After graduating from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1981, with a BFA in printmaking, I worked for two years at the Experimental Workshop in San Francisco. This was a printmaking workshop that published editions of prints and sculptures by many Bay Area and nationally recognized artists. It was a boom moment in the art world and over a period of two years I worked with many established artists as a printer of their editions. I consider this experience my graduate school, since I was not interested in pursuing an MFA and teaching. With money I had saved from this job, I moved to Knoxville in 1985 with my girlfriend at the time, Pam Longobardi, who was offered a teaching position at UT.
I never took a painting class but began painting in the basement of the apartment building I lived in S.F. I was inspired by the woodblocks that were used for printing at Experimental Workshop so I began making abstract, carved paintings on wood panels, trying to emulate the feeling and surfaces of the carved and stained woodblocks. When I arrived in Tennessee I immediately felt comfortable and inspired by the landscape and by the folk artists working in the region. Bessie Harvey, Homer Green, Howard Finster, and the folk art collection at the Museum of Appalachia in Norris are a few examples. I related to the honesty and purity of intention that these artists had. They were making things to go out in their yards, not fancy N.Y. galleries. The art was raw and powerful. I rented a space for $125.00 a month from Gene Monday at Central and Broadway and began working.
With my savings from California I had enough money to live for half a year or so. I decided to be very serious in my attempt to become an artist. I had worked with many younger artists at Experimental Workshop who had careers as artists and who where just regular, hard-working people, so I set out to try to do it myself. I figured that if I didn’t at least make a serious effort at being an artist now, I would always regret never having really tried. I had done art–drawing mostly, since I was a child so I never had a problem making things, I just didn’t know how to go about building a life as an artist. Who does? I continued making paintings on wood panels and sculptures in a variety of materials mostly influenced by the regional folk artists.
I was also influenced by some of the artists in Knoxville. Ted Saupe, who taught ceramics at UT, inspired me to begin making my work more personal, so I began moving away from straight abstraction and began making my work about what I was experiencing and feeling and about daily life. Richard Jolley and Tommie Rush were kind and welcoming to me and also influenced my work and showed me how to be more serious on the business side. The UT art faculty, especially Marcia Goldenstein, Tom Reising, David Wilson, and others were influences.
In those early years I worked many part time jobs in Knoxville while working every day (or night) in my studio. I did construction and sign painting as well as being a preparator at UT’s Ewing Gallery for Sam Yates. My favorite job was working as artist-in-the schools for Sarah Kramer, an amazing woman, at KMA. These would be 60 day projects where I would go to a different elementary school every day and teach four classes about an upcoming exhibit at KMA, which the students would eventually see. This took me all over east Tennessee, from Oneida to Madisonville and many towns in between. I would make $110.00 per day and be back in my studio by mid-afternoon, inspired by the kids and the East Tennessee landscape.
I was working in my studio one afternoon when Alan Finch, another Knoxville artist, stopped by. He responded to my work and took some slides to a gallery in Atlanta, where he was showing his work. This was Carlton Cobb Gallery in Buckhead. Carlton liked the slides and contacted me about bringing some work for them to see in person. I left some paintings, which they sold immediately and they put me in a group show, which did well. They offered me a solo show, which sold out, and I was on my way. Thanks Alan and Carlton. Over a period of years I have had over forty solo exhibits in Atlanta galleries as well as other cities (Los Angeles, Boston, Nashville and Knoxville.) Bennett Galleries has shown my work for twenty-five years. Cumberland Gallery in Nashville has represented my work for the same period of time. I have been so fortunate to make a living doing what I love. Susan Lanoue, owner of Lanoue Fine Art in Boston has shown my work for almost ten years now. Loren Friedman, owner of Friedman Fine Art in Chicago, also represents my work.
When I was in my early thirties I began teaching summer workshops at Arrowmont School of Crafts, Penland School of Crafts, and Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. This introduced me to the craft world and allowed me over the years to meet many incredible artists and to access more opportunities for my work. More recently, I have traveled to Mexico and Bangladesh to work and teach. The more I travel and meet artists around the world I realize that there is a world family of artists and art supporters all bound together by their passion for the visual arts.
In 1988, Southern Accents magazine did a big spread on my work, which helped with visibility. In 1994, Stephen Wicks, then a young, bright curator at KMA, offered me a solo show at the museum. We worked together on the exhibition and catalog. I felt honored to work with Stephen, who did a spectacular job. He supported me to create a forty-foot long wire and found object floor sculpture for the exhibiton, which also included paintings, drawings, and sculpture.
After several years at Broadway and Central I built a large studio in one of the warehouse buildings on Jackson St., where I worked for three more years before moving to my present location in the Sequatchie Valley, where I continue to work. In my mind I always saw myself working out in the country, not in a city. I love the natural world, cycles of seasons, birds, flowers, and gardening. My dream as a younger artist was to live in the country, have a studio next to my house with a little path between them, which I would walk with my morning coffee to begin work. If one can envision the life one wants and make incremental efforts towards it, then it can become a reality over time.
I married Susan Knowles, whom I had known for several years as a very smart curator and writer. We have been living in our beautiful valley together now for sixteen years. She recently received her doctorate from MTSU focusing on the historic Tennessee marble quarries.
I am grateful for my long association with the Knoxville Museum of Art, which has added immensely to East Tennessee visual culture and to Jim and Kay Clayton, the museum’s primary benefactors. Thousands of children in East Tennessee have been exposed to art at the museum through their education programs. Artists cannot survive without the collectors who buy their work and the galleries and institutions that provide opportunities for exhibitions. Rick and Jeannie Bennett have been committed, open-minded, and enthusiastic about my work since day one. I thank Kreis and Sandy Beall, Earl and Margit Worsham, Ashley Capps and Birgit Clark, Bob and Marie Alcorn, Ron Watkins, Nell and Roger Sampson, David Butler and Ted Smith, Susan and Sam McCamy, Gov. Bill and Crissy Haslam, Ann and Steve Bailey, Brad and Dina Martin and many others for collecting my work over the years. I am proud to be affiliated with the Dogwood Arts Festival this year, which has a long history of bringing the arts to East Tennessee.
For an artist, living in a place over a long period of time has its benefits. Not only does one absorb the culture, traditions and history of the area, one also grows to have a deep love of ones surroundings and the people who inhabit the place. So much about our region and it’s history has provided me with content and imagery for my work through the years and I still find East Tennessee fascinating and inspiring every day. Although my work references global human, environmental, and historical themes, I consider myself an East Tennessee artist, since this is where I grew up as an artist and will always continue to work.