-called American Dream. "Letting Go," her new exhibit at Zeitgeist Gallery in Wedgewood-Houston, is the final installment of a years-long exploration of the discrepancies between how we present ourselves and how we actually are.
The exhibition is comprised of eight large-scale wall sculptures that blur the line between two- and three-dimensional art. Using found fabrics and quilting techniques, Wohl's abstract compositions allude to the home as a living being, both sinister and inviting. Each work feels like eerily personal, like it's been resurrected and re-configured from the memory of someone else's past.
Wohl incorporates intimate materials and items that, for her, carry the energy of the people who used them: bed sheets, pants, underwear, stained napkins. "These garments feel alive and lived-in to me," said Wohl. "I want that history to be visible."
A distinctly human element sets this work apart from simple fabric collage: hair. Wohl incorporates hair — growing and graying, real and synthetic — to imbue the sewn fabrics with a sense of the corporeal.
"On a purely formal level, it's another texture," she said. "But it's also a material that we tend to associate so clearly with people. It gives the sense of someone living in the materials."
Closing a chapter
"Letting Go" represents the twilight of a conceptual obsession with the illusion of picture-perfect domestic life. "I've said everything I can on this topic," Wohl remarked.
The abstract forms are intended to look limp and weary to reflect the idea's final stages. The heavy-hanging objects seem to exist largely as evidence of the life they once had in them.
"Blue Bunches," the first piece completed in the series, is an embroidered collage made of napkins, pillowcases, underwear, faux fur and hair. "There were parts of it that looked like phalluses, parts that looked like breasts — it was surprisingly bodily," said Wohl. "The notion of hanging, drooping and sagging started to make sense conceptually after I realized I was repeating it a lot. The lifelessness, the loss of elasticity, the notion that things are wearing out."
For much of her childhood and adult years, Wohl remained suspect of blissful family life. Growing up in a dysfunctional family, she worried she would never be able to have one of her own. "I thought I wouldn't be able to trust that mirage," she said. But now, happily engaged, she says found resolution in her own personal life and wants to move forward in her artwork as well.
"It's a celebratory parting," said Wohl. "The work I anticipate coming after this — which I don't yet have visuals for in my head — still deals with my family and issues that revolve around it and the home, but in a very different way. My work will eventually move more toward notions of race, because that's what my family will be dealing with."
Also at Zeitgeist, don't miss contemporary dance company New Dialect's last two performances of "Planes," a groundbreaking 1968 installation by Trisha Brown, at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. Saturday in the gallery's back room.
Brown's "Planes" installation is a film of aerial footage, shot by Jud Yalkut, projected on an 18-foot long, 13-foot high wall that has concealed holes at equal intervals across its entire surface. Three performers traverse the surface in slow motion, giving the illusion of falling through space. The 20-minute-long installation aims to reorient viewers' perception of gravity as the performers move across the wall.
"It's an honor for us to have the opportunity to participate in the tremendous legacy of Trisha Brown," said New Dialect director and founder Banning Bouldin. "She's had a enormous impact on how contemporary dances are made today — rule games, chance operations, spatial architecture, structured improvisation, and inter disciplinary collaborative are the bedrock of what we call 21st century dance."
The multiple performances of "Planes" at Zeitgeist, a total of nine throughout the month of May, are organized in conjunction with OZ Arts Nashville and the Trisha Brown Dance Company's "Retrospective in Three Parts" that premiered at OZ earlier in May.
"Brown's work is timeless," said Bouldin. "The collaborations and methods she began exploring in the '60s were groundbreaking then, and are still thought provoking and inspiring today. Each time I speak with viewers after we perform, I find a few who had no idea the work was created 47 years ago."
In your artist statement, you say this is possibly some of the most formal work you have made. Would you consider the formal nature of the work to be in tension with the inherently useful character of fabric and quilting? If so, could you briefly discuss how that tension may speak to the nature of the work?
