Exhibition celebrates Belmont’s art faculty

With its latest exhibition, Leu Art Gallery does more than present fine art – it offers an exclusive glimpse into the work of Belmont’s art department faculty.

Full-time professors Jim Meaders, Teresa VanHatten-Granath, John Watson, Dan Johnson and David Ribar show a survey of art, aesthetics and media in “Present Divergence,” on display until Feb. 21.

For Jessica Owings, Belmont director of galleries and exhibitions and adjunct art professor, “Present Divergence” showcases a range in approach to art-making but also collaboration.

“I think you get a sense of collective style from the school, and I think that that’s a really important thing for the community to see and the community to witness,” Owings said.

The fusion of styles and approaches, from traditional to contemporary, may be summed up in the exhibition’s name, but a deeper commonality among the projects is present.

There’s a collective emphasis on the importance of artifact. Everything in the space seems rooted in history. It’s all meant to recall memories, experiences and places. Jim Meaders

Jim Meaders, professor of painting, uses found photography as source material, putting what’s first captured in black-and-white film into oil paint and watercolor.

“I like to do that because I can make up my own colors and invent the colors,” he told the crowd at the exhibition’s gallery talk.

His “1921” oil painting, based on a photograph from that year, exemplifies his aesthetic – it’s focused and not too fussy.

“Essentially, my work is an effort to draw the viewer into the subject matter of the picture through a different viewpoint and to leave the viewer with a new sense of perceptiveness and inquisitiveness,” Meaders wrote in his artist statement.

“This is one of the reasons I often crop the subject closely. I find the ‘slice of life’ approach to be more interesting than the whole picture.” Teresa VanHatten-Granath

Teresa VanHatten-Granath, professor of photography and digital imaging, said she wants people to see beauty in the everyday when they view her sculptural books and boxes, digital photographs of color collections and mordançage prints.

“Farewell, My Lovely,” one of her sculptural books, uses text and mixed media to pay homage to the journeys both her and her husband’s families made to America.

The sailboat sitting atop the book showcases family artifacts. An image of her husband’s parents adorns the sail, while typewriter text from an old letter of her husband’s uncle flanks each side of the boat.

“With all of the books, they all have to do with either an event or person or a story from the past,” she said.

Her “Organic Chocolate Box,” “Processed Chocolate Box” and digital photographs of color collections are menageries of things collected on walks and given to her over the years.

“Even if I just walk into school from my car, I’m looking on the ground or looking on trees because there’s a lot of things I’ve collected from walking into school,” she said.

These are things she keeps in her office, arranged on shelves and gathered in glass jars.

One day she was looking at them and noticed she had a lot of white items, so she came up with an idea to photograph white on white – her white things organized on a piece of white board, she said.

“And then I decided, no, it needs to be rice,” she said at the gallery talk. “It has to be white on rice!”

“White on Rice” was the first in her color collection series, followed consecutively by “Red on Redhead,” “Black on Back” and “Gold Medal.”

Her two mordançage prints form a series she calls “She’s Still There.”

Mordançage refers to a photographic process in which prints go through a series of chemical baths, causing the emulsion to pull away from the image and leaving a veined effect on them.

As a mom with a full-time job, much of the work she does is in stolen moments during breaks throughout her day.

“I work in spurts of five minutes here and there,” she said. “In some ways, I really actually like working that way because it forces me to take a step back.” John Watson

Like VanHatten-Granath, John Watson, professor of sculpture, uses found materials to build his sculptures.

“Working primarily with reclaimed wood, mostly salvaged from the cast-offs of trade and industry, building sites or home remodeling projects, I build objects and installations that reference the spaces and places of our built environment,” he wrote in his artist statement.

His presented works come from two series: “Dig” and “Famous Curves.”

In “Dig,” Watson’s wooden forms are embedded in bone-white plaster, revealing only portions of the structures beneath.

“The revealed forms are more self-referential as the viewer wonders if the objects are being uncovered from, or concealed by, the plaster,” he wrote.

In his second series, “Famous Curves,” he recreates turns from well-known Formula One, IndyCar and NASCAR racetracks using strips of reclaimed wood.

The title of each piece reflects the course that inspired it – in this exhibition, Watson presents “Bristol,” “Laguna Seca,” “Daytona” and “Monaco.”

