Rose by Dylan Moss

Art of the Week

Levity and absurdity can be more poignant lenses for exploring the human condition than overly self-serious avenues. Visual art in particular articulates this dichotomy, at once undercutting themes as complex as mortality and the passing of time while also interpreting them in valuable and thought-provoking ways (see: surrealism).

Adding to this legacy is Dylan Moss and his current show at Elephant Gallery, “Infinite Goof,” the title of which alludes to novelist David Foster Wallace’s own subversive, high/low epic exploration of life’s greatest mysteries. The show, Moss’ first solo exhibition, includes illustration, large-scale airbrush and acrylic paintings in which he wrestles with significant philosophies in unconventional ways. It runs until December 30, 2019.

“A native of Baltimore, Moss settled in Nashville in 2017 and immediately attracted attention with his unique, trippy line and subject matter ranging from social justice and consumerism to the oddity of being a human being in this insane world,” according to a release from the gallery.

Rose, a large-scale airbrush painting, for instance, puts an obvious focus on one of our most overly-symbolized blooms. But through airbrushing and emphasis on the flower’s thorns, the piece seems to beckon more toward tattooing or black light posters than it does toward, say, a Monet. The large safety pin and cartoonish hummingbird engulfed in the tangled, winding flower seem also to add to the “trippyness,” subversion and overt symbolism.

This is not the first time Elephant Gallery has put the spotlight on art’s ability to be both comedic and dramatic, perhaps even cynical, simultaneously. Its recent production of “Smoke Show” featured artists from around the country elevating one of life’s most maligned simple pleasures in original and interesting ways. The approach is becoming something of a trademark for the North Nashville curators.

Moss has exhibited previously at OZ Arts.

Elephant Gallery is located at 1411 Buchanan St.

Redskin by Omari Booker

Art of the Week

Those who follow the art scene in Nashville are likely familiar with Omari Booker. He’s a graduate of Montgomery Bell Academy and Tennessee State University; a visual artist whose work is regularly exhibited in the area; and he has served as a local curator, instructor and founder of the Jefferson Street Art Crawl.

Booker’s work often reflects issues of race and class in America, usually through a lens that is unique to his experience in Nashville. He ‘s framed portraits of African Americans using salvaged wood from demolished houses in Germantown and North Nashville and reflected on discriminatory lending practices in a local mural art project. The latest exhibition of his work here, a solo show called “Red Line” on view at Channel To Channel gallery until December 14, 2019, again elevates an issue of social justice that touches much of the country, including his hometown.

“The name [of the show] refers to the federal government’s creation of color-coded maps from the 1930s seeking to expand homeownership in America’s metropolitan areas,” according to a press release shared by the gallery. “The maps delineated areas preferred for investment based on racial and ethnic populations. Those deemed suitable for investment were outlined in blue or green while areas less desirable or considered hazardous were outlined in red.”

A historical map showing designations from the federal government’s Home Owners’ Loan Corporation between 1935 and 1940 illustrates 48 percent of Nashville in red, including its northern and eastern neighborhoods.

Booker’s work for “Red Line” includes oil portraits on wood, outlined with red razor wire. It’s a material he used to accentuate societal barriers in a mural for Frist Art Museum’s “Murals of North Nashville Now” exhibition. In a historical context, the intention might be plain — figures of historic segregation literally oppressed by violent material. But, as he often does, Booker has also made a salient point about contemporary society that may be more uncomfortable and critical to grapple with.

“Booker believes current development, though no longer driven by redlining, still follows in the spirit of segregation,” Nashville’s News Channel 5 reported. “Especially when the development involves brand new modern homes popping up in historically black neighborhoods.”

In Redskin, for instance, the history of segregation against Indigenous Americans comes quickly to mind. But Booker’s portrait for the piece is nearly identical to the logo of the Washington Redskins, a professional football team that has maintained the same controversial moniker since 1933. In this piece, it’s clear that the segregating practices that were once commonplace in the country have left a lasting legacy to still be addressed.

