Last year, our annual State of the Arts issue was all about the new leaders at some of Chattanooga’s most prominent arts institutions. The direction of both the Hunter Museum of American Art and the Chattanooga Symphony changed hands, with Dan Stetson and Kayoko Dan, respectively, taking the helm of those organizations. Other important initiatives—chief among them, Imagine 20/20, a forward-looking project that seeks to both corral and fund the city’s various arts programs, both existing and emerging—took flight. Both Stetson and Dan have brought new vision to their respective entities with creative new exhibits and performances. Imagine 20/20, now administered by Allied Arts, is a long-term process with few fruits of its labor yet to be realized.
This year, however, State of the Arts is all about what’s fresh, which is, by nature, almost always on the fringe. Directors, conductors, administrators and patrons are all worthy of the spotlight, but without the artists themselves, there would be no arts to highlight—and that’s where The Pulse draws its life’s breath, so to speak. From street-level hipsters to well-funded arts organizations and patrons, we scoured the landscape for new and emerging artists, as well as those who have received some notice but are not yet well known.
This annual nod to the arts is notable. We strive to highlight the arts—visual, musical, cultural and otherwise—all year long, but this issue is always something special, coming as it does prior to the traditional launch of the “arts season” in the fall.
Within the following pages, you’ll meet some of the new breed of artists who are changing what art means in a variety of disciplines one could not imagine taking hold here just 20 years ago. It is indeed an exciting time to be in Chattanooga, now brimming over with artists and creatives of such a high caliber the city is routinely recognized as a growing arts haven and a city to watch.
Although the artists profiled in this issue represent only a small slice of the talent blooming in Chattanooga’s vibrant arts community, we believe they are on the vanguard of the city’s progressive arts scene. Along with the city’s well-regarded arts institutions and the many fine independent organizations, galleries, restaurants, businesses and spaces that support the arts, Chattanooga is truly enjoying a renaissance not only built upon the dramatic rebirth of downtown, but also the creativity of its talented arts community. With this special issue, we pay tribute to them. Enjoy.
“Aesthetically, I’ve always been fascinated by street art, but what I’m more interested in is the defacing, the covering up, the ripping apart,” says Ashley Hamilton.
You don’t need a degree in art history to notice the influences of destruction and reconstruction in Hamilton’s work. In fact, it’s damn hard to miss it.
Hailing from Nashville, and its prominent Nashville School of Arts, Hamilton has brought a stark and profoundly aggressive style to the Chattanooga visual arts scene. Though still busy as an undergraduate of UTC’s BFA program, she’s been hard at work across town with exhibitions at Planet Altered and Easy Lemon, while contributing to show at local art festivals like HATCH and New Dischord. For the latter, she debuted a collaboration with composer Tim Hinck entitled “Ctrl + Alt + Speak,” her contribution being a technology-oriented monolith around which six hooded vocalists stood and chanted in Gregorian fashion.
“My work derives from struggle; the struggle for understanding and exploring oneself,” she says. “I use a lot of things from my past: school notes, things I’ve written in the last few years, things that I don’t necessarily remember writing but that I rediscover.”
That self-reference and inward reflection is very much on display in two of her newer pieces, “My Worst Nightmare” and “And It Happens. Again.” Stylistically, the two works seem to come from a similar place of mind, though the hope and color in the latter stands in abject contradiction to the bleak expressionism of the former.
“I’m interested in the idea of ‘traces’ and the natural human instinct to make ‘your’ mark,” Hamilton says. “My handprints, scratches and multi-step ripping and pasting are all ways of imprinting traces of my presence on the surface of my work.”
While her style is very much the product of self-discovery, Hamilton says she did have a few key influences along the way, drawing personal ties to the highly autobiographical nature of Tracey Emin’s work. Where will she take these influences next? Hamilton mentions that this vein of humanistic self-reflection has yet to exhaust itself and still feels full of possibilities. If the density and prolific number of her works is any indication, she still has a long way to dig. - Patrick Noland
You could call Rondell Crier an artistic jack-of-all-trades—but he is the first to point out he is the master of none. The multi-talented, multi-medium artist says he is ever the student always in search of new mentors in diverse artistic disciplines to both increase his skills and act as his muse. The New Orleans native says his early interest in art grew out of his desire to work with his hands. At first, that meant music. Like many growing up in the musically rich city, Crier wanted to play. “I always wanted to be a drummer,” Crier says. “But when I went to join the band in middle school, I found out that sixth-graders didn’t qualify, but I could take art class. Fate told me to be an artist.”
As a commercial art student at his vocational high school, Crier learned art as a trade—printmaking and graphic design as not a fine artist but with an emphasis on the commercial. “I don’t see much difference,” he says. “My work seemed to blur the line.” At 14, he joined YAYA (Young Aspirations, Young Artists) an after-school program for young New Orleans teens that provides educational experiences in the arts and entrepreneurship. It was, says Crier, a “giant influence,” and an association he continued into his twenties and beyond as a mentor and boardmember.