I actually see the character of the fabric and the quilting as being a significant part of those formal choices. Being that I'm at the end of a body of work that has been exploring the same concepts for the last eight years, by feeling a resolution with those issues, I'm able to let these works be predominately defined by their form: their colors, textures, lines, patterns, etc. Where I see the most tension in the work is between the fabric and the hair. While the fabric may conjure up notions of nostalgia and familiarity, the hair disrupts a sense of comfort often associated with quilts and domestic textiles.
Where do you mine the majority of your materials? Are they used and reclaimed from thrift stores or yard sales, carefully selected from fabric stores, or from personal collections?
All of the above. Mostly, the fabrics come from thrift stores or my own home. My old clothes, as well as my finance's clothes, rarely make it to the thrift store anymore; now they either end up on a shelf in my studio or on a gallery wall.
How do you use the language of varying fabrics (velvet, cotton, lace, knits, rayon, etc.) to create dialogue within the pieces?
I rely on the associations people may have with these fabrics to inform the work. For example, some lace might imply lingerie while others might imply a tablecloth. Polyesters will tend to imply something dated, while a solid cotton shape might feel more timeless. Some fabrics might evoke delicate dresses while others can clearly be recognized as masculine, button-down shirts. Hopefully these contradictions will confuse a viewer, and encourage them to spend time figuring out, or considering, these tensions.
How do you see your work responding to a history of feminist textile works, such as that of Faith Wilding?
In making this work, I didn't intend to respond to the feminist textile artists who came before me; in fact, I have a hard time calling myself a textile artist, even if that's what I am. I approached these works as a painter who likes to sew, using fabric as my paint. That said, I do rely heavily on associations with domesticity and femininity through the use of textiles and their history.
The recurring forms in these pieces imply specific verbs: droop, fall, sag, slouch, dip. How does this language inform your concepts?
The concepts I had been exploring for years came to the end of their life in this body of work. I'm tired. The work was tired. In a way, these old ideas are dying. I used the droop, fall, hang and slouch as way of expressing that spent energy. It imbues the work with relaxation, despite its otherwise highly active aesthetic. I want it to feel like it's lost its elasticity, but that there's still something valuable in it's old, nearly-lifeless body.
Jessica Wohl's latest body of work, Letting Go is on view at Zeitgeist through June 27
Your use of ceramics breaks expectations that traditionally label clay as a medium of “craft” and not “fine art”. What tactics do you use to break down these assumptions?
I feel like a lot of time and energy has been sucked into the black hole that is this “craft” and “art” hoo-hah with ceramics. I know where I stand for myself, and I know what I talk about in the classroom. For me, the technique (craft) should always be in the service of a greater idea or concept, the content of the work. If the work digresses into merely technical exercises that initiate no greater dialog going beyond the physical object, then something is missing.
There are a lot of technical masters out there, who invest lots of research capital on getting glazes to do just this or that, then they sit around with a little club of like-minded individuals congratulating each other for achieving this or that glaze affect, all the while neglecting to think about what they are putting that glaze on, or why they are making the object in the first place, the “why” of their work. Technique (how) serves concept (why), that’s my rule in the studio. When I have an idea I am trying to express, that idea is where I look for clues to help me make purposeful decisions about what techniques will best manifest that idea.
Technique always follows, never leads (for the most part.) What do you want to say? Wrestle with that first, then decide how you might best say it. I also feel like our regional geography is a bit of an impediment to the medium of clay, there are other regions in this Great Nation of ours where this dialog has been put to bed decades ago, West Coast, Northeast, even in places like New Mexico and up in Seattle and the greater Northwestern area, this craft-art stuff has diminished due to the variety of high-quality work being made. Go to the Philadelphia Clay Studio, and you won’t see philosophical rants about craft and art, you’ll just see world-class work.
I am a big fan of high-quality functional work, I have learned a lot from world-class potters like James Watkins, Peter Beasecker, who make pottery simply to DIE for. I tell my students to make the best work they possibly can at that instant they are working, and if they can do that, no one will care if it is art or craft, they will care because it is good. Make good work, that’s what is needed right now. I am also a big fan of the intimacy of the pot, how we crave to reach out and touch it, hold it, bring it to our lips. That’s a big part of the allure of the medium for me, we want to explore it not just with our eyes, but our sense of touch as well. Few things make me as happy as watching viewers reach out to touch the work and encounter that odd internal speed-bump of not being allowed to because it’s art, but also having their primitive brain remember that it’s made of clay, and we touch clay, we have been handling it for as long as we have developed civilization. Just go work, work hard, and make sure the work is the best it can be at that particular time.
What contemporary ceramicists and artists influence your work?
I am embarrassed to say as an educator, but I don’t do my homework like I used to, and the most current work is often not on my radar. As a student, I can remember being enamored with the abstraction of Constantin Brancusi, that concept of diluting a subject matter down to its conceptual essence, not even based on the corporeal form any more.
The work ethic of Richard Serra stokes the inner fire and compels me to just go work, even when feeling tired, sick, or not necessarily “moved by the muse”. Any recorded dialog of his is gas in the tank. His buddy Philip Glass moves me to work, too. If I have a big run of pottery to make, that’s the golden ticket. Martin Puryear makes forms that, when I have been lucky enough to see first hand, fuse me to the spot.
I love how work seen in books, magazines or photographs that appear so clean, refined when met in person carry with them a patina and residue of the process, a record of their making, much like a Jackson Polluck is a record of the choreography between canvas and the body of the painter.
The Scottish artist David Mach shows up in my 3-D Design lectures regularly, I like his wit and inventiveness. How he can turn a recognizable subject on its ear and make it new to us. I think that can be some of the best work, something familiar that you meet again in a new way. Yoshitomo Nara is a Japanese artist who I met thanks to a children’s book given to us by family friends many years ago, his sculptural forms are exciting.
I find it simultaneously inspiring and disheartening when I find work by someone exploring similar themes but doing a much better job of it, Kukuli Velarde is an artist like that working in clay. She weds history and contemporary more beautifully than I could ever hope to. The emotional-narrative-animal based ceramic magic (for lack of a more appropriate word) of Beth Cavener is beyond impressive.
Joe Bova, my undergrad professor’s grad professor at LSU, is someone whose work I regularly look up, my academic “grandfather” in a way. Politial narrative-figurative forms, and masterfully executed. I watched him give many a demo at Loyola as a student, and can remember those events being important moments. I think an implied narrative is something I enjoy. There’s a lot, but I need to be looking more than I do. Sometimes, it gets hard to find the time to keep up.
Many of your pieces feature recurring symbols, such as the luchador mask, and the bunny and cat-eared headpieces. How are these motifs chosen, and how do they function?
The luchadors were chosen as contemporary renditions of Pre-Colombian warriors, Jaguar Warriors, which are among my truly favorite historic subjects. In “Mexico Before Cortez”, Ignacio Bernal describes Jaguar Warriors defending Mexico City from the surrounding jungle, these mythic super-warriors who, after killing a jaguar, would assume its traits and powers. They would seize approaching Spanish infantrymen from out of the jungle, leaving soliders behind wondering what the hell that was, that half man-giant cat that just grabbed their buddy and dragged him away screaming. In grad school, I read this book many, many times, which is funny, because my work had not yet moved in this direction. For me, the Luchador is a modern reference to these superheroes from Pre-Colonbian cultures.
Many of the animal forms were based on cartoon characters pulled from my childhood and thankfully returned to my world through my children when they were younger. I can remember my daughter, now 10, asking me about 3 or 4 years ago what I was going to make art about once she grew up. At the time, I was making large-scale “mash-ups” of Kathy the Bunny, loyal sidekick to Hello Kitty, and Q’in Dynasty Chinese Terra Cotta warriors. The animal forms are intended as light-hearted icons, evocative of a simple, pleasure-seeking childhood frame of mind. They function to disarm the viewer a bit, make them comfortable with the work, and hopefully to then create a stark contrast to other ideas present in the work, ideas associated with conflict, combat, warfare, fighting, death. The cute is the counter to the bitter, which I openly admit can be a heavy-handed formula. Is this getting a bit formula?
