Month: July 2015

Grace Goad’s Abstract Wonderland

Grace Goad's

Grace Goad’s “New Works” is showing at Gordon Jewish Community Center in Nashville through July 31.

Many in Nashville already have had the pleasure of discovering local artist Grace Goad, who is showing new works at Gordon Jewish Community Center through July 31. She’s been active for many years, producing paintings that celebrate the joyful process of art making. I attended the show’s opening last week and was impressed by the young artist’s sense of composition and color. The 21 year-old wunderkind paints in acrylic, watercolor, and ink in a broad palette of colors. In some of her works, she uses bright pastels: salmon pinks and maizy yellows. In others, she opts for dark greens, deep reds, and navy blues. Her abstract work runs the gamut of emotional states with a depth and purity unusual for an artist of her age.

Watercolors by Grace Goad.

Watercolors by Grace Goad on display at Goad’s solo show in Nashville, TN.

Goad has moderately severe Autism. Because Autism affects the muscles of her grasp, she paints in broad strokes and draws in long scribbles; I suspect that this is one reason her paintings feel so driven by emotion. It may be that Goad pushes paint around in a way that’s led by subconscious instinct. Many artists attempt this deliberately, but something about Goad’s brush strokes and water play are both more sophisticated and authentic. But don’t be mistaken: it’s not a free-for-all. Goad also has the instincts for remarkable restraint. Just check out these delicate, airy watercolors above.

Grace Goad, Untitled; original ink print on paper.

Grace Goad, Untitled; original ink print on paper. Image courtesy of the artist.

She began painting when she was four years old, and her parents immediately noticed her talent. She has continued to develop as a painter as she’s come of age, working with a variety of art therapists and mentors as she explores the infinite possibilities of paint. Above is one of my favorite pieces in the show. I suspect that Goad used water marbling for this and two others, wherein she’d paint in a shallow pool of water and lay the paper on top. It’s an ancient technique that can easily end up looking like one of those Magic Eye posters from the 90s. But with Goad’s love of color and talent for composition, the painting is lush and joyful.

Goad has received a lot of well-deserved press over the years. She’s been featured in an array of publications like The Tennessean and Nashville Arts, as well as in many Autism magazines, journals, and books. She’s also appeared on The View and Al Jazeera America, and her work is in private collection at the Tennessee State Museum.  If any other artist had such success before turning 21, I’d doubt they could keep it up. Unlike a lot of us, Goad is unhindered by ego; she has no desire to make work that pleases critics, gallerists or buyers, so she’s been able to steadily progress. It was an immense pleasure to take in her passionate work, and I’ll be keeping an eye on her from now on, and you should, too.

Grace Goad’s mother, author Leisa Hammett, manages her art business and is an advocate for people with disAbilities, working across platforms to deepen our understanding of Autism through workshops, seminars, and conferences.

Gordon Jewish Community Center is located at 801 Percy Warner Blvd, Nashville, TN 37205. Their hours are Monday – Thursday: 5:30am–8:45pm; Friday: 5:30am–5:45pm; Saturday – Sunday: 8am–5pm.

Black Artists Respond to Confederate Flag Imagery in Artwork in Nashville Scene

Laura Hutson, arts editor for Nashville Scene is publishing interviews with Black artists from the region. She asks them to respond to the controversy around Sheila B.’s “Southern Motel” painting, which was taken down at Acme Feed & Seed two weeks ago.

First, she talks to Donna Woodley, a Memphis-born, Nashville-based artist who is currently pursuing an MFA in Boston. Hutson asks Woodley what she would say to Sheila B. if she could attend Friday’s forum. “If she were there,” Woodley says, “I would like to think that she’d give a little about her background. I would like to know what the Confederate flag as a symbol meant for her growing up. Just to kind of get an idea of where her head is as far as including the image in her work. I would really listen closely to that.”

(Hutson also reports that Sheila B. will not be attending the forum, as she will be out of town.)

John Sims',

John Sims’, “The Proper Way to Hang a Confederate Flag” at Schmucker Gallery, Gettysburg.

