American folk art of the 20th century has been understood to be folksy art of the people—“untrained, rural, loner artists” living mostly in the South, usually in poverty, and generally untrained and uneducated as artists. At the beginning of the 21st century, some of these artists are coming to be viewed as significant American artists whose contemporary artwork has helped shape our modern visual culture, artists who will have a lasting influence on other artists, collectors, and audiences for years to come.... Read full article here.
"Artist Mandy Rogers Horton found a revelation in the aspirational images of Restoration Hardware catalogues and shelter magazines. And through this glossy detritus of our lives, she has spun a new art style of conceptual collage art."
-Karen Parr-Moody, Nashville Arts Magazine
“He has a boldly theatrical tableaux, very sparse and clean. His work is fun to look at, and it seems a little crazy. It is the kind of work that you want to go back and see again and again, because you are going to discover something else. His work is like life; it is never going to resolve itself,” Anne Brown, owner of The Arts Company, comments. Read the full article here.
Charles Keiger—Thinking Theatrically opens with a reception at The Arts Company on June 6 during the First Saturday Art Crawl Downtown. The exhibition is on view through June 26. For more, visit www.theartscompany.com.
John Petrey's exhibition was highlighted in the May issue of Nashville Arts Magazine by Gracie Pratt. "Petrey’s sculptures provide insight into the fascinating capability of clothing to mask, to protect from, exposure to suffering, difficulty, or pain. While alluding to the soft, pliable materials such as fabric in his designs, the materials used are harsh, defensive, and strong. It is a paradox of what is expected contrasted with what actually is." Read the full article here.
Cassie Stephens, an Art Teacher from Johnson Elementary, interviews Charles Keiger along with her students to provide a unique perspective on his upcoming exhibition, "Thinking Theatrically." Read the full article here.
by David Sprouse
For his latest body of work, The New Nashville, artist Brett Weaver set out to capture the palpable yet elusive something that animates and sustains this dynamic city. While Nashville has long been celebrated as a center of creativity and commerce, its latest iteration as the “It” city is no simple subject to translate into an exhibition of fifteen paintings. Yet Weaver’s insightful combination of street scenes and public interiors avoids the traps of nostalgia and cliché by emphasizing a vitality of place over simple recognition.
The Frothy Monkey, Oil on canvas, 24” x 36”
Weaver portrays a city in the midst of rapid growth and near perpetual change. He is attentive also to the counterbalance provided by the more ordinary rhythms that ultimately shape a city’s character. Frothy Monkey, for example, casts the warmly lit coffeehouse as an inviting refuge from the morning bustle gathering just outside its plate-glass windows. In contrast, Downtown Man hits the viewer with all the sun-washed brightness of an automobile dominated streetscape—a glaring scene of crosswalks and traffic signals familiar to any Nashvillian as the West End and Broadway split. Whether candlelit or blown out, Weaver’s adept use of the transient quality of light depicts a Nashville seen in its fleeting best, impressionistic yet down to earth.
5 Points, Oil on canvas, 24” x 36”
To be sure, intersections and cafés are merely the peripheral vision of a city. In deciding what to paint for the series, Weaver explains that “the new Nashville is more about arts and culture and community and essentially not being nostalgic. However, I did want to capture certain intrinsic qualities that describe the heart and soul of Nashville. I felt like the Ryman had to be included in some way.” He counts The Core as one of the most important works in the show. Casting his gaze from Broadway northward along 5th Avenue of the Arts, the historic Ryman Auditorium stands to the right in the painting’s foreground. He paints it not as some exalted shrine, but grounded—a permanent anchor in limestone and brick bounded by the movement of traffic and pedestrians.
5th Ave. of the Arts, Oil on canvas, 36” x 36”
Weaver worked as a civil engineer before shifting to art full time in his late twenties. Over a decade later, he finds that his formal training as an engineer is never too far from hand: “I use a lot of the design skills I developed as an engineer in designing my paintings and giving strength to the structures and industrial settings. Art should have the right amount of mathematics and creativity, and then, hopefully, the strength of your creativity will hide all of your calculations.” Brett Weaver maintains studios in both Chattanooga and Nashville, and his work is in numerous public and private collections, including the Tennessee State Museum.
4th Ave., Oil on canvas, 24” x 24”
by David Sprouse
Sculptor and ceramic artist Edward Belbusti creates works that are both cerebral and sensual at the same time. The elegant, curving forms of his Touch series, for example, encourage viewers to go beyond a purely visual appreciation of the pieces’ fluid shapes and rich, clay hues and actually feel the sculptures—to relish the tactile sensation of the smoothly burnished, waxed terracotta.
