a press release written by the artist…
I’ve been a little bit quiet on social media lately. A lot has transpired within my tiny speck of a universe on planet Earth in recent weeks, but frankly, I needed to stay focused on the work of painting a 1,020 square foot wall. I’ve had requests for more information regarding the Five Points Bears mural project, and though I stand true that I will not get on the forums and engage in the lively conversation surrounding the new mural, I’d love to tell the story.
As an artist, I speak or write often about story, proclaiming it a major fascination, muse and mission. In fact, for a period of four years, I painted whimsical, illustrative scenarios reminiscent of storybook pages for their overt connection to the notion and their ability to conjure nostalgia and delight in audiences young and old. I collaborated with other artists towards compelling combinations of atmospheric, painterly backgrounds and narrative representational subject matter. The appeal of this style was so wide that we sold every original and began producing affordable reproductions. Bear Outing, created during this time, was an instant favorite.
bear outing acrylic & graphite on canvas (2012)
Bob Bernstein, of Bongo Java Nashville, is one drawn to the original bear painting. But our story, his and mine, begins further back in time. In 2001, a sophomore at Belmont University studying mostly painting and drawing, but also education and sociology, I was hired as a barista at Fido in Hillsboro Village. This was before Bongo World, yet Bob had already solidified his identity as beloved Nashvillian, entrepreneur and thoughtful community contributor. He bought my first painting at my university thesis exhibition and despite my departure and varied subsequent home-bases, we’ve kept in touch as his Nashville family and organization has grown.
I’ll let Bob expound upon his decision to paint the wall in East Nashville at Five Points. As a professional though I can attest to the previous murals state of deterioration and need for attention. I can also relay that in every contract I’ve ever drafted with a patron, either private or city-centered, the work has been granted a maximum 10 year lifespan. Street art doesn’t last long, certainly not forever, even when sealed and cared for properly. It is a strange but beautiful blessing, as it allows for variation and shift in cityspace, presents ample opportunity for public artists to express themselves, and reminds us all of the temporal nature of things. A worthy lesson for both makers and their audiences. In any event, Bob hired me to attend to the wall, commissioning a brand new piece of public art. I reconstructed his selection from my portfolio, Bear Outing, to suit the wall and public space.
We believe that the Five Bears for Five Points mural is a successful piece of public art for a few reasons. Firstly, art should serve society in its capacity to start a conversation. Check! Oh what a conversation this piece of art has instigated! But more specifically, this image starts a conversation for an audience because only so much of the story is provided. A strange and whimsical moment is presented with ample room for interpretation. This is one reason Bob loves the bears. Let everyone fill in the story, he said. And present the opportunity for a deeper look. Each bear is a different species yet together on some unspecified occasion or journey. They are together, yet everyone is sort of doing their own thing, being their own bear. This is a piece about community! It is coming together in one space to share in something, and additionally, about the importance of clinging to or recapturing our imagination, delighting in storytelling’s potential for mystery and joy. It should produce a little grin for passers-by. I’ve seen it working out there. I don’t expect it to work for everyone, but for those of you still confused, concerned, upset; I hope this dialog helps a little.
Another key figure in the story behind the Five Points Bears, is Tinsley Dempsey of Color Theory Studios. Nashville, get ready for your city to be animated with pictorial stories of all kinds, thanks to this woman’s passion and dedication to the omnipresence of public mural art. Tinsley and I had been in communication since her launching of Off The Wall on Charlotte Pike, 12,000 square feet of paintable outdoor gallery space, primed for curating. I am one artist on her radar for the project, now underway but in need of city support. (Call to arms all ye art lovers!) Working with businesses and building owners citywide, Tinsley had also been in touch with Bob about a Five Points Wall face-lift. She has facilitated and supported the Bears project from its conception.
Every public art advocate and creator has a philosophy behind this idea of art’s omnipresence and why it is positive and important within cityspace. And most major metropolitan areas are already a general smorgasbord of largescale outdoor paintings, representative of every artistic genre and style imaginable. The framework for mural art, what constitutes a mural worthy painting, is continually being challenged by artists and patrons and this is incredibly exciting. This is what people like Tinsley are working towards for Nashville.
Accessibility is at the forefront of my participation in the field. I am concerned with augmenting every person’s potential to interface with every kind of art. It is crucial that I make work to exist outside of institutions and gallery spaces, or any space in some way exclusive. The street is literally the only space I know that presents an entirely inclusive opportunity for communities to experience art. All walks of life, welcome and accounted for. When we think of mural art and urban space in this way, it shows what an incredible gift it is to curate walls or commission work. A wholehearted thank you then, to both Tinsley Dempsey and Bob Bernstein.
And so, on June 23rd I traveled from my current home in Oakland, California, to my previous in order to begin the wall at Five Points. I was aware of awaiting controversy, but respectfully optimistic. This is a good moment for me to address the notion of change. Because it has been so many years since I called Nashville home, I won’t pretend to understand how quick and perhaps uncomfortable its growth has been for residents. As a returning visitor though, I certainly catch myself thinking, ‘oh my goodness, what happened to…!’ –fill in the blank with a neighborhood of your choosing. Broadly, I think resistance is natural and human. Reaction to any kind of resistance that surfaces from inside of us though is an opportunity for growth. An opportunity to examine the reason for the arrival of the feelings, what they are and how they might either hinder or protect. A chance to be surprised by our capacity for understanding or flexibility, or to find something surprising and wonderful about something new we never could’ve imagined. The pause before the reaction is the place where we decide if the internal resistance really merits a fight. It’s also the space where we choose love. In this day and age, this kind of conversation feels essential.
The events of the mural’s defacing have been properly attended to by social media and news affiliates, so I will skip further documentation here. I will however, honor the importance of vulnerability, and attempt to unravel some of the more intimate corners of one artist’s psyche. As an artist, I am acutely aware of the subjectivity of my field. I never expect everyone to love my work. One doesn’t love every song on the radio or every dish on the menu. The love isn’t really the impetus for making, though the human need for it certainly interjects at times. Initially the impetus is to get it out, to tell the stories, to put something into existence and to contribute. But I like to enter a project the scale of the Five Points Bears, a very visible wall, a project fraught with controversy before its onset, with the mission of making the work for those who will love it. If I paint with the skill with which I paint, pour my love and my sweat into this work, it will be met with the admiration of those who were always going to be for it. For them, it will create the mystery and joy. And regardless of the success rate of these things, it will at least start a conversation. This mission or mantra, make for those who love it, is a path to being a happy, healthy maker of very large murals or otherwise, minimally interrupted by her critical voice.
After the vandalism, the community rallied behind me and the project in ways I could have never imagined, and the Bears went up without further intervention. I’ve met dozens of wonderful people of all ages and we’ve chosen to engage in a beautiful conversation, infused with positivity and dedicated to progress. I kept the vandalism in the final product because it is essential to the life and story, of this piece of art and of this neighborhood. In the end, this is a story about community. A story about different kinds of people, from different places. People with unique opinions and visions and goals. Coming together at the crossroads of a neighborhood on Nashville’s eastside. And because of the art, to converse.