Q&A with Cassidy Cole

What's the typical process for you on a painting? Do you start with a finished image in mind? Do you work on one piece at a time?

Sometimes I’ll have a painting flash in my mind mid-conversation and I'll jot it down quickly to remember it for later. Other times, I'll stare at a blank canvas until I start mixing colors and play around to see what works. Some I finish more quickly and some live with me for a while until I figure out how to find their fullest expression.  I can’t tell you how many random pieces of paper I have with little descriptions of paintings or images on my phone that I took because I loved the color palette or texture of a wall.  In all of it though, I am present. I once learned in an acting class that you must do all the necessary script analysis and character work beforehand, so that when it’s time to perform you can forget about everything and simply be present. That’s how I currently feel when I am painting. I am trusting in the many years of foundational learning, listening, researching, observing, practicing and developing to be there so that when I walk into the studio I can forget about it all and just paint.  

How do you feel about Nashville as a creative community?

I feel spoiled by Nashville, honestly.  When I moved here for college, I had no idea the kind of community I’d get to experience on a daily basis. From musicians to writers, visual artists, filmmakers and designers, I’m consistently inspired by what is happening around this city. Even when I moved to New York for a stint, people were talking about Nashville!  There is a unique energy here filled with possibility, true collaboration and a healthy dose of underdog mentality.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t say it fed a certain romanticism in me wishing I were among the members of the “lost generation” in Paris in the 1920’s. We are proving, though, that we don’t need to move elsewhere to make good work because the opportunities are here, we just need the city to keep recognizing the importance of supporting artists so that remains the case. 

As an emerging artist, what have you learned about your work and about being an artist since showing work in a gallery?

I have learned that a good framer is worth the investment and never drop off work to a gallery without properly wiring it! Ha!  But seriously, I have learned so much. Getting to see your work hanging in a space where people can see it, discuss it, enjoy it or ignore it is exhilarating and vulnerable at the same time. I’ve heard complete strangers praise my pieces one day and then others absolutely destroy them next.  With every experience I’ve had to reinforce my own belief in my work - it’s an opportunity to grow, agreeing when it feels true and agreeing to disagree when it doesn’t.  As an artist I feel like I have a responsibility not only to my gallery but also to those who collect my work and the general public who views it.  If I don’t show up and paint honestly than how can a gallery get behind my work and sell it? Similarly how I expect a collector to invest or the general public to take the time to even look at it? It’s a symbiotic relationship and important to take seriously.

What is your biggest inspiration?

For this particular series, Interactions, I am fascinated by the ever-changing landscape of how we interact with the world around us. The way color interacts with energy; people interact with nature; thoughts interact with emotions. It’s ever-evolving and multi-faceted, completely dependent on the underlying elements. This series reflects the experience of these interactions, using layers of different mediums to capture how quickly a dynamic can change once something is added, diluted or subtracted. The goal is to find balance and create a cohesive visual movement that relies heavily on each element of the painting - no one part more important than the other. 

You use a lot of different media in your work--how do you decide what medium best serves your piece? Is it all experimental?

In the beginning my experimentation was more out of necessity and a lack of formal studio art education than anything else. I remember seeing the tan color of what I now know as just raw canvas and wondering why the canvases I kept buying didn’t look like that. I ended up staining my primed canvases with black tea to get a similar look and funny enough that has now become a staple in my larger pieces because I loved the results so much!  I am constantly experimenting, and increasingly I’m developing a sense for what worked and what didn’t, how to course-correct a piece that isn’t feeling right and how to know when to stop when it does.  As an artist, I hope to keep evolving and hopefully in doing so, my work will reflect that. 

Your titles seem very emotionally linked to each piece. Artists deal with titles differently--for some, titles come first, or they have a list of phrases they save to use as titles in the future--what's the process for yours?

I tend to title my pieces after certain interactions, experiences or feelings I observed either before, during or after painting them. So, yes, they are definitely emotionally linked to each piece! Sometimes with commissions, though, I will ask specific questions before getting started to guide me in the right direction and those words end up becoming the titles. 

