contemporary art

Dyin’ by tha Gun! by Marlos E’van Hosts Closing Reception Friday

Marlos E’van’s “Dyin by the Gun!” received such a warm reception that the artist has arranged for a closing reception this Friday, June 24 at 1808 Buchanan Street from 4 p.m. – 6 p.m.

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Photo by Courtney Adair Johnson. 

I interviewed E’van a year ago for NYCnash, and this current work is a full evolution of sketches he showed me last June. “Dyin’ by tha Gun!” includes dozens of large scale paintings and sculptures that reflect our society in the wake of the police killings of Black children, men, and women. He comments on issues within Black communities, the militarization of police, and the epidemic of gun violence in America. Many of the works portray black men as monstrous beings, as savages with cartoonishly enlarged facial features meant to invoke fear.

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“Black Myth#2/wanted” by Marlos E’van

It reminded me immediately of the way Darren Wilson described Michael Brown: as a demon, a Hulk Hogan, who “made like a grunting, like aggravated sound.” In a pair of particularly evocatively paintings, a white cop squares his shoulders, his hands on his gun like a cowboy at a shootout. Just feet away on the floor sits a twisted canvas showing a brown monster-like figure with a broad, vacant smile, moving alongside a camp fire. The “noble savage” beside the defensive cop makes for a juxtaposition difficult to ignore. DSC04666

While I usually argue for subtlety of message, E’van’s work is anything but. And I love it for exactly that reason. His big bold paintings hang from vices strung to pipes that are mounted on the walls. The space is in total disrepair. Open electrical sockets and wiring erupt from the dingy, gray walls. The tile floor shows footprints in dust. I think it speaks to the climate of our art scene that a show willing to take on social issues of immediate poignancy be held in a previously-shuttered industrial space. In many, the canvases are not stretched, but hang against the walls with frayed edges and misshapen angles, as if they can’t be contained.

For white people like myself, it may not feel like a joyride, and if you’re looking for an uplifting message, you won’t find it here. Instead, you’ll find a call to personal responsibility. E’van’s work conveys the immediacy of the racism epidemic that has only grown more volatile over time. He insists that we confront our role in racial injustice and police violence. How are we complicit? How are we affected? How are protected by our privilege?

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Red Arrow Gallery Kickstarter Closes in 2.5 Hours

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Installation shot of Daniel Holland’s Dirty Pictures. Red Arrow Gallery, 2015.

Red Arrow Gallery has shown exciting work at its Riverside Village location over the past year since it relocated from Joshua Tree, California to Nashville. The property they rented in East Nashville was sold recently, and they’ve got a new home at 919 Gallatin Avenue. But, the space needs a lot of work to outfit it as a gallery. Today is the last day of their Kickstarter to raise the reasonable amount of $10,000 in this effort. It ends at 5:00 p.m.

Red Arrow has worked with kids at Maplewood High School and Isaac Litton Middle, and its staff says they want the gallery to be approachable to people who have never stepped foot in one before. I hope they’ll continue their community outreach arm in their new location, because the arts are too often complicit in gentrification. They also do a great artist talk series hosted by Joe Nolan. I love artist talks and will definitely make more of them in the coming year.

In the meantime, OZ is hosting them until the end of the year.

They hope to re-open at the new spot in January. Give here if you’re able.

Modular Art Pods: Open Call for Submissions Closing in Fast

From the pod of Adrienne Newman.

From the pod of Adrienne Newman.

Remember last February’s Modular Art Pods show that took place at Abrasive Media and was created by my then-boyfriend-now-husband Tony Youngblood? The Nashville Scene called it the year’s best pop-up installation, and it’s returning next year and will be bigger and better! The show will be at OZ Arts from June 21-24, 2016, and the call for submissions is closing in fast on November 18, 2015. That’s Wednesday, people!

From the pod of Molly Lahym and Dylan Elhier.

From the pod of Molly Lahym and Dylan Elhier.

The MAPs website has everything you need to know about building a pod. This time around, there will also be pre-built performance pods that will add a new dimension to the deal. Here’s my photo gallery and Stephen Trageser’s video from February to inspire you.  The application is pretty basic and he’ll definitely work with you if your project grows legs and evolves between now and then.

Apply here! Good luck!

Last Day to Donate to Locate Arts

tennessee logoQuick post. Locate Arts, which I told you about back in March, is on its final day of a Kickstarter that would support its first year of operations costs. This is your last chance, and yes, they have to meet their goal to get even one red cent that’s been pledged.

If you’ve ever said the following, you owe it to yourself to donate.

  1. “Nashville doesn’t support the arts.”
  2. “There isn’t enough critical writing about art in Nashville.”
  3. “I wish I knew what was happening in Knoxville, or Memphis, or Chattanooga, or any little arts enclave in Tennessee.”
  4. “Not enough people buy art in Nashville. How can I make a living?”
  5. “Screw this. I’m going to New York/L.A. where I can see “cutting edge” contemporary art.”