“I’m less interested in them being about auto-racing than them being about this sort of gestural mark, more like a drawing mark on the landscape … ,” he said at the gallery talk. “If you’re into auto racing, you might dig what they are as they represent those turns, and if you’re into my work as architecture, sculpture you can dig on that and not even worry about the fact that they’re turns.” Dan Johnson

For Dan Johnson, professor of graphic design, “Present Divergence” showcases more of a departure from what he teaches in the classroom.

“He’s inventing a history of sorts,” Jessica Owings said of his “Humsai Botanical” series and compendium. “Instead of using found materials, he’s using found ideas.”

These oil on panel pieces are imaginative and experiencing their imagery is like seeing something new for the first time – trying to figure out this unfamiliar scene is an intriguing aspect of the works themselves.

Humsai specimens like bonsai trees or shrubs are “prized possessions that are both cultivated and contemplated,” Johnson wrote in his artist statement.

But “Humsai Botanicals” aren’t plants – they’re human flesh and bone.

As complex and compelling as those are, they’re more recreational to take him away from the illuminated manuscripts that are also featured in “Present Divergence,” he said at the gallery talk.

His two acrylic on sheepskin parchment manuscripts are part of a series he’s working on – he has two more to complete.

Both pieces, “Finnegans Wake, Act I: The Incident in Phoenix Park” and “Finnegans Wake, Act II: Sibling Rivalry” are based on James Joyce’s novel, “Finnegans Wake.”

The gilded letters and elaborate symbolism illustrate the story of Humphrey Chipton Erwicker and his family. Each character’s actions are meant to convey the turbulent history of Ireland and, on a larger scale, the world.

David Ribar

Like Johnson, drawing professor David Ribar, presents works that are atypical of his teaching emphasis.

“Present Divergence” showcases works from two of his series: “Untitled Vessel” and a digital Photoshop suite.

“I like color. I like diversity,” he said. “I certainly like to spin some things as either religious or philosophical or mythological – it illustrates those interests in a way that is both literal and maybe less so, maybe poetic. I would like the paintings to be more poetic and the Photoshop stuff that can be incredibly literal.”

“Untitled Vessel #3,” the larger painted piece, isn’t finished, but represents a new direction he’s taking with his vessel motif, he said.

Using toothpicks in place of paint, the illustration is a contemporary take on a classical form.

His two smaller vessels are more traditional in their approach and subtle in their expression.

“They’re spiritual,” he said. “They’re obviously, to me anyway, derived from that sense that people have about something sacred or spiritual, in context of what you try to fill with meaning, that really is pretty ordinary and prosaic ultimately – no visions, no angels coming from the clouds or multicolored, double headed demon things. This is the opposite.”

His “Untitled Vessel” series counterbalances the digital Photoshop series that’s kaleidoscopic in color and form.

“I’m far more interested in diversity rather than homogeneity, and I seek that out,” he said.

His 10 digital Photoshop pieces incorporate images that reference anatomy, astronomy, mathematics and physics, as well as pop culture icons like Marilyn Monroe and religious icons like St. Michael the archangel.

“I like to go from the sacred to the secular and from the secular to the profane,” he said at the gallery talk.

“Present Divergence” is an exhibition for everyone – art-makers and admirers alike. But it’s a particularly special opportunity for Belmont art students to see their professors’ work presented in a professional way.

“It’s a way to say, ‘You’re studying art, and I’ve studied art and this is what my studies have brought me to here,’” Owings said. “And I think having it presented at school, at Belmont, is a really important part of that because it’s almost like you’re studying it still.”

What’s next in Leu Art Gallery:

Nashville artist Dane Carder’s “Proof of Ghosts” will feature historical photographs and oil paintings combined with modern photographs of Civil War reenactments.

The project is his attempt to “connect personal loss and tragedy with cultural acts of remembrance to honor all who have fallen in battle,” according to Jessica Owings, Belmont director of galleries and exhibitions and adjunct art professor.

A reception and gallery talk will be held from 5-7 p.m. on March 14, and the exhibit will be on view until May 24.

To learn more about Carder, check out his website: http://www.danecarder.com.

#LeuArtGallery #PresentDivergence

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