Shifting Gears

As you may have noticed, I deleted the “Events This Week” posts and have altogether skipped posting anything for this week. The reason is this: this blog has quickly become too much of a chore and I have decided to stop updating it so that I can focus elsewhere.

Since I still believe in and care about the arts in this area, I will continue to write about them, but that writing will (hopefully) begin occupying other digital and printed venues. (This week I am planning to send a revised version of the review I wrote for Taylor Norris’ show to Numbers.)

Perhaps someday I will venture into a quarterly zine or start a FB page. For now, I have to re-adjust my dispersal of time and energy.

If you’re not sure where to learn about events in the Tri-Cities, there are MANY resources for that. Granted, none that I’ve noticed are totally comprehensive (it’s a harder task than you might think – I know, I’ve tried it), but they are worth checking in on.

Plus, most places now have Facebook pages and they post updates regarding their events (The Hideaway, Mecca Lounge, Galaxy Lounge, The Bonnie Kate) or they have websites with frequently updated calendars (William King Museum, The Hands On Museum, International Storytelling Center, The Down Home, The Acoustic Coffeehouse).

I hope you are enjoying our fantastic weather and get out this weekend to see some shows.




Where I Was Found: Exhibition by Taylor Norris


Over the past few years ETSU art students have experienced growing opportunities to investigate various mediums and artistic genres, though the options available have long been quite eclectic: paper-making, encaustic painting, weaving, lithography, bookmaking, digital and film photography, dyeing, various firing techniques for ceramics, and so on. (The challenge I found at ETSU was narrowing my focus enough to fulfill a “concentration”, which I’ve heard many other students and alumni in the arts comment on similarly.) Sound, performance, and installation art has been creeping in as well.

If I am correct, Taylor Norris’ Where I Was Found painting and installation exhibition in the SUBmarine Gallery, an entirely student focused exhibition space on campus, came about because of a class that she’s taking at ETSU. Whether all the students will have mini-exhibitions as part of the class, I’m not sure, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Norris simply made enough cohesive work to merit a small exhibition. She seems fairly prolific and highly interested in experimentation. (Update: I have been informed that students can sign up for the space and scheduling is on a first come, first-served basis.)

Joyce Pensanto came to mind after looking over the images Norris posted on Facebook of her exhibition. Not to mention a quick mental slideshow of other images I’ve seen by artists using American pop culture references, specifically relating to cartoons and comics, of which there have been many. This kind of work has never particularly interested me, though seeing Pensanto’s Batman Returns early last year and now Norris’ recent work has had an illuminating effect.


The first mixed media painting on the left is both dark and radiant with color. Given the gesture of the cartoon hand and the dangling tethers (yes, tethers), this felt very appropriate as an entry piece. I walked in, looked around, and immediately felt pulled over into this corner. I feel invited. Coerced might be more accurate. The action’s immediacy becomes dull after a moment, and the piece settles less active, less alive. But more on that later.

This painting also sets the tone for the rest of the show. The “tone” being of one akin to consuming too much candy on Halloween night, with colorful wrappers strewn about on the floor, crinkling in that slick, special way that only paper coated in plastic can do. Your teeth feel gritty, your tongue is multicolored mud, your insides heavy, your blood syrupy, and your head spins with jubilation. You may never sleep again. You may die right there after slipping momentarily into a coma.

When I first looked at this piece (the image immediately above, title unknown), I interpreted it as a window. Later, while scribbling some notes into my journal, I looked up at it and saw a canvas stretcher. In both interpretations, which are in a sense the same interpretation, it was difficult not to think of myself as looking  through it, inside of it, and outside of it. “It” being an imagined barrier that is permeable like skin, represented by the transparent sometimes pink, sometimes red plastic wrapped, scorched, and stretched across the frame. My perspective, as I imagined it, slipped back and forth through the plastic, and I could see myself as this cartoon, see myself through this cartoon.