Who are some contemporary inspirations? Historic inspirations?

I’ve always been inspired by those do what they can’t help but do because it’s just who they are and it’s how they experience the world. Whether that be painting, filmmaking, designing, cooking, bike-riding, etc. the passion is tangible and permeates through whatever they are doing.  That inspires me to keep pursuing what I need to do because I believe that passion is not just for my own benefit.  When someone is living truthfully or making art made without apologizing, they’re giving others the courage to do the same.  Just look at the news today and see those creating change by using their talents and voices for good - that’s inspiring! 

Historically, I’ve always been drawn to Picasso. (Maybe it’s because we share “cass” in our names?)  I’ve followed his art all over the world and am consistently surprised by not only the vast amount of work he put out but also the diversity in medium and style. No matter what he did, though, there’s always a through line or fingerprint letting you know he made the piece.  In my mind, he made art because he had to and I assume he made lots of it without worrying whether it looked like anyone else’s because he didn’t have time to think about that.  I had an eye opening experience in Spain when I visited his famous Guernica painting a few years ago. Right around the corner there was a gallery full of Picasso paintings copying Velázquez’s Las Meninas. With each one, I could see his mind transforming the subject into his own style and language. That was a refreshing reminder to see art begetting art even for a master. 


Q&A with Brett Warren

When did you realize you wanted to be a photographer and what drew you specifically to fashion?

In middle school my parents gave me my first camera, and I have been smitten ever since. I would plan shoots during the last period of my high school classes with friends, and we would head out to one of their farms to create images together! In the early days, we would take turns in front of the camera which resulted in some fun photos. I was experimenting and learning along the way. My college years refined my technique, and I kept shooting fashion stories as a creative outlet. After returning from an internship in NYC, clients began hiring me for fashion work and my daydream became a reality. To me, fashion is one of the most personal facets of art. We put it on our bodies, and use it to shape our identity and perceptions of one another. The fun part is using this form of art to create small worlds and the characters that can inhabit them in my images.

Your images are more than just snapping photos of models in clothes, there’s a story being told through each one.  What’s your process of finding that untold story to tell?

The story usually begins with the subject. Models can morph into a multitude of characters, and it's my job to decide which one will create an environment for them to thrive within. In my work, the story is the most important element of any shoot. Story tells you who the character is, in what world they exist, and informs the specific details of what they are wearing. When writing a creative brief, I often explore a few worlds, and dive down the most exciting rabbit hole.

Can you describe your process with the engineering prints a little bit and why you choose to work with various mediums?

I have been showing my work in various forms for several years. One consistent comment from these various experiences is how people feel my work should be experienced at a large scale. Initially, the engineering prints solved a huge issue in the expense of printing large format work, but presented a staggering limitation due to the black and white nature of these prints. My entire body of work hinges on the use of cinematic color, yet I have found such a freedom by exploring the world of black and white engineering prints. Color is applied to specific areas using paints, pencils, and sometimes embellishment. The engineering prints have been a fun avenue to explore large format work, and present a challenging creative exercise by assigning a place for color within them in a creative way. 

Your images of frozen objects are jaw-dropping, what’s the story behind those?

My home is full of heirlooms. Some are mine with personal memories attached to them, while some are merely passed down to me through a multitude of friends. Special objects have a way of making their way into my life, and I began these creative exercises in an effort to document these objects as a still life. This is an ongoing project that I will continue to explore, and manipulate these objects to form a new meaning or life to them.

Where do you hope to see your work 10 years from now?

Honestly, I want to be telling better stories, and far less of them. Time is the ultimate luxury in our current culture, and I would love the ability to explore a fashion story to its fullest without feeling I had to "get it out the door". In  the next 10 years, I hope to explore my imagination far deeper than before, and have the resources to bring these worlds to life.

If you could give your younger self just starting out a piece of advice, what would it be?

