Sea and Sky, English Coast by J.M.W. Turner

Art of the Week

Joseph Mallord William Turner is one of the best-known and most influential British painters of all time, making his mark on history with a prolific collection of Romantic oil paintings, prints and watercolors. Turner’s work serves as an idiosyncratic bridge between depictive landscapes and evocative impressionism — pieces that are at their most powerful when viewed in person, astride one another and with insight into his process.

And now, Nashville’s Frist Art Museum is giving visitors in the U.S. their only chance to experience Turner this way. Currently on view until May 31, 2020, “J.M.W. Turner: Quest for the Sublime” is visiting Frist in its sole stateside appearance.

The show arrives via London’s Tate institution, which holds a bequest of Turner’s work totaling about 300 oil paintings, 30,000 sketches and watercolors and 300 sketchbooks. “Quest for the Sublime” features around 75 pieces, highlighting Turner’s career from the 1790s to the late 1840s. In addition to works that emphasize Turner’s signature accomplishments in finalized maritime painting, the exhibition seeks to offer visitors insight into his process through sketchbook studies, works in progress and unfinished watercolors.

“As time passes, there is a progression from a more substantial, three-dimensional style to one that is more impressionistic and less solid,” David Blayney Brown, senior curator of 19th century British art at Tate Britain, said in a release provided by Frist. “In these often-unfinished paintings, Turner stripped away subject and narrative to capture the pure energy of air, light and water.”

By demonstrating Turner’s groundbreaking ability to focus on pure energy through preliminary studies, “Quest for the Sublime” can provide visitors with additional insight into the effects of his signature finished works. Sea and Sky, English Coast, an 1832 gouache watercolor on display, wouldn’t have been exhibited as a final piece by Turner but, in hindsight, its elemental portrayal of color highlights an aptitude apparent in the artist’s finished landscapes.

“The modern concept of abstraction would not have been understood or endorsed in the 19th century, even by an artist as experimental as Turner,” according to Frist. “He would not even have intended such loose color beginnings to be exhibited during his lifetime. Nevertheless, in this and other studies in this section, as the elements of the composition are reduced to the barest representation of sea and sky, Turner’s intuitive ability to think of landscape in terms of pure color is revealed.”

This is a powerful way to see what makes Turner such an influential and iconoclastic legend in art history: his ability to imbue landscape painting with expressive, representative elements unlike any seen before.

“For Turner, psychological expression and the liberation of the imagination were of paramount importance,” Brown said. “He achieves these goals in images of the landscape that evoked human moods by portraying extreme contrasts of intense light and gloomy clouds, dramatic topographies and energetic brushstrokes.”

Frist Art Museum is located at 919 Broadway.

Warm Family by Pinkney Herbert

Art of the Week

Now on view at David Lusk Gallery in WeHo, Pinkney Herbert’s exhibition “Come Here” offers a collection of the artist’s paintings and drawings that together create a memorable compilation of abstraction, aggression, movement, form, color and, perhaps above all, ambiguity.

Herbert has exhibited his work around the world and splits his own time between Memphis and New York City — a lifestyle that finds its way into his dynamic, frenetic and multifaceted pieces. Herbert achieves such movement in his static work through layering, digital printing, graffiti techniques, bold color and a combination of unique forms. This approach serves as a perfect complement to the artist’s variety of inspiration, yielding results that speak distinctly to contemporary times.

“Art history, architecture, maps, music and digital technology also inform Herbert as his work often serves as a reflection of the dense, frenetic, saturated state of contemporary life,” according to a release from David Lusk Gallery. “Herbert enjoys adding things together, creating complications and ambiguity. Along the way, he strips action painting of its heroic stature and gains latitude to contradict himself as he sees fit.”

Of course, this contradiction is one of the most contemporary things about the work in “Come Here” and a Herbert signature. It’s readily apparent in his piece Warm Family, for instance. Highlighting that fact, the gallery shared a quote from author and Columbus State University painting and drawing professor Orion Wertz, who wrote about Herbert for Burnaway.

“Herbert’s lines are dubious: they are self doubting, they play tricks, they lie,” Wertz wrote, per the gallery. “Has the mark been applied or wiped off? Has it been photographed or printed? Is the print a truthful account, or another kind of fabrication?”

Ultimately, the answers to those questions will remain unknown to visitors. But as is made clear through Herbert’s elevated use of bold ambiguity, that uncertainty is merely a reflection of our times.