Belbusti’s vocabulary is the clay slab, punctuated by the occasional use of steel and wood. He manipulates these elements in various ways to explore the balance, tension, and structure of a piece, as well as the interplay between its constituent components. Two such sculptures that successfully integrate wood and clay into their forms are his Leviathan pieces. Rural Leviathan is reminiscent of a great sandstone monolith with a curving aperture chock-full of fossilized tree limbs, while Urban Leviathan appears to have swallowed up whole the contents of an urban skyline and reconstituted it along the sculpture’s peak. Belbusti sees the pair as harvesters, in a sense, consuming and chewing up both the natural and the built environment.
One of the more striking characteristics of Belbusti’s art is its ambiguity of scale, as if the forms could simply rise in height and mass to rival the scale of a monument or even a building. A tabletop-sized piece such as Windowpanes could be readily scaled up to stand as a twenty-foot-tall public sculpture in an urban courtyard, or perhaps a great monolith in a rolling heath.
Belbusti’s interest in scalable clay sculpture first coalesced in college, when he began working with clay models as an architecture student. Before the advent of powerful computer-aided design software, students typically created physical, three-dimensional models of their designs. Belbusti attended Virginia Tech, which featured a clay studio reserved for the exclusive use of its architecture department. To encourage three-dimensional thinking, clay models were made of every design first. Only then did the students make drawings.
While on a tour of Central America many years later, Belbusti reconnected with ceramics and some of the possibilities of ceramic arts. Nicaragua and Guatemala have an especially strong association with ceramics, and Belbusti found a tantalizing form of inspiration in both the traditional Nicaraguan pottery and in some of the new work being created. Discussing his own artwork, Belbusti describes the shapes of his works as interactions between natural forms and hard, geometric shapes—and his art as reflecting a process of trying to relate the two together in one piece.
He continues to explore the surface texture and color of a piece. For instance, his Striated Vessels series is comprised of a number of works defined by striated textures that draw the eye across the piece along differing planes of observation. Moreover, the color of the series is achieved through the use of a manganese dioxide glaze, which imparts to the sculptures a matte, straw-like tone. In some pieces, the artist’s skillful use of surface texture and color suggests a composition of steel, wood, or even plastic, calling to mind the influence of his architectural background.
Before moving to Nashville in 1989, Edward Belbusti worked as an architect in New York and Baltimore. In 2011, after serving for many years as University Architect at Vanderbilt, he retired from the field and embarked upon his career as a sculptor and ceramic artist. Since then, he has exhibited regularly throughout the Southeast.
Edward Belbusti is represented by The Arts Company and will be showing his work there from October 4 through 24. For more information about him, visit www.theartscompany.com.
Nashville Culture Fest’s featured artist, Fahamu Pecou, brings hip-hop to high art to talk about black masculinity
by Joe Nolan
Nowadays, when artists like Jeff Koons are displaying giant balls of Play-Doh at the Whitney, you’d be forgiven for overlooking the dividing line between fine art and popular culture. When an artist like Ryan Trecartin’s videos seem custom made for YouTube, and a painter like Kehinde Wiley mixes his portraits of contemporary black people in modern dress into the aesthetics of Old Master paintings, it becomes increasingly difficult to discern the differences between mass media and museum masterpieces. Maybe there is no difference anymore? Maybe that’s why we should be paying attention?
Fahamu Pecou is an Atlanta-based artist and scholar whose paintings, videos, and social media experiments ask questions about how our society organizes, categorizes, creates, and consumes media—from hip-hop to highbrow, graffiti to glamour. Pecou is currently a PhD student in Emory University’s Institute of Liberal Arts, and he’s also the featured artist at this month’s Nashville Culture Fest multimedia happening centered around arts from the African Diaspora. Pecou studies the masks of black masculinity through the lens of media critique, making him both a perfect and provocative choice to represent the inaugural event.
“One of the things that I’m really interested in—both as a fine artist and in terms of academia—is the way that certain kinds of information, certain ideas about culture and society, are privileged to certain groups,” says Pecou. “I’m interested in exploding that. One of the things that I found when I started the PhD program was that there is this wealth of knowledge in this world where all this research is being done on these things that people have day-to-day issues with, but if you’re not in these environments where you have access to this information you don’t know about it. I’m trying to figure out a way to create bridges between the everyday person and the academy or the curator or the fine artists.” The dichotomy of being an academic who criticizes the academy, and the roles of those it canonizes and christens as curators, is a contradiction that amuses Pecou. But he’s genuinely advocating for the discussion between fine art and popular culture to be as engaging as his own early exposures to art education and art history were.
“For me art school was a great benefit because it opened me up to different ways of thinking about art that I was unfamiliar with,” says Pecou. “Where I was growing up there were no galleries to speak of, but I had a passion for drawing—that was my thing: people knew me as a kid who could draw. But when I got to art school I got exposed to galleries and museums and art history, and all these things I was just completely ignorant of. It really helped to transform me into the person I’m still becoming.”
