Spaced out: Cosmic art lands at Soho House Nashville
Gallerist David Onri Anderson is championing the city’s maverick art scene
Thursday 3 February 2022 By Osman Can Yerebakan
David Onri Anderson has stomped Soho House Nashville’s grounds before. In fact, his ties with the historic May Hosiery Mill building go well beyond a curator’s familiarity with his venue: Anderson was one of several artists who opened up studios and pop-up shows inside the former sock factory’s nooks a decade ago. ‘I remember seeing an all-women feminist exhibition called Girls, Girls, Girls and another humorous show called Pink Lemonade,’ he says. ‘There were ghosts of the past there.’ The Nashville-born artist and curator may have a point: the storied building saw many uses throughout the 20th century, including as a Jewish sanctuary during WWII, a manufacturer of astronaut socks in the 1960s, and an armory a decade later.
Anderson is curating a permanent collection on the ground floor of the House with a host of local talents, some of whom showed work with him during the building’s artist-run ‘factory’ days. ‘It feels like a full circle for the local art scene,’ he says. The exhibition features paintings, wall sculptures, multimedia textile, and works on paper by Marlos E’van, Amelia Briggs, Benji Anderson, Aaron Harper, Ashley Doggett, Nuveen Barwari and Brianna Bass, among others. The selection resembles ‘friends who have been making good work and those who have left an impression on me,’ he says.
Curating is Anderson’s way of giving back to Nashville’s burgeoning arts community. The city’s capital status for country music pumps its own energy Downtown, but other discoveries await in different neighbourhoods, such as Glencliff’s Thompson Lane or Wedgewood-Houston, where a rich yet unassuming creative energy operates on a solidarity between artists and musicians. ‘Look into basements, garages, and backyards,’ he says. ‘The scene doesn’t advertise its underground nature, which helps maintain its DIY core.’
'The scene doesn’t advertise its underground nature, which helps maintain its D.I.Y. core'
With his interdisciplinary approach towards painting and music, Anderson himself is an embodiment of this genre-pushing sentiment. His mysteriously inviting paintings contain organic pigments from flowers, leaves and dirt, and depict a range of icons, from the mundane apple core to a psychedelic deity. A fluid and mystic sexuality flows through the works with seductive ambiguity. Anderson has made music since the age of 12, which echoes in his canvases’ distinctive sense of rhythm. ‘I am not interested in creating paintings that demand viewers to follow a certain philosophy,’ he explains. ‘That immediacy is the rhythm.’
Raised by an American father and a French-Algerian mother in Nashville, Anderson has a broad outlook on the American South and beyond. ‘I gravitate towards an aesthetic that avoids being too regional, yet does not neglect its surroundings either,’ he says. Both as an artist and curator, he’s fascinated by statements ‘so specific that they come to speak a universal language’.
Positioned outside the art hubs of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, Nashville gives the local community the freedom to operate unfettered from market demands and push the limits of musical performance and art. For creative stimulus, Anderson visits the artist studios and galleries inside the Packing Plant building, as well as venues ‘that work against the grain’, such as the Red Arrow Gallery, Coop Gallery, DRKMATTR, and Nashville Palace for true two-step dancing. Other times, he is busy running his own art space, Electric Shed, from his backyard.
As an artist, Anderson has been exhibiting in and outside of Nashville since graduating from Watkins College of Art in 2016. In fact, his relationship with Soho House began when he entered the West Hollywood House’s art collection with a painting from his 2019 solo exhibition, Apple Core Peace Temple, at Patrick Painter Gallery in Los Angeles.
As for Soho House Nashville, ‘things are in a flux here,’ says Anderson. For proof, he points to his return to the ‘factory’ – one of the first DIY. venues that made him appreciate the city’s artistic potential.
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