Hutson will be publishing interviews with John Sims and Brandon Donahue soon, so keep checking in with her on Country Life. Sims is a fascinating artist; check out his Recoloration Proclamation, in which he re-colors the Confederate flag and others. Sims is bold and meticulous. According to Stephen Tragreser of the Scene, he used Dred Scott’s What is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag? piece from the 80s as a springboard for a new work called The Proper Way to Hang a Confederate Flag. Sims hung it from a gallows with a noose. Once you start looking, examples of Black artists using the flag to make statements about racial strife in America abound. I hope this will be part of the discussion at Friday’s forum.

This evening, a few of my friends posted an essay on social media called “I, Racist” by John Metta. Metta delivered the essay to a white congregation at Bethel Congregational United Church of Christ on Sunday, June 28th. If I could name a required reading for the forum on Confederate flag imagery in artwork, this would be it! Metta breaks down white privilege and white fragility so simply, even for us thick-headed white folks who don’t spend much time considering ways that we’ve benefited from the oppression of people of color in America. Metta’s sermon hits its crest with this point:

“Here’s what I want to say to you: Racism is so deeply embedded in this country not because of the racist right-wing radicals who practice it openly, it exists because of the silence and hurt feelings of liberal America.”

This calling of white America has been happening for years. Black people have been telling us this our whole lives, but we haven’t listened. Let’s stop being offended and start listening. Props to Laura Hutson for her contributions to the conversation.

Julia Martin Moves Discussion to Larger Space to Accommodate All + Thoughts on Art Criticism

Lots of great news here. Julia Martin has planned a panel discussion for Friday, as I wrote about last week. Martin wrote to her mailing list yesterday:

What was initially planned as an intimate open forum discussion, with members of our local arts community coming together to discuss the How’s and Why’s behind the removal of a painting by a prominent local artist from a prominent local business, has taken on a life of its own. And rightly so considering the current social climate.

She announced today that the talk will be held at White Avenue Studio: 2517 White Ave, Nashville, Tennessee 37204 at 5:30 pm. 

Also, Martin has asked Stephanie Pruitt to moderate the discussion. Stephanie is an established poet and artist from Nashville. She is also an advocate for artists and a public speaker, and she’s been helping Nashville artists learn how to be self-sustaining with their work.

Martin has sought out a larger venue to accommodate all who would like to gather and discuss racially charged imagery in art. In my opinion, Martin is acting as a leader in our artistic community. It takes courage to pull off something like this, as well as to take criticism as well as she has. Hope to see some of you there.

I think this opens up a different debate that I’d like to engage as well (later on.) We have some wonderful arts writers in this town. Laura Hutson’s art reviews in the Scene get better and deeper every week. Sara Estes is bringing serious art criticism to the Tennessean and providing her crazy art knowledge in her column over at BURNAWAY. Joe Nolan is a tireless foot soldier who helps us all connect more with the art around us. Megan Kelley’s insights have shaken me to my core. Tony Youngblood’s column in Nashville Arts shines light on arts organizations and initiatives that would otherwise not be in the public eye. There are others, too.

Some people have pointed out that it’s not the role of the art critic to discuss social issues like these. If we believe art is necessary to experiencing the full range of human emotion, that artists should seek to further their skills and conceptual basis, and that an arts community includes dialogue about the art itself, then arts writers should feel a calling to comment on social issues. When we begin perceiving art in a vacuum, we miss the point. Or rather, there is no point. Without the human experience, we have nothing to say. It’s the lived experiences of human beings that contextualizes art objects and makes us feel, when looking at a painting by Sheila B. or Khalo or de Kooning, that there is a greater story to tell than our own, that we exist in a continuum of voices, and that we are not alone. I will continue asking questions of myself and others that enrich my human experience and create a more just and equitable city, and I ask my colleagues to continue doing the same. We are producing good work in Nashville. Let’s keep at it and be even better.

