Sayonara 2016: A Year in Review


In 2016, Ground Floor Gallery + Studios was host to 18 different artists. The Gallery witnessed a particularly political group of shows, but didn’t we all? Looking back at our year at Ground Floor, the turmoil of 2016 can be read almost like a timeline.

r-candy-mountainmedium_large-1456253467Amanda Joy Brown explored the relationship between paint and textiles in her exhibition Resurface. She showed a body of work that included paint skins that were folded and weaved in the way one may work with fabric.

unnamed-2The Gallery’s floors and wall were transformed into interactive surfaces in Danielle McCleave’s The Touch Room. The artist’s multiple installations encouraged the audience to interact with the art as well as each other in an intimate way. A desire to reconnect was met.

No Shame in Wanting-largeHow to Love Living Things was a gorgeous show put together by artist Meg Stein from North Carolina. Her soft sculptures explore political and social ideas of domestic life, particularly “women’s work.” The titles of the work originating from poetry added another complication to the issues Stein addressed.

jovanniJovanni Luna brought paint skins back to the gallery walls in his exhibition Universal Spaces. His show featured rolls of paint skins meticulously gathered on shelves within a stretcher. Luna invited to explore the possibilities of what a painting can be.

Hargrave--Donald TrumpIn History Repeats Itself, Katie Hargrave directly pointed to our dystopian election year. She showcased a giant game of Jenga, videos of Democratic debates being balanced on balloons, and highlighted Republican speeches.

aggregateWe opened our studios for a group show, Aggregate, in October. Featured artists included: Anna Merrill, Bobby Becker, Carrie Jobe, Cassie Harner, Devin Goebel, Dez Hough, Georganna Greene, Janet Decker Yanez, Jovanni Luna, Mandy Brown, Meg McGregor, Mihail Tomescu, and Sibley Barlow.

14808074_10155462311809199_439175131_oJason Stout’s Thrown From the Storm added one final punch to our particularly political year with his complex paintings. His images explored the overwhelming noise of social issues being dished out by the media.

2016 has left everyone, including the art world with plenty to say and much to ruminate on. Here’s to the New Year and a new group of artists showing in Nashville! In the meantime, check out some of our major upcoming shows:

Art of the South 2017

Les Femme Folles curated by Sally Duskins

5th Annual Juried Art Exhibition (submit here!)

Thrown From the Storm, November 5th 7-10pm


Jason Stout will be showing a new body of work at Ground Floor Gallery November 5th, 7-10pm. This is a series that Jason began around a year ago after searching for ideas through some traditional still life painting. He was working on vanitas centered in a domestic setting, all of which included a cloud-filled window. Through time, the repeated appearance of these windows revealed something to Stout – a metaphor for “domestic turbulence.” He saw that our home lives can never be unlinked from the  turmoils of the culture outside. As if stepping into the painting and out of the window, Jason found a solution – clouds.memento-mori-back-room-gory

There were many political and social issues that Stout was trying to address in his paintings. Unfortunately, we live in a culture that moves on from a disturbance as quickly as it developed in the first place. The ongoing election, continued military efforts, and Black Lives Matter movement are certainly headliners in the media, but before the paint had dried on Jason’s canvas, the media had moved on. Painting takes longer to process. Clouds became a basis that allowed him to have a dialogue with these issues in a way that could keep up. They are metaphors on their own terms – fight clouds in a cartoon – as well as a form for these cultural problems to move in and out of, reacting to one another and drawing connections. Stout says, “It wasn’t about the issues, it was about all the overwhelming information and the tension and anxiety that comes from that.” He also talked about The cloud, befittingly calling it the “storage cloud super center.”

Stout said that “you hit this cloud and get spun around the edges of a square.” When looking at these paintings, this couldn’t be more true. Using a high pigment count and a sharp understanding of temperature and value push, these images vibrate almost like the work of Op Art. This makes sense after speaking with Jason. He absorbs and studies formal abstraction paintings more than just about anything else. He said, “You have to be aware of your audience, which is mainly artists, so what is their value system, how do you keep them interested?” He has successfully merged abstraction and narrative in a way you do not often see. Dana Schutz and Cecily Brown come to mind. The vibrancy and cartoon quality of his paintings make the cultural turmoil easier to stomach. At a certain point however, the formal candy that originally drew you becomes dizzying on its own account. Stout condenses the media frenzy into one swift moment.

