Tag Archives: Nashville

Contemporary Figure Painting Part 2: A Painter’s Perspective


Workshop “Alla Prima” Demo by Felicia Forte

As an artist, learning new techniques and breaking bad habits is a neccessary part of the journey. When one struggles for months or even years to acheive a technical goal, the frustration can settle in like an univited guest who refuses to take leave at a reasonable hour.  When I read that one of my favorite artists, Felicia Forte, was scheduled to teach a workshop at Warehoue 521 in Nashville, TN, I knew that a six hour drive was a minor hurdle and that I must attend despite a busy schedule at home.

During her demos, I began to understand what Forte deems as important, on a technical level, for a successful alla prima figure painting. Pay close attention to drawing the initial large shapes (“one look, one line”), to value, and to color. Think about how to paint each shape with the fewest brushstrokes as possible. As a teacher, Forte uses language with the same rich, saturated economy of her brushstrokes. “When you see someone down the street, you recognize them because of the largest shapes on the face and body, not because you can see the details. Always paint the largest shapes first.”

Best of all, on the first day of the workshop, she demonstrated four specific steps that helped her improve her own paintings. She was quite direct with every purposeful word she spoke and even told us HOW to be students. “Write this down. I want you to take notes. Later you will use the notes when you are painting.” “Take pictures so you can see the steps. I will ask you to use the snaps when you are painting so you can remember the steps while you learn something new.” “Next I will get more quiet. I will be painting. Just watch.” Her blunt language enabled her to do the best job she could while teaching and allowed us to do the best job we could while learning. I was tremendously grateful and impressed early in the first day of the three day workshop.

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As a bonus, Forte allowed me to ask her the same questions about contemporary figure painting I asked gallery owners in the previous post. Talking with several gallery owners last week about contemporary figure painting was exciting and insightful. Now I’d hear the  perspective of a rising star. While Forte’s current body of paintings is not strictly figurative, I wanted to pay attention to the similarities and differences between an artist perspective and that of a gallery.

Do you feel like there is a strong collector’s market for figure painting today? Is there anything specifically challenging about selling figurative work?

“It’s funny because…I have no idea. I mean, I’ve spent most of my time getting good at painting and teaching painting. The show I have now at Adend Gallery is the first big show I’ve done, as far as number of paintings. It is 25 paintings, many of which are not figurative. The gallery does say that since 2008 sales have been twice as difficult as before.”

In your opinion, what is the difference between a figure painting and a portrait?

“Well, I don’t think there is enough information in the question. A portrait can be a figurative painting and a figurative painting can be a portrait. It depends on the artist.”

What about when an art collector is admiring a painting and says something along the lines of not wanting a figure painting in their home unless they know the person in the painting? I hear this type of comment about my own work which makes me curious about the perceived difference between a portrait and a figurative painting. 

“Either the artist is not educated or the collectors are not educated. Your question tells me that people need to be more educated about what’s happening in the art world today.”

Will you name a few contemporary figure painters you admire and tell us what you appreciate about their work?

“I like Emile Joseph Robinson who I wouldn’t call strictly a figurative painter. I’ve watched his progress during the last three or four years. He started with pastels, then went abstract and now he is coming back around and is more representational. He is curious, his work is unique and he is inspiring.”

“Daniel Sprick – he is just a master.  I know that his work is unique and impressive and moving. But not moving in the same way as the first guy I mentioned. Robinson paints more like I like to paint myself. I do not paint like Daniel Sprick, but I admire him.”

Do you have any advice for emerging figure painters?

“Beyond the technical? Make sure you are painting for you first and foremost and not your idea of what the market wants. It will become not fun to do. I’d say, enter contests. It is a good way to thicken your skin, a good thing to do, there is a range of prestige in the available contests. In entering them, look at who the jurors are and see if it is worth your time or entry fee.”

“I’ve been conservative about putting stuff in galleries. I spend my time traveling to teach workshops and am not teaching regularly at home anymore. This gives me more time to paint, thus building the gallery career.”

“It usually takes longer and the path is much windier than you think it will be so be able to adjust.”