Two Weekends of Art Crawling in July

This month, a tiny dream of mine is coming true: Nashville’s Downtown art crawl and its Wedgewood-Houston sister will happen on different weekends! Downtown kicks off tomorrow, Friday July 3 at 6:00. Make sure you hit COOP Gallery’s exchange exhibition with the New Orleans collective Staple Goods. The press release says that the collective functions out of what used to be a grocery store in the St. Claude Arts District, which shows how much the city has changed since I lived in there in 2005. (Arts district you say? Do tell!) I love COOP’s exchanges with other cities (you can read Laura Hutson’s article about its Nashville artists exhibiting in Brooklyn here), and I’m thrilled have some NOLA blood in the Arcade this month.

Earlier this week, I posted an interview with Briena Harmening, a textile artist and painter from right here in Tennessee. Harmening has a solo show at Blend called “I Bet You Think This Show Is About You,” and it will feature many of her crocheted paintings and sculptures. Also in the Arcade, Earbellum will have a group show including work from Ben Griffith. Ben brought us Tiny Galleries, which by the way is a great thing to do when you’re downtown (hint hint.) I was lucky to do a segment on WPLN about Ben, and working with him was tons of fun. He makes me happy.

The Arts Company opens Americana, an exhibition of LIFE Magazine photographers, including Ed Clark, Loomis Dean, Alfred Eisenstadt, John Loengard, and John Dominis, as well as sketches by artist and illustrator Ernest Hamlin Baker, as well as other gallery faves. WAG will have work from senior Casey Payne. Make sure to make your way over to Hatch Show Prints’ Haley Gallery, which will have monoprints by Master Printer Jim Sherraden. 40AU will have local printmakers Megan Kelley and Lindsy Davis.

Arts & Music @ Wedgewood/Houston will be Saturday July 11, and I’m looking forward to several show openings there.

It would sweet if everyone collectively is like, “It was so wonderful have two weekends of art. We should do it all the time!” (looking over at you, Zeitgeist and Fort Houston. ❤ <3) But I’ll take this month for now.

Bring an umbrella. xoxo

Julia Martin Gallery to Host Discussion on Confederate Flag Imagery in Artwork

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Sheila B., “Southern Motel.” Photo courtesy of Nashville Scene.

Julia Martin invites you to her gallery for a discussion in regard to the recent controversy over Sheila B.‘s painting “Southern Motel” (pictured above), which was removed from the downtown Nashville bar/restaurant Acme Feed & Seed at the request of the restaurant’s investor and mayoral hopeful Charles Robert Bone.

The painting in question is of a blonde, white woman with a Confederate flag bikini bottom bending over next to the Southern Motel, which advertises a swimming pool and exclaims on its hand painted sign: “Every kind-hearted soul welcome! Mean people stay away.”

Julia Martin is hosting an “open forum discussion” about the painting’s removal. She wrote in Tuesday’s press release:

I personally want to provide an opportunity for folks to see and discuss the piece first hand. And to talk about the many issues surrounding this particular situation along with the use of powerful symbols, like the confederate flag, in works of art.

I’m not sure if it’s an open forum (where visitors will be able to have the floor) or a panel (where just a select group of people talk.) She calls it both things. She’s invited Lux-o-matic, the white burlesque performer who modeled for the painting, as well as songwriter Jason White (who is white). Artist Dane Carder will be a panelist (also white and I guess qualified because his paintings reference Civil War imagery), and Nashville Arts editor Paul Polycarpou will join him (whom I love but is also white [CORRECTION: Polycarpou is from Cyprus, which might make a difference to some folks.]).*** And thank goodness Martin has the sense to include one person of color in this event, the writer TJ Jarrett who will perform a poetry reading (BTW, her performance alone is worth the trip; she’s sooo good.) It’s unclear if Jarrett is intended to be on the panel; she must be because otherwise it would be incredibly awkward to have the only person of color billed to perform and not have a part in the discussion — right?.

