On July 5, Ground Floor Gallery and Studios will open its new location at 942 Fourth Ave. S. in the Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood. Ending the two-year relationship with its former location at Chestnut Square was not easy for owner Janet Decker Yanez: “It was really hard to step away from it," she says. "I felt intensely connected to that building.” While Chestnut Square has its charms, Yanez and the artists renting studio space from her felt it was time to move on.
When I met with Yanez in the new space, she had just painted the wall from green to white with resident artist Mandy Brown and intern Mary Pellet — the space was formerly rented by a photography studio. It is a large and definitely livable 3,250 square feet with room enough for at least six artists to work and abundant wall space. Unfazed by the tasks ahead to prepare the studio for its opening, Yanez envisions hosting curated and traveling exhibitions while still leaving space for Ground Floor artists to hang and sell their work. Mandy Brown and Heidi Martin Kuster are longtime residents. They’re joined by Anne Daigh and Wendy Walker, and there’s still room for more. ”There’s a lot of flexible space here,” Yanez said. “I almost feel like I can curate the space for the show, which I think is fun and kind of different.”
Sitting beneath fluorescent lights, amid unpacked boxes and wrapped paintings, Yanez is living her dream. The vision for a studio and gallery is hard won. She wanted to open a space back in Rochester, where she was living before moving to Nashville, nearly 15 years ago. “This whole thing was about having studio space and building a community of artists around me," she says. "I’ve never gotten to go to grad school. When I graduated with a BFA in painting, I expected to get an MFA.” But she and her husband were on the move for many years, moving in and out of Nashville three times. In the midst of this, Yanez had two children and opened Ground Floor in 2012 with motivation from friend and colleague Adrienne Outlaw. Like other Nashville artists, Yanez credits Outlaw in helping her get the ball rolling on her pet project.
Yanez is happy to have some space to show her own work, which often grows organically from her experiences. Her recent “Unwinding Sheets” series is striking and ethereal. After moving to a new home last year, she was stuck with dozens of furniture pads. These 6-foot, 3-ply moving blankets became her canvases. Starting with a basic facial structure in mind, she dabbed and sprayed food coloring, water and vinegar — the old Easter egg coloring recipe — and let the colors puddle and run. The colors bleed into each other in a way that’s less tie-dye psychedelic and more X-Files gothic. The resulting otherworldly faces are quite haunting. “When I started going with these," she told me, "it amazed me how they came out on their own. I apply color and wetness, and they just happen.” She doesn’t feel finished with the series, but she needs to get her hands on more of these specialized pads, which are hard to come by.
In another series, “Girlie Parts,” Yanez ripped, scrunched, sewed and stapled pink, lacy fabric and set the pieces in vintage frames. While some pieces leave more to the viewer’s imagination, most are decidedly vaginal. The resulting look shows femininity at its most dichotomous. They are delicate and precious, but have had violence enacted on them, challenging our perceptions of our own girlie parts. For some, they may recall the shame and guilt of a sexual assault. For Yanez, “It’s about the body and what it can endure and what it can go through and come out on the other end. It can be beautiful and it can be painful, and both of those things at the same time. It was about motherhood. That didn’t happen easily for me. It was a struggle and once it happened, it takes you to another place.”
Right now, Yanez’s primary focus is on two upcoming exhibitions. First on the bill is the July 5 opening of Culture Laboratory Collective’s Utopia: Can It Stay Dream? After that, A.I.R. — the longest running all-women art co-op — will be represented by 30 to 40 artists at Ground Floor. Decker Yanez plans to pack a juried show into the second half of this year as well.
Overall, she is optimistic about the new space, which art crawlers can hit during Arts and Music at Wedgewood/Houston. “This is my MFA.,” she said. “I’m gonna do it my way.”