Bran Rogers is a young Knoxville storyteller working in several different mediums to create fictional but deeply personal accounts of semi-tragic characters and their circumstances. Tinged with a black, Tim Burton-esque humor, Rogers works under the guise of PoMoNoBo (Postmodern Nobody), a witty moniker that serves his aesthetic well.
Rogers' July show at Tomato Head is an odd series of 20 or so works that combine Dia de los Muertos-style skeletons with antique family photos. Entitled Dee C. East Portraiture, Rogers hand-molded clay skeletons to resemble the eerie discarded family pictures and photographed them portrait-style. The result is a witty, evocative collection of photos that appear to be culled from some old relative's archives.
That's where the backstory enlivens the work. On his website, Rogers claims the mysterious Dee C. East once ran a Knoxville photography studio. The pieces in the show, Rogers writes, were found "in a trunk in the basement of a historical downtown building currently undergoing renovations." (Rogers and his partner Brian Pittman are preserving the historic Mary Boyce Temple House on Henley Street.) Rogers dedicates the show to his own dead relatives.
"The works draw on photos from my grandmother's house of all these family members who are dead, but I don't really know who these people are," Rogers says. "There's a sense of mystery involved. It's like being at an antique store and finding a box of pictures nobody wants. Plus, no one ever smiled in pictures until the '60s; they just sit there uncomfortably, like they're scared of the camera. I wanted to add another element. That's where the Day of the Dead theme comes in. I wanted to replace all of the grim looks."
Rogers cites his membership in local collective Cradle Arts as an impetus for getting so much work completed, calling it his "support group." Cradle members meet weekly to discuss new projects and critique each other's art. The group has made a resounding impact on the downtown art scene, with a few group shows under its belt, and it seems almost every First Friday features at least one member's art. Currently the group has a small show in the Rothrock Cafe at the Lawson McGhee Library downtown.
Like most art collectives, Cradle members often collaborate and experiment with new mediums. In the spring, Rogers held court at the Basement Gallery for his spoken word and performance piece, "where have all the phone booths gone?", with artists Jenna Hancock and Carrie Walker providing some musical interludes. The piece interspersed short character studies with rousing dialogue about everything from homosexuality and politics to downtown Knoxville itself. Rogers is currently revising the show and has plans to take it Florence, Ala., later this year.
If all of this wasn't enough to keep him busy, Rogers has found himself getting all sorts of attention for his vaudeville-inspired, whiskey-fueled performances with the Boozehound Gandy Dance, described on his website as a "delicious hobo cabaret." The impromptu group found a captive audience at its first show at the Mary Boyce Temple House over a year ago, and Knoxville can't seem to get enough. Most recently, the troupe performed for two raucous nights at Fourth and Gill's Birdhouse.
Rogers serves as the show's emcee, Charles "Chaz" Amos Davenport IV, the loony son of the Davenport Mortuary family, who befriends a group of hobos and gypsies when he hits the road after becoming homeless himself. The motley group bands together to earn their money by "singin', dancin', trampin', and boozin'." Members include other Cradle artists, local musicians, and even a few out-of-towners.
Rogers says the show is centered around Appalachian themes and local commentary and has enough music and sketches to keep it exciting and fun for everyone. The Boozehounds use enough costumes and accoutrements to set the stage properly, and usually the set is lined with empty bottles and clotheslines, and possibly even an extra asleep in the background.
With songs like "Mamaw's Grave" and the traditional folk song "Hallelujah I'm a Bum," it's obvious the Boozehound Gandy Dance doesn't take it all too seriously, but prefers to just revel in their own whiskey-fueled, Southern Gothic performances. And it seems to be working. Look for another show sometime this summer.