In summary, taking a workshop from an admired artist is an incredible opportunity to push yourself, learn new skills, and gain valuable insight. Thank you to Felicia Forte fstudioblkandwhite2or honing your teaching skills, in addition to your painting skills, so students can learn more than they may have thought possible in a three day workshop. And thank you to Warehouse 521. In three short years, Jeanie Smith has developed an incredible program that attracts top artists from around the world. I’ll certainly keep my eye in the schedule and hope to return soon.

P.S. Below are some paintings from the workshop and from my studio. Ever since returning home, I’ve been practicing what we learned in the workshop. Bad habits are hard to break but I think I’m making some progress. dsc_0655 dsc_0669 dsc_0666 dsc_0664dsc_0658 dsc_0660

Gallery Hopping in Nashville: Round Two

IMG_0153The drive from Little Rock to Nashville is 5.5 hours and the growing visual art scene in a city known for incredible music makes the drive well worth the effort for a painter like myself. I didn’t hit the lively bar scene; instead, I encountered another type of entertainment – outstanding fine art. During my last trip just two months ago, I got to visit several galleries and posted about the artists my friend, Chuck, and I discovered along the way. This trip, I was able to return to the full and fabulous Bennett Gallery (see last Nashville post to read more about Bennett) and visit two that I missed last time: Tinney Contemporary and Cumberland Gallery.

Arriving downtown, I IMG_0144felt hesitant as I parked and found my way into the cool clean atmosphere of Tinney Contemporary.  Though I emailed the owner, Susan Tinney, about hand delivering my portfolio (as opposed to mailing it), I did not have an appointment and wondered how I would be received. As luck would have it, Susan was immediately available. I made it clear I did not expect any type of meeting regarding the portfolio but was simply happy to meet her and see the current exhibit. Susan was warm and welcoming and visited with me about her business, her artists, about working with clients and about art in Nashville. While we were talking, another stroke of luck…in walked James Perrin whose current solo exhibition fills the gallery with energy, chaos, color and vibrant mark making. James was there on business but was kind enough to answer a few questions and talk with me about his work. Feeling incredibly grateful for the serendipitous timing, I knew I was meant to visit Tinney Contemporary, regardless of the outcome of the portfolio delivery.


Perrin, Colossus, After Goya, Oil and acrylic resin on linen, 80 x 96 in.

At times reminiscent of Lucien Freud’s technique, Perrin’sIMG_0147 paint becomes sculptural, with it’s excessive protrusion forming another thing all together: and that thing, we realize, is the idea of excess itself. There is more than enough; the paint is startling, beautiful, and almost gross in the settings Perrin creates. In one series, the artist provides a window to his thoughts with titles such as “Walmart” and the mounds of paint in abstracted heaps spill outward from the realistically rendered aisles of a store. It dawns on me that the paint is not gross, it is the idea of excess oozing out that makes me uncomfortable.  Artists who are able to manipulate materials to impact the viewer’s thoughts and feelings are outstanding. I wonder if Crystal Bridges Museum of Art founder, Alice Walton, might consider IMG_0146purchasing paintings that reference her family company by name and paintings that possibly comment on material goods and consumption  (if interested in Crystal Bridges, use the search box to find earlier posts about visits to the museum). One might think she would be resistant or even offended by the title and content of Perrin’s paintings. However, like the Vatican’s ownership and display of a distorted pope by Francis Bacon, Walton might embrace an artist’s cultural commentary even when it comes to the family business. Perrin’s work would have fit well in the State of the Art exhibit last year at Crystal Bridges where artists pushed traditional art making materials beyond their typical use.

After the warm reception by both the owner and the artist at Tinney, I braced myself for a less informative exchange at my next stop. Let me just say, upon entering Cumberland Gallery, I realized the error of my pessimistic attitude. It’s just that I get so nervous – visiting galleries with portfolio in hand fills me with doubt. That doubt was dispelled the moment I met gallery manager, Lydia Denkler. Though Lydia will leave soon for work elsewhere, she spoke highly and passionately of the gallery, the artists and of gallery owner, Carol Stein.


