Photo from Austin McDougal / "Lost in the Sauce" by Austin McDougal.

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'Matilda' paintings

Patrons who've caught the first performances of "Matilda" at the Chattanooga Theatre Centre this weekend had more to feast their eyes upon than stagecraft.

As a celebration of the arts beyond what's produced onstage, the CTC will feature 12 local artists and a collection of works by African-American artists on their gallery walls during the 2019-20 season. The move is part of a multifaceted experience the theater aims to provide.

"For the past three years, we have tried hard to open our doors wide to other kinds of artists, especially Chattanooga-based artists," says CTC Executive Director Todd Olson.

In previous seasons, the theater has showcased work from the Association for Visual Arts (2017-18) and Hart Gallery (2018-19). The collective works were exhibited on gallery walls in the lobbies outside the CTC's two theater spaces.

"This year, we chose to reach out to individual artists and were deluged with submissions," Olson says. "The results have been exciting, and I know CTC patrons will encounter many fascinating works of art on our gallery walls when they come to the theater."

Austin McDougal's work is featured through Oct. 13 during the CTC's season-opening run of Roald Dahl's "Matilda." The oil and acrylic painter, who turns 24 on Thursday, says he draws inspiration from many sources for his landscapes, portraits and abstracts. His mostly large-scale works are characterized by saturated colors and dynamic movement.

When he answered the call to artists, theater officials responded with a list of plays that would be produced this season and asked, "Which play best suits your art and why?"

"I went back and forth between 'Matilda' and 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,' and even 'The Cat in the Hat,'" McDougal says. "'Matilda' seemed like the best fit."

Upcoming shows and their featured artists

› Oct. 25-Nov. 3: “Lion King Jr.,” Jennifer Coots

› Nov. 22-Dec. 22: “Mary Poppins,” Sarah McCune

› Dec. 6-22: “The Amen Corner,” Shelley L. King and Cecilia King

› Jan. 24-Feb. 16: “Gem of the Ocean,” local African-American artists

› Feb. 21-March 1: “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” Carina Miller

› March 13-29: “The Hollow,” Brooke Craig

› March 27-April 19: “Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” Jackson Case

› May 5-17: “The Cat in the Hat,” Kory Russell

› May 29-June 21: “Dreamgirls,” Keelah Jackson and Jody Harris (Keeody Art)

› July 17-Aug. 9: “Mamma Mia,” Kathleen Pacenti

Dahl's story is about a young girl who develops extraordinary mental abilities to cope with her neglectful parents and a brutal headmistress.

"'Matilda' has a lot of themes about the supernatural, and freedom vs. confinement, awe and amazement, youth versus age. A lot of my art kind of has similar themes," McDougal says.

McDougal grew up in Gallatin, Tennessee, about 30 miles northeast of Nashville. He's had an interest in drawing since childhood and recalls "always finding those books in the library that would instruct you how to draw a cat." He remembers sometimes not paying attention in class because he would be busy drawing and doodling.

By high school, he thought he might pursue a career in architecture. "I was always very interested in designing homes and living spaces," he says. "I had to make a decision between architecture and art and really listened to my art. I knew I was more passionate about art than crunching numbers with architecture all the time."

He moved to Chattanooga in 2014 to attend the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He'd visited the city for cross-country meets in high school and "fell in love with it."

"Chattanooga has a very raw, authentic vibe that I really like compared to most other cities in Tennessee," he says. "The people are very friendly, very chill, very laid-back."

He took a sabbatical after completing his third year of college. "I had to take some time off," he explains. "There came a point when I realized I didn't need a degree to sell a painting. I needed to regain my creativity, my own voice, my own head space."

In the month since he got the news that he would have the first showing of the CTC season, McDougal has had time to create new work for the show, his first solo exhibition.

McDougal works part-time as a server at Stevarinos restaurant on the North Shore, "and when I'm not there," he says, "I'm at home making art.

Contact Lisa Denton at or 423-757-6281.