Visiting Artist, James Madison University

Visiting Artist in conjunction with Greetings From Nashville exhibition, curator John Ros at Duke Hall Gallery.

Burnaway discussion, solo show as prompt

In this letter, Queens, NY-based writer and curator Robert Grand responds to Sara Estes’s review of Nashville painter Jodi Hays’s recent exhibition “God Sees Through Houses,” originally published on BA on November 6, 2018.
Letters to the editor are welcome at any time and may be published at the editor’s discretion. 
Sara Estes argues against subtlety of intentions and political persuasions in her review of Jodi Hays’s exhibition “God Sees Through Houses” (Lipscomb University, closed October 18). The writer latches onto Hays’s claim that the exhibition contends with the Department of Homeland Security’s “Zero Tolerance” policy of splitting up families at the U.S.-Mexico border. In particular, Estes grapples with Hays’s statement that painting could offer “an alternative form of measurement, one in which the power of sight…could be used to advocate…”
The last few paragraphs of Estes’s review taps into a larger conversation happening across the country. The author has narrowed her focus onto abstract painting, but really, every creative is asking themselves the same questions. In the face of environmental destruction, countless human rights violations, and a deeply divided public, what is the point of making art? Wouldn’t our time be better spent collectively organizing, canvassing in swing districts, or donating to the endless string of nonprofits that work tirelessly to right the wrongs of a corrupt and unjust administration? If we continue to make, shouldn’t we focus on producing calls to action? If we did, would they even be effective? Artists also have to contend with the market—how does one continue to produce knowing that financial support primarily comes from the wealthy, from collectors whom directly benefit from the exploitative financial policies which have been in place for decades?

Nancy Spero, Bomb, Dove and Victims, 1967; gouache and ink on paper, 24 by 36 in.
Art making at its core is a form of problem-solving; in “God Sees Through Houses,” Hays is trying to answer the question of why art now for herself, in the face of not only political but personal turmoil. Much like “Keeper,” the artist’s 2017 solo show at Nashville’s Red Arrow Gallery, “God Sees Through Houses” finds Hays reexamining her decades-long painting practice as a whole. It’s as if, in these exhibitions, Hays admits that she can no longer indiscriminately pull architecture, symbols, and figures from the wider world. She must wrestle with their original context and the charged associations that can accompany them. In my eyes, this marks a breakthrough for the artist.

David Hammons, Untitled, 1969; pigment on board, 36 1/4 by 25 1/8 in.
I believe the abstraction is a benefit. A work like Entry could reference multiple real-world acts, events, and conclusions. We’re given just enough information to be unsettled—to reflect on headlines we’ve read, tweets we’ve scrolled past, Facebook videos we’ve paused before their grim conclusion. All these instances speak to the precarious position of humans under surveillance, wherein people are rendered as anonymous blurs from equipment lacking enough pixels to tell the full story.
In Estes’s eyes, Hays has failed at transmitting all this to the audience; that’s fine. But instead of stopping there, Estes goes further—seemingly writing off the entire practice of abstraction in the current day. Her argument goes from micro to macro as she muses, “I cannot help but wonder if it’s possible for abstract painting…to address such specific, urgent political subject matter.”
I can’t say I fully disagree with her, but the statement is too generalized to hold much merit. Additionally, I have trouble with this criticism being directed towards Hays and the array of works in “God Sees Through Houses.” Nashville is populated with painters invested in abstraction, and yet these concerns are never brought up in consideration of their works or exhibitions. Frankly, many of their practices could benefit from this needling, from a demand to contend with the world writ large. I’d rather have an artist like Hays—one who, in Estes eyes, may fumble in her quest to merge the abstract with the political—than an artist like David Onri Anderson, whose dry depictions of apple cores and Chinese lanterns evade explicit political engagement.
I greatly appreciate Estes bringing such important, and urgent, discourse to the forefront. There’s a more nuanced argument to be had here, one that I hope Estes continues to develop and one that I will consider. As for now—I simply wish her criticism had cast a wider net.
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Robert Grand

Robert Grand is a writer and curator based in Queens, NY. His writings have appeared in Afterimage: The Journal of Media Arts and Cultural Criticism, Artspace Magazine, and Natasha, among others. He is also the co-director and co-founder of Kimberly-Klark, an interdisciplinary project space located in Queens, NY.

Keeper, solo show, Nashville Scene's "Best of Nashville" 2018

Thanks so much to Erica CIccarone, arts writer, for selecting Keeper as one of the Best of Nashville's shows in 2018!

Artist Interview

We’d love to hear more about your art. What do you do you do and why and what do you hope others will take away from your work?
Landscape is a consistent prompt for my work. My core iconography rests on the grid and all its history and associative connections with landscape–fences, gates, borders and walls. When a friend of a friend was shot at dusk across the street from my napping family, our porch camera captured it, allowing us (and police) to view the video feed after the incident. My life and studio concerns coalesced into a body of work on neighborhood, police, surveillance and photography with fences and boundaries as stepping off points. Painting is an alternate measurement.
How can artists connect with other artists?
I once heard Zadie Smith tell Ann Pachet that the only talent there is in writing is the honed ability to be alone for long periods of time in order to get the work done. I can relate to the need for vast amounts of solitude, but I also know that our lives are built around and meaningful because of community. Get to know other artists, invite them to trade studio visits, read about your peers, go to their exhibitions, know and support your people.
Do you have any events or exhibitions coming up? Where would one go to see more of your work? How can people support you and your artwork?
I have a few exhibitions across the country coming up, and my gallery out of Nashville, TN, The Red Arrow Gallery often goes to Art Dallas. In addition, Flat File Art (Montclair, NJ) and Show and Tell (Charleston, SC) show the work.
I have a solo show coming up at Covenant College in Tennessee January 2019, and am included in a group show of “southern” artists at James Madison University’s Duke Hall Gallery (John Ros, Curator) the same month. People show go to shows, get to know artists and purchase art work–what a way to contribute to a healthy world of empathy!

Tennessean, God Sees Through Houses, M. Baker

'God Sees Through Houses' at Lipscomb’s Hutcheson Gallery

Last month, Lipscomb’s Hutcheson Gallery debuted its new space in the university’s Beaman Library with a solo exhibition by Nashville artist and curator Jodi Hays.  “God Sees Through Houses” presents paintings that bridge abstraction and representation to explore the ideological and emotional impact of Homeland Security’s "zero tolerance" immigration policy on the realities of home, family, fear, power and surveillance.  

Hays, whose work often explores how neighborhoods and communities are divided by fences, walls and other boundaries writes in a statement about the show: “Many of us have the privilege and power to see, leveraging lenses, barriers, windows. Painting has become an alternate form of measurement, one in which this power of sight (and oversight) can be used to advocate ... to observe and create a world in which we can believe and hope.”  
Hays also manages a studio and pop-up gallery, Dadu, and teaches in the MFA program at Watkins College of Art.

The exhibition is up through Oct. 18.  The new location of the Hutcheson Gallery is in the Beaman Library at 1 University Park Drive.  Its hours are 7 a.m.-midnight Tuesday-Thursday, 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m.-midnight Sunday.  Admission is free.
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