Lavadour, New Platform, 2012, oil on wood box, 32 x 48 x 2 in.

Not wanting to dominate Lydia’s time toward the end of the work day, I wandered the gallery. Upstairs, several artists were represented and I was delighted to recognize the work of James Lavadour, who had in impressive multi panel display at Crystal Bridges during the State of the Art exhibit (apparently, their curators have discovered the Nashville art scene!).


Greene, Bellicose Binary, 2015, acrylic and oil on panel, 36 x 36 in.

Downstairs, the longer I stood, the more intrigued I became while studying the work of Warren Greene and of Bill Killebrew. Photos simply do not communicate the evocative surfaces of each of these artists. Green’s abstractions are built of multiple transparent layers causing the viewer to continue discovering nuances that seduce. Though the content and composition is vastly different from Mark Rothko’s paintings, I found the paintings to have a similar meditative impact on the viewer. The lines, patterns and texture created in a transparent medium offer a sensory appeal that made it tempting to touch the surface of the work (though I resisted).

Killebrew, Then she swept up and had a nap., 2015, oil on linen, 30 x 54 in

Killebrew, Then she swept up and had a nap., 2015, oil on linen, 30 x 54 in

As a figure artist, I was of course interested in the work of Bill Killebrew. The muddy skin tones he uses on the figures, who are set in object filled, colorful surroundings, force the figures to recede. The interiors become more lively than the figures and the objects dominate.  These qualities, plus the flattening of space, objectify the human form and make us look like part of the clutter, indistinguishable from our overfilled surroundings. The artist makes the viewer search and search for the camouflaged figure and the experience reminded me fondly of the “hidden pictures” game in Highlights magazine. As a girl, part of the fun was all the little things I spotted while trying to find one particular object…in this case, the human. Though make no mistake, these paintings are not trivial or childish – they are sophisticated and provoking due to the composition, color palette, and relationship between the figure and the space he habitates, or that habitates him.

Killebrew, Floor Repair, 2013, oil on linen, 54 x 45 in.

Killebrew, Floor Repair, 2013, oil on linen, 54 x 45 in.

As I prepared to leave, I stopped by Lydia’s desk to say good-bye. Instead of guiding me toward the door, she offered career guidance in the form of a book recommendation (Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland). She also spoke about the projects she enjoys, and it became clear she likes to teach and help people.

What a gift it is when people give their time and knowledge, when people are willing to embrace a stranger and provide insight. The more I paint, the more I study, the more I write, and the more I pay close attention to what I am seeing – in life, in work, in museums and galleries – the more I have something to offer as well. And the exchange, regardless of the outcome (in other words, regardless of what happens with my portfolio), is exciting and rewarding. It reminds me of finally learning how to paint in the moment, exploring the process rather than fixating on the outcome. It is all such a gift and I am grateful.

Thanks for reading!

Gallery Hopping In Nashville, TN

While planning a road trip from Little Rock to Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, TN, I noticed a perfect opportunity to stop over in Nashville where I could visit the growing list of cool art galleries, as well as visit a dear college friend. IMG_6101Staying overnight both Friday and Saturday, thanks to my kind hosts, allowed plenty of time for multiple stops. More importantly, and quite unexpectedly, we were able to spend quality time in the galleries, where owners and sales people were professional as well as encouraging, even when I mentioned my interest in gallery representation.

One of our most delightful surprises and longest stays, was at the Bennett Galleries where we were immediately greeted by Emily Cothran. Upstairs there is a frame shop, though this is a fine art gallery with many long established art contacts – from well known artists to top decorators to savvy collectors. The art styles represent a range including figurative, landscape and abstract. Though there is a wide variety, there is also a common larger theme: provoking, interesting, high-quality work.