What aspects of pop culture inform your work?
I grew up on comic books, so it would be silly not to admit that is where most of my image-making began. My older brother was much better at drawing, I can remember watching him spend hours drawing large blow-ups of individual panels from Sgt. Rock and X-Men comics, later I would get my ass kicked for sneaking in to his room and dropping in some colors. Exaggerated heroes and villains from comic books, villains always seemed more inventive. I also watched a lot of cartoons; Masters of the Universe, Transformers and G.I. Joe were my after school ritual for a long while. Possibly too long.
I can’t express the joy and excitement that my first trip back into a comic shop with my son brought. He’s 15 now, at the time 4 or 5. After one of the most thoughtful walk-throughs I’ve ever been a part of (lots of “What’s his name? And what can he do?”), he settled on Batman. Oh, the chance to go back through it all again, to revisit familiar stories, to explore those I chose not to when it was my first time, it was great. The door back into this world was unlocked and flung wide with the key called parenting. I certainly have gotten more out of it than I deserve. Now with the movies, my goodness. And there is so much new stuff that is so smart, so well done. The first time I watched an episode of “Adventure Time” with both of my kids about 2 years ago, I think they were scared for me.
What aspects of history inform your work?
Some of the warrior figures I make are heavily influenced by the style of Moche work, Azec, Mixtec, there is acuity and brevity of image making there that is remarkable. Pre-Colombian clay work is in my work, there is something magical about the balance of detail and abstraction that I enjoy and seek. Japanese Haniwa figures and horses equally inspire me. Colossal Olmec Heads are great.
Regarding clay, well before we developed the technology for fired ceramic that led to functional work, we were proto-cultural image-makers in the caves of Altamira, Lasceaux and Tuc d'Audobert in the French Pyrenees, sculpting clay bison by firelight. This is the beginning of the story that every ceramic artist is contributing to today. That’s amazing to me, knowing that I am part of that continuous narrative, a human making forms out of clay for my fellow humans to contemplate and enjoy. What is possibly better or a more species-defining practice? Got me. Then we mastered how to fire it, how to make pots, forms that are impervious to rain, to the elements. Bricks. Where would we be without bricks? Fired clay was an evolutionary step for us as a species, it is what the heat-reflective tiles on the nose of the space shuttle are made out of, and what we drink coffee out of. It’s an exciting material that brings with it a rich history that is imbedded in us on a molecular level.
How do you see these references to contemporary pop culture functioning within the work? Are they critical, analytical, investigative, etc.?
I’m not entirely sure how these references function. I don’t think it’s critical, I don’t like preachy work, I think it’s more about reminding the viewer that we are not so far from where we began, but not in a bad way. I like the idea that ancient “pop” culture (such as Jaguar Warriors) can easily be compared to contemporary luchadors or superheroes. In that way, I guess it’s analytical, reminding us of who we are, comparing the old and new, creating a time-based hybrid. We are myth builders, storytellers, ranters all. I guess for me it’s investigative, I like seeing how I can concoct a new combination of images or sources to make something new, something I have not seen in the studio before. That’s investigation for me, that moment where the parts are coming together, and I’m not quite sure when it will be done, when it will be complete, that’s the fun. I have colleagues who talk about the struggle, but I find it extremely fun, The struggle is usually finding the time, but once that is done, it’s just fun. Even the failures are fun, because you build on them.
John Donovan's latest exhibit New Personal Best! is on view at Zeitgeist through June 27, 2015
Zeitgeist is pleased to be hosting The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee as it kicks off its 20th Anniversary Celebration by welcoming one of the world’s preeminent scientists on African elephants’ communication and social dynamics, Dr Caitlin O'Connell. The event is free and open to the public. O'Connell will be doing a reading, followed by a book signing.
