Contemporary Expression

Underground & Out

Underground and Out: Nashville’s Visual Artists
as published in the Church Street Freedom Press November 10, 2005
By Nancy VanReece and Jennifer Kiilerich

Visual artists across Nashville are making their voices heard – or seen – in ways that are new, challenging and intriguing. You don’t have to be an artist or a cultural connoisseur to be moved by a painting or a photograph. As local painter Nancy VanReece says, “There is no question in my mind that there is an artist in all of us.”

We talked to seven gay artists in Nashville who reiterate the importance of an art-conscious community, and who approach their lives and artwork with zest. These individuals work to emulate truth, and often say that being out makes it easier to reach a level of honesty consistent with powerful artwork. Many also say that they’ve been artists for their entire lives in one way or another. They remind us that for Nashville to continue growing as a cultural center, we must support local artists. Like Nashville artist Tony Rico says of buying local artwork, “Many times, you get to have face-to-face interaction with the artists.” And there is something innately special about knowing the person who crafted a piece of art that you look at everyday in your home.

Nancy VanReece

Q: How do you find your audience?
A: They find me. The website helps, but mostly word of mouth. In 2004 I sold 14 works and in 2005 I’ve already doubled that with the prints I had made. That is the most ever in a single year. I also have a promise that with each work sold, I use at least a third of what I made on it to help purchase another local artist’s work.

Q: Why is visual art important?
A: The recognition that living an artful life is a daily practice is what makes visual art important to me. Finding the art in the food we eat, the gallery of our home, the colors of our garden, all have to do with the visualization of art.

Q: In what way does being out influence your art?
A: Life influences art, and there is very little an artist can do if they are not open and honest with themselves and the world around them. I believe one of the reasons I took so long to paint consistently is my delay in coming out. As soon as that commitment was made, I knew that my journey artistically had really just begun. Finding a way to speak through the many levels of truth through my art is what people ultimately will respond to.

Q: How is Nashville visual art different from other areas?
A: The music element in this city is always hanging there like a ghost. If you work as a visual artist in Nashville without recognizing that music has a direct effect on how you see things, how you hear things and how you move about in this town, then you are missing a very important layer.

Stacey Irvin and

Q: Why is visual art important?
A: Visual art motivates, inspires and incites critical thought, action and dialogue on pretty much every aspect of the human experience. Without art, we are less equipped to place ourselves, our community and the ever-shrinking world into meaningful perspective.

Q: How do you prepare when you work?
A: My primary photographic direction walks a fine line between documentary and fine art. I may have a vague idea of what I am looking for when I arrive at a location, but the best photographs always come from chance encounters and my ability to let things unfold without orchestration. The other direction I take with my work tends to be macro/abstract. When I am working on an abstract series, I experiment with various macro techniques and often find myself either inside with lights and odd assemblages of household objects or outside lying underneath sheets of glass.

Q: In what way does being out influence your art?
A: I think that being out and truthful with myself and others frees up the physical and emotional energy that is necessary to truly connect with my subjects and create meaningful work.

Andee Rudloff and

Q: Why is visual art important?
A: It is about conversation, exploration and sharing your point of view. It is also about learning, and feeling small and very big, all at the same time. It is life!

Q: In what way does being out influence your art?
A: I think I have greatly benefited from feminists and strong women before me. Some people refer to my work as bold, strong and full of life – possibly because I am fortunate enough to live freely.

Tony Teal

Q: Why is visual art important?
A: Whether we know it or not, we all use visual creativity to express emotions and ideas. For many people visual creativity is the only way to work through traumatic experiences like the death of a loved one or the fear of being different.

Q: How do you prepare?
A: Currently I’m working on a series of paintings of people and places in East Nashville. I spend some time shooting photographs of different people and particular places in Edgefield. A photograph may express something that I feel is true about the neighborhood or it may show the diversity of ethnicity and socio-economic structure within the city. If I feel the image is getting a point across for me, I will make an oil-painting with the photograph as a reference.

Q: In what way does being out influence your art?
A: Being gay probably makes me more aware of others’ differences from the “norm.” Painting images that pertain to personal experiences and psychology has helped me to be more out as a gay man. It has helped me to reconcile who I am.

Erika Johnson

Q: In what way does being out influence your art?
A: I do sometimes worry about being pigeonholed or typecast as “that lesbian artist,” but so far that hasn’t been a problem for me. There’s a perception, I think, that the art world is very gay, but in Nashville I haven’t found that to be the case. Maybe I’m just traveling in the wrong circles.

Q: Why should people buy from local artists?
A: It makes the artists happy, it makes a better story to tell when folks admire the fabulous art in your home – if an artist is local you can talk with her about the work you like and learn about how and why it was made, and it becomes a meaningful part of your living space instead of just decoration. And you can often commission work from local artists to fit your space and your personality.

Q: How is Nashville visual art different from other areas?
A: I find it incredibly cooperative, friendly, unpretentious and supportive here. There is a great deal of excitement about what we can do together as artists, both to support our own creative endeavors and to serve the Nashville community at large.

Barry Noland

Q: Do you enjoy collaborating with other artists?
A: Sometimes. My partner is an artist and his “art direction” or “assisting” on a photo shoot will help bring me out of a stylistic rut sometimes. But usually, I bend too much to the other person’s sensibilities for it to be a true collaboration with another artist.

Q: Why should people buy from local artists?
A: So we have a reason to continue to be Nashville artists: It’s not as big of an art scene as in other major markets. It’s easy to get frustrated and want to stop, or want to leave because you don’t feel supported.

Tony Rico

Q: How do you find your audience?
A: I don’t feel that artists find their audiences; it’s the other way around. The only thing the artist can do is show the work. You have to leave the house in order to be found.

Q: In what way does being out influence your art?
A: Art from a gay artist is no different than art from a straight artist. Perhaps I’m more fascinated with kitsch, camp and male genitalia than the average straight male artist.

Q: Why should people buy from local artists?
A: It’s cheap and you can bargain easier with a local artist. Great international artists were at one time local artists, so you just never know if you are buying a piece from the next Van Gogh.

Whether they have had professional training or are self-taught, have created artwork for a few years or for their entire lives, local artists have unique perspectives to offer Nashvillians. Nancy VanReece emphasizes that artists want people to feel comfortable about calling and emailing them directly, and they want to know their viewers. Stacey Irvin enjoys giving presentations about her work because, “Presentations allow me to discuss my work and connect directly with my audience,” she says.

As VanReece notes, “There is a growing underground surge of creativity in Nashville.” As long as the connection between local artists and their community continues to grow, so can Nashville’s status as a strong center for visual arts.



Leave a Comment so far
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: