A pair of solo exhibitions by two Tennessee painters stand out this spring at Zeitgeist Gallery. Douglas Degges’ “Split Ends” and Brady Haston’s “Fragmentary Survey,” on view through June 24, present two visually distinct explorations of image-making and process, and make a strong argument for the virtues of slowing down.
Degges lives and teaches in Chattanooga, and “Split Ends” includes selections from two groups of recent abstract paintings that, though stylistically different, “explore the relationship between the painted image and the painted object,“ he said. “The image, the immaterial thing we can hold in our mind, is both separate from and part of the physical material that contains or supports it. It is this complicated relationship between the skin of a painting and its bones that I am most interested in.”
“props for pictures” features rugged geometric pastel forms rendered in remarkably thick impasto while “making stuff like pictures” seem to want to deny they are paintings at all; they are all one color — a smooth, even layer of black, red, or blue — interrupted by sparse relief carvings of abstract shapes. “(“making stuff like pictures”) attempts to both depict some thing, object or surface while, at the same time, being that object or surface,” Degges notes. “With the ‘props for pictures’ works, I’m interested in how the physicality of the support can be set at odds with the painted image … the top layers of paint rarely and only incidentally acknowledge the surface they sit on.”
In “Fragmentary Survey,” Haston, a Nashville artist and Watkins instructor, explores place using a selection of historical and present-day imagery of Nashville. The paintings are a blend of abstraction and vague representation, featuring superficial fragments of buildings, figures or landscapes mingled with drifting patches of muted color against backgrounds that look almost corroded. “Painting in this (abstract) manner allows me to focus on playing with the formal elements of design. Since the conceptual nature of my work is not representational, I feel that I can push into ideas and histories without getting bogged down in detail.”
Haston sourced the imagery from online research, his own impressions of Dickerson Pike, and from Paul Clements’ “Chronicles of the Cumberland,” a collection of letters and stories of the settlers who lived in the Nashville area in the late 18th century. The images, combined and filtered through his artistic vision, capture an impressionistic, collage-like portrait of Nashville that encapsulates many time periods at once.
“I do not feel bound by chronology when painting,” Haston said. “Once history started to influence my work, I felt like I was excavating ideas and stacking them up beside contemporary images. The resulting work started to represent a continuum that I could incorporate into my practice.”
Inevitably, two exhibitions hanging side by side invite comparisons and contrasts, and these strong exhibitions are different enough to give viewers two unique experiences, yet similar enough to express a united theme, which for Degges and Haston is the importance of slowing down to deeply engage with what’s in front of us.
“Living in this place made me slow down and discover aspects that are unique to this area,” Haston said. “This show has helped me discover the point where regional history becomes part of a larger narrative and becomes part of the American story. I hope this show impacts the viewer by slowing them down and discovering this place we live in and appreciating the context of a local ongoing narrative.”
Likewise, Degges hopes that viewers slow down to view his paintings and see the difference between them and images they may have seen on a screen.
“At a time when we have immediate access to anything, from sourcing information on the Internet to our ability to capture and store images at a moment’s notice, painting can be a vehicle for slowing down and considering the speed at which images are produced and consumed.”
If you go
What: “Split Ends” by Douglas Degges and “Fragmentary Survey” by Brady Haston
Where: Zeitgeist Gallery, 516 Hagan St. #100
When: Through June 24
Hours: 11 a.m.- 5 p.m.
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