The art world is an alluring one. However, it is also often portrayed as being an unreachable one. The True Grit Art Show, Nashville’s newest semi-annual art show, is daring to challenge that idea with inclusivity.
Held at The Marketplace in East Nashville, the preview party for True Grit will take place on Friday, April 29, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Admission tickets are available for $15, including drinks. The open show will take place on Saturday, April 30, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Entry will be free.
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The Marketplace’s Nathan Elias believes there is a need for more accessible art events for everyone — from those with fine arts backgrounds to those without them, from casual art enthusiasts to more dedicated art admirers or from residents to those who want to become more involved with the local community. True Grit’s “underground” label is significant to say the least. “People have a perception of art shows that makes them feel like they don’t belong, but the beauty of this is that it is more authentic to the grassroots movement of artists coming together from all walks of life,” Elias said.
“We initially conceptualized the True Grit Art Show in late 2019. We had planned it for the fall of 2020, but, of course, the event was cancelled/postponed due to what was going on. Now we feel comfortable doing our show at a greater magnitude,” Elias revealed about the process of organizing the Art Show.
The Marketplace has been holding the Music City Flea every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and the East Nashville Night Market every first Friday of the month from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. to showcase the beautiful creations of local talent. “We have a hybrid space where we could have events outdoors and indoors,” stated Elias. True Grit will be a larger scale manifestation of its predecessors’ missions.
In fact, a number of True Grit participants are also artists who came to sell at the Music City Flea or the East Nashville Night Market. Therefore, in addition to an open call, a great network of artists was already built.
For instance, Erick Watson, who will be the live painter at the preview party, was one of the very first painters who signed up for the Night Market.
Video installation artist Justin D. Johnson’s involvement with the True Grit Art Show is an example of one that came about naturally as well. His girlfriend vends at The Marketplace, which is how he first met Elias recently. Elias extended him an invitation to display his art at True Grit. “I was showing him ideas that I had before. He was so open, and it made me remember ‘you’re an artist, so let me just make something,’” Johnson said. “I ended up creating a streamline of consciousness. There was no theme he gave me. He says he respects my character, my spirit. He says that he trusts what it is that I have to offer.”
Johnson is a multi-disciplinary visual artist and entrepreneur from Atlanta and a graduate of the New York City-based School of Visual Arts who now resides in Nashville. Johnson’s art and the themes he explores are both personal and universal, “The mind of an African man born in America — that is the philosophical basis. There’s a certain way that I have to express things with medium because there’s always a crossroads of things. The world is a gumbo pot. There’s a mixture between spirit, relationships and my journey.”
It was not too long ago that Johnson returned from a two month stint in Mexico and a five month stay in Ghana. The time away resulted in self-reflection that Johnson integrated into his video installation for the Art Show, “I have ancestral roots in Ghana, and I was reconnecting and going through that whole journey with the natural world. And the sustainability of the lifestyle we’re choosing to live — we’re following programs and systems of things that are alien. There is a theme of spirituality and nature throughout history. I want people to really pick up on remembering the past. Why are we doing certain things? Time moves in cycles such as consciousness. It expands and collapses. We should recognize that we should change some of our ways. We won’t be here forever, but we leave memory cards for people to write on them too.”
Johnson’s thought-provoking art is a reminder to approach the world while channeling “the African spirit of things.” That is, we have the choice to examine not just what it is that we have, but also what it is that we don’t have in relation to nature.
With his art being a part of the True Grit Art Show, Johnson is honored to collaborate with local artists and “to contribute more to Tennessee too.” The emerging visual arts scene in Nashville is one that Johnson would like to help propel, “I recognized that it’s definitely a gold mine. It’s a very pivotal thing in our time right now, and I would love to be contributing in this area in the South and to this culture that’s growing. It’s a cultural hub that’s been overlooked before.”
According to Elias, approximately 70 artists’ work will be featured, “The majority are mostly from Middle Tennessee, but there are artists coming from a lot of the surrounding areas like Alabama and Kentucky.”
The Warren Studio, a group of comic artists, illustrators, graphic designers and painters, will be the first True Grit Art Show featured Artist Collective. For this title, they will have their own separate display gallery for viewing.
One of The Warren’s members, Kelly McKernan, is a gifted artist and illustrator who joined the art group last year, “I’m a painter. I work with watercolor and acrylic wash. My work is very vibrant and mystical.”
McKernan embraces being an independent artist. Their art has been published in various different projects, “The band Evanescence hired me last year to work on a graphic anthology that they’re working on called Echoes from the Void. I’ve also done some work on tarot decks. I’ve worked on national and international projects. I pick up things that excite me and see where they take me.”
They first became aware of The Marketplace through Instagram, but didn’t become involv
ed until the opportunity presented itself at the inaugural True Grit Art Show for The Warren to join. For McKernan, this is a big step in becoming more active in the Nashville art community, “I’ve lived here for 10 years now, but I have not gotten involved in the local art scene until around last year.” When McKernan moved to Music City from Atlanta, they remembered, “I tried to look for some semblance of what I came from, but I couldn’t find it.”
Sentiments like McKernan’s that something in the art space here is missing or is not able to be readily found are what could draw more people to True Grit.
“People are ready for something to happen. Artists are ready to be better represented,” McKernan expressed. “I’m hoping people can come out and support. We have a huge amount of amazing, talented people here that haven’t had the chance to show their work locally.”
Some members of The Warren will be at the preview party for a brief question and answer session, and during the entirety of the weekend event, they will be selling their unique artwork, “Six of us are going to show booths with artwork, postcards, stickers,” McKernan stated.
It’s evident that the True Grit Art Show aims to proudly represent its artists while allowing anyone to come by who is interested in its refreshing purpose to reinvent the art scene and transform it into a welcoming one.
Elias said about the pop-up art show, “I hope Nashville will enjoy the creativity of what the artist community can bring.”