The newest addition to the Nashville gallery scene opened this month to a packed crowd. Elephant Gallery is the long-awaited curatorial effort of Alex Lockwood, a self-taught artist from Seattle known for his larger-than-life dynamic sculptures and installations. He moved to Nashville from Brooklyn five years ago and has made a considerable impact on the city already, as a presiding member of Coop Collective and through buzzworthy exhibitions of his work at OZ Arts and Zeitgeist Gallery, most recently.
Elephant is located in North Nashville at 1411 Buchanan Street, about a mile or two away from Fisk University and Thaxton Waters’s now defunct Art History Class Lifestyle Lounge and Gallery. Lockwood bought the Buchanan Street building — a humble cinderblock space with large, inviting front windows — back in 2014, and has spent the time since renovating it to house his personal studio, along with several rented studios, and the front gallery space. Post-renovation, the building is hard to miss: a bright green and white exterior with blocky rainbow-colored words that spell out ELEPHANT along the facade.
The studio portion, known as Elephant Studios, currently boasts a range of artists and designers, including visual artists Robert Scobey, John Tallman, Duncan McDaniel, Lauren McDaniel, Becky Blevins, Meghan Wood, ceramicist Jessica Cheatham of Salt Ceramics, and a studio for his wife Genie, who owns a wonderful kids’ store in Hillsboro Village called Arcade.
Elephant Gallery hosted its grand opening on February 10, kicking things off with a solo exhibition by Illinois artist Brett Douglas Hunter titled “Aminals.”
“Yes, I meant to spell it that way,” says Hunter. “The creatures I make are usually fairly ambiguous. People ask, ‘What is it? A dog? A lizard?’ My answer is usually ‘I don’t know, some sort of aminal.’”
Hunter spent a month-long residency at the gallery created an all-encompassing mixed-media wonderland. He painted the walls and ceiling of the gallery, then populated the interior with an array of mythical creatures that vary wildly in size and shape yet are obviously birthed from a singular imagination. There’s also a human figure thrown in the mix: a bearded guy with glasses and ball cap, a life-size portrait of Hunter himself.
“Aminals” is a refreshing, cheeky alternative to the rigid, restrained vibe of oh-so-many gallery shows these days. Not that shock-and-awe is always a slam dunk — in fact, it’s rare that it ever seems genuine — but I feel pretty confident saying, based on what I’ve seen of Hunter’s work in the past, that this color-struck Seussian dreamscape thing comes straight from his heart.
According to Hunter, his work is heavily influenced by his grandparents’ collection of odd, colorful folk art, much of it made by his grandfather, Don Shull. Lockwood said he has future plans to exhibit Shull’s carved wooden sculptures, which have never been exhibited before, at the gallery as well.
Hunter’s folksy, go-big-or-go-home mentality is evident even from outside the gallery, looking in. There’s a wow-factor walking up that I sincerely appreciated. It reminded of the first time I saw Hunter’s work, at a venue in Nashville called Soft Junk Records where he installed an insane-looking, bright blue, floor-to-ceiling, four-legged, two-horned beast. It was spectacular.
As a matter of fact, that’s a great word to describe all of Hunter’s work, including “Aminals”: spectacular. Above all, his output is guaranteed to be a vibrant, lively spectacle — and it’s hard not to love one of those.
Sara Estes is a writer and curator based in Nashville. She is the lead visual art writer at The Tennessean and an editor at Number, an independent arts journal of the South. She was a cofounder of the gallery Threesquared. Her writing has been featured in The Bitter Southerner, Nashville Scene, Nashville Arts Magazine, ArtsNash, ArtNow, and others. For more: saraestes.com.