Crier’s first professional experience mirrors his artistic development of discovery. “I would get ideas, but wouldn’t know how to execute them,” he says, “So I took every opportunity to learn as much as I could.” That curiosity led him to build skills in screenprinting, woodworking and sewing, skills he employs in many of his current works. “If I want to learn something, I figure out a way to find someone to teach me,” he says.
These days, that means working as a student and studio mate with Chattanooga sculptor Isaac Duncan. “I guess I was always sculpting in one sense,” Crier says, “but I never identified myself as a sculptor. Now I know that all my experiences in design, 3-D and construction were leading up to this.”
Crier has spent the last three years working with Duncan, installing some 40 sculptures around Chattanooga. “We just clicked,” says Crier of his time with Duncan.“You can’t get this kind of experience in school. I soak it up.”
Besides sculpture, Crier is also working in fiber, metal work and glass. He designed and sewed a series of tote bags featured at his booth during the 4 Bridges Arts Festival this year and he’s submitting plans for a sculpture exhibit at next year’s festival. “Whether it’s painting, metal, wood glass—it’s all imagination-driven,” Crier says. “The more I learn, the more fun I have.” —Bill Ramsey
Ask 24-year-old sculptor Aaron Cowan what inspires him and his art and he’ll answer you: Everything.
“It’s always been there for me, Cowan said. “Even when it feels like everything else is falling apart, there’s always that creative outlet no matter what form it takes. It’s the freedom to do what you want and it’s the best excuse I have for not growing up,”
Cowan’s best excuse has become his best attribute that shines through his works, many of which have to do with seeming yet deceptive child’s play and effortlessly create a sense of wonder, discovery and mystery in all who view his art.
Originally from California, Cowan’s father moved him to Tennessee when he was 7 to escape the increasing gang activity in their community. Later, as a teenager, he moved to Washington state and finally back to Tennessee in 2009, to continue art and to attend UTC.
After trying his go at computer programming and creating video games, Cowan decided on sculpture as his major.
“I was finishing up my second year of college and I was talking to one of my professors and telling him I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do,” he recalled. “I like to draw and paint but I had taken a couple of sculpture classes and really enjoyed them, so he told me to take sculpture and use it as an umbrella term so I can do everything I wanted to do. So I did it.”
While at UTC, Cowan was one of two recipients of the Lillian B. Feinstein Art Scholarship, as well as being awarded best in show at a juried student art competition.
Cowan recently finished working on a piece with another artist for the Theatre of the New South (see Page 41) and their production of “Madea,” and he plans to apply to graduate school next fall. In the meantime, Cown will continue to make art as well as doing design work for D&A Clothing. Cowan designs silk screens for hats, T-shirts, socks, tablecloths—you name it. He has also created posters for local bands such as Elk Milk and Machine Are People Too.
“Ultimately, I want to be happy and I want to try to bring some of the joy that I have making this stuff to other people. I want others to see things in a new context as well, or through a different lens,” Cowan said.
View Cowan’s art on his Facebook page, as well as Vimeo.
Shaun Larose is an artist concerned with narrative. His own technical narrative has morphed from using palette knives and thick layering techniques, to thin glazes and full-scale urban murals. His latest group of paintings is a conglomerate of his range, prominently displaying portraits of emotive faces surrounded by inlaid geometric shapes and reoccurring symbols that not only push his classical training and artistic competency to the focus of the frame, but also flick something of the post-modern plurality of meaning augmented by the metaphorical capabilities of infused halo-like shading and reoccurring symbols. And yet the faces are what grab your attention and hold your body lingering in front of the frame. There is a history waiting to be spoken on each set of lips, something that was seen in each pair of eyes and an emotion embedded somewhere in a cheekbone that can be seen, but can’t quite be fully recognized.
With five kids and a wife, the term “starving artist” is not a road Larose wants to travel, but he also doesn’t want to sell out. In many ways, he is an embodiment of the paradox of the artist in our era. It’s a challenge of maintaining artistic integrity and creativity while still feeding your family. So Larose picked up a job teaching art full-time at Chattanooga Christian School, where he views his budding students like his next project: raw materials, full of potential, just waiting for someone to mold them into something beautiful.
“We just don’t live in an economy where people will easily drop three grand on art,” he said. “I got into public art and murals because it’s not all about the artist. You’re doing work that’s actually about someone else and you can do that in a way that’s not actually selling out because it’s actually offering something of value,” he says.
Larose’s murals characterize the personality of Chattanooga, occupying space on the Majestic movie theatre, the corner of West Main and Williams and others. But perhaps his most revealing project was the work he created for the now-defunct Discoteca on Main Street.