“As [my work for the show] progressed, I investigated how division based on race has affected nearly every aspect of society in the United States,” Booker explained in a statement provided by the gallery.

Channel to Channel is located at 507 Hagan Street in We-Ho.

June Carter by Wayne White

Art of the Week

As any Nashvillian knows, it’s fairly common for interpretations of country music and its associated icons to emphasize the commercial and cliché. Take a walk down Broadway, for instance, and you’ll see the Johnny Cash gift shop and hear countless honky-tonk covers of Jolene.

But in “Bacon Grease & The Lost Song,” the exhibition on view at Julia Martin Gallery until November 30, 2019, the history of country music is interpreted in a way that is all too rare: as fine art.

In roughly 30 mixed media pieces from artists Jon Langford and Wayne White, figures like Hank Williams, Loretta Lynn and George Jones are rendered in intimate, personal and thought-provoking ways.

“Jon and Wayne are working to preserve these artists’ legacy, by bringing it to a medium not often associated with country music, fine art,” guest curator Daniel Lonow said in an statement provided by the gallery. “The goal of this exhibit is to honor the heroes who made this city what it is, by showing the work of two of my favorite artists.”

That goal is quickly achieved when assessing nearly any piece in the show.

Death of Country Music, a 2008 acrylic and mixed media piece on wood by Langford, portrays a skeletal country crooner in cowboy boots and hat, strumming a guitar, surrounded by the lyrics of the Waco Brother’s eponymous song. It creates a visual memento mori to match, underscore and elevate the (perhaps surprisingly) intense country music ballad.

June Carter, a 2019 mixed media piece on paper by White, presents the subject in colorful yet limited fashion, perhaps to emphasize her fleeting place in memory. Carter appears in mid-dance step, the fringes of her figure fading into a stark white background. Scrawled text floats at the top of the frame. It at once diminishes Carter’s persona as a legend of country music, one who may more regularly be portrayed in larger-than-life fashion, while adding new depth and intimacy to a viewer’s relationship with her.

“I’ve been a disciple of old ’40s, ’50s and ’60s country music since I was in high school,” White told The Tennessean. “I love illustrating the intimate, looked-over human moments. The small scale draws you in. I do it as an excuse to experiment with line and color, with looking and interpreting. I also do it out of love for these musicians.”

White is originally from Chattanooga and is now based in Los Angeles. He’s worked as an illustrator for The New York Times and Village Voice, a designer for the television show Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and as an art director for award-winning music videos. He is perhaps best known for his “word paintings,” which stylize massive text in otherwise traditional landscapes.

Julia Martin Gallery is located at 444 Humphreys Street in WeHo.

Birds in Flight by Jon Carsman

Art of the Week

After touring its acres of manicured grounds, artfully arranged botanicals, outdoor installations and historic mansion, it can be surprising to realize that the Cheekwood Estate & Gardens in Belle Meade also has a modern wing housing visual art. Even more impressive is to find that when this section is not occupied by a traveling exhibition, it is filled with astounding selections from the Cheekwood Permanent Collection of Fine Art, including historically significant examples of American impressionism, abstract expressionism, pop art and more.

In its current exhibition from the collection, running until January 5, 2020, visitors will find work by renowned founders of the Ashcan School William Glackens and John Sloan, Nashville native and pop art trailblazer Red Grooms and postwar abstractionist Helen Frankenthaler. All together, it is more than enough to make the Cheekwood collection one of the most critical and impressive assemblages of 20th century American art anywhere in the world. And when a particular selection is on display, as it is now, it’s enough to make visitors wonder just how many more gems are still in storage.

In addition to about 600 paintings, the Cheekwood Permanent Collection of Fine Art includes thousands of prints, drawings, photographs and sculptures, most of which were created by American artists between 1910 and 1970. The collection was founded in 1959 when the Nashville Museum of Art turned over its holdings and, through millions of dollars in new acquisitions, has been growing ever since.