Herbert holds a bachelor’s degree from Rhodes College and a master’s in fine art from the University of Memphis. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Tennessee Arts Commission and USIA-Arts America. His work has been collected by the New Orleans Museum of Art, Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, the Arkansas Arts Center and more.

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

Cinco Apariciones by María Magdalena Campos-Pons

Art of the Week

Whether intentional or not, art is always an echo to the past. A memory, an evolution, a tribute — visual art at once owes itself to our collective memory while also propelling it into the future. As seen in one notable show now on display in Nashville, it can even grant new life to artifacts once thought to be lost forever.

In its latest exhibition, “Visionary Aponte: Art and Black Freedom,” Vanderbilt University Fine Arts pays homage to the relatively-unsung 19th century Afro-Cuban revolutionary and artist José Antonio Aponte. It features the work of 20 contemporary creators across a range of media, inspired by Aponte’s “Book of Paintings,” which served as a key piece of evidence when Aponte was put on trial for his alleged role in a Cuban antislavery campaign in 1812.

“Its pages portrayed lush landscapes and Biblical stories; Roman goddesses and Spanish Kings; black men as warriors, emperors, and librarians; Rome and Ethiopia; Havana and the heavens,” according to a press release from the gallery. “Shortly after testifying, Aponte was publicly executed, his head severed from his body and placed on a pike inside a cage in a well-travelled crossroads in the city. Then, his ‘Book of Paintings’ disappeared.”

The show, which hosts its closing lecture on February 27, 2020, includes work that reimagines Aponte’s book for today and, as a result, considers the role that contemporary art can play in grappling with racial violence, colonial history and social change. Participating artists — who are based around the world, including in Cuba, Haiti, Miami and Nashville — used Aponte’s trial testimony as the only surviving record of his work for their inspiration. The exhibition incorporates scholarly research on Aponte’s plight and Latin American and Caribbean history to add context to the exhibition.

Cinco Apariciones by Nashville’s María Magdalena Campos-Pons is a particularly powerful lens through which to view Aponte’s artistic legacy. As part of her “Un Pedazo de Mar” (“A Piece of Sea”) series, the work highlights the ocean as an incubator of Caribbean heritage and memory, with dark figures seemingly suspended deeply within it. The exhibition brochure provides transcript text from Aponte’s trial alongside Campos-Pons’ work, tying the contemporary piece to the historical figure.

“The figure printed with blue ink located high between Nigero and Cojímar pulled by two eagles means [the agora] of Air: the other between Santelmo and Cabaña is Neptune that surfaces from the sea,” Aponte said of his own work in 1812.

Cinco Apariciones (translated as Five Apparitions) clearly connects to this entry in Aponte’s “Book of Paintings” through its use of color, representation of the ocean and mythical imagery. But it builds on Aponte’s inspiration with a thoroughly contemporary use of watercolor and inclusion of figures that appear to be far outside the Greek lexicon. While ethereal and dreamy, the painting conveys a weight and sobriety in line with Aponte’s own history.

Campos-Pons was born in Cuba and is of Nigerian ancestry. She studied at the Escuela National de Arte and Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana before conducting post-graduate studies at Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Her work has included photography, performance, audiovisual media and sculpture.

“Her polyglot heritage deeply influences her artistic practice, which combines diverse media,” according to the exhibition program. “She researches themes of history, memory, gender and religion, and how they all inform identity. Through deeply poetic and eerie images, Campos-Pons evokes histories of the transatlantic slave trade, the indigo and sugar plantations, Catholic religious practices, Santeria and revolutionary uprising.”

Campos-Pons is a professor of fine arts at Vanderbilt Unversity.

Before reaching Vanderbilt, “Visionary Aponte” opened in Miami during Art Basel 2017 and has traveled to New York, North Carolina and Cuba.

Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery is located at 1220 21st Avenue.

Purple Empathy by Meaghan Brady Nelson

Art of the Week

In 1970, the O’More School of Interior Architecture and Design was founded in Franklin, awarding students fine arts degrees in interior design, graphic design, fashion design and fashion merchandising. After becoming the O’More College of Design, it merged with Belmont University in Nashville in 2018 and is now officially known as the O’More School of Architecture, Art & Design.

It now offers majors in architecture, art, interiors, graphic design and fashion and will be merging with Nashville’s Watkins College of Art later this year to become the area’s preeminent institution for vocational artistic studies. Throughout the changes, O’More has relied on small class sizes and focused attention from faculty to ensure that its students are challenged and develop their own voices within the media they choose. Furthermore, the teaching staff consists of active practitioners in the creative field who make firsthand contributions to the visual arts. This latter quality is the thrust behind the current exhibition at Belmont’s Leu Gallery, “In The Studio,” on display until February 28, 2020.