I’m skeptical of Martin’s intentions because there are plenty of Black artists, writers, and scholars living in Nashville whom Martin could draw out if she were so inclined. Since this conversation is about Confederate symbolism in art, I’d say it’s kind of important that we hear from people of color in the arts, and a visual artist would be especially appropriate. It’s possible that Martin sought a more diverse and relevant panel and came up short, but let’s face it: she obviously didn’t look very far. For me, her choice of panelists doesn’t bode well.

I’m going to be generous and say that Sheila B. has a message in “Southern Motel,” although many I’ve talked to disagree. The message is that an establishment claims to be welcoming while it allows bathing beauties to prance around in Confederate bikinis. There’s a clash of ideologies that is not terribly clever to point out. We’ve all heard versions of it. (“Bless your heart, if you’re a Christian.) If “Southern Motel” says anything at all, that’s it.

Sheila B. has shown work at Julia Martin Gallery in the past. She paints mostly portraits of country musicians and big-bosomed women in that Americana style that Nashville never tires of: pin-up style bodies, random words associated with Southern roots, nostalgic scenes, and I’ll say it again, big-bosomed women. (Somebody pass her a copy of The Ways of Seeing, please.) So I’m not a big fan of her work, but she surely should keep doing what she’s doing because a lot of people love it. Good on all of them.

What’s not so good is her shock and surprise that a Facebook group called for the painting in Acme Feed & Seed to be taken down. I want to be 100% clear in that Sheila B.’s painting is a small offense in comparison to the multitudinous Confederate images in many, many other places. But her response to the controversy shows her to be irresponsible and tone deaf. In an interview with the Scene, she says, “My artwork, it’s pretty obvious that my message is very progressive. And it is a Southern progressive.”

Let’s hold it right there.

When the Scene asks her about her intention with the painting, she can’t give a real answer. She says:

It was a Southern motel, and it said, “Every kind-hearted soul welcome, mean people stay away.” My artwork doesn’t always knock people over the head. I like to gently prod people.

If the prod is so gentle that people don’t notice, is it still a prod? Meanwhile, I’m stuck twiddling my thumbs about how her work is progressive. Her (also unprogressive) paintings of Patsy Cline and burlesque beauties aside, in this specific painting, she’s casually dropping in a loaded symbol and not judging it. Contradiction does not equal critique. In the Scene interview, the artist says that the restaurant’s decision to take the painting down “was so far out of left field — I’ve never experienced anything like that. It was so shocking.” Frankly, it made me wonder if shirking responsibility and disavowing criticism is part of the Southern progressive mindset she touts. Sheila B. says her piece is “about the New South.” If we are to believe this, it seems the New South is not much different from the Old South. Clearly, the Confederate flag is part of the way she defines the South, and she doesn’t want to jettison it as one of the region’s foremost symbols.

Here’s what I think is the trouble with Sheila B.’s painting “Southern Motel”: her work overtly celebrates Southern culture in way that some might call playful, whimsical, and above all nostalgic. Taken in this context, it is easy to understand why some folks are not cool with looking at the Confederate flag on the ass of a white woman in a five foot tall painting while they’re eating and drinking cocktails, no matter the ironic subtext. And let’s be clear: The contradiction is present in the painting. A critique is not. Persistent racist ideologies should not be summed up as some kind of trifling “meanness.”Nostalgia for Southern roots is perhaps the main defense of those who still want to fly the flag of the Rebel army. The message in the painting, therefore, is that although there’s a bit of a paradox in Southern ideologies, it’s really no big deal. 

Her response to the controversy gets more and more disturbing. She tells the Scene:

I don’t really feel censored. I actually wanted it taken down once I saw all this stuff happening. Because I didn’t want anything to happen to my artwork. People are such nutjobs, people are so crazy in this time we live in — look at what happened last week in Charleston for God’s sake, you know, crazy people do crazy things. So for me it’s not censorship. For me, I resent being co-opted into this mudslinging — it’s someone taking advantage of a situation.