“Basically, I heard they were going to tear the building down. We had this incredibly romantic idea that we would cover the building with this beautiful artwork and then watch it get torn down and put a pang in people’s hearts so they would say, ‘Oh, I wish that was still there,’ or “I hate to see it go.’ Only, they didn’t tear it down when they said they were going to, so it kind of prolonged and evolved. In the beginning we had five very established artists working on the walls, and since then it’s been a kind of free for all.”
The twists and turns of the that project have served as the inspiration for Larose’s next challenge, which will produce more than just a piece of art.
He has submitted a MakeWork grant that would create an artist’s apprenticeship program to pair with the creation of renowned muralist Meg Saligman set for creation in 2013.
“We want a piece that’s big, highly visible and technically excellent so that people will realize what murals can do. But we also wanted to create a program that is on the job training and serves as a feeder so those artists can learn from her,” he said.
It’s a bittersweet proposition for Larose, who has been pining for years for the opportunity to work with Saligman, a primary influence on his own work. But that’s the narrative of the artist: sacrifice for art in order to serve those surrounding it. If an artist is to be judged by the work they produce, Larose’s legacy is aimed at something larger: an artistic movement that defines a city. —Cole Rose
Good luck trying to put Matthew Dutton, 29, in a category. Yes, he’s an artist, but that description would leave out his experiences as a brick mason, construction worker and electrician.
An Orlando, Fla., native, Dutton moved to Chattanooga when he was about 14. “Everything was different, “he said, “I didn’t even have a pair of pants when I moved here, you know, I grew up going to the beach.”
Dutton also grew up exploring his creativity, from drawing cartoons to disassembling products to see how they worked. His curiosity carried him, then a high school senior, to his first show of paintings at the Chattanooga Market, where his talent was affirmed; most of his pieces sold.
“After that, I was like, man, people are really interested in something I had made with my hands,” he said.
Later in his education, he deviated from painting to crafting 3-D sculptures. “To me, sculpture is a 3-D painting,” he explained, “because if you look at all the planes and surfaces [of a sculpture], you have to treat all of that like painting.” When he starts a project, he works back and forth between two main steps: concept and design.
With his current series of creatures, which he calls figments, Dutton took an organic approach by letting resin and molds guide his art. “Through just experimenting with materials they started taking a life of their own,” he said, “I’m making my own mythology, you know?”
“The Collector,” a creature that carries what at first looks like junk on its back, holds sentimental value not only as one of the first figments he completed but also as an autobiographical piece.
“I think of collectings—collecting skills, collecting experiences, collecting objects, collecting memories,” he said, “So maybe this guy was just a vehicle to help me find a place for things forgotten.”
Everyone knows that the best career is one that pays you to do what you love. But according to Dutton, the balance between business and pleasure can become skewed when money is a consideration. With his full-time job, however, as Ruby Falls’ art specialist (reinstalling Ruby Falls’ signature gnomes is part of his job), he has found the perfect harmony. “You make work to sell [in order] to pay for the work you want to make,” he said.
Dutton has worked hard for his craft, but he believes that art ran through his veins even before he could hold a pencil.
“You get good at anything by practice, but some things you just inherently kind of have ability for,” he said. His parents—his father was a mason, his mother an artist—never pushed him to become an artist, but let him be himself.
“I’ve always been really self-motivated ... making things that I wanted to make, and not what anybody told me to make,” he said.
You might not yet recognize his name, but if you’ve been to Ruby Falls or live or work downtown, his work will be instantly familiar. Dutton has worked on the “Downtown Up” mural beside the Carmike Majestic 12 Theater and John Petri’s “Blue Rhino” sculpture in Coolidge Park, to name a few.
What started as a way to fit into the community has become a full-fledged career. He currently has a pending contract with a gallery representation company that represents artists in New York, Miami and Atlanta. In early September, some of his pieces will be featured in “Fresh 2012: Emerging Artist Exhibition” at the Association for Visual Arts on Frazier Avenue.
If you knew Madison Waldrop, 15, a couple of years ago and haven’t seen her since then, you probably wouldn’t recognize her. It’s not so much her physical appearance that has changed—although she certainly has matured—it’s her personality.
“In sixth and seventh grade, I was definitely that quiet kid that nobody knew ... I just hadn’t found my groove yet,” she said.
Madison had an early interest in art, but never thought about designing as an option for her future. Fashion not only gave her a direction, but it also helped her grow out of her shell.
“Whenever this kind of started, I realized, wow, I have a talent, I’m good at something,” she said. “It gave me the confidence to be confident.”
On the way to a concert, her mother, Christine Waldrop, found her sketchbook, and the journey took off from there. “It’s just a moment, maybe as a parent, you’re just like, what? Where is that coming from?” Christine Waldrop said.
