Perambulating the Bounds

Monday, May 26, 2008

Viewing notes on Durham and Donovan

If I can get my act together, I’m going to put together a long review of Erika Johnson’s piece at the Parthenon, but there’s some other things in the way of viewing notes I wanted to get out of my head.

I did a review of the Library’s Works with Words show in last week’s issue of the Scene, and I think it made me tune into words in other things I’ve been looking at. This was the case at Bob Durham’s show at Cumberland. I guess people consider Bob a photo-realist, although I’m not sure what that would mean today. If that label applies to Bob it’s because he paints figuratively with clear detail, and probably because of the quality of light in the paintings.

Bob has two kinds of work going. One is a series of paintings of sock monkeys, posed with props of various kinds, playing out a joke or a pun. Then he has paintings taken more from everyday life, usually portraits, often in a domestic setting. I prefer the portraits, but the sock monkeys are really popular. I think the portraits show his depth much more, and they have plenty of humor—not quite as obvious as the sock monkeys, but it’s there. Lately I’ve been thinking maybe I’m missing something, that the market has recognized the brilliance of these paintings. Certainly Dave Hickey would tell me that’s what to look for. Maybe these paintings stand out as a more distinctive body of work. For now, I will in a self-satisfied way insist on retaining my state of ignorance, and hold onto my preference for Bob’s portraits.

For me the show was dominated by the painting “Maestro,” which shows a middle-aged guy holding forth in a kitchen, standing over a bunch of shiny sauce pans, waving a spoon in one hand and holding a scotch in the other. I picture it as this guy, pretty well lit, whipping up his special dish, maybe gumbo or something, for a bunch of guests. It looks like he’s got every pan in the place out—a chef who is more energetic than efficient.

So you’ve got this guy engaged in a kind of domestic performance where he’s the center of attention for some clutch of unseen guests. But the real performance is Bob’s, who shows off and pokes fun at himself at the same time. Not only does he capture this particular male character in full flourish, but all those shiny metal plans give the painter a chance to show off his skill managing the reflections, like the bit of green reflected from the subject’s shirt. Photorealists made a career of hard, shiny surfaces, and the amount of metal here is practically a parody of the style and its pursuit of virtuosity. Of course, it goes back much further. Painters have always enjoyed showing off with reflective surfaces—look at the water goblets Pieter Claesz (this is "Still Life with Roemer, Tazza, and Watch" from 1636) preferred, the base covered with convex bulges that gave him even more surfaces to play with. The same pleasure in technique inspired other painters who took every chance they had to include delicate lace.

The painting has other tricks up its sleeve. This is where the words come in. In the foreground, the word PYREX is visible in clean red letters on a clear glass mixing bowl. But look at some other places where you would expect to find words—the labels on bottles of scotch and ginger ale. They are smudged, completely indistinct and illegible. You could argue that these bottles are blurred because they are more in the background, but the scotch bottle is positioned pretty close to Pyrex bowl. While the painting looks “photorealistic,” it really isn’t. Bob is varying it up when it comes to choices about what details to include, and how sharply to limn each one.

Just to confirm this artistic editing, turn to another painting, “12:01 A.M. This one shows a broom propped up in a nook in that wall, next to a pair of woman’s shoes. The wall is rendered in a lovely mix of almost iridescent color and has the shadow of a chair hitting it. On the floor there’s a can, and the label shows a pumpkin, but the part of the label that would include the brand name and the name of the product (pumpkin pie filling?) is blank. No blurry words, but just an empty, blank white spot. The picture of the pumpkin tells you enough about what it is, so Bob leaves out the rest. The can convinced me, if there was any doubt, that the contrast between the blurred labels and the word PYREX in “Maestro” were not perspective effects, but explicit artifice.

It makes me think there are other ways this artifice would come out if I spent more time with the painting, or if I knew more about anatomical rendering.