There’s an excess of material sensation and messiness in this painting, which threads throughout every other piece in the show. Moldy Marill, a peculiar, circular specimen that is actually acrylic on a Pokemon toy, looks like a long-neglected toy or candy designed by the same people who came up with gummy brains, sour eyeballs, or absurdly large gobstoppers. The taste bud texture combined with the weathered snow cone colors haphazardly bleeding into each other makes a very touchable (lickable?) yet grotesque object.

As for its placement, I suspect it was not a lazy choice of convenience for Norris. She could have easily found a small, rectangular pedestal to place Moldy Marill unceremoniously on top of, but instead she chose a tall, slender, circular object that has obviously been painted black, and rather roughly at that. The height of it (making the piece about chest level or higher for viewers), the slick, reflective quality of its surface, the “useful accident” of its spatially sectioned out interior, and the gloppy dull black paint job all tie into the show as a whole. I don’t love this curious little piece, but I appreciate its detail and how it relates to everything else in the gallery.


Moldy Marill, acrylic on Pokemon toy


Loose Wires, acrylic and chandelier




Gonzo, ink wash on paper + Alf Inhaling, pen and colored pencil on paper

The exhibition has a rather “homey” feeling, like a “family friendly” sitcom in the 1980’s designed by Bill Murray’s character in Scrooged prior to his Christmas miracle transformation. It’s bright, excessive, bold, dramatic, and ever so vaguely threatening. There’s a “window”, a “television”, a “family”, an oddly and grossly food-like item, and a light fixture, albeit a broken one. I am disappointed not to have seen an old couch that no one ever wants to sit on because it’s caked, coated, sliced, stitched, and all manner of other activities into an entirely Other object.

Is this a space where fictional beings and “real” beings can converge on the same point?


Where I Was Found, installation


I may or may not have been allowed to do this, but I stepped inside the installation. It wasn’t as overwhelming as I had expected or hoped it to be while standing upright, which may explain why I really wanted to lay on the floor. The experience could have been stronger if perhaps the space felt entirely composed from floor to ceiling. The space is too strictly rectangular to be womb-like, but certainly tomb-like. (It may have been an accident, but the papers roughly stop at about 6 feet.) Looking at it from outside the installation, as it was probably intended, it reminds me of old homicide crime scene photographs or Otaku bedrooms. I suppose some combination thereof.

Since I saw a bag of more papers, drawings, and paintings beside the door, I don’t think Norris had any shortage of items to attach to the walls, which makes me wonder based on what parameters or goals did she determine where to crowd the space and where to leave it relatively empty. It looks a bit less thought out than other pieces in the show, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but suggests that it could stand to be reconsidered and possibly altered in the event of another installation.





Upon further reflection, various points in this exhibition made me think of death or endings. Is the extended hand actually a fallen hand? Are the tethers broken, leading to nothing except the realization of loss? Or perhaps worse, a change that is already happening? The cartoons and puppet theatre this exhibition references were all created by adults. (Is there a show made for children created by children? Seems unlikely.) They become the friends and inspirations of children, but they are first imagined, realized, and cherished by adults. Adults who can sometimes manage to create characters that outlive them (Walt Disney, Jim Henson, Charles Schulz to name a few). What does that mean?

“Where I was found”, the title of the exhibition and the installation, can also be interpreted as relating to death. “The body was found…” is the beginning of a sentence heard in many televised news reports as well as fictional programs about homicide detectives and CSI investigators. Norris adopting the voice of the witness, she places herself outside of death in the linear, fleshy sense. Nurtured by cartoons, she becomes a cartoon. Well, sort of.

I could be reading this into the work, and Norris might totally roll her eyes if she ever reads this post. That’s okay. At the risk of sounding apologetic, this post is just my interpretation and the show itself was compelling enough to merit sharing that interpretation, if only to encourage disagreement or discussion. Hopefully there will be more of these small shows. If they are treated with the same enthusiasm as Norris, this bitty gallery could host some interesting tangents.

