Nashville suffered the loss of a talented young artist on June 3, when Will ClenDening died in a motorcycle accident. ClenDening graduated from the Watkins College of Art and Design in 2005 and was already making fully formed and engrossing work, standing out not just among his peers, but among Nashville artists in general. He was an organizer of the Secret Shows and the 310 Chestnut Street gallery space, and worked with many other programs, like Cheekwood and Arts at the Airport.
In just a few years, he produced work across a range of forms: machines he broke down and co-opted for new purposes, sculptures made from videotape or molten metal poured onto books, videos in which he confronted parts of his own personality, and more. As his teacher Barbara Yontz says, he had a “meteoric evolution. He had ideas, would work them out in one piece or one little body of work and move on.” The pieces were dense with significance. According to his brother, Parker ClenDening, also an art student at Watkins, “every dot and speckle had its own meaning—nothing was unintentional.” Amanda Dillingham, another Watkins grad who was one of ClenDening’s close friends and part of the Secret Show group, says that his work reflected a need “to understand how things worked and why, whether it was a machine, God or people.” She goes on to describe him as “an artist, but more so a philosopher and scientist, and he mixed those into being an artist.” To Terry Glispin, former fine arts chair at Watkins, ClenDening “was trying to break down human frailty, but represent it in a way that was much more like reading Popular Mechanics or listening to Carl Sagan.”
People were drawn to ClenDening for his intelligence and willingness to help. “You could always count on him to give you a frank and honest opinion,” says his friend Derek Gibson, also a Watkins grad. Dillingham recalls that “he didn’t talk all that much in critiques, but if he said something, I knew it was something to wake up and listen to.” Although he struck everyone as one of the smartest people they had met—as Yontz says, “the challenge for me was to keep up with him and not be jealous”—many people shared Glispin’s view that “he knew how to connect when it counted.”
ClenDening was one of Nashville’s own who had the potential to make a mark on the international art world. According to Glispin, “he had the work and the personality and overall package that was going to propel him into a gallery career.” With that rare talent, ClenDening was already making the city’s art world more engaging. His loss doesn’t just hit his friends and family, or the students and teachers who shared the intense Watkins experience, but extends to the broader community of people looking for nourishment from the local art scene.
Rest in peace, Will.