Below, is an interview with the artist.


Your show is titled “Thrown From the Storm” -What is behind this choice?

I think all experiences, good, bad, young, old shape us in some fashion.  Since this series of work started as a play on fight clouds as a vehicle for metaphors of social and political conflict, the idea of a storm was always present.  But as the work developed, things started shooting out and being discarded, just like in stories from the news.  We rest on one issue then suddenly moving to the next, often with the conflict or issue being left without resolve.  Through my experience I often feel compelled or drawn into this conflict, and then thrown out when the media or nation moves, so in a sense, conceptually, thrown from the storm.  But as I’ve been making the work, that phrase kept coming up in my mind, “Thrown from the Storm…”, like a part of a song you can’t quite remember.  Then I placed it, Rimbaud!!!  It’s actually part of a line from Rimbaud’s poem The Drunken Boat, “Thrown from the storm into a birdless sky.” The poem is about pursuing life only to find out that you are limited by and bound to the conditions you are born into, your government, its position in the world, etc., and the poet’s response to that.  I haven’t read the poem since I was 20, but somehow it still resonates, and has been quite often lately.  

There is obviously something quite significant about your identity as a southern artist and your work’s identity as southern art. Can you talk more about this? What is the significance for each?

I think every artist has a conflict of sorts with where they are from.  Being an artist and being southern when I was younger seemed to be an impossibility.  It just wasn’t valued, more so, it was humored.  Not only that, I really had no other other artists to identify with.  Music however was valued, and its history, especially in Tennessee, and I always worried that the South would be purely a musical region and never invest in the visual arts heavily, because historically, that had been the case.  I remember then feeling the need to move away from that identity, wanting to be anything other than some west Tennessee kid, because there weren’t any in the art world.  But you can’t escape it, and ultimately, the things that you experience, the things that make you who you are, are the best things to make work about, because they are yours and no one else’s.  So at some point I just embraced it.

Do you have an idea of the image before the painting begins, or is it more of a set of ideas? What sort of planning goes on beforehand?  I usually start off with a set of drawings.  I’m always drawing, and when I find some drawings that gain momentum, either formally or conceptually, I develop a body.  Then I try to paint them, taking the best drawings from the set and converting them.  But I’m not bound to pure description of the drawing, and often, there are parts of the drawings that don’t translate into paintings, and those non- translatable parts are what really advance the paintings into something else.  Then I work on those, and when I exhaust the possibilities of the paintings, I take what advancements I get from the paintings and use that to start the next drawings.  Its cyclical for sure.   

There are pretty specific images and symbolism in your paintings. Is there something for you that is unifying them all or is it more of an invitation for the viewer to draw their own conclusions? I have a plan or an idea what the painting is about, but I leave areas where the viewer can infer their interpretation as well.  A lot of the objects in and outside of the storms in these paintings all have a duality, they are selected because for me they have several meanings and several purposes that are tied to our current time and narrative.  The beauty of this series is that people place different connotations on the objects and parts, and when they connect those connotations and weave a narrative with the compositional arrangement, that’s when the painting reveals itself, and the revelation is usually always different.

What role does abstraction play in your paintings?

I respond to abstraction because ambiguity is an element to the narratives, and that sometimes I just have certain instincts and interests as an artist that aren’t bound by depiction, and I obey those instincts.  Abstraction is a very basic and primal appetite, and I indulge it.  My paintings are primarily semi abstract, but I always wanted to make pictures that could be appealing to purely abstract painters and to people that loved narrative work or who responded to some imagery.  I think these paintings really balance those responsibilities well.  Plus my generation comes from a distorted period visually. From cartoons, to video games, to plastic surgery, everything is saturated, especially with television and advertising. We are definitely in a post human era.

To me, your paintings appear as though they are nebular and explosive. Is there
a reason behind this?