2012 Holiday Sales

Holiday shopping is pretty awful, considering all the crowds and the traffic and the sensation of being trapped in that moment when Charlie Brown feels alone and dismal about the ugly “obligatory” plasticity of Christmas, but these local art sales are truly a beacon of light. The people who make these items really put their heart into it. Regardless of what you celebrate or believe, this is an opportunity for you to acquire a beautiful item and support a local artist who, frankly, could really benefit from your support.

There have already been three big local craft sales — Artlandia, Mistletoe Markert, and Kingsport’s — but there’s still more to come. If I’ve missed anything, I’ll add them to the list later, so you might want to check back periodically. There are also local businesses that sell artists’ work year ’round, but I feel less confident in my ability to comprehensively list them. I highly recommend looking in the downtown area to start, where you’ll find many such businesses, like Venus & Fur, Nelson Fine Art Center, Bernina In Stitches, and Unique Treasures.

The SCA Holiday Sale takes place on November 28-29, opening each day at 10 AM and closing at 7 PM in the Culp Center (top floor) of ETSU. Although in the past this sale has welcomed all media from students, faculty, and local artists, the current SCA group has decided to focus the sale to ceramic artists and SCA members both past and present. So, this is a great opportunity to buy some beautiful handmade cups, vases, platters, and other ceramic goods inexpensively. For more information, contact Daniel Huxtable at

The Kingsport Farmers Market annual holiday craft sale is Saturday, December 1st. I heard about it through Good Fork Farm, who will apparently be there with all sorts of goodies. I’m sure there will be other great vendors as well. To my knowledge, this special December market is open in the same place with the same hours as normal Saturday Kingsport Farmers Markets.

The Slocumb Holiday Art Sale and Silent Auction is a yearly fundraiser for Slocumb Galleries that features the work of student groups and local artists (though individual artists can still earn money for themselves through this sale). The sale will be up December 3-13 in Slocumb Galleries at ETSU. Gallery hours are, I believe, 8 AM to 5 PM. This sale typically includes a varied mix of items: jewelry, pottery, paintings, prints, and fiber art. More than likely you’ll find something fantastic AND help out local artists/the gallery. For more information, you can email Karlota Contreras-Koterbay at

The Barely Designs Holiday Craft Show is happening Saturday, December 8th from 9 AM to 3 PM at The Bristol Grind House. I’ll share more details soon. (I’ve sent them an email.)

Handmade Trade Holiday Craft Fare at Earth Fare will be on Saturday, December 15, 11 AM – 4 PM. A selection of local crafters will be set up in the foyer and in the cafe at Earth Fare in Johnson City. Purses, aprons, knit scarves, brooches, prints, dolls — you name it, it’ll probably be there. Of the crafters I’ve seen affiliated with Handmade Trade, all of them have been super talented and more than reasonable about their prices.

I’ve also heard that Shakti in the Mountains and Milligan College are hosting holiday sales, but I’m not sure when those dates are yet.

The Unchained Tour

Yesterday was a truly special day at ETSU — three raconteurs and two musicians of The Unchained Tour performed exceptionally charming, engaging, funny, encouraging stories and songs. The cast at this particular event consisted of Dawn J. Fraser, Peter Aguero, and Neil Gaiman.  Joel T. Hamilton and Rachel Kate (Gillon) opened and closed the show with each of their own songs. (Please look them all up online.) I had heard about it because people kept saying, “Did you hear Neil Gaiman is coming?” This was always said in a tone of wonder and uncertainty. It was hard to believe. I expected a hologram or an old emerald green suitcase with a voice box in it, but I also expected to enjoy the story, no matter how I received it.

When I learned more about why Neil Gaiman was coming to Johnson City after reading the Facebook invitation and watching their video, I became even more interested in attending the event. Raconteurs, live music, local support — I love all that stuff! However, I was worried that some people who came to see Neil Gaiman would be disrespectful to the other performers (similarly to how some rude individuals yell for the “headliner” at a concert while the opening band is playing or speaking), or would demand signatures and pictures at inappropriate times. Thankfully, in no small part due to the wonderful stories already shared with us, everyone seemed absorbed in the moment and less in the idea of seeing (and possibly meeting?!) Neil Gaiman.

