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.

Big Blonde by Eleanor Aldrich

Art of the Week

Where would art be without its patrons? Some may say the creative world would be in a better place sans the need for and influence of those with the financial means to commission and collect it. But, in many cases, art patronage has proven to be a powerful way of spurring and preserving cutting-edge creative work and Nashville is not without its convincing examples.

For instance, there’s the Cheekwood Permanent Collection of Fine Art, originally collected by Nashville’s Cheek family, brimming with historical touchstones of abstract expressionist, impressionist and pop art paintings. And there’s Nashville’s Frist family, whose patronage eventually yielded the city’s largest visual arts center in the Frist Art Museum. And now, on display in Channel to Channel gallery’s latest exhibition, visitors can find The Jobe Collection.

Carolyn and Brian R. Jobe are local artists and directors of the non-profit Tri-Star Arts, which highlights contemporary visual art in Tennessee through programs that promote art dialogue. They are also prolific art collectors whose joint effort to acquire, finance and preserve creative work has been ongoing since 2005. Celebrating this legacy, Channel to Channel is exhibiting pieces from their collection until January 17, 2020, in its show “15 Years.”

In addition to visiting thought-provoking examples of contemporary art, “15 Years” is the chance for attendees to think about what it means to collect such pieces, to live with them and serve as their steward to the outside world. In this sense, the collection may become more than the sum of its parts.

“This exhibition is a celebration of contemporary art, collecting and the power of living with art,” per the gallery. “Themes found in their collection include an engagement with mystery, iconography, color theory and broadly the impact of small daily encounters with art.”

Among the work on display, visitors will find Big Blonde by Eleanor Aldrich, a thickly-rendered oil painting. Even among the other pieces in the collection this work stands out for the artist’s contemporary use of texture and presence, creating a faceless figure with a surprising amount of personality.

“My work is textural and alchemical; I match materials … and techniques to the subject matter they look like, thereby approaching verisimilitude without realistic rendering,” according to Aldrich’s artist statement. “I work with a kind of mimetic literalism that embodies the subject but serves pictorial conventions as well, posing questions about physicality as the standard of reality.”

Aldrich lives in Knoxville and holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in painting from the University of Tennessee. Her work has been exhibited in Boston, Arizona and Alabama, among other places, and has been reviewed by several significant art publications.

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

Preservation by Amelia Briggs

Art of the Week

“Playful” is likely one of the first words that come to mind when assessing local artist Amelia Briggs’ work. As in a recent show at North Nashville’s Elephant Gallery, her signature abstract sculptural “inflatables” are made from a variety of materials and invoke something whimsical and fantastic, with generously-rounded features, bright colors and unconventional shapes.

But her work is more than merely “playful” in the sense that it is experimental and zany. It also speaks to some fundamental and powerful elements of “play”: nostalgia, world building, fantasy and more. Most recently, her studio research has been built around fairy tales by Hans Christian Anderson, whose work persists as a bedrock of childhood imagination.

This research has informed “Playlet,” Briggs’ latest exhibition at Belmont University’s Leu Center for Visual Arts, open from December 16, 2019 to January 24, 2020. Within, Briggs deploys her work to help visitors recapture some of the power of play that they may have forgotten and to help them escape into worlds of fantasy of their own.

“‘Playlet’ focuses more specifically on the idea of play, the jumping off point to an invented world,” according to a press release from the gallery. “Comprised of inflatables as well as textile pieces, this show references the toys that function as tools to create or invent abstract worlds. As such, Briggs explores the means by which a child can use a simple prop to enter a vast world of their own making.”

In one example from the show, Preservation, Briggs has created something unlike anything else a visitor is likely to have seen. It embodies the inflatable nature of much of her work, but a furry exterior and colored, reflective material in the center makes it all the more imaginative. The combination of materials and shape, as well as its sheer fantastical boldness, may instill a feeling of exciting yet comfortable whimsy in a viewer — the perfect “jumping off point” for them to explore their own playful fantasies.

Briggs is a local gallery director who regularly exhibits her own work at studios throughout Nashville (as well as the rest of the country) and has been featured at Red Arrow Gallery, Zeitgeist Gallery and David Lusk Gallery, among others. She received her Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Memphis.

Belmont University’s Leu Center for the Visual Arts is located at 1930, 17th Avenue South.

Oracle by Merrilee Challiss

Art of the Week

Among the more popular forms of visual art, representation is, in a way, everything. Paintings and sculptures are generally formed to represent something the viewer can (consciously or unconsciously) relate to — a feeling, a figure, a place. But how does that dynamic change when a visual artist works with the real thing? Rather than represent a figure through visual materials, what if they apply those materials to the actual figure itself?

It’s a challenging and engrossing question that’s answered in the latest exhibition at WeHo’s Julia Martin Gallery, “In the Key of Moon” by Merrilee Challiss, running until January 25, 2020.

The show features a range of sculpture and painting by Challiss, a multimedia artist who lives and works in Birmingham, Alabama. Perhaps most notably, it features work from Challiss’ “spirit animal taxidermy” collection, a process in which she adorns stuffed deer with sequins and costume jewelry to create pieces that seem to be coming through gallery walls from another realm entirely. The pieces ultimately convey something that the artist can feel as she works with actual animal remains: the living spirit of their former selves.

“As I ‘remake’ the animals into fantastical creatures, my hands in contact with the fur and skin, I am often overwhelmed with feelings for the creatures, for what their life was like and what their life, and death, represent in my hands,” as Challiss put it on her website. “I am interested in metamorphosis, transformation and evolution. The deer are in the act of becoming something else — a dragon, a bird, a lizard, a serpent, for example — transforming alchemically into other beings.”

Orcale provides a clear example of this alchemy. Instead of the more traditional mounting used for taxidermy, the heavily-adorned version Challiss has created appears more like a portal, an entry or exit point through which the figure is transforming — an effect that is accentuated with the use of colored lighting. The deer itself is decorated with mosaic patterns and reflective shards, elements that appear to reinterpret natural coloration and symmetries in a cosmically touched way.

The elaborate spangling is a process for the artist that may speak to the effect the work will ultimately have on viewers. As Challiss creates a spirt animal, the reverence and thankfulness she feels is clear in the elevation and celebration apparent in the final product.

“The act of asking animals for forgiveness has become a meditation in my work, and is meant for the deer as well as for all the animals of the world,” she wrote. “I believe we must all do this spiritual remediation work here in our lifetime on earth, say we are sorry, ask for forgiveness, to begin to heal our rift with mother nature.”

Challiss holds a master of fine arts degree in sculpture from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Her work has been exhibited throughout the Southeast, including at Art Basel, and throughout the country since the early 2000s.

“In the Key of Moon” will be accompanied by a simultaneous exhibition of drawings and pages from Kevin Reilly’s graphic novel Birthplace of the Saints and the gallery will also host a selection of pieces from jewelry designer Ruby Jack.

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