Portraiture has long been used to commemorate someone by capturing his or her likeness and personality. Whether articulated in painting, photography, sculpture or new media, a portrait serves as a lasting representation of a person or thing, and often symbolizes something much greater.
Local artist Bryce McCloud has shown just how powerful portraits can be through his community-based art project, Our Town Nashville. Over the past two years, Bryce and his team have covered the city on a bike cart, setting up portable studios where they ask people to make self-portraits out of stamps, ink and grid paper. Through his dedicated efforts, Bryce has amassed hundreds of portraits that depict the vibrant population of Nashville. And that’s only the half of it …
The project has developed in two phases. The first phase was to get the community to participate in creating portraits. Bryce took his bike cart to all sorts of places around town — coffee shops, homeless shelters, public music venues, schools, nonprofit organizations and more. Providing all of the materials and a loose set of instructions, Bryce let people depict themselves in whatever way they liked. “Our Town translates the rigorous art practice of portrait making into a community project that is accessible and enjoyable. It’s such an honor to be able to share what I do professionally with people from all walks of life, and it’s incredibly rewarding to see their excitement toward what they have created.”
Each participant was then photographed with their portrait so that they could be cataloged on the Our Town website. Bryce then collected their stamped portraits, in exchange for a print of another participant’s portrait, and went back to the print studio at Isle of Printing. There, he and his team decided which portraits to transfer to wood blocks, which were then used to create prints on their antique letterpress. These new letterpress prints were then loaded back into the bike cart to the next pop-up location where they were again exchanged for a new crop of self-portraits, and thus the cycle of exchange continued. “Sometimes it’s hard for people to recognize the core of humanity that we all share. I think this project has allowed us to act as messengers, to carry conversations between people through the exchange of art,” says Bryce.
Phase Two of the project involved creating and installing an oversize portrait in a public space. Bryce and his team designed stamps 20 times larger than those used by the people making self-portraits in Phase One. Using an army of people and tools, the team stamped a portrait onto a massive canvas as a public performance in which the audience could actively view and engage with the work. “What’s so important about this project is that it has taught people to be careful and intentional observers, and that is a skill that helps them in all aspects of life.”
The first of these public portraits was created September 18 at Cumberland Riverfront Park. The second was created October 16 at the Downtown Public Library. The final performance and installment takes place December 7-10 at OZ Arts Nashville. The multiday event will involve lots of interactive exercises in which the audience can help create the final portrait. Transforming the art space into a functioning studio and gallery of sorts, Bryce will create the world’s largest stamp portrait, allowing his audience to be an integral part of the process.
Our Town intended to bring art to the hands of the Nashville community, but they have surpassed that goal by leaps and bounds. They have not only granted people a new form of self-expression, but have enabled them to choose how they are represented, encouraging each and every participant to take a closer look at themselves and those around them. Our Town has ignited and fueled a creative flame in Nashville by reminding us how relevant art is in fostering connection. It has reminded Music City that it was built on the determination of artists, singers, songwriters and creatives, and that it is our duty to perpetuate the arts and seek pleasure in all of their manifestations. “Our Town is the first project of its kind to be funded by Metro Arts,” explains Bryce. “It’s really exciting to see how Nashville’s art landscape is evolving and diversifying. I think we are continually becoming a bigger player in the art conversation.”
Want to be a part of history in the making?
The final installation of Our Town, the world’s largest stamp portrait project, takes place at OZ, located at 6172 Cockrill Bend Circle, Nashville. Hours are Tuesday, December 8, from 12 to 5 p.m. and 6:30 to 10 p.m.; Wednesday, December 9, 12 to 5 p.m. and 6:30 to 10 p.m. Admission is free on both days. The grand finale takes place Thursday, December 10, from 6:30 to 10 p.m. Tickets are required, cost $15 and can be purchased here.
A special thanks to Bryce for taking time to talk with us today. We hope you share our eagerness and excitement to take part in this once-in-a-lifetime experience. To learn about Our Town, click here. And to find even more fun events and arts activities taking place all over Nashville, download our free SB App.