As far as I can tell, you don’t get to complain about Nashville’s art scene if you don’t give to this campaign. Here’s how Locate Arts will help you personally.

  1. If you’re an artist: Locate Arts will have a statewide artist registry with links to your website or gallery. It will be user-friendly, beautiful, and connect you to people within and outside of Tennessee. It will also list all contemporary art exhibitions in the whole damn state. Your practice will be more sustainable because see number 2.
  2. If you are an arts patron: Whether you have the money to purchase art or not, making us art outward facing will bring more artists to Tennessee. It will promote contemporary art in Tennessee to the rest of the country (and beyond!) so that art buyers will put us on their map. More artists will make their home in our cities. Our creative economies will pick up. That means more art events for those of us (ME!) who can’t afford to buy art much.
  3. Umm…if they get off to a good start financially, Locate Arts can start thinking about a Tennessee biennial, which let’s admit would be fucking great.
  4. If you are a gallery owner or curator: See 1-3.

Finally, we will harness the energy of our art scenes across the state, creating more collaborations, more support, more cross-pollination in writing, event-planning, and contact. Here are some things I wrote after I visited Memphis for 24 hours. There’s so much to see and do. Locate Arts will open doors, and behind these doors, we’ll find enrichment and happiness.

If you don’t want to listen to me, listen to Lain York, lifelong Nashvillian, artist, and curator of Zeitgeist: “More communication between the studio communities is crucial and directly affects regional museums, academic programs, state and city arts commissions, commercial galleries, and independent artist-run initiatives. Conduits like these industry hubs will have a more articulate sense of what artists are doing to pass along to supporting constituencies. The initial conversations of LOCATE Arts are already giving contemporary art a higher profile in Tennessee.”

So donate to the Kickstarter today! Even $10 bucks helps. And if have more to spend, you can get artwork from local geniuses like Jodi Hays, Karen Seapker, Shana Kohnstamm, and more from around Tennessee.

War and Rumors of War at Seed Space

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One of my favorite exhibitions this year is currently on view at Seed Space, and the artist, Eric Dickson, will be present on Saturday night. I wrote some words about the exhibition for BURNAWAY, and I hope you’ll check out Dickson’s work! From my review:

War and Rumors of War is required viewing for anyone concerned about the policies that govern us, the wars fought in our names, and the ways we make sense of our present circumstances. Most of all, it helps to clarify what we should pay attention to and what we should ignore, for it challenges our political agency with advanced technological art-making that manages to somehow remain subtle and restrained.

Seed Space is located in the Track One building. Dickson will be there from 6-9 p.m. Saturday.

Grace Goad’s Abstract Wonderland

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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.

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.

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.

Artist Interview: Briena Harmening

Briena Harmening is a text-obsessed textile artist. She uses the daintiest of crafts — embroidery, filet crochet, doilies — to balance out weighty emotional reckonings that she documents in her work. Harmening lives and works in Nashville, and she has a solo show opening at Blend in the Arcade on Friday, July 3 from 6 to 9 pm. The show is titled “I Bet You Think This Show Is About You,” and as you might guess, it’s the work of a scorned lover. Her stenciled letters on canvas and within crochet will sound familiar to anyone who’s had their heart trampled. But Harmening’s message doesn’t stop there. Her material choices recall traditional women’s work and its mind numbing processes, so her emotionally charged text messages speak even louder. The text might be wistful (“Sometimes I miss the old me”) or flat-out angry (“I moved here for you fucker”), but it’s always honest. I chatted with the artist in her West Nashville home and studio.

In the Studio of Briena Harmening

In the Studio of Briena Harmening

Brianna Harmening: I am originally from McMinnville, just an hour and a half east of here. I got married really young, moved to Florida, finished school there for a Bachelor of Arts, then started looking at graduate schools. I couldn’t afford to go to certain ones, so I ended up back at University of Tennessee in Knoxville. I got divorced after that, but while I was there, I took art education classes and got my teaching license. I’ve been teaching for five years.

Erica Ciccarone: All at Hillsboro?

BH: I taught for four years at West High School in Knoxville. Then I moved here for a boy. We were dating for years long distance. That job [at Hillsboro] opened up. They’re an International Baccalaureate school, and I’d been trained in that. I got the job that afternoon. I said, “Sure I’ll go.” I have a lot of friends who live here in Nashville. And my best friend lives in Murfreesboro and we’ve known each other since kindergarten.

EC: So your studio is really great! So much space and light.

BH: This is a dream come true because before this, I was working in a second bedroom. I couldn’t afford a studio space. Then I was thinking about having a full time job, driving to the studio, maybe staying an hour or two versus having it at home where I can constantly access it. If I get up in the middle of the night…This space is great. There’s a lot of potential.