Which I think was the whole point of the show.

Not regarding “the dude who has done some stuff” specifically, but generally speaking, the point was to exist in the moment without the mental distraction of documentation, narration, and impressing your Facebook friends. Peter Aguero insisted in the beginning of the show that everyone turn off their phones, and not to worry about getting a shot of any of the performers because “there are better images of them online anyway”.

“You want a picture of Rachel Kate performing? Google it. She’s there. I promise.” Lord knows there’s plenty of images of Neil Gaiman. And his hair.

Speaking of Peter Aguero, aside from telling a really intimate and funny story of his own about meeting his wife, he was also a perfect host. He did a fantastic job of keeping the mood light, yet intimate. Almost immediately after he began speaking, I felt deeply connected to his presence, to the presence of the band, to the presence of the audience, to this act of sitting and listening, to laughing. To my own presence.

I liked that all of the stories were personal. As much as I appreciate any good story, whether it’s personal or not, whether it’s even factually correct or not, it’s my opinion that stories are often told better when they are rooted from a personal place. Some place inside that says, “This is true.” If it’s someone else’s story, you can still acknowledge and speak from the part of you that feels this story. Artists do it all the time in plays, operas, and other performances. And that’s when the performances really stand out, really impact my life and remain in my memory.

That said, just because a story is personal, doesn’t make it a good one. You may have said or heard the facetious one-liner joke, “Good story, bro” or “Wow, that was a really good story. Tell it again.” Many people have read part of a memoir that left them marveling at the author’s ability to remain lodged up his or her own ass. Every storyteller, or raconteur, that performed yesterday reminded me of why personal stories can be so compelling. It renewed, at least in me, a sense that a personal story thrives when it’s not being told to impress, to posture, to indulge, to gain attention, to flatter, or to get paid (although getting paid is nice). Personal stories are their best when the heart of the storyteller is present and being shared. In the metaphorical sense, not in the cannibalism sense. We weren’t in the auditorium that long.

Actually, the whole theme of the tour is the heart. Jokingly, Peter Aguero said, “it’s pretty simple the tour is shaped liked a heart…” so there you have it. Dawn told us a story about a dog who “thinks he’s blacker [than her]” who accidentally helped her find a balance between her past and present. Peter told us a story about being adventurous and squeezing the gonads of life. Neil told us a story about being happy for three days, about elephants and a dog who knows a lot about being chained. If you look at their posters, the heart’s probably the first thing you notice — a map with a heart roughly drawn on it, with names like Boone and Asheville as points of reference. And perhaps that was the best way for a group of strangers to come to a campus in northeast Tennessee and tell stories so that we would listen, so that we would walk away feeling like we had experienced something unique and beautiful and meaningful, so that we might want to tell our own stories and listen to those of others.

Although we were lucky enough to see this event for free, I think it’s absolutely worth paying money for and you should if you’re even remotely close to any city along its route. Thank you Dawn, Peter, Neil, Joel, Rachel, and George Dawes Green, thank you to everyone at ETSU who made this possible.

Christopher Mir lecture + The Day on Fire reception

“Devil”, 2012
Christopher Mir
Enamel on canvas

In the very beginning of Christopher Mir‘s lecture, he stated that the lecture would be about transformation. He started off showing us a slide that was the beginning of the transformation – Cave, 2012 – and explained his previous work method, which involved digital collages projected to trace onto canvas and printed as reference while painting. Just as it sounds, it was a very controlled and formulaic process. He started to want a sense of freedom and looseness. Innocence, even. Cave is split into three sections, with a girl kneeling in the center, wearing a pale blue dress and interacting with the foliage in the cave rather uncertainly. It seems like an embrace, a nurturing extension of her arms and fingers. Behind her and to the right, there is a man wearing a ranger hat carrying a flashlight. It’s darker and more barren than the area around the girl. Further behind her toward the top of the painting is the cave opening, full of pale shapes that appear strikingly distant and desirable. Actually, every section of the painting feels desirable, though for differing, uncertain reasons. It just feels that way. You can see the collage process, but it appears looser than his earlier work. It congeals and breathes.