The other thing I wanted to mention is John Donovan’s sculptures at the Renaissance Center in Dickson. Everything (I think) in this show is unglazed, just the red fired clay with some black soot smudges, which makes the pieces seem like archaeological artifacts. He has several warrior figures with the extended earlobes of pre-Columbian art brandishing spears, but wearing un-ferocious rabbit headdresses. Other pieces are outfitted with guns and modern weapons. Donovan uses all sorts of glaze techniques in his work, sometimes the opposite of this, thick and gooey like cheap tourist trinkets. I guess this isn’t the first time I’ve seen these unglazed pieces, but this time they made me more aware of how conscious Donovan is of the history of his medium. Ceramics have been around for a long time, into prehistory, and continue in use in our daily and commercial culture. It’s very common material, and it lasts, so it provides strong connections among human life across the ages. With Donovan it seems like all of that history of the material is present at one time or the other, and the material gives me a way of thinking about the long course of human history.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Nashville Visual Arts May 2-11

Happy Beltane everyone. There’s a lot going on, so I’m not going to get deep into everything. The Zeitgeist photography show will no doubt be very interesting, like the painting show, and it includes some people I haven’t seen in a little while.

As always, if you have an email list of your own, feel free to forward this.

If someone wants to get added directly to my list for the email version of this listing, send me an email at To get taken off the list, email to that effect at the same address.

May 2

Centennial Art Center, J. William Barnes, Donald R. Murphree and Ken R. White Three painters from the area. Bill Barnes was art director at Sony Records and designed a lot of big time album covers; his paintings take up surrealism. Don Murphree looks like he might be the most interesting of the three, with realistic paintings of the people and totem objects of the south. Lots of motorcycles.

Renaissance Center: Southern Graphics Council Exhibition, John Donovan, Watkins Student Photography, Tuckessee Woodturners The Ren Center in Dickson packs up its gallery, display cases and walls yet again. About all the leading printmakers in the region are members of the Southern Graphics Council and the group has put together shows from its members at several galleries in Nashville. Donovan makes ceramic models of tanks, soldiers, Asian warriors, fortress houses, and so forth that riff on the social psychology of security, pop culture, and mass commercialization. He is represented by Zeitgeist, shows there regularly, and often figures in good group shows. Good for Armon Means to bring him out to Dickson. The Watkins photography students—not sure who’s included, but there were a number of photographers in this year’s graduating class. Finally, the Tuckessee Woodturners is a local group that meets in the Renaissance Center to take classes and do their work. Woodturning is one of those traditional crafts that maintains its solid roots in small towns in Tennessee with groups like this. This is what folk art looks like, and it’s a really nice counterpoint to the use of traditional techniques by an artist like Donovan. All of these shows will be up through June 7, but the opening reception is Friday night from 6-7:30.

May 3

TAG, Laurie Lipton and Emily Leonard. Small paintings and drawings by Emily Leonard, finely detailed graphite drawings by Lipton. Some of Lipton’s material quotes from early Renaissance painting, and the spirit of those classic art works runs through even more surrealistic ideas. Leonard makes lovely crepuscular images of forests and trees.

Arts Company, Jonathan Richter and McKelvey. This is a collaborative effort between painter Richter and writer McKelvey. Richter’s done a series of small portraits, to which McKelvey has added a couple of lines of poetry to imagine bits of narrative for them. The Arts Company also is still showing Aaron Brown’s paintings, very much worth spending time with.

Rymer, Greg Gustafson, Frank Milo, Teodora Pica Gustafson is from Memphis and paints landscapes with a monumental scale, with a sense of the broad sky worthy of someone from the Plains. From what I can see on-line, Pica has a couple of different stylistic approaches, some of the best of which is classic abstraction that has the feel and refinement of work from the years right after WWII.

Tinney+Cannon, Jennifer Cawley A lot of artists draw on cartoon and illustration tropes, but Cawley also has a hint of 60s pop art psychedelia. The more complex compositions integrate multiple panels of images and textures.

Twist, Brady Haston Haston continues his exploration of the graphic terrain of the contemporary city, translating it into prints, paintings, and drawings that read back the patterns in fragments and essential forms.

Estel, Pamela Sukhum and paintings by Sudanese refugee children. Sukhum is a painter who has worked with Sudanese children in refugee camps in Chad. This show brings together her paintings, art by the children from these refugee camps, and some of the art work produced by Sudanese refugees in Nashville. Sukhum’s colorful paintings perch on a boundary between abstractions and botanical and floral forms.