EC: I’m a quilter and embroiderer and all around textile nut. When I saw your piece at Ground Floor in The Artist’s Alphabet show, I immediately wanted to know more.

In the studio of Briena Harmening.

In the studio of Briena Harmening.

BH: I’m going to Penland School of Crafts for screen printing coming up, and I’m taking a bunch of quilts to work on. In graduate school, I started making quilt tops — not finishing them. Then I would paint or do text on them, and I want to do a series. I have seven quilt tops that my aunt Margie made, and she passed away. It will be a continuance of this series. I thought about mixing them up for my July show at Blend, but I don’t think I can add them into my artist statement.

EC: Tell me about your show.

BH: In July I have a solo show at Blend in the Arcade. It will be some of this work. I had thought, “Oh, if I get a lot of work finished, I’ll put some of these quilts in,” but I think they’ll be way too big and overwhelm the space. I’m thinking about how to add onto these pieces here and make them more like sculptures…

Briena Harmening in her studio.

Briena Harmening in her studio.

EC: This is crochet?

BH: This is filet crochet. I started out with a series about dating in Knoxville. All these squares that are filled in show where there’s a letter. I started crocheting things people would tell me about dating, and then it got to where I would take things out of context from conversations. I’ve always been interested in language and how we communicate, how we make friends…I just started taking random sentences and writing the way my students speak, which was very funny. Then, I felt like I had to depart from it. I’ve always worked in text in some ways and it ended up in painting. I’ve always been into Richard Prince and Rauschenberg and Tracy Emin. I love autobiographical work. I’ve been through some dramatic things in my life, so I always write about those things.

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In the studio of Briena Harmening.

So this work has kind of evolved from the loss of my relationship. Some of them are angry and some are more somber, just dealing with the loss. I really put 100% into it [the relationship], and it’s been mind boggling.

EC: I definitely sense the loss, but your work is often humourous as well.

BH: Yeah. It’s funny. I guess I use humor to deal with difficult issues.

EC: What’s that process for these pieces that look like they’re dipped in paint? First you crochet the words.

BH: Yeah, then I pour paint over the piece and spread it. Then I go back in with scissors and push through the empty spaces. This one says, “One more fucking love song and I’m gonna vomit in this car.” I felt like every song was coming on, I was wanting to cry when I was driving around. [laughs]

EC: Yeah they can get really grating.

BH: The next one I should probably add something funny. The past few have been kind of sad. I was working on this other one this morning. It says, “I keep leaving pieces of myself with others.”

EC: I like that.

BH: It would be cool to have them coming off the wall, using that stiffness. I just sent a piece off to a show in Memphis for a show. It was really stiff and it would have been neat to have it shaped. I think I’ll need to dip them in starch. It’s something I want to experiment with later. I don’t know how well you’ll be able to read them.

Briena Harmening

Briena Harmening’s Birth Control Embroideries.

EC: Tell me about your small pieces, the birth control and Metallica ones…

BH: I love those. I lost my ovaries when I was in high school. I’ve been on and off different birth controls to try to get hormone levels right. I went through this feminist phase about what that meant to me, not being able to have kids, not feeling like a woman, not being sexually interested really and feeling a little bit asexual at one point. I’m always like, “What’s this pill gonna do?” Everytime they would switch me, it would be a surprise. I got those birth control packages out of a recycling dumpster. My mom cross stitches, so I thought I should add some little image or text in them. At that time I had started quilting, so I stitched quilt patterns from an old pattern book I’d gotten at McKay’s.

EC: I love them because cross stitch is so domestic. You just picture a heart shaped pillow on an armchair. It’s the feminine domesticity and the reproductive control of the Pill. I love that contradiction.

BH: They were really quick. They took two days a piece, and I would turn the dial to the day I finished. They also became documentation. I need to get in touch with Planned Parenthood. Right now, they’re just packed up.

Briena Harmening.

Briena Harmening’s Metallica Embroideries.

BH: The Metallica embroidery was my attempt at something super fun. They were my first concert when I was thirteen, in those developing years…I love metal music and anything depressive. Those pieces became an ode to Metallica. I didn’t want to use images from the title. I listened to songs and figured out an image that came to mind. Then I’d embroider a lyric. I presented them as a game in the gallery. I had them numbered on the wall and I handed out these sheets during show, and for every ten you got right, you got a shot of whiskey. Now my friends are like, “You should make those and put them on Etsy.” That would be awesome to do but you got to have start up ones ready to go and I just don’t have the time. That was one of the best shows I’ve had.

EC: In some of these crochet wall pieces, you leave strings hanging. Is that intentional?

BH: When I do embroidery, I love leaving strings. I crocheted my mom and dad’s portrait of them sharing a drink; they’re not drinkers. They came down for my students’ show in Knoxville and we went out to a bar — we’ve never done that in my whole life — and my dad ordered a fuzzy navel. They shared it. I left some of the strings loose when I gave it to them and they wanted to cut them.

