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.

Q&A with Guest Curator Ronnie Steine about "The Art of Politics"

Photo credit:  Hatcher & Fell Photography

Photo credit: Hatcher & Fell Photography

Alongside a lifetime of passion for public service, you’ve also had a lifetime of passion for collecting art.  Where did that passion originate?

My passion, which some call obsession, for collecting art clearly was inherited from my parents, Peggy and David Steine. Now both deceased, they would be consideredto be in Nashville’s “hall of fame” of arts supporters, promoters and collectors. They not only inspired my older sister and brother and me but a lot of today’s finest collectors and collections throughout Nashville and even around the country. Art was so infused into the fabric of our family life that IT became essential to our identity.

How did you start collecting political art specifically and where do you often go to find it?

I began collecting Campaign materials created by or involving artists and art with political/historical themes after years of just gathering practical political buttons and posters. I started running across actual Campaign items created by artists to support their favorite candidates. Artists like Ben Shahn, Roy Lichtenstein, Alexander Calder, RB Kitaj and Shepard Fairey. Obviously this combined my two loves: politics and art. Then over time, I have been attracted to artists creating original works with historical or political themes. Outsider artists  Ned Cartledge, Rex Clawson, Andrea Badami and Leroy Almon come to mind. But also “fine” artists like Larry Rivers. On a regional and local level I adore works by Jim Sherraden, Chad Poovey, Sam Dunson, Mr. Hooper among many others.

Has the nature of collecting political art changed since you first begin to now? If so, how? 

Collecting political art has changed dramatically since 2008. Barack Obama sparked a wave of artistic expression and support. The only previous equivalent was inspired by George McGovern and Gene McCarthy. The Obama catalyst has continued  beyond him and has spilled into protest/cause art.

What qualifies a political piece as art?

For me, a piece of art is political if the artist chooses a theme or composition that involves a current or past political figure or focuses on an issue/problem/or cause. An  artist’s commentary on social conditions certainly falls into this category. My definition is broad enough to include historical icons like Lincoln and Washington who have been included in the work of virtually every Outsider artist from Finster to Mose Tolliver.

Why do you think artists are so often connected with politics? 

Many artists are connected to politics because they are connected to their environment and/or their community. Often times, they want to support a cause or a candidate. Some use their art as their “bully pulpit”. Satire and cartoon are traditional forms of political commentary. Others are simply choosing politics as part of popular culture.

Do you have a favorite piece in the collection and/or a favorite memory from acquiring one?

Picking a favorite is, as my Mother used say, “like choosing one’s favorite child”-   I do remember vividly being in a vintage art store in Chicago and running across Calder’s “McGovern for McGovernment” poster and its price was really good! I am also a huge fan of current artist Brian Campbell’s political work. He creates limited edition buttons from small originals using pop culture themes.

What is your advice to those interested in starting their own collection?

My advice to those starting is to try to choose a focus-  my tendency gravitated to quantity over quality for a long time. There are several reputable national auctions that can help in building collections and The American Political Items Collectors organization is  a must to join. It provides great contacts and information.