“‘In The Studio’ features recent studio projects by faculty and staff of the newly established O’More College of Architecture, Art & Design,” according to the university. “The variety of work, from technique to stylistic approach, mirrors and complements the rich diversity of teaching offered within the college.”

All told, a dozen staff members — including professors, assistant professors, adjunct instructors and department managers — have contributed work to the show. In parallel to the stylistic and technical diversity on display, “In Studio” presents a range of sketches and source material, giving visitors insight into the spectrum of references and studies utilized by each artist/educator.

Purple Empathy, a large acrylic piece by assistant professor Meghan Brady Nelson, serves as the entry point to a series by the artist that simultaneously presents her work as a painter, thought process as an instructor and theoretical approach as an art academic.

“For my ‘American Flag’ series, I am exploring the ways critical visual literacy can be used to promote empathy for bipartisanship among students in a time of political unrest,” Nelson said in a statement provided by Belmont.

In this way, Purple Empathy is exemplary of the show’s power to portray dynamic visuals, social undercurrents and O’More’s emphasis on firsthand exploration of artistic philosophy and education from its staff.

Nelson holds a PhD in Art Education from Ohio State University and lives in Franklin. Her work has been published around the world and often focuses on societal questions, as in Purple Empathy.

“My works are layered, complex and a bit chaotic as is mothering, education and exploring the process of becoming a socially-conscious artist,” she explained in an artist’s statement on her website. “As a Mothering-ArtAcademic, I am inspired from the aesthetics found in nature, color, design and human interactions.”

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

In A Still Field by Alicia Ponzio

Art of the Week

For all of its potential grandeur and fantasy, the realm of visual art is perhaps most powerful when it accentuates the beauty that we take for granted every day. It can be startling to see just how intricate the very spots of light around us can be and how powerful and fragile our natural world is on its own.

One of the everyday forms most often elevated through artistic rendering is the human body. Though we live with and around it constantly, it often takes artistic study and presentation for us to truly contemplate our bodies as objects worthy of admiration. For a comprehensive example of this, consider the latest show, “Alicia Ponzio Talks Sculpture: Commission to Installation,” on view at Franklin’s Haynes Galleries until January 31, 2020.

Though Ponzio is primarily known for her finalized bronze sculptures — busts and figures that emphasize form and feature — this show also presents the work that she does leading up to and outside of such creations in other media. Thus providing a full spectrum, from “commission to installation.”

“Graphite drawings … show how Ponzio contemplates the body, its pose and our view of it before even reaching for clay,” the gallery explained. “The bend of a knee, the slouch of a shoulder and the tilt of the head each add meaning to the overall design. Plaster sculptures, although traditionally a creation on the way to a final bronze sculpture, show how Ponzio works through her design in three dimensions. Space, light and shadow are now thought through in her plaster sketches.”

Viewing the work in this collection, it’s worth considering how these initial studies inform the “irregular” finishes (reminiscent of Rodin’s) of Ponzio’s final pieces. The sensitivity with which she renders her subjects is apparent in each step of the process.

“Ponzio favors asymmetry, irregularity and variety in design: qualities that suggest a human touch,” per Haynes Galleries. “Her bronzes, which can range from miniature to large-scale, multiple figure pieces, mesmerize with their sensuality, tenderness and intensity. Every element is carefully considered, from the pose of the subject to the finishing patina once a bronze has been cast.”

In a Still Field, a freestanding figural sculpture in the exhibition, embodies Ponzio’s personal touch, tender reverence for shape and elevation of the human form. The nearly five-foot-tall female subject stands on one foot, projecting forward in a hesitant way, a forlorn look rendered on its face. Its apparent movement belies the title and its evident emotion defies the very nature of its medium.

In a Still Field … reveals the final result of all the work and consideration,” according to Haynes Galleries. “From every angle it presents movement and emotion. The surfaces, from the polished granite base to the alternating shine and matte of the body, add to Ponzio’s narrative.”

Ponzio is a former lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps who went on to complete the sculpture program at the Florence Academy of Art in Italy. She has also served as the director at the school’s Artistic Anatomy and Ecorche Sculpture programs. She is based in San Francisco and her work has been exhibited throughout the country and world.

Haynes Galleries is located in Franklin. Visits are welcome by appointment only.