Taking a moment to explain Cave and the following slide, which contained another girl, Mir said, “I’ve always been kind of obsessed with goddesses and heroines and other female figures… I really like to tell their stories.” He went on to explain that he thinks women are more advanced than men “in many ways” and “should be running the place”. He joked about the obvious tension this could cause for many men in the room, and as if on cue several women laughed a bit uncomfortably, with varying recognition or disbelief. Regarding Cave, he spoke of Persephone being kidnapped by Hades, and how this relationship relates to art-making. Forgive me, I’m paraphrasing from memory, but basically Persephone represents innocence and an unburdened desire to create while Hades represents the critic, the negative “father”. He mentioned something along the lines of striving for Persephone, but accepting that sometimes she has to visit the Underworld.

This makes sense with later statements he made, about how painting or drawing an image is a way for him to possess it, and allows him to come to terms with it, whatever it happens to be. The moon and the arctic as iconic yet penetrable spaces. Insect and mushroom “self-portraits” painted like icons, giving them a kind of humor and humility. Mir spoke of seeing Picasso’s Guernica and Goya’s Black Paintings in person, and how they changed his life. Simultaneously, he found the images tragic and comical, fearsome and cartoonish. If I understand and remember correctly, this experience is what eventually led him making his most recent and dramatic shift in work:  he began to take small, quick, and linear Sharpie marker drawings made on photo paper and turn them into larger paintings made with enamel on canvas over panel. Of the process, he said, “The paintings tend be more methodical, but they’re also more fun.” It sounds like he finally gave himself permission to embrace this personal sense of humor — which was so evident throughout his lecture — and this several years long, necessary “side” practice of drawing absurd things onto photo paper. Absurd things that are meaningful and personal, perhaps more so than previously planned paintings. Mir said that he didn’t think about it a lot, but just responded to images that appealed to him, and that quite a few of the images relate to his family.

I found the lecture to be really interesting, and hopefully not just because so much of what Mir said felt familiar to me personally. Considering how widely the lecture was liked, I’m thinking it’s more than that. No one even complained about “that’s why men have nipples”. (Long story.) He said the lecture would be about transformation, and aside from the most obvious representation of that, there was definitely a feeling of momentum toward transformation and uncertainty within that momentum. I’ve become kind of fixated on the concept of FUTURE recently, as if years of my mom taking me to Disney World’s Tomorrowland as a kid have finally caught up, and the awe and fear and excitement are all rushing to the surface at once. For many reasons, both intimate and global, I think that’s probably the case for many people. And who has not experienced an “end” that became transformation? Mir’s lecture was a really great way to enter the galleries and consider the nuanced responses artists offered to “the end times”. And eat Twinkies and Spam, if that’s your thing.

Below are some images I took at the exhibition reception. There are some more at my Flickr account, if you’re feeling curious or bored. Similarly to last Friday, I didn’t photograph everything, not even everything I liked. The videos within this show were perhaps my favourite, and I have no evidence of that except what’s in my memory. Oh, and what they’ve posted on the internet.

An ebook featuring essays by Mira Gerard and Chase Westfall as well as artwork from The Day on Fire is available for free download at You can also pay to order a hard copy. I highly recommend downloading/buying it if you’re at all interested in this subject and what little you can see of the work on this blog.

“Untitled #15 (Tank Man)”, 2006
Josh Azarella, NY
Archival digital c-print

“Exotic Flora”, 2012
Bryce Lafferty, AL
Watercolour on paper

“Okay With My Decay”, 2011
Ned Snider, NY
Acrylic on canvas
(Side note: Ned and his wife were actually at the lecture and reception, but nobody knew it right away. It was a pleasant surprise.)

Part of “Collected Suggestions”, 2010
Katie Waugh, NY
Graphite drawings

“Black Car Fire With Greens”, 2012
Caroline Larsen, ON
Oil on canvas on board