Zeitgeist, Dialogue 2, Photography The second in Zeitgeist’s medium-specific and media-bending shows, this one covers photography. It includes Norwegian Bjorn Sterri, who had a great series of photos of himself and his family, creating a moody sort of quasi-narrative; Caroline Allison, a keen observer of overlooked landscapes; David Wright LaGrone has done challenging work that deals with semiotics and would be a good addition to the Library’s works with words series; Hans Schmitt-Matzen’s work often crosses back and forth between painting and photography. And it’s great to see the Scene’s photographer Eric England in a gallery context. The other participants are Jimmy Abegg, Stephen Alvarez, Todd Baxter, Fred Clarke, John Folsom, Peter Monroe, Nancy Rhoda, Simon Roberts, Katherine Slingluff, Mark Tucker. This installment’s panel discussion will take place on Tuesday, May 13.

Hume-Fogg Student Art Show to benefit Lost Boys Foundation. A Hume-Fogg senior has organized this one-night show, inspired by internships at the Arts Company and the Lost Boys Foundation. The show will be open from 6-9 at 226 3rd Avenue North, the old Federal Reserve Bank building, next door to the Stahlman Building. Sales of the art work will benefit the Lost Boys Foundation.

May 4

CRAFT: A Creative Community A group of local artists/artisans, bringing Nashville into the world of DIY crafts, holds its first monthly sale/fair of the new year in the parking lot of Lipstick Lounge from 11-5 on Sunday.

May 9

Frist Center, Tiffany by Design. An exhibit of Tiffany lamps.

May 11

Nashville Ballet, Jason Facio. An exhibit at the Nashville Ballet’s headquarters in Sylvan Park. Much of Jason’s work seems to be figurative, sometimes based on scrap wood or even doors. There’s a reception from 3-5 on Sunday the 11th, and the space is open 10-5 Monday-Friday.


Studio B Gallery. This is a new gallery on 12th Avenue South, although it might be in space that’s been used previously as a gallery. The inaugural show opened maybe this last week, and it features Moses Hoskins, an abstract painter from New York.

TSU request for proposals

Got this announcement from Jodi Hays at TSU


Tennessee State University art spaces are administered by the Art Department are located in Elliot Hall on Tennessee State University 's campus, minutes from downtown Nashville . The Hiram Van Gordon Memorial Gallery regularly houses faculty and student shows and a wide variety of temporary exhibitions. The Space for New Media will house innovations in digital media, new media, video and electronic arts by African Americans as its mission. Programming of the Hiram Van Gordon Memorial Gallery will mirror the programming for the adjacent the Space for New Media.

Recognizing the historical precedence of working with immediate communities to affect positive change (e.g. the civil rights movement) the Hiram Van Gordon Memorial Gallery invites Nashville-area artists, collectives and curators to submit curatorial proposals for summer exhibitions (June-July) that support existing programming missions. In keeping with the mission, the Hiram Van Gordon gallery encourages proposals from artists and curators with diverse backgrounds.

In 2009 the theme is SHIFT, all proposals must include a written statement detailing how the proposed exhibition supports the existing programming vision. Please read information provided on the TSU Gallery web site before you organize and exhibition:

Artists (2-3 person), collectives or curators interested in exhibiting in the Hiram Van Gordon at Tennessee State University should send the following:

• one page proposal detailing exhibition and how it supports the existing programming (for 2009: SHIFT for 2010: PAUSE for 2011: PLAY)

• resume, statement, and bio (all limited to one page)

•10-20 images of recent work in slide or digital format

-Slides should be labeled with name and number that corresponds to an image list with title, date, medium and if brief description of work (if applicable)

-CD should contain a pdf file that includes all images. Provide a paper copy of image list.

•SASE For return of materials (if requesting materials back)

•$10 processing fee

• Deadline is August 1, 2008 for 2009 consideration

Submit materials and questions to:

Jodi Hays, Director/ Hiram Van Gordon Gallery and Space for New Media

Department of Art, Tennessee State University

3500 John Merrit Blvd., PO Box 9562

Nashville, TN 37209