Historically, Nashville isn’t considered an art hub, but seeing the throngs of locals and tourists that crowd Fifth Avenue the first Saturday of each month makes us wonder if it’s moving in that direction. First Saturday Art Crawl allows emerging and established artists to showcase new bodies of work in a contemporary gallery setting. The Arts Company, a cornerstone in the Nashville art scene, always has a strong showing, and this month they are proud to welcome back self-taught photographer Christine Patterson. She has exhibited work there before, but her newest series, “Boundaries: Spoken & Unspoken,” reveals a completely different side to this genteel, Southern woman.
Christine hails from beautiful Knoxville, TN. She grew up working on her family’s farm and has ridden horses nearly all of her life. Considering her upbringing, it’s no surprise that her work reveals a poignant nostalgia and reverence for pastoral places. Christine explains that she sort of “happened” into photography. Deciding she couldn’t work another day on the farm, she sought employment at Thompson Photo Products, a well-established company and store in East Tennessee. She knew nothing about photography — or cameras for that matter — but she had an inherent curiosity for the medium and a profound longing for self-expression. So it was only natural that as she became more acquainted with the technology, she discovered that photography was a means to reveal the most complicated experiences and emotions of life.
What distinguishes Christine from other photographers is her ability to manipulate the medium. She began her practice, like most budding photographers, in the darkroom, but she soon discovered a way to shoot by taking a roll of film and reshooting over what she had just captured. Carefully selecting various patterns and surfaces from her surroundings, she amalgamated entities that would otherwise never occur together. Christine was captivated by the mystery of this process — she never knew what would manifest until she developed the film. Her resulting images were rich with texture and contrast, so much so that the objects were blurred and obscured, a reminder that things aren’t always as they initially appear.
Christine continued to experiment with alternative methods of shooting. She used infrared film and covered her camera lens with a red filter so that it only picked up areas where infrared light was present. This method culminated in highly abstract photographs in which the subject of the photograph was not the human or tree, per se, but the energy emitted by it. With the onslaught of the digital era, Christine moved away from the darkroom and began playing with other ways of printing. Using rice paper, wood, resin and glass, she placed her photographs atop various surfaces and was always amazed at how the texture of the surface informed how the work was read.
Christine’s earliest work possesses an ethereal, dreamlike quality. By shrouding and obscuring the objects in the image, she takes them out of a specific time or place, allowing any viewer to enter the fantasy at any given point. Indeed, her series reads like a story, each image functioning as a small chapter within a grander narrative. However, her newest body of work, “Boundaries,” functions at a different speed. Christine has introduced text, and while her previous images focused on natural ephemera, these works on the woman, represented by mannequins and shadows. Whereas her Equus and Woodland photos were soft, stoic and contemplative, this series is loud and assertive.
As an artist, she has made herself vulnerable, by raising questions that challenge cultural and social boundaries. Using strategies like mirroring and reflection, she asks us to consider what happens when we look at ourselves honestly. Christine acknowledges the fear of exclusion, the longing to belong that is a primal facet of us all. But she also encourages her audience to have the courage to push through what is comfortable, and to reframe what we count as truthful or authentic. Again, Christine is reiterating that things — people, places, situations — are not always as they seem. And if we do not investigate these systems and generate dialogue between ourselves and others, we will never arrive at absolution or peace.
Be sure to check out Christine’s series, “Boundaries: Spoken and Unspoken,” Saturday, November 7, at The Arts Company in Nashville. She also currently has work on show at Pryor Fine Art in Atlanta, GA and Bennett Galleries in Knoxville, TN. To learn more about her art, click here.
To find other great art, shopping and dining destinations near you, check out our SB Guide!