Parnassus Books will offer copies of Elephant Don for purchase, and donate ten percent of the book price to benefit The Elephant Sanctuary.
Smithsonian called Dr. Caitlin O’Connell “the elephant whisperer.” After decades of research in Namibia’s Etosha National Park, she’s one of the world’s only scientists who can decipher the language of elephants, theircommunications within their social circles.
O’Connell is a faculty member at Stanford University School of Medicine, author of the acclaimed science memoir The Elephant’s Secret Sense, and the subject of the award-winning Smithsonian documentary Elephant King. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, Boston Globe, National Geographic, and Discover, among many others.
In the new nonfiction book Elephant Don: The Politics of a Pachyderm Posse, O’Connell looks inside the social world of African male elephants as she tracks “Greg” and his entourage of fellow bull elephants in order to understand the vicissitudes of male friendship, power struggles, and play. A portrayal of commitment, loyalty, and affection between individuals yearning for companionship, the book vividly captures a huge repertoire of elephant behavior and communication. The narrative also tells the story of Dr. O’Connell – the trials and adventure of field research in environs more hospitable to lions and snakes than scientists.
“[Elephant Don] comes at a critical time, when the slaughter of these intelligent and long-lived creatures is at an all-time high. The more people learn about them, the more they are likely to help efforts to save them.”
–Jane Goodall, founder, the Jane Goodall Institute & UN Messenger of Peace
Dr. O'Connell will also speak on the process of converting true life experiences into fiction in order to broaden the public conversation around elephant conservation, as the battle to save Africa's elephants serves as the backdrop to her debut thriller, Ivory Ghosts - dubbed "a win for any animal lover or reader with a conservationist's heart" by Jodi Picoult, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, Leaving Time.
when: June 12, 6:30pm, at Zeitgeist Gallery - 516 Hagan St, #100 Nashville, TN 37203
May 2, 6:00-9:00PM
At 6pm there will be a special performance of Planes (17min), see below for more info
See the opening of:
New Personal Best! by John Donovan
John Donovan's latest body of work consists of ceramic sculptures based on pre-Columbian and Chinese Han dynasty-era ceramic figures. The idea of the figures as accessorized toys is balanced with a prevailing historical record that champions war and aggression.
John Donovan is a sculptor who moved to Nashville from the Gulf Coast eleven years ago. His primary medium of choice is clay; chosen for its accessibility and familiarity to viewers and also because of the traditional expectations associated with ceramics as a "craft medium." Images hand-built and molded from toys invoke an innocence that is juxtaposed with conflict and loss of innocence. Although there is a lot of humor in the work it also comments on the violent and complicated nature of our culture.
Letting Go by Jessica Wohl
Minnesota-native and Sewanee professor Jessica Wohl has recently been featured in a number of shows around the southeast and in NYC. Her work traditionally combines figurative elements with items and processes associated with domestic/suburban lifestyles. This outing finds her using fabric and sewing techniques as painting.
"Letting Go is my farewell to the sordid love affair I have with picture-perfect domestic life and the dark underbelly of suburban America. Stained scraps of old clothes and used linens reveal traces of lives lived in the home, and with the sewn line, combine in what is possibly the most formal work I have made. These colorful abstractions are the final shedding of this skin, where my conceptual inquiry and emotional confusion graciously, and subtly, give way to resolution and clarity."
Follow the link above for a listing of all events happening as part of Arts & Music at Wedgewood/Houston on May 2
Announcing a special performance at Zeitgeist throughout May:
We are partnering with OZ Arts, New Dialect and Trisha Brown Dance Company to bring you Planes.
Planes, Trisha Brown's 1968 vertical dance and film collaboration with Jud Yalkut, will take place at Zeitgeist Gallery. The performance will feature three dancers chosen from Nashville-based contemporary dance collective New Dialect.
