While summer's not officially here yet, the muggy dog days have already arrived at the First Saturday Gallery Crawl. Those who braved the humidity at the June Crawl were rewarded for their efforts by two shows that find familiar local artists switching roles, changing processes and making surprising breakthroughs.
David Hellams is known in Nashville's art scene as the editor of arts magazine The Rabbit and the artist behind the distinctive, meticulously rendered drawings he's shown at the Rymer Gallery and other spaces. Hellams' new show at the Downtown Presbyterian Church is a large, ambitious project that features a number of familiar drawings alongside a body of new paintings that find him working on a higher conceptual plane.
Hellams' obsessive draftsmanship has always been his obvious strength. While the subjects here feature athletes, magicians, gangsters and contemporary cars, the content of Hellams' drawings is always action itself, whether it's a football player diving to catch a tiny bonsai tree in "Eternal Replay '86" or a magician levitating a sleeping beauty while standing on the roof of the titular vehicle in "Isuzu." Hellams' scenes float in pure negative space, and the curious renderings with their punning titles are ultimately limited in conceptual possibilities, their sardonic humor as conscribed as the drawings themselves.
Hellams' untitled paintings present solitary spaces rendered on unstretched canvas. The rooms are populated with objects and furniture that have been painted and cut from separate pieces of canvas and then adhered onto Hellams' backdrops. As we rarely find people in these paintings, they feel much like decorated stage sets just moments after the actors have taken their exits. Unlike in Hellams' drawings, here the action takes place offstage.
Hellams' canvases are painstaking in their use of perspective, and viewers find themselves pulled into his vanishing points to discover that it's been left to them to investigate and act in his lonely rooms and abandoned spaces. The result is a big leap forward in the artist's work, engaging viewers in a way that his drawings could not. Seeing all the work side by side, it's clear that Hellams has been taking chances, and they're paying off.
Erin Anfinson is known for vibrant acrylic canvases that borrow their subjects from digital images of landscapes, birds and dogs. While formally compelling, these earlier works also suggested that Anfinson was a talented artist with a unique voice in search of something more to say. With her new show at The Rymer Gallery, she seems to have found it.
Anfinson, who has been raising a 2-year-old, hasn't shown in Nashville in a few years, but she's been busy creating three new series of encaustic paintings that marry careful craftsmanship to narratives about human impact on the natural environment.
In addition to a higher degree of conceptual complexity, this work also marks a stylistic departure for the painter: Every piece is highlighted by elaborate, drawn elements that are rendered in the encaustic surfaces with a heated pen. The look of these series constitutes a radical re-creation of Anfinson's work, an act of courage in an art world where even conservative changes in style may upset the dialogue between artist, gallery and audience.
With Collapse, Anfinson explores the phenomenon of colony collapse disorder within honeybee populations. Anfinson's fictional figures take their cues from 19th century scientific drawings of parasites, hinting at the possible agent that is causing the still-mysterious disorder. By rendering her forms with a white line, Anfinson lends an ironic, lacelike loveliness to her creepy crawlers, surely the most visually compelling images in the show.
New Chemistry and Migration of the Disruptors are two other series that deal more directly with human impact on the natural world. Migration explores the way specific toxins may be affecting human health, and the fictional, internal bodyscapes in pieces like "Migration of Disruptors: Sample 2" combine chemical formula symbols with Anfinson's visceral vistas, connecting cold science to a kind of brutal beauty.
New Chemistry — the best series in the show — presents a handful of creatures drawn on backgrounds of repeating chemical formulas. The creatures have seemingly been altered by mutation, experimentation or genetic tampering. The series simultaneously explores how our actions can make our natural world unrecognizable and how an artist can transform a figure to the point where something monstrous may appear out of something familiar. In the case of Anfinson's show on the whole, viewers are confronted by almost the opposite: a dramatic metamorphosis resulting in the emergence of something beautiful.
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That clip is horrifying. It looks like postmortem makeup. Very uncanny valley.
AGGGHHHH that last picture!