Is the work created by artists living in East Tennessee different from that of artists who reside in other parts of the state — or even the rest of the United States?
Jean Hess, a writer and artist living in Knoxville, Tenn., grew up in the Washington, D.C. area and has lived in the West, Southwest and deep South. When she was asked to curate a show of works by outstanding artists in her area, she saw some similarities.
“In my personal opinion, artists here are more interested in nature and family than in many other parts of the United States, especially in the bigger cities,” she said. “There is a strong element of craft and appreciation of the history of craft among artists, even those who have lived elsewhere.”
Hess added that artists in her area use these themes to express emotions that artists elsewhere might address more politically and with more irony or anger.
The exhibit, which she curated for Slocumb Galleries in Johnson City, Tenn., is traveling to Chattanooga and will open Friday at the Association for Visual Arts Gallery. Composed of work at 38 artists, “Point Time” is described as an “innovative showcase of visual artists representing a micro-locus in East Tennessee.”
In selecting people to be represented in the exhibit, Hess began with only one criteria — that they be somewhat active or at least visible in the Knoxville arts community. Beyond that, the artists should be making a living with their art, teaching art or “piecing together” a series of jobs that allow them to continue producing art.
“And, I wanted a broad spectrum of age, ethnicity and education — from self-taught to degreed,” said Hess.
A common denominator among the artists concerned what they thought about while producing art and what motivated them to work. Hess picked up on “nostalgia” and an overall sadness. Most of them are in various stages of grief about the world situation.
“They talk about pollution, over-crowding, species extinction, destruction of natural beauty and loss,” she said.
Hess, whose own course of study in college has included both art and cultural anthropology, created a piece for the exhibition as her curatorial statement. More than 1,000 carefully rendered circles of many sizes and colors float on a pale ground that glows in the dark. She explained that it was her way of expressing the interesting mix of artists she chose — many of whom have lived in other places before moving to Knoxville.
Hess hopes that viewers will see this “community tableaux” as coherent and that it will be difficult to tell who has an advanced degree and who is completely self-taught.
“Point Time” will continue through June 24. A reception will be held June 3 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Hess and several of the artists will be present.
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