There are 9 chances to see this very unique performance:
May 2-30, Saturdays, 11am and 6pm,at Zeitgeist Gallery (excluding Saturday, May 16)
May 14, 8pm,at OZ Arts Nashville presents TBDC's three-year Proscenium Works, 1979-2011
May 15, 7:30pm, at Zeitgeist Gallery, features five-year TBDC member Tara Lorenzen in collaboration with two dancers chosen from Nashville-based contemporary dance collective New Dialect. A short Q&A will follow with: New Dialect Artistic Director Banning Bouldin, Trisha Brown Dance Company Co-Artistic Director Carolyn Lucas and Zeitgeist Gallery Director Lain York, facilitated by OZ Arts Nashville Artistic Director Lauren Snelling.
May 16, 7:30pm, at OZ Arts Nashville, showcasing a selection of Brown's works, beginning outdoors with In Plain Site.
All performances taking place at Zeitgeist are free and open to the public. For more info on the performances at Oz visit ozartsnashville.org
What goes into making your book editions? What are the steps? Do you make a sample first or do make it up as you produce all of them?
First off, I’m not sure I’ll ever make another edition like these five. I began because I had enjoyed making an edition of small stenciled paintings-on-wood for Dusk Editions in Brooklyn and wanted to know if I could extend editions work into my books. I figured I’d make one stencil for color for each page and paint ten pages with each stencil. But because I use such gloppy paint to get the effect I want, each time I use a stencil, I destroy it. So I have to make ten stencils for each color for each page for an edition of ten books: do the math. I enjoyed it, mind you, but it took six months to prepare this group of five titles.
I begin by tearing and folding the paper into folios (8 pages per folio, 5 per book) and numbering them very lightly in pencil. Then I begin to work.
Sometimes I have a shape or color I wish to use, and most often the first few pages suggest a title or theme to follow.
The work I need to do then appears fairly obvious to me: I want to tell a story about Golem: these colors, those shapes seem required to me. Want to talk about death: how could you not include overlays done in such-and-such a manner?
I don’t make a sample in advance, I don’t work sequentially (from front to back), I work as some voice inside my head directs.
I love most when that voice seems not my own. In the best of times, I do not feel I am the author of the work.
How does working on paper differ from working on canvas or wood?
Paper is so easily managed: pick it up to send the paint dripping downward; use a sponge to wash off everything you thought so certain of yesterday but today realize is no good; cut out words and paste them down: no big deal.
Canvas finds me more serious; I can’t throw a canvas around the room as easily as a piece of paper.
Wood makes me very serious because I have to sand instead of sponging away mistakes.
How has your experience as a graphic designer influenced your work as an artist?
I use Photoshop to set up my type before I cut them as stencils; the program does very bad letter-spacing and kerning, so that keeps me from being design-y—design is great in a brochure but a consciously designed painting is a short-lived love.
What is it like to be an artist in San Francisco?
My wife and I don’t know many artists, our friendships aren't based on that, so living in San Francisco is most important because of the weather, which can’t be beat. And proximity to family.
Our tastes are not ruled by the taste of San Francisco; we find the work we like all over the world: on the web, or on trips, in museums. Frankly, we find a lot on Facebook.
Spending almost every hour of every day looking and creating has sharpened our likes and dislikes to such a fine point that we end up enjoying very little. Still, what we do enjoy, we enjoy very very much.
What are your main influences?
DeKooning. Kurt Weill. Bruno Schulz. Bach-Beethoven-not Brahms. Leos Janacek. Poulenc, definitely. And above all, Shostakovich. Composers have effected me as much as painters.
How do ideas of play come to inform or influence your work?
Do my dreams count as ideas? Because that’s where most of my input come from. I wake at three in the morning with instructions: write down this sentence and add it to the painting you are working on. Write down this dream because it’s to be your next book. You just dreamed you were climbing an escarpment in Mali; go make a wood sculpture that feels like that climb.
Where do the titles come from? The text inside?
Dreams, again. Almost always dreams, for both text and titles. I’ve had dreams in which I’ve taken dictation that when typed out created five pages of continuous text. I love that. I love being used.
How do the books fit in with your larger pieces? Do you see them as potential studies for larger work?
Both feed into and onto each other. One’s not more important, one is not first or last, it’s all a continuum. For example: I make small wood sculptures and then make one the same shape but ten times larger; but the small one’s not a maquette, it’s an individual with all the rights and privileges which pertain to any of us. Know what I mean?
Call or e-mail Zeitgeist for more info.
Brown is an avant-garde and postmodernist choreographer whose more than forty-year contribution to contemporary dance has made a significant impact on the field worldwide. It has been said that her movement investigations find “the extraordinary in the everyday and challenge existing perceptions of what constitutes performance.”
In May the Trisha Brown Dance Company will travel to Nashville to perform twice at OZ Nashville. During that month, one of the Company’s dancers will also set Brown’s renowned work Planes on the dancers of New Dialect, who will then perform the piece nine times at Zeitgeist Gallery. These performances will be free to the public.
Installation Dates and Times:
Saturdays, May 2, 9, 23, & 30 at 11 AM and 6 PM
*Special performance featuring dancers from Trisha Brown Dance Company with New Dialect: Friday, May 15, at 7:30 PM
Where does the name Scissor Bell come from?
It came from a conversation about My Little Pony (Sweetie Belle). I liked the idea of a title that alluded to a simple deconstructive process and something suggesting resonance.
How does working in vinyl change the way you express ideas? Does it limit you?
The new work is very abstracted but I still think of it as figurative. I wanted to address the figure in a new way (for me); to move away from silhouette and into a more organic way of drawing. I thought of Alberto Giacometti drawings and the way he moved from the inside out rendering a figure. The web-like imagery was looking at the figure, drawing grids, and connecting dots within the grids. I then used the finished shapes as templates to make several, layered resonating shapes. Weaving strips of color was another fun, very rhythmic process.
The vinyl is fun and immediate but it is also very particular; there are rules. There are moments to break the rules and some negotiating that goes on. Whether I work with paint, graphite, correct tape or vinyl there is a particular sensitivity that I think has to be respected that’s important for successful finished pieces. I think that through attentively addressing parameters or limitations, one sees more possibilities.
What inspired you to make this show about Nashville? What are you trying to say about the city? How does it fit in with other recent shows about Nashville – Brady Haston’s?
The end of the year is always a very inward looking period for me. The city is progressing so quickly and as a native, I of course feel that some things are being lost. I also feel that Creative Industry in Nashville has much to do with this development. Almost all of the references are from things that are now gone but that’s the natural trade-off for moving forward and I am comfortable with it. I like the analogy of being an archaeologist and assessing a progressing landscape from looking down at what has been covered up.
I thought Brady Haston’s document of Chronicles of the Cumberland by Paul Clemments was a brilliant example of using abstract painting to convey a very particular narrative. I don’t think mine sought to be nearly as articulate or focused. The idea of Narrative, particularly more localized accounts is incredibly timely; I see it everywhere. Story-telling in the digital age seems to be human beings beginning to scratch the surface of making sense of ridiculous amounts of data we gathered. Inevitably, this narrative has deep roots in the past.
How has your work changed since your last show? Is this more personal?
I definitely wanted to move away from anything as content driven as earlier work. Emphasizing the more formal aspects of the new series (color, texture, rhythm, etc.) was very important. The process of making the images has to be engaging and I pulled images/shapes from a lot of fairly unrelated sources. The previous body of work was very focused and it was a bit of chore this go-round to focus. There are many new avenues that I am looking forward to exploring because of this.
This latest work was indeed very personal. I am still absorbing it.
Who are your current influences?
Stuart Davis, Matisse, N Dash, 70’s skate board magazines/Glen Friedman photography, Gedi Sibony, George Condo, Jean Michel Alberola, Hurtado Segovia
Scissor Bell is on view at Zeitgeist Gallery through February 28, 2015