And, even among the incredibly historic and well-known paintings currently on display, Jon Carsman’s Birds in Flight stand out. At more than 5-foot tall and 4-foot wide, the work from 1974 draws attention from the brightly-colored impressions and large-scale abstractions of its colleagues — not least because of the stark contrast of shadow and color and thickly-rendered outlines of Carsman’s style.

“Carsman isolates strong areas of color in juxtaposition with dark outline, the colors become crystallized motifs with a sparkling, jewel-like quality,” as auction house RoGallery explained. “Color is the greatest emotional factor in painting and Carsman uses this device very successfully. Carsman paints broad areas of vivid high-key tones with a surprising effect that creates a dynamic interplay of light and shadow.”

Born among the Appalachian Mountain Range in Pennsylvania, Carsman is best known for depictions of natural and rural scenes in his trademark thickly-outlined style. In good company with Cheekwood’s other samples of distinctly American painting, Birds in Flight is recognized for its contemporary take on realism and working class sensibility, attitudes that reflect the moment in which it was painted and Carsman’s larger influence on American art at the time.

Carsman’s work was widely exhibited in the ’60s and ’70s, featured at Brooklyn College, the Phoenix Art Museum and the Coventry Gallery in Melbourne, Australia, among other places. Today, his work resides in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Art and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, among others. He passed away in 1987.

The Cheekwood Estate & Gardens are located in Belle Meade, 1200 Forrest Park Drive.

Dolly Parton by Jim McGuire

Art of the Week

Portraiture is one of the most prevalent forms of visual art, but also one of the most difficult to parse. Particularly in an age when the average photograph taken is most likely a selfie, it’s easy to forget how personal, dramatic and affecting a portrait can really be.

Jim McGuire, a local photographer with a near-50 year career of creating portraits, reminds us of the artistic value that can come from placing a subject in front of the camera and clicking the shutter-release button. In “The Nashville Portraits,” an exhibition of his work on view at Belmont University’s Leu Art Gallery through December 6, 2019, one can find intimate and touching studies of some iconic subjects.

“From a young age, McGuire was drawn to hillbilly music, to the sounds, the emotion, the honesty, and then of course to the people who made it,” according to a release from Belmont. “Discovering country music changed his life in ways he couldn’t have dreamed. Over the past thirty-five years, he has had the good fortune to have met, photographed and befriended many of his musical heroes.”

This reverence for and firsthand intimacy with his subjects is perhaps what elevates the 1974 print Dolly Parton beyond a mere photograph and into the more intentional realm of a “portrait.” Parton is presented in much of her well-known “girl next door” glory — with a gentle smile, crossed legs and cradling her guitar. But the monochromatic lighting is also dramatic, offering a glow that seems to emanate directly from Parton. The piece achieves perhaps the loftiest goal that a portrait can: creating an immortal image of its subject that subtly, but definitively, articulates their individuality.

McGuire has been making photographs in Nashville since the early ’70s, creating portraits of regional royalty like Waylon Jennings and Barbara Mandrell. But in addition to creating intimate portraits of country music legends, McGuire has created photographs of live concerts, of dramatically staged scenes and of seemingly candid moments. His work has been featured on hundreds of album covers and collected in a “Nashville Portraits” book.

“Most of us have a drawer full of snapshots that remind us of the good times,” McGuire has said of the collection. “These are some of mine.”

Belmont University’s Leu Art Gallery is located in the Lila D. Bunch Library, 1907 Belmont Boulevard.

Ancestral Apple Core Unscrolled by David Onri Anderson

Art of the Week

Visual art can often create a unique intersection between temporality and permanence. Static images are, of course, unchanging and add some level of immortality to moments in time that would otherwise be fleeting. While no piece of art truly lives forever, the practice of creating one might be the single most powerful method for imbuing perpetual life on a scene, being or idea.

Through “Fragile as Fruit,” an exhibition currently on display at David Lusk Gallery, David Onri Anderson plays highlights this intersection. In a series of simple pastel-colored paintings featuring produce and broken eggs, Anderson captures themes as large as the passing of time, the inherent fragility of life and the power of art to bring immortality to otherwise temporal subjects.