Sure, because it’s an extension of the metaphor.  Some of the works early on looked like explosions, and I was thinking of how the media gives a star quality to conflict.  So naturally I started thinking of nebulas, exploding and dying stars, and how the clouds could transcend to be more, how the clouds could have an extended duality to their presence and not be just earthly.  One of the contradictions of our time is that we understand more of the universe and earth than we ever have, but in contrast, there is a resentment of that understanding in some circles.  Plus we are in an atomic age, and I was thinking of that too.

These images bring to mind hip hop, graffiti, and political cartoons. Are these influences for the work? If so, why?

I grew up in the rise of rap and hip hop in the early 80’s and 90’s.  I always connected to the stories, the poetry, the attention to class issues in the hip hop.  It was new, it was fresh, and is resonated with me.  Plus there was an anti authority aspect of it made me question institutions I was taught not to question.  Graffiti was part of the visual aesthetic, plus, in some respects, the first real abstraction I experienced.  I grew up in a railroad town, and the trains that came through, usually from Chicago and other larger cities, would be covered in images and tags.  I’m sure I assimilated it somehow, though I’m not consciously aware of it when I work.

You are interested in power structures within our culture. What specifically do you think draws you to this subject matter?

It dissects everything we are, most of what we do, and how we consume.  In a capitalist society, I think we have to constantly be questioning and re-evaluating our power structures or we risk falling victim to a slumbered existence.  I would like to avoid sleepwalking.  

Join us for Aggregate, a group show


This Saturday, October 1st, Ground Floor Gallery will be hosting open studios alongside a group show of our artists. Stop by after the art crawl when our gallery opens at 7:30. Studios  open 9-10:30.

Featured artists:

  • Anna Rainous
  • Bobby Becker
  • Carri Jobe
  • Cassie Harner
  • Devin Goebel
  • Dez Hough
  • Georganna Greene
  • Janet Decker Yanez
  • Jovanni Luna
  • Mandy Brown
  • Meg McGregor
  • Mihail Tomescu
  • Sibley Barlow

An Interview with Katie Hargrave


“History Repeats Itself” is a new body of work by Chattanooga-based artist Katie Hargrave. “History Repeats Itself” explores the 2016 election season through a series of new pieces: “Listen to Wolf” is a video installation of Bernie and Hillary trying not to talk over each other at the primary debate; “Cease and Desist Karaoke” is a custom-karaoke of songs used by past and present candidates without the permission of the musicians. Do your best Trump impression of “Can’t Get No Satisfaction” alongside Palin’s “Barracuda;” and finally the titular piece “History Repeats Itself” are a series of take-away posters of redacted speeches of all 16 GOP candidates with the duplicate words removed. Part satire, part catharsis, join in exploring the absurdity of this political moment.

Below is an interview with the artist.


You’re based in Chattanooga, TN right now. I’m curious to know what the art community is like there.

The community is small. I think Chattanooga is a growing city, there are more and more people who are moving to the city, but the art community I think is still pretty small. There are many people who are making work, but not many whose primary form of employment is art. There aren’t a ton of galleries, but that is slowly starting to change. We have maybe two DIY art spaces and a couple of established non-profits and just a few commercial galleries.


Tell me about the work you will be showing at GfG.

It’s going to be three main pieces, all of the work is about this election cycle. I’ve sort of been thinking about how we regular Americans plug into that cycle. There is the broadsheet project which covers all of the GOP candidates. I’ve removed all of the duplicate words from each of their speeches. The first person to announce has the most unique words and the last to announce has the least, because over time everything became repeated. I know they are going to be available for free, first come first serve, at the opening. I guess I’m sort of thinking about how it feels when you look at the way they speak; they don’t say a whole lot in any of their speeches, and whatever the touchstone thing is that week, that is what emerges as the content, and the rest is total formula. They think they’re wise, and then they don’t say much. They talk about whatever it is going on in the media that week, and that’s it. So you don’t have to listen to the whole thing if you can just pick out those elements right? With the formula, you still get some of the unique information so you still get the name of the spouse, you get the name of the children and then you get some of the stuff that is happening in that moment. For instance, when everyone was talking about Hillary’s emails and Benghazi, you see that show up, regardless.


Have you done this with other speeches from our past, or is it just this election cycle?