As he’s grown as an artist and a thinker, Pecou’s work has crossed the lines between fine art and pop culture at different points through different means, with the 2009 painting Merrill Lynch’d. Pecou responded to the bank bailout fiasco, lampooning the cover of a Berlin art magazine with a self-portrait and a Jean-Michel Basquiat-esque bull. His recent Caged Bird series references the late great Maya Angelou—who collaborated with Basquiat on a children’s book—in a trio of paintings and drawings that questions the values and roles that define contemporary black maleness.
“I think part of the blurring of the line between pop culture and fine art is about challenging us to think critically about popular culture,” says Pecou. “You know, we see these things—these images and ideas being communicated—and we try to mimic them. But we never really ask why. Why is this important to me? What does this mean in the grand scheme of things?”
Pecou also addresses the barriers that still exist between African-American culture and the world of fine art. “I’m an African-American artist who—before I started doing the kind of work I’m doing—didn’t see a lot of African-American people in spaces for fine art. There is definitely a line there. My work speaks to African-American experience—particularly African-American male experience—but that’s not typically the audience that’s frequenting those spaces. So, what can I do to make those spaces more accessible to that audience?”
Pecou himself has had to push aside assumptions and knock down barriers to make room for his category-challenging work, which often adopts the over-the-top bravado of hip-hop culture to speak about the experience of being a black man.
“At any given time it seems there will be one important black male artist and everybody else is on the sidelines—like Double Dutch, just waiting on their turn to jump in. There is also a lot of criticism and commentary that occurs—not only in the art world, but also in the academic world—around issues of black men that aren’t coming from black men in the first place. They’re from other people’s perspectives and ideas about what black masculinity should be, be that black women scholars or white male scholars. You know, everybody else is saying what black masculinity is, and black men are often not in the conversation or not even in the same room. So I want to be a part of that discussion.”
Pecou and his art will be at the center of the Nashville Culture Fest from August 27 to August 31. The artist will be showing paintings, works on paper, and video at The Arts Company with a reception on August 30 from 3 to 6 p.m. He will talk with Nashville Arts Magazine at 4 p.m. during the reception. He’ll be lecturing at the gallery as well as at schools in the city throughout the festival. www.fahamupecouart.com
The Arts Company • July 5 through August 8
by Jesse Mathison
The images Daryl Thetford creates are woven from countless sources: a street performer in New York City, an astronomy chart, a section of an old wall, now crumbling. His visual pieces are colorful and somewhat playful, yet they possess a psychological undercurrent that adds depth to the work. Thetford, whose background is in the mental health profession, deals with struggle, wonder, and the search for resolution. We talked at length about his process, his influences, and the impulses behind his art.
“Everything begins with my photographs—the color, the texture, and the tone of my work,” Thetford says. “That’s the beginning point. I find inspiration in the movement and energy of urban environments, and I’ll sometimes walk for hours and hours, looking at cracks in the sidewalk and other small details, taking pictures wherever I go. I won’t necessarily know what I want to use a particular photograph for, or even if I want to use it, but my work absolutely begins with photography.”
The artist puts over forty hours of work into each piece he creates, layering, refining, and crafting a variety of source material into something homogenous and insightful. “I think of places as a psychological space,” he continues, “each with a certain feel. I tend to draw visual ideas of psychological concepts when they occur to me, and then I like to imagine what I could do with that. I work a lot more effectively if I have a notion of what I want to do. Otherwise I ramble around a lot more; I stumble.”
There is something tenebrous behind the work of Daryl Thetford, two elements somewhat at odds with the other. “I want my work to have some gravity to it,” he tells me, “but also something lighter, too. I want it to be about this thing inside that you struggle with throughout this journey, the painful and the attractive at the same time, as our lives are a mixture of the two.” This conceptual chiaroscuro is at the heart of Thetford’s process as well. He usually has a light and a dark series going at the same time.
With a solid understanding of his process, I next ask him about the inspiration behind his varied source materials. “I have stacks and stacks and stacks, I mean thousands, of art books,” he tells me. “I like the work of Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, the color of Rothko, and some of the scratchy grittiness of Basquiat. I admire the writing of Carl Jung and actually used a photograph of him in one of my pieces, where he is hidden as a cello player (Man with a Cello). And my work Woman with a Halo: A Modern Icon is, stylistically, a nod to the Russian constructivists.
Finally, we talk more about why the artist creates as he does. “When I was very young I was drawn to painting, but as I grew up it was time to get real, to go to college and do something you were supposed to do, something that would make a living. Nobody I had ever met had made their living as an artist, so I went into mental health and worked in that field for many years. Eventually I got burned out with that, and I decided to quit my job and pursue a career as an artist. So, for me, making art is returning home.”
Daryl Thetford is represented by The Arts Company. His exhibit Introducing the World of Daryl Thetford will be on display July 5 to August 8 with a conversation with the artist on July 11. For more information visit www.theartscompany.com and www.darylthetford.com.