Situated within the impressive clump of art venues on Gay Street, Gallery 1010 looks a bit forlorn. Established almost a decade ago as the only non-profit, entirely student-run gallery in Tennessee, it’s a relatively tight and unremarkable space, like the former bedroom of a famous person no longer containing a bed—the Plain Jane of the block, which is precisely its appeal. What matters is not the place itself, but the river of art that runs through it, the path it provides for that current, if you will. Amazingly enough, exhibitions featuring one or more student artists rotate on a weekly basis during the school year, and each First Friday in summer months launches a four-day show; altogether, there are approximately 32 shows annually.
Director Jessica Anderson says that what’s special about the University of Tennessee-sponsored Gallery 1010 is that it provides real-world gallery experience for graduate and undergraduate students. On view from noon to 4 p.m. each day through this Sunday are paintings and pen-and-ink drawings by graduate students Andrew Merriss and Daniel Ogletree. After class critiques noted similarities between their work, the artists applied to mount a joint show, now titled The Things We Make.
True, articulate, and technically advanced pieces by both Merriss and Ogletree include familiar objects removed from their usual context. And some of those objects take on unexpected importance. For instance, Ogletree’s diagrammatic sequence in the form of a circle showing steps in an origami folding could reference the hour marks on a clock, stages of completion throughout time, and time as a means of completion. Each shape on its way to becoming the finished piece has a pale ink wash, the only color in five origami-themed drawings.
In one still life by Merriss, an overturned cup with matches piercing its exterior and pointing gun-like at larger serveware is something my 8-year-old son would immediately recognize as a tank. The painting’s amusing arrangement suggests almost anything can be transformed into weaponry.
However, comparisons end with the above. It’s perhaps too simplistic a distinction, but Merriss’ paintings are “about” painting more than anything else, as evidenced by his sensitive touch and use of color, where Ogletree’s efforts in a medium and style associated with illustration are as much about the message as the medium itself. Viewers encounter either an artist’s regeneration of objects in absurd relationship to one another or the absurdity of certain machine-generated objects.
Regarding the latter, Ogletree might do well to experiment with taking the ridiculous notion of an origami-making machine a step further, perhaps by depicting a paper-folding assembly line within a long horizontal format, each station doomed to repeat the same fold ad infinitum. Then again, it seems Ogletree’s heart is in the details, not in creating a scenario. The tension in Merriss’ paintings exists in the contradictory combination of an imposed viewpoint and an emphasis on the picture plane’s lack of depth.
Merriss says he wants his six oil paint–on-paper works in The Things We Make to slow the eye down, encouraging one to more thoroughly consider how objects appear. Rendering coffee beans, seeds, cookies, and loose tobacco—as well as cups and matches—and determining their placement within an overall composition is what matters, not the elevated significance of any one thing in particular. In this sense, Merriss is “anti-meaning.” Ogletree instead challenges the meaning of that which is handmade versus mechanically and instantaneously produced, turning the essence of origami on its head by making linear something that epitomizes the three-dimensional.
If I had been told a decade or two ago that eventually, a single downtown Knoxville art venue would be presenting more than 30 shows each year, I would not have believed it. I’m sure Merriss and Ogletree appreciate exhibiting their work, but hailing as they do from California and Texas, they can’t possibly realize the extent to which art has gained recognition in this city. The next phase is for art here to sell, allowing artists the means to continue doing what they do.