Political Lamps by Lindsy Davis

Art of the Week

Already in 2020, art exhibitions in Nashville have afforded visitors the chance to experience the legacy and stewardship of contemporary art patronage and the role visual art can play in our memory of catastrophic events. Adding to these early-year offerings is a new show that experiments with a particular approach to visual art — the chance to explore not just the act of curation, but the cutting-edge of how art itself is conveyed.

On view until February 1, 2020, The Red Arrow Gallery is hosting “Laughing With My Eyes Open” by Lindsy Davis, a Nashvillian who has been dedicated to the study of Gestaltism. The Gestalt approach to art takes its name from an early 20th century German and Austrian school of psychology, derived from the german word “gestalt,” meaning “pattern” or “configuration.” When applied to visual art, Gestaltism has come to define a theory that the sum of visual composition can be more than its parts — that viewers will make larger associations derived from groups of objects.

It’s a school of thought that Davis has been exploring for a decade, creating work in “Laughing With Your Eyes Open” that leverages tone, gesture and finishes to manipulate the way viewers perceive the canvases’ negative space, the association of portrayed shapes and the depth of the works.

“For the past ten years I have been playing with how the eye filters what the mind perceives as spacial depth,” Davis said in an artist’s statement provided by the gallery. “My goal with this present body of work is to experiment with what is necessary for the mind to see depth with minimal visual cues to grasp onto and how that process can fabricate memory and nostalgia, which elongates the time it takes for the eye to filter and the mind to decipher meaning and depth.”

Political Lamps, a large airbrush and mixed media piece in the show, offers some clear cues about how Davis plays with depth and tone. Stark black and white shapes are layered on top of a blurred background. Despite the two-dimensional composition, there appears to be significant space between them, though it’s difficult to distinguish what is represented as closest to the viewer. The absence of recognizable figures or shapes is key to the piece’s Gestaltian play as it becomes a formidable challenge to distinguish or group what’s on the canvas. This effect is all the more powerful when viewing Davis’ work in series.

“Davis is … known for her gesture and negative space work that push and pull the eyes’ perception of space and depth,” per Red Arrow Gallery. “She works prolifically in series, her compositions question ideas of perceived perception through Gestaltism.”

Davis holds a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University. Her work has been exhibited around the country and in South Africa and Canada.

The Red Arrow Gallery is located at 919 Gallatin Avenue, Suite #4, in East Nashville.

The Cumberland River Overflowed Its Banks by Larry McCormack

Art of the Week

The intersection of visual art and historical record can create particularly moving work. While abstract or fantastical pieces may illicit an instinctual reaction from viewers, without the use of any real-world figures or recognizable places, the composed presentation of recent events can stir even stronger emotions.

As is the case in Frist Art Museum’s current exhibition, “The Nashville Flood: Ten Years Later” on view until May 17, 2020.

The exhibition includes an interactive display of photos taken during Tennessee’s catastrophic flooding in May 2010, when torrential rains brought more than 19 inches of water to some areas, resulting in 21 recorded deaths in the state and millions of dollars in property damage. This display juxtaposes these stark images with illustrations of recovery or lack thereof throughout the Nashville area and includes excerpts of oral histories from the Nashville Public Library’s flood archives and The Tennessean.

“Newcomers to Nashville may not be aware of the extent of destruction, as well as the resilience and camaraderie in the aftermath,” museum curator Katie Delmez said in a press release. “For Nashville residents who lived through the historic event, visiting the exhibition will be an opportunity to reflect on their own stories while seeing the perspective of others who share similar experiences.”

Illustration of the flooding is no more starkly presented than in a press photograph captured by Larry McCormack for The Tennessean. It shows downtown Nashville engulfed by muddy water on an otherwise clear and sunny day, capturing the surreal aftermath of the disaster. Though a press photograph, it is a piece that will move viewers with its composition and subject matter as much as any other example of visual art. Its use of brightly-rendered color and long-distance framing firmly place it in this fruitful intersection of artistic evocation and documentary of real event.

For the exhibition, McCormack’s piece is presented along with images of the rain pouring down, residents fleeing, rescue and recovery efforts and other images of local landmarks inundated with water to provide a comprehensive sense of the flood.

“This exhibition features photographs and excerpts of oral histories from ten different neighborhoods — including Antioch, Belle Meade, Bellevue, Bordeaux and others, in addition to downtown — to present a broad picture of both the destruction and the relief efforts,” per the release.

McCormack is a photojournalist for The Tennessean who has captured the area’s 1998 tornado, local sports and everyday life in the region for more than 30 years. His work has been recognized by the National Press Photographers Association and the Associated Press. His photographs of the 2010 flooding made him a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Frist Art Museum is located at 919 Broadway.