Although her mother is Madison’s creative director, she likes to take a backseat to Madison’s career.
“It’s exposing them, letting them find that thing that fits them, and letting them go with it,” she said.
Christine took her daughters to oil painting classes and let them explore different forms of creativity, but never expected Madison to take a serious direction towards fashion.
Madison started her label, Designs by Malyse, two years ago. If she had any doubts before, they were put to rest when she went to New York Bridal Fashion Week and met one of the directors.
“As we were talking, she was just like, this is something you love, and I really feel that you have the potential to do it,” Madison said, “It was kind of at that moment that it clicked for me.” Madison designs evening, cocktail, and bridal wear, all “classic with a bold modern twist,” which describes her personal style as well. She designs with an imaginary friend in mind who is “super confident and loves to be different.”
Right now, she likes colored pants but avoids following what magazines say are in vogue.
“I have to say I don’t really follow [current] trends,” she said. “I really kind of go back to the old, and find those trends.”
Madison said she admires Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, brands known for sticking to their classic roots, for this very reason. And just like the two fashion houses, she makes charity an important priority.
“I don’t get to go and volunteer, because I’m doing so many other things, but I get to help out in my own way,” she said.
After her sister McCall’s school field trip to the Chattanooga Community Kitchen, together the sisters created SHOCKS CAUSE, noting the need for basic shoes, socks, and foot care items. A percentage of profits from Madison’s custom designs and 100 percent of profits from her artwork go to the charity. She also contributes to the community by giving motivational speeches to young kids in schools and organizations like St. Nicholas School, Girls Preparatory School (which she currently attends), and Girls Inc.
Madison will show a timeline of her pieces from her current, bridal and future collections on Wednesday, Aug. 23, at Warehouse Row during Chattanooga Fashion Week.
Take “Moonrise Kingdom’s” hero, Sam, give him a Southern twang, red hair and an affinity for fashion, and you have Brandon Carruth, 15. They’re the type of kids born with an adult conviction without the adult pessimism. This combination equals all guts, no fear and makes for jealous college students like this writer.
In the movie, Sam’s goal is to whisk away his sweetheart, but Brandon’s objective is to become an established fashion designer. When he was 12, he presented to his mother, Jennifer Carruth, a sketchbook of designs and a plan.
“I was like, wow, he might be serious about this,” she said, “So I thought, OK, I’ll take some money, we’ll go, and we’ll buy material, get him some help, because I don’t sew at all.”
And within a generally inartistic family—his father is a business owner, his sister is pursuing physical therapy—Brandon is the first Carruth to chase an artistic dream. “It’s definitely hard work,” he said, “I think I just had that determination and motivation my entire life to do something good.”
By this time, however, Brandon was no newcomer to the art scene. As a child, he acted in Chattanooga Theatre Centre plays. He then started taking classes at Ambiance Models & Talent, and from there moved on to John Casablancas Modeling & Career Center in Nashville, where he was first introduced to fashion. After dabbling in modeling, Carruth became more interested in working behind the scenes in the fashion industry.
“I guess from there it’s kind of unexplainable,” he said, “I decided I was going to try it, because it seemed cool, and I love it.”
After getting his first couple pieces together with a seamstress’s help, Brandon was asked to show his work at Middle Tennessee Fashion Week, where he debuted his label, Carruth Couture, and his first collection. But whether he wasn’t content with the show, or just thought he could do it better, Brandon wanted to try his hand at producing. And while listening to his story, I noticed a pattern: When this young man wants to try something, he goes for it full force.
Brandon needed models, so he pitched his idea to his former John Casablancas manager, and she encouraged him to wait until he was older. But he made it clear that he wasn’t looking for her advice.
“He told her, ‘I just need you for the models,’” his mother recalls. In April last year, Brandon produced his first show, “Simply Flawless,” in Nashville, featuring more than six other designers and a musical performance by SNOWE.
As his fashion label is growing exponentially, Brandon’s life is becoming consumed with school and design (work and more work), but to him it’s not a sacrifice.
“I definitely enjoy it and want pretty much every second of my life to be about it, so that’s fine with me,” he said. He admits to being overwhelmed at times, but he deals with the stress as just part of the territory.
His go-big-or-go-home mentality has paid off. He has showcased at multiple shows, and last year at Mike Beatty’s Model and Talent Expo he won the overall award. Next, he will show at Chattanooga Fashion Week on Aug. 23, where he will debut his upcoming fall/winter collection, a glamorous embodiment of teenage angst called “Nocturnal Beauty.”
Looking back, Brandon is surprised by how quickly his one-man-show career came together.
“I’m not exactly sure of the day, but it was kind of like I woke up and said, I’m going to try it,” he said, “I don’t really know how or anything, but that’s how it worked out.”