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AVA’s 4 Bridges Festival once again pushes new talent to the fore.
Art is often viewed through the lens of experience, with a timeline in mind. Critics may write that an artist’s earlier work is truly reflective of their best efforts, or that his or her work has gotten more rich over the span of years.
Regardless of critiques, this work is often truly viewed in the context of an hourglass; as the sands of time run down, the breadth and scope of an artist’s work changes.
It’s through experience that artists not only learn to spread their wings creatively, but practically and financially as well. For an artist can create masterpieces, but what is the value without resources to create, and an audience to view the work?
Experienced artists know how to get their work seen, to reel in their unique audience and capture its attention, not only in the short term but in perpetuity. It’s a necessity for those who wish their passion to become their self-sustaining life’s work.
But what about the novice painter, sculptor, printmaker? How do they create a body of work with a depth beyond their present experience? It is with this thought in mind that AVA’s 4 Bridges Art Festival created its Emerging Artists Program.
Each year, a jury awards scholarships for up to six promising artists who are novice or part-time, such as recent college graduates or those who have left their careers in pursuit of a less stable, albeit more enriched livelihood.
For those selected, AVA provides complimentary booth items, a daylong “how-to” workshop, and special visibility, giving the artists a springboard to be seen by a large, diverse audience of peers, friends, and festival-going art lovers.
In 2004, Matthew Dutton was selected as an emerging artist, and has returned to the festival every year since, making this his tenth year sharing his work with the patrons of Chattanooga.
As artist in residence at Rock City, his art is seen daily by locals and tourists alike, though they may not realize that what they’re seeing is a sampling of the life’s work of a man who, like all artists, once was a novice looking for a break.
“4 Bridges has been cool, because it’s been a great learning experience,” Dutton says. “We’re still just beginning to see what we have in store [for the Chattanooga art community] and luckily, we have 4 Bridges around to give us that opportunity. I’m very grateful for that.”
This year, five new Emerging Artists are also awash in gratitude for the opportunity to showcase their work on this large scale. Liz Fuller, a naturalist painter, is one of them.
Fuller, a Nashville native, found out about the festival from her aunt, who lives in Chattanooga, only two days before the submission deadline, and got hers in just under the wire.
She was thrilled to be selected as an Emerging Artist and says that the experience has already been rich, as “it seems like [AVA] is really supportive of their artists,” and she’s felt inspired to create a large collection of new pieces specifically for this festival. “This is my first festival and I want to do it right. I’ve basically been painting nonstop since I found out.”
She works in watercolor, bringing many of her favorite subjects to life. “I’ve always been passionate about nature and have always been an animal lover and I just think birds are gorgeous and accessible,” she said.
“I like getting my viewers close to these animals they may not get to see so intimately.” Being a young painter, she feels fortunate to have such support and is looking forward to exhibiting and sell her work to such a broad audience.
Michael Smelcher is also hoping to connect to his audience on a personal level. “Success is not in the sale, but in the bond that’s formed between the artist and the viewer,” he says. “Human emotion is the thread that binds us all together and if they can connect to that, then that is a success.”
A self-taught painter who works mainly with acrylics, he sees his artwork as therapy. “I paint because it keeps me level. It’s one of the places in this crazy world where I feel perfectly at home, perfectly at peace. It’s like my secret garden,” he says.
He has attended the festival year after year, but has never exhibited. With a chuckle, he says, “I’ve always had a hard time calling myself an artist. I referred to myself as a paint-pusher.” He submitted to the Emerging Artists program, in large part, because he was seeking some reassurance.
“It’s nice to have people you love love your work, but I wanted some external validation…that what I was doing was worthwhile.” His entrance into the 4 Bridges Festival has been just the validation he was looking for, though he admits, “I’m a nervous wreck. But I’m so looking forward to it. I’m as excited as a kid sitting on a box of tacks.”
Echoing that excitement is mixed-media artist and printmaker Michelle Kimbrell from Chattanooga. “It’s such a cool opportunity because, as an emerging artist, you don’t have a ton of money and don’t know how to use [what you do have].” The Emerging Artist scholarship gives Kimbrell and the other artists a chance to exhibit in a festival without taking a large financial risk.
Kimbrell admits she submitted to the festival on a whim. “I didn’t think I was going to get in. It’s been kind of a roller coaster.” She says that since being chosen she, like Fuller, has been furiously creating new pieces.“It’s been awesome,” she says, “because I could prove to myself that I could put a body of work together over a matter of months.”
Kimbrell moved to Chattanooga only ten months ago, with the goal of diving into the arts scene after graduating from Georgia State University with a degree in studio art. Shortly after moving to town she earned a printmaking apprenticeship at Open Press and a position with AVA, which proved to be of great benefit to her art. “My original goal was just to work in the art community…I would not be where I am right now if I had not stumbled in and met the awesome people there [AVA], and at the Open Press, which is essential to what I do.”
Kimbrell creates textural works/mixed media with a hand-sewn element from a combination of prints created at the Open Press. Her work meant to be experienced. “I want people to interact with it, instead of just standing there looking at it” she says. “I don’t want them to be scared to touch it.”
For Turry Lindstrom, the anticpation lies in presenting his work to a wide audience. “That’s the biggest thing,” he says, “getting my work in front of as many people as possible. It’s really exciting because people are there to look at art and evaluate it.”
Lindstrom creates metal sculpture, but he is inspired by abstract painters like Jackson Pollack, as he believes in creating beauty from the imperfect. “I want to make something beautiful but not perfect…I believe that’s what we all are as humans: a bunch of imperfects that create something perfect.” He believes his art is a reflection of that idea and creates without precise measurements, believing that there are no mistakes. “You have to do something different and then just have the guts to stand by it.”
The Emerging Artist Program for Lindstrom is a chance to really challenge himself and to prove that he can sustain himself as an artist. “I feel like this is what I was meant to do. I get so much fulfillment and joy out of it and it’s what I want to do for the rest of my life: to keep creating things for people to enjoy.”
Maria Willison belives she’ll be taking a step forward in her career. “I have been working on being a professional artist since 2010 when I graduated from college,” she says. “I want to get to a point where the business of being a professional artist is self-sustaining.”
A sculptor, Willison hopes to develop a mastery of the human figure, but is still exploring the different areas of the artist business. She is looking forward to showing a body of mostly brand-new pieces at 4 Bridges. “This is one of my first big breaks getting my work out there, so I decided in January to create basically a whole new body of work.”
The beauty of a festival of this size and appeal is not only in the opportunity for both novice and experienced artists to show and sell their work, but also to allow the exchange of ideas and inspiration among the artists themselves. “I’m really excited to meet other established artists, to learn from them and see what works,” says Liz Fuller. “I think I’m going to learn a tremendous amount.”