EC: I like this one.

BH: I hate this one! It’s too much blue. An aritist I know said recently that she’d like to see some crochet that’s more painterly, but it’s really hard to build areas up when you’ve got so much space. It’s almost like I’d have to fill it first with silicone and paint on top of it. I just kept trying to layer and put more paint because I can’t go back and push the holes.

EC: I don’t think I’d want your work to be more painterly. I think I like it specifically because it’s not painterly. At the same time, I’d still consider them paintings.

I like this piece and what it says. I think that a lot of people can relate to it. It’s in the context of internet posts and the phrase, “That moment when…”

In the studio of Briena Harmening.

In the studio of Briena Harmening.

BH: That’s what I was going for with these. I didn’t want to make the work so personal that I shut people out. That’s why a lot of them are about realizing something in that moment. People can go back to that place when they felt the same. It’s funny. I’m not a big tech person. In fact, I don’t watch YouTube videos. I don’t hunt things out. I’ll hunt artists out but I don’t read all that stuff online. I hate being on the computer for the most part.

EC: I wouldn’t have guessed that.

BH: One of my friends was like, there are all these memes about “That moment when…You need to look that stuff up.” So I did and I was like, Noooo! I thought I had a good idea!

EC: Well you did have a good idea! I like in it in this context so much more.

BH: It’s nice that it resonates, but you know what it’s like when you think you’re hitting on something… It’s like seeing someone’s work and thinking, “I fucking thought of that before! Why didn’t I make it?”

EC: Do you feel that teaching feeds your artistic process or drains it, or both?

BH: I have to have a schedule, otherwise I can totally see why other art teachers just don’t make art anymore. For me, that’s always been really important. I want to show my kids that I’m trying to make it. Teaching is not what I want to do for my whole life. I feel like that’s important. My work feeds what I teach them because a lot of times if I see something I’ll be like, “We’re gonna look at this artist and this is what we’re gonna do.” Our last project was contemporary taxidermy. We looked at all these taxidermy artists and made paper mache animals. We talked about hybrids and combining animals. I only had two students make hybrids. Next year, that’s going to be the requirement. So many of them go to the easy things. I really want them to explore animals…

EC: So what’s coming up for you?

BH: I’m working in the press release for the Blend show now. It must be fun to travel around visiting artists. I really want to get more involved in visiting people’s studios.

Briena Harmening,

Briena Harmening, “I’d rather be alone,” 2015; crochet, spray paint on wood and plastic, 30 in. X 28 in.

Pre-Gaming Your Art Weekend

The art crawl and Porter Flea will have you busy enough Saturday, but what if you want to whet your appetite sooner? These events are bound to satisfy tonight and tomorrow.

Chad Burton Johnson. "Disdain," 2014. Mixed media on wood, 12 by 12 inches.

Chad Burton Johnson. “Disdain,” 2014. Mixed media on wood, 12 by 12 inches.

Fort Houston will have Turntable Tour #2, the second in a series of pop-ups, tonight Thursday June 4. The show will feature work by Sean Starwars, Chad Burton Johnson, and Brandon Geurts. Starwars is a pop culture-y printmaker whose work reminds me of characters from Pee Wee’s Playhouse (that’s a compliment.) I predict Johnson will be my favorite, as his work weighs heavily on social issues and includes rhinestones. Geurts’s fiery amorphous landscapes meditate on the artist’s fetishes. Starts at 5:00. Free with Cezanne’s beer.

Myles Bennett, "in the Manner of Hanon." Mixed media and textile, 93 by 53.

Myles Bennett, “in the Manner of Hanon.” Mixed media and textile, 93 by 53.

Tomorrow, Friday June 5, Courtney Adair Johnson curates a show at Track One called The Silo Room. Working from the metaphor of the silo as the working artist — isolated by nature — Johnson invites six artists to show work in order to laterally engage them in their silos. In the exhibition statement, Johnson writes,

The idea is that each department in an organization — sales, design, manufacturing, customer service, order fulfillment, technical support, etc. (artist) — is an independent vertical structure that is self-contained and independent from the others. You work in your own silo, communicate with people inside the silo (there are no windows, so you don’t even see anyone else), and have as little contact as possible with people in other silos.

The show will feature work by Myles Bennett, Nance Cooley, Justin Gill, Lauren Gregory, Andy Harding, Courtney Adair Johnson, and Kit Kite. I browsed Myles Bennett‘s work this afternoon. He’s a Brooklynite who sometimes unweaves canvases and drapes them in ways that make them seem both heavy and light, serious and lighthearted. His piece in the show will include an antler(!) Opening is at 6:00. Show will stay up for Saturday’s crawl. Free.