IMG_6082The surprise came as we stood at the top of the stairs admiring a large abstraction that included random bits of architectural and figurative drawings embedded in the layers. This painting did what I most love…it gave the viewer the opportunity to discover and imagine. The longer we stood gazing at the heavily textured surface, the more information was revealed. The only problem was that the painting was hung in a position that was difficult to see closely. I suspect the layered surface, created with paint, pencil or charcoal, and fabric, would continue to delight upon closer inspection. MylesBennett-Affair16onWorktable-mixedmediaoncanvas-61x64

As we stood discussing the piece, Emily explained the artist, Myles Bennett, attended the Rhode Island School of Design and now lives and works in Brooklyn. At that moment, a young man strolled up as if on cue…it was the artist himself! Unbeknownst to Emily, Myles was visiting Nashville for a few days. When deeply appreciative of a specific piece of art, it is always a treat to meet the artist and hear his or her thoughts. We had the pleasure of talking with Myles about his work, education, family, and all sorts of topics. What perfect timing!frothy-monkey-12-south

After a quick coffee at the Frothy Monkey in the hip “12south” neighborhood, we headed downtown to The Rymer Gallery, The Arts Company, and Tinney Contemporary. Like many artists thinking about how technology is changing our lives and changing how we relate to each other (for both better and worse),Seduction 1 John Jackson I am always excited to see this topic tackled and was delighted to find the provocative paintings of John Jackson currently hanging at The Rymer Gallery. Many of his pieces incite thoughts about technology’s influence on intimacy as well as what we view as “real.” The space at The Rymer Gallery is clean and open, which creates a calm environment and allows a deceptively large volume of work to hang without feeling crowded. We then moved a few doors down to Tinney, which was closed due to the installation of a new exhibit.

The tour would not have been complete without a visit to the ultra avante garde art space, Zeitgeist, where we were fortunate to meet contemporary multi-media artist, Lain York. lyonkunown(frommainroom)912 He  showed us his work made of vinyl strips which led to a discussion about the expanding definition of art and potential art materials. As Lain spoke, I thought of the recent “State of the Art” exhibit at Crystal Bridges Museum of Art (for more information, scroll down to see earlier blog post) and how the exhibit presented to the public a show in which there were almost no limits on materials used in today’s art. To many, it was baffling, and not necessarily art, but to artists, the show was ground-breaking validation. And before I could ask, Lain mentioned his awareness and appreciation of the Crystal Bridges exhibit.yorkfairfax3215

Zeitgeist represents a variety of artists. My impression after visiting the converted warehouse is that the space provides a place for artists who are combining mediums and art forms (for example, think of dance, film, light, and sound combined to create a performance piece), who are experimenting with materials, and who are successfully communicating ideas through alternate uses of materials. This is a place to visit, and think, and learn. Thanks to Lain, we were educated about several of the represented artists, about recent exhibits, and about the purpose of the space.

In thelcg-open-outside-1218x360 mood for a scenic drive, we decided to head to historic Leiper’s Fork to visit Leiper’s Creek Gallery. I’d communicated with owner Lisa Fox through email years ago and was excited to meet heMel Rae Hear-and-Their-18x18-encaustic-2014r and talk about her art and the artists she represents. Warm and welcoming, Lisa told us about the gallery, about the historic area and surrounding businesses and about several of the artists. It was well worth the drive (which was stunning in the afternoon light) and a nice complement to a busy day in the city.

Because of meaningful conversation and contacts made at each gallery, it turns out a full day in Nashville wasn’t quite enough time to visit each gallery on my list. I’ve got another list going for next time with Cumberland Gallery at the top, followed by Tinney Contemporary. I would also love the visit the tiny space called “Nashville’s Smallest Art Gallery,” which according the the website, “measures a miniscule 27 inches wide by 37 inches tall, but has been attracting the work of top artistshow-thumbs from around the US world, and local Nashville artists alike. In a former life, the gallery was a neglected, graffiti-covered display case. Soon with a little help from some Goo Gone, a razor blade, and a total interior makeover, the gallery started to take shape, and on March 15, 2008 NSAG was born.” Seriously? How cool! Perhaps my next visit can coincide with the art walk, which I hear is quite a scene. Thank you to all the fine folks in Nashville’s art galleries, and a big thank you to my kind hosts, Chuck and Tony.

And thank YOU for reading! Next up: An enriching experience in so many ways at the world renowned Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts.IMG_0074_2