I would tell myself to keep creating brave personal work. Some of my favorite images were taken 6 years ago on a lesser than camera with unfortunate lighting. It was about the idea, and I would tell myself to pursue those ideas and concepts further and more frequently. Something I am still telling myself today. I would also be sure and let myself know to calm down a bit. Society leads us to believe that we should be creating incredible work while we are young, leaving many of us feeling as if we are racing to fit within a narrow window of opportunity. I now see that you can also learn, refine, and explore over time in pursuit of a career with longevity. I've learned some of the same lessons 3 times, but each time I get the chance to flex my muscles on a larger scale. All that to say, be patient... build a strong foundation of creativity and positivity.


Artist Q&A with Street Photographer, Michael Ray Nott

Photo by Jeff Frazier

Photo by Jeff Frazier

What made you initially pick up a camera and start shooting?

I started shooting when I was a student in Austin, Texas, using an old Yashica twin lens reflex camera. While in school I was fortunate enough to take classes studying street photography under Dean the the genre, Garry Winogrand . Also, at that time, I took classes on the history of photography from the eminent photography collector and historian, Helmut Gernsheim.

What keeps you inspired?

I have always loved large crowds of people, and people-watching. I feel that if I was not there to take pictures, I would most likely be wandering around just taking in the scenery. The French have a word for that, Flâneur.

What are some of the obstacles you encounter while trying to capture moments on the street?

Going out on street with a camera is stepping into fluid, unpredictable situations that require being open to anything and everything. They say all obstacles can be turned into opportunities, and with that comes infinite possibilities. There is no limit – I feel that if a photographer was locked in a white room there would is still be the potential to take a great photo.

Is shooting in Nashville different from other places. If so, how? 

The suburban landscape has become banal and ritualized.

We live in a highly-compartmentalized society where there is less and less public life. Finding places in an urban environment where people randomly mingle is a rare thing.

In sharp contrast, Nashville has become a hyper-diverse place – both with people moving here and those coming to visit. I have attempted to use photography to capture that energy.

To capture what is currently happening in Nashville, I have developed ever-expanding themes and strategies for my photos. Musicians playing on the street, bands playing in the windows of honky tonks, mannequins in windows, and groups of tourists.

Do you have a favorite image or memory from your series being shown at The Arts Company?

The image of the Pride Parade Kids. That day I was down at the starting spot for the Pride Parade where people were gathering, people were arriving and I spotted a group of kids who were so excited to be there. The parade kicked off with a wedding ceremony and these kids got up of the ledge so they could see. I feel that image really captures the moment, although you can’t see any of the actual scene that was happening.

©Michael Ray Nott

©Michael Ray Nott

Your images are being shown alongside a few from the 1946 Opry collection by legendary LIFE photographer, Ed Clark.  What similarities or differences do you see in the street photography being done back then and now?

First of all, let me say that I am deeply humbled to have my work teamed up with the legendary photographer Ed Clark. He was a luminary from the golden age of photojournalism who told stories through pictures in appearing  in LIFE magazine. Clark had access to photographing Presidents in the oval office, covering the Nuremberg Trials, and many other events that went beyond the arena of “news reporting” – becoming documents of great historical significance.

Photo journalism began with Henri Cartier Bresson and the formation of the Magnum Group. These pioneering photographers brought to the world images of wars, human suffering and life as it is lived all over the world..

From an historical sense, photojournalism shifted in the 1950s with what is commonly called the New York School of Photography. A new attitude of photography came into play, more expressionistic, oblique images that were very much tied into what was going on at the time with abstract painting. Photographers such as Robert Frank, Gerry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander, and many others, while still telling journalistic stories – attempted to uncover deeper truths about humanity.

My work is greatly influenced by the work of the New York School in that I am not directly covering a story such as a photojournalist would. I prefer the anarchy of the unplanned approach.

The traditional storytelling approach of Ed Clark is a sharp contrast with expressionistic, open-ended photography. However, here are instances where those two merge.  Currently, photojournalists such as Mark Peterson who is shooting the news in an oblique manner while covering the current presidential campaign. Other photographers such as Gillian Laub who are taking documentary photography into the realms of fine art.

What is the best advice you have ever been given?

Have patience.