Summer is a slow season for art galleries. With the hot weather months come holiday travel, outdoor activities, and backyard living, all of which conspire against gallery-going. It’s become a seasonal rite for enterprising curators to dream-up summertime gimmicks to lure collectors back through the gallery doors. Art enthusiasts have grown accustomed to group shows with sunny themes, but sometimes these dog days displays defy expectations.
Nashville Hot Summer at Red Arrow in East Nashville could have been just another summer group show with a sensational title and fun twist—the eleven participating painters completed two 16 X 20 inch works for the exhibition. All of the paintings were created in the first few months of 2023 and the creative limits almost turn the exhibition into a game, adding an extra caveat to the tried and true summertime-themed-group-show formula. But Nashville Hot Summer transcends its travel ad titling due to the sophisticated variety of the exhibit’s binary displays. Over the course of twenty-two works, the show includes everything from photo-realistic landscapes to cartoon creatures, from psychological narratives to sculptural abstractions.
Julian Rogers is a native Nashvillian whose nomadic practice is currently based in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Rogers models his exceedingly exacting paintings on digital images that the artist manipulates with software. At first blush, Over the Doi Suthep and Runaway Copper Suns call to mind postcard photographs of ocean sunsets from a dreamy destination. His summery subjects appear numbingly banal, but closer examination reveals multiple suns shimmering on varied horizons—skies and their watery reflections swap spaces. In the two paintings, a visual cliché becomes charged, novel, otherworldly.
While Rogers’s surfaces flirt with photography, Benji Anderson’s crudely rendered menageries of bizarre creatures seem to draw inspiration from stylized renderings apropos to Indigenous and folk art traditions. Anderson is a self-taught painter, and he has quickly become one of Nashville’s trending emerging artists since his celebrated solo exhibition, The Fitful Portal at Elephant Gallery in March 2020. All in a day and Song in my head are flat, unadorned paintings of anthropomorphized birds. Anderson also adds suns, moons, and design elements to his compositions. The simple figures and layered colors coalesce into a striking, graphic effect that adds an extra dimension to the exhibition’s stylistic sprawl.
Annie Brito Hodgin’s narrative paintings feature nude women in somnambulant, suburban, dream logic narratives. While mostly straightforward and realistic, Hodgin’s unexpected combinations of vegetables, drapery, “gotcha” titling make her brushwork storytelling strange and surreal. I’ve seen lots of smiling nude women on the walls of art galleries. While curtains, lettuce, and serving platters aren’t provocative in and of themselves, the title Head on a Platter elicits a diabolical connotation. The subject’s grin appears menacing, and the head of lettuce she serves in the composition turns suddenly tragic. My own viewing recalled art historical surveys of Salome carrying the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Coinciding with the exhibition dates, John the Baptist’s feast day is observed on June 24, three days after the summer solstice.
Nashville Hot Summer offered a cool place to contemplate the rites of the season, reflecting on the touch and flavor of the long days. The exhibition’s images, figures, and stories remind viewers to be present for both the sun and the shadows.