Wow. There is a lot to unpack here! First, the artist shows a disturbing lack of priorities when she says that she wanted the work taken down because she was worried about it. A worse scenario might be a family from Nashville or from out of town walking into the restaurant and feeling unwelcome because of the presence of the Confederate flag, or someone not submitting a job application for the same reason.

And I’m unclear: Is she lassoing the people who wanted the painting taken down with Dylann Roof, the radical, racist terrorist and murderer of nine innocent people? Or, is she acknowledging the absolute crisis of racism in America, even while she defends her use of the flag? Or, is she excusing the Charleston massacre as an isolated incident committed by a “nutjob,” and not a symptom of an epidemic of racism in America? I’m confused. All of these options suck. Her response is blatantly tone deaf in the same way as your white uncle who says, “I’m not racist; I have black friends.”

And how about that swimming pool in the painting? Supposedly, Jim Crow ended with the Civil Rights Act, but we saw its legacy just weeks ago in McKinney, Texas when a police officer used excessive force and brutalizing language on teenagers at a pool party. As Faulkner said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” A Southern progressive should know this and be receptive to criticism surrounding the use of these symbols.

Stay with me; we’re still unpacking that paragraph! The “mudslinging” she’s referring to is the fact that Charles Robert Bone requested that the painting come down. It looks like Sheila believes that the FB group “Boycott Acme Feed & Seed” was started to smear Bone. (I have a hard time believing that any campaign manager would sign off on such a stunt.) But to chalk this up to political maneuvering seems to trivialize the situation. Politicians become a scapegoat for Sheila B. Casting this as mayoral mudslinging shows an unwillingness to take the critique constructively. In fact, her response is a dismissal of feelings surrounding the flag and what it stands for, even as she claims to be a progressive.

“This is a made-up controversy,” Sheila B. says.

Arist Sonya Clark unravels a Confederate flag

Arist Sonya Clark unravels a Confederate flag in her artwork “Unravelling,” which she completed in June 2015.

Actually, it’s not. The country is in shock and mourning. Activists and artists are making brave and critical statements about the confederate flag and its symbolism, like Bree Newsome who climbed the South Carolina State Capitol’s flag pole, and Sonya Clark who unraveled a flag as an artwork just prior to the terrorist attack in Charleston. Here’s an article from Hyperallergic called “How Artists Can Help Conceive of New Flags and Monuments for the U.S”, not to mention Southern artists like Fahamu Pecou, Fabian Williams, Dustin Harewood, Princess Simpson Rashid, and Overstreet Ducasse. Sheila B. would do well to consider some of their thoughtful, and in some ways monumental work and see how her use of the Confederate flag is not isolated in her own imagination or repertoire. The call to take her painting down did not happen in a vacuum, but she insists it was another display of people being “knee jerk crazy.”

I credit Martin with wanting to explore this issue as it pertains to art, but for some reason, I’m not hopeful for a very productive conversation, in part because Sheila B. doesn’t seem open to one, and in part because there’s an inherent support of the artist in coordinating such an event with a white-dominated panel. On one hand, it seems like an opportunity for people, probably majority white people, to grapple with these issues; but more so, it’s likely to do little more than give Sheila B. a broader avenue for excuses. Maybe I’m wrong about that. You can see for yourself Friday, July 10 at 5:30 (for cocktails) / 6:00 (discussion) at 444 Humphreys.

Let me conclude with one thing: I don’t tear people down for amusement or self-gratification. I invite you to try to find another post on this blog — or in my publication history — that is so negative. But I’ll die on the hill of getting other white people to examine their intentions and actions, and I’ll take them to task when they don’t.

***I was incorrect in stating that Polycarpou is white. The CEO of Nashville Arts Magazine is from Cyprus, and he moved to England as a child with his parents. He experienced a great deal of discrimination there and has had to overcome the weight of prejudice ever since. I was wrong about his background and I apologize. I was not trying to say anyone is white so much as I was trying to say that no one was African-American. It seems (as you can read in the comments below), that TJ Jarrett will be part of this discussion, and I’ve heard that artist Sam Dunson will also be involved.