The Journey to "Inspired"

Commentary by Brian Downey, Associate Director of The Arts Comany and curator of the "Inspired" exhibit:




There is nothing I love more than curating shows. Researching talented artists, seeing the artwork as it's created, planning the layout of the show in the gallery, and watching it all come together for the opening reception is one of the most exciting things I have ever had the pleasure to do in my professional career. I have curated several shows, have worked with some amazing artists, and have had a blast the entire time. "Inspired," however, will always stand out to me and be one the shows I am most proud of.

It all started back in March of 2010 when I was visiting New York City with a friend of mine. We were walking down 5th Avenue in the heart of the city, admiring the stores, wishing I could afford to purchase the beautiful things I was seeing, and staring at all the gorgeous window displays. I was passing Bergdorf Goodman when I looked up and was instantly stopped in my tracks by their window display, not by the clothes, but by the large-scale woodblock prints that provided the backdrop for the fashion. I had no idea who the artist was, but it wasn't something I was not going to forget. When I was finally returned home to Nashville I immediately started researching to find out who this artist was. I learned that his name was John Welles Bartlett and he was living in Brooklyn. I found his website and sent him an email to introduce myself. After a few back and forths, I asked him if he would be part of a show I was curating in late summer. I expected an immediate "No thanks." I assumed that someone, who was getting this kind of exposure and attention in New York, would already be booked solid with other shows. To my surprise, he said "Yes!" Now I actually had a show to start planning!

"TV Donkey with Ant" by John Welles Bartlett

I wanted this exhibit to be a two-person show, and I already had an idea floating in the back of my mind about how to make this more than just an average exhibit of two artist's work. The trouble was finding that other artist who was just the right fit with John. I found a couple artists who I was very interested in, but unfortunately (or fortunately...as it turned out) they were either already booked for shows, or just didn't return my emails. Then I ran across Julianna Swaney, and I was so happy those other artists didn't work out. I found her work on My Love For You and was instantly a fan. I knew her small, intimate works would be a nice contrast, and yet completely complement John's large-scale woodblock prints. I emailed her, and her quick reply couldn't have been nicer. Even though she was already booked for three other shows in September, she still agreed to be a part of mine. I don't know how she found the time to create all the work for these four shows, but she did...and personally, I think I got the best ones!

"Hidden Birds" by Julianna Swaney

Once each artist was confirmed for the show, I ran my idea past them. I wanted to engage each artist and have them create something that would be special for this exhibit and very interesting to all the folks who would make it to the show. I asked each artist (who were total strangers at the time) how they would feel about studying the body of work of the other artist and creating one piece for the show that was inspired by the other. I didn't know what kind of reaction this would get, but I was hopeful. As it turned out, both artists loved the other's work and were very excited to take on this challenge. Personally, I think they were even more excited to see what the other artist would create knowing that they were the inspiration behind it. As the months went on, I would receive images from the artists of all the new pieces they were working on...but I still hadn't seen the inspired piece. I was starting to get worried. I had already sent out the press release, hyped the theme of the show, given interviews to some local publications--all based on the idea that each artist was creating this inspired piece, and the show was even called, "Inspired." What in the world would I do if one or both artists decided they just couldn't manage to do an inspired piece? I was nervous. Luckily, each artist was just saving the best for last and when I finally saw the inspired pieces I knew that the show was going to be amazing!

John's work

Julianna's work

The opening reception was this past Saturday. John was able to fly to Nashville for the show, but Julianna had a show opening in Portland, OR, where she currently lives and wasn't able to make it. Even though she couldn't be here, the evening was a huge success. After some great press, including a very nice spotlight in Nashville Arts Magazine, and a wonderful post by The Jealous Curator, hundreds came through the gallery that night. Some were there for the free wine, but the majority were actually there to see this special exhibit. I talked to so many people, answered so many questions, and loved every minute of it. By the end of the night we had sold a lot of artwork (according to Julianna, the most she has ever sold at an opening reception...EVER), and introduced two fantastic new artists to the gallery and to Nashville. I'll never forget the evening. I want to thank both of these great artists who I now consider great friends, the amazing people I work with at The Arts Company (Anne, Robin, and the whole gang), and my incredibly supportive friends and family who made the night memorable and special.

The show continues through September 25 at The Arts Company. Please stop by and take a look if you can, or see the pieces in the show on the gallery's website.

John, me, and the editorial staff of Nashville Arts Magazine

With two of my best friends, Candace and Beth

Our front window display...just as impressive as Bergdorf Goodman, in my opinion :)