Yeah I originally started think about this when I did it by hand for Lincoln’s second inaugural just out of curiosity and also the Gettysburg Address just to see what they would sound like. Those really sound like poetry. They are the same in that you still get the basic gist of the speech but there is this poem that emerges. They are such strong speeches to begin with. I think that they hold up and they change, but they still have their elegance. That doesn’t really feel like the right use for this idea, so I was able to write a computer program that would automate it and that allowed me to go through these bigger texts. This cycle has been so absurd and there have been so many of them so it’s kind of like what happened?


So you see a huge difference in how politicians have structured these things over time.

Right. The second piece is a custom karaoke which uses songs that presidential candidates have gotten cease and desist letters from. So for instance, Trump is not allowed to use Rolling Stones songs anymore. So this cd has all the songs that candidates have used, for example, Sarah Palin can’t use Barracuda.


Why is that?

Just because they used them without getting permission from the artist. And actually they are all GOP candidates, the democratic candidates have never had this happen to them. So I have these sort of halloween masks of all the candidates and the idea is that you would wear one of the masks while karaoking to whatever the song is. It is more of the idea for me rather than whether or not it will be used. It will be interesting to see what happens. It’s like an installation that can be participatory, but it doesn’t matter to me if people do it. It will be ridiculous if it happens.

The third piece is footage from one of the democratic debates between Bernie and Hillary. It was one of the last ones and they were just screaming over each other, you know, not being able to get a word in. Wolf Blitzer stopped them and said, “If you keep screaming at each other the voters won’t be able to hear what you’re saying.” I went through that debate footage and removed all of the speaking so it’s just the pauses and the applause when they are trying to catch their breath. There are two monitors so one includes applause for Bernie as he is pausing and one is for Hillary when she is pausing and breathing. That footage moves back and forth between the two so they are in sync and in conversation with one another.


Tell me about your childhood experiences with art if any, or in your case, maybe experiences with community or history?

In terms of art, I was fortunate to have an aunt who was a professional artist, so I spent a lot of time with her, going to museums and talking to other working artists. I knew from an early age that that was I wanted to do. It has totally changed since then though. I went to school for painting but I haven’t made a painting in probably 10 years. The work has gotten more conceptual as time has gone on. When I was growing up we spent every vacation driving around the U.S. and stopping at historic sites. I’ve been to a dozen presidential homes. Every Civil War battlefield we drove past, we stopped at. I think that was just the way my parents thought about killing time and entertaining us, but also making sure we understood the history of this place. I think I have gotten more critical of what is represented in those sites, and I think my parents have become more critical. From that I got interested in fleshing out the more complicated things and understanding what is left out of that story.


Do you think they became more critical because of your work?

I don’t know about that. I think they became more critical just with what is happening. It’s hard not to be critical. I think there is definitely a nerd factor in the work. It is what I’m interested in learning about and that’s why I make what I make. I was joking with a curator that I think the audience for my work is school children and retired men who are interested in railroads. It’s not particularly trendy work.


You said in your statement that you are “interested in a poetic and quiet activism”- What comes of this as opposed to the more stereotypical forms of activism? Is there something to be said of subtlety vs aggression?

I have an activist practice outside of my work; I’m very involved in my community. I’m not a very outgoing person, I’m not a very loud person, so I try to think about other ways to have an effect on the world and I think education is one of those. Things like opening up space for people to learn about things, that can be liberatory. So if we know the story we can decide how to move within it. I think the idea of history being written by the victor is flawed. How can the people who have been negatively impacted by that history, or don’t feel like that history speaks to them take on a revisionist tactic? If you are already aware of that stuff then what do you do? So it’s hard to know the effect of the work and maybe that’s why I say it’s more quiet. I guess it’s more propositional. I also think that participatory art in itself is an activist practice because art can be very exclusionary and elitist, and so if we get the audience actually think that they have some power over the work and can participate in the work then I think we can have more people who feel that they can have creative practices.


Do you find more power in one or the other?

Well they are just different. I was recently volunteering for a progressive political campaign and it’s not what I want to do – I do it – but that also feels very preachy. It’s like you’re trying to tell people what is best for them and in my work I don’t want to do that. I want to create some space for people to think about other possibilities.