“Comprised of paintings on canvas, ‘Fragile as Fruit’ speaks to temporality and decay,” according to press material provided by the gallery. “The common factors [for this show] being the vulnerability of transformation over time, fragility and the potential for consumption.”

In Ancestral Apple Core Unscrolled, Anderson elevates a simple depiction of an apple core, painted with dye made from flowers and herbs, imbuing it with ancient and mythical iconography. The notion that a fruit core could be “unscrolled” to reveal mystically decorated seeds implies an ethereal, timeworn power inherent in the otherwise discarded and forgotten subject. By identifying this ancient power within such an everyday and fragile thing, Anderson strikes a chord that should be felt in every viewer — one that reminds us of our own temporality and the beauty that resides there.

“My goal is to form a path that allows the viewer to enter in a way that unites our experiences without homogenizing our differences, so that there can be an open and clear space where there was none before,” Anderson said in an artist’s statement provided by David Lusk Gallery. “Resisting the spectacle and urging the awareness of our fragile existence, the works emphasize the need to soul search for balance and reciprocity in order to rediscover the self.”

Seen together, the works for “Fragile as Fruit” are a reminder of how much power can reside in the seemingly simple — through the pieces themselves, as well as through the notion that something as basic as visual art can breath life into the humblest of subjects.

Anderson received a bachelor’s in fine art from Watkins College of Art in 2016. His work has been exhibited around the country, including in New York, Atlanta and Los Angeles. Anderson also runs the Electric Shed arts venue in South Nashville.

The David Lusk Gallery is located at 516 Hagan Street in WeHo.

The Last Suppa by Marlos E’van

Art of the Week

Marlos E’van’s work is not only intended to comment on our times — our times are weaved into the very fabric and nature of its being.

Their paintings have been inspired by gun violence, prevalent commercialism, social inequality and the other preeminent anxieties inherent in the contemporary American experience. And, in their very composition, these pieces seem to channel something quintessentially contemporary through a scattershot range and unapologetic conflation of symbols and ideas.

“My work is a statement of the harsh, often self-contradictory ideologies on which America is built,” E’van said in an artist’s statement. “Using found materials, obsessive mark making, text and hyperbole, I hope that my work encourages dialogue among different classes of people.”

This wide-ranging approach and contemporary subject matter is well encapsulated through “Slightly Dangerous!,” an exhibition of E’van’s painting, sculpture and installation work currently on view at Red Arrow Gallery. The show includes pieces inspired by racial tension, fear of nuclear attack and the crisis at the U.S. border with Mexico. And it refracts these particularly American stressors through multiple media, mixed iconography and a seemingly rushed, unpolished technique — a combination that instills the very nature of our modern society into the pieces themselves.

“From athletes to historical figures, from cars to fast food, [E’van uses] symbols to cross-examine stereotypes and institutions that perpetuate inequalities,” according to a release from the gallery. “Consumerism offers us both practical and impermanent symbols in our lives that, in some ways, have become standards of Western civilization. By changing the context of these symbols, they hope to transform them into instruments of meaningful reflection/understanding.”

The Last Suppa is a good example of E’van’s ability to play with symbolism. Toying with one of classical art’s most iconic scenes, they have inserted a cast of unexpected and playful figures, including a woman in a burqa and Christ as Colin Kaepernick, the NFL player turned social activist. The scene is messy and colorful but with an explicit use of cultural symbols that gives the viewer no choice but to reflect on our modern times.

E’van is a multimedia artist based in Nashville who received their bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Watkins College of Art in 2016. E’van also cofounded the McGruder Social Practice Artist Residency (M-SPAR), a program to accelerate artistic participation and collaboration in North Nashville through the McGruder Family Resource Center. Red Arrow and E’van will be giving 10 percent of all proceeds from “Slightly Dangerous!” to the McGruder Center.

Red Arrow Gallery is located at 919 Gallatin Avenue, Suite #4, in East Nashville. The gallery will be hosting a special discussion about the artist and exhibition on October 12, 2019.