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The Art Issue


Ah, artists. You know the clichés: they’re lazy, starving, weird, and they don’t work well with others. They’re so misunderstood and, perhaps most annoyingly, they consider themselves above mixing with the general population, a demographic too “uncultured” for their highbrow soirées.

But there are two local art groups, Sweet Southern Pixels and Cradle, breaking those molds for Knoxville—all but the weird thing. They’re full of weird.

Sweet Southern Pixels is composed of (mostly) female digital media artists. It began in October of last year with six core members—Trisha Brady, Kim Denton, Amira Inas, Sarah Grace Long, Lacresha McKinney and Meg Vinson—who, being in the field, noticed that digital media was a male-dominated sport. They wanted to help out their fellow woman, and thus the Pixels were born.

Some of the original members have moved but keep in touch and are still considered part of the group. Satellite Pixels, one might call them, but the goals remain the same. Long describes the group as more “more business oriented—we have long-range goals.” And Pixel ambition is as strong as its films.

The group’s mission statement, as gleaned from its slick, shoulder-shimmying website, proposes that they “try to create environments where people can come together to meet socialize, network and generate positive discussions that uplift the human spirit.” I couldn’t agree more; their members embody a tough, brassy sort of femininity. I met with two of them, Brady and Inas, at the Sunspot for a drink and chat. Engaging and enthusiastic, I felt like part of their team instantly. I stopped myself from seat-bouncing a few times.

The group’s April debut show, called the Cotillion with a knowing wink by those who attended, inspired not only viewings of their short evocative films but interaction with the ideas in one film by Meg Vinson. Her purse-swinging epitaph inspired a purse-swinging contest won by, not too-surprisingly considering the event’s quirky spirit, a man. The entire night celebrated SSP’s work and togetherness.

SSP also has a network of volunteers called Sweet Peas. Many of the volunteers are male, which inspired the group’s upcoming show, Good Ole’ Boys and a Couple of Brothers . The show is slated for Saturday, Oct. 7, and will be held at the Longbranch Saloon—which might be an unorthodox venue for most art exhibitions, but for the unorthodox Pixels, it fits. Especially when you consider the artistically subversive lineup of filmmakers, including Eric Sublett, Cage Beales, Banner Gwinn, William Isom II as well as Rus Harper and Ali Akbar, members of the ’90s-era art group Chroma.

Brady relishes the Longbranch’s 30-year tradition of extending open arms to every weirdo on the Strip, and she looks forward to bringing past members of Chroma into the foray. In addition to a live DJ and The Rockwells’ head-bobbing tunes, the Pixels in collaboration with Yee Haw Industries will sell collectable tickets.

“There are so many great filmmakers in Knoxville that people don’t know about,” Long says. “The Pixels are a great thing for creating awareness of those artists and their work.”

One of those talented filmmakers is the lively Inas. She works mostly in black and white film that focuses the viewer immediately on the racial themes dissected. Inas got involved with the group, she says, because she “needs someone to give me a kick in the ass.” She works “in the field,” as these jargon-slinging ladies say, and has a young daughter, so that extra drive to stick to task smarts.

Brady, a doe-eyed bluegrass musician and co-organizer of SSP, says she loves “having someone to own up to” when it comes to projects outside of school, having finished her MFA at UT. After all the deadlines and assignments stop, projects have a tendency to come to a sudden wall. Citing her “Procrastination is your worst enemy” sign from a past dorm room, her entire face perks up when she talks about how the group members push each other to “keep creating” beyond classrooms and lack of art space. “My motto is ‘Shit or get off the pot,’” she explains. Clearly, the Pixels have made their choice.

Where the Pixels’ academic background and film was a basis for finding each other, Cradle is a little more relaxed in credentials and focuses mainly on two-dimensional media, like Bran Rogers’ eerily lit scenes of paper cut-outs, Brian Pittman’s Babel-like ink Cathedrals and Long’s gritty, frozen photos.

The group began last March as bar-talk and bravado between Katherine Metz and SSP member Long. The concept was to have a regular weekly meeting to discuss art and critique current work. Throwing the idea around to fellow artists culminated in a group of core members who show for most of the Cradle meetings.

Metz, an elfish grad of Carson-Newman, has found room within the group to move outside of her photography major. “The members really support each other and what we’re working on. I like how I can tell people, ‘Oh you need to talk to this person,’ and other people do that for me. It builds a network.” Metz’s current work focuses pen and ink on strange creatures with greedy, bulging eyes. A dream-like quality wafts through the imagination of Cradle, peeking its head out of the artwork.

Meetings take place on various porches of members Metz, Long, Pittman and Rogers as well as illustrator Ian Bray, painter Shinara Taylor, sculptress Carrie Walker. Discussions operate like mid-summer happenstance; the conversation drifts with purpose. The night I visited them, the discussions lazed between projects and day jobs then would loop back around to plans for their big opening.

Cradle debuts Oct. 6 at the Mary Boyce Temple House, the crumbling brick behemoth to the left of Lord Lindsay.

The house’s precarious future recently dropped in the hands of Cradle member and local architect Brian Pittman. Built in 1908, the house was on the Knox Heritage’s Fragile 15 list recently, but now holds the honor of being one of Pittman’s many projects in progress. He hopes by having the Cradle show in the MBT House “preservationists who are curious about what’s going on with the house” will mingle with the folks who show up to hear local band Deek Hoi’s zoinky music. The art’s the glue.

Long says Cradle is “about the community, getting the community involved and people interested in what we’re doing as artists.” The time is ripe.

It’s hard to say if First Friday mothered this powerful drive or merely fuels it, but it’s burning hot. The members of Sweet Southern Pixels and Cradle genuinely want to support and uplift one another. A zealot gleam lights their eyes when any one of them talks about their group, and they lean forward, reel you in with fiery spirits. Many times I felt like I was watching an inspirational movie while listening to their discussions. That moment where the whole team stands up and says “I will,” and you know it’s cheesy but you cry anyway because your heart gets a little twist. With these groups, that moment is true. The love and respect they nurture for each other shines through in their cooperation and their art. It’s downright altruistic.

Meeting the individuals, I couldn’t help but notice how beautiful they each are—in an oozing-with-creativity, restless sort of way. There’s no facet of art missing among them: photographers, painters, designers, illustrators, filmmakers, printmakers, dancers, art teachers, guerilla artists, sculptures, musicians and an architect. Amazingly, each member usually embodies two or more of these titles.

The synchronicity of the two groups astounded me as well. An undercurrent of fierce hunger must be at work in the Knoxville art world to have spawned this. The drive and desire to create breathes deeply in our community. These artists are our artists. They want to be good for themselves and us. To love each other and the work they are doing. To build a community based on the premise of, “I’m excited, aren’t you?”

The Art Issue (continued)