The 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 felt 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.
At times reminiscent of Lucien Freud’s technique, Perrin’s 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 purchasing 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.
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!).
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).
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.
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!