The Chestnut Square Art Co-op
By Jesse Mathison
All photos courtesy of Lauren Owens, Lauren Owens Photography
Kuntal steps back, studying the lines and shape on the canvas, trying to find a balance of color. While his work is certainly not post-impressionistic, color very much plays its role. In this particular piece — a pastel portrait of Mohandas Gandhi — bold lines are emphasized by their rich color, shades of purple, yellow, and a metallic grey that is almost cobalt.
The studio where Kuntal Patel works is located in the Chestnut Square Building, a one-time hosiery mill that now functions as artistic space. Seen from the street, this building seems lonely and decrepit, and once inside the atmosphere is unsure of itself. You open the exterior doors and look down a long, dimly lit hallway. There is little color, little noise, flickering fluorescent lights and an old (but still functional) time-card punch, a relic of the buildings original purpose. The entrance way, perhaps, does not seem inviting or especially pleasing, but once you have taken the time to explore the intimate spaces of the artists, the simplicity of the hallways and stairwells seems appropriate, and creates a sense of balance, although the amount of expression and artwork overpowers the feeling of bareness. In a place full of sculpture, photography, woodworking and painting (to name but a few of the various mediums represented), emptiness only serves to highlight the art.
Patel and Daniel Holland work on the second floor and their studio certainly has a distinct personality, as do all of the individual ateliers in the building. Some are sparse and orderly, some serve as galleries more than workshops and others are a casual synthesis of the two. The space that these two painters share is vibrant and free: the floor is covered with all color of paints, littered with tubes and cans, and on the walls are stretched canvases and graffiti. Taken as a whole it is like a sketchbook, full of ideas (some discarded), projects, and glimpses of a not-always-concrete evolution of thought.
Patel perhaps does not have one outstanding medium, as he works with multiple forms (such as copper etchings) and many tools such as acrylic paints, pen & ink, pastels, and charcoal. One series that stood out was highly influenced by Japanese landscape drawings; although most of Patel’s pieces are full of color, this series has virtually none. The charcoal drawings are of natural forms, obviously, but they can also taper off into abstract forms, what the artist refers to as “evocative metaphorical themes.” This is an artist who does not limit himself to one milieu, approach, or message.
The artwork of Daniel Holland tends towards the abstract. The intent can sometimes be a bit obscure, but behind every stroke there is obviously a meaning, a tremendous amount of energy and emotion that approaches prurience. In no way is this art ostentatious, however; it is about expression, and there is a timorous emotion stripped of its condescension. There are, literally speaking, many layers to these canvases. You can sometimes see how ideas change, how they grow or are perhaps discarded: large sections of canvas are sometimes washed over with a new layer of paint which does not necessarily conceal previous constructions but rather augments them and creates space for a new approach or idea. It is this very layering that strips the work to the barest elements, perhaps allowing one to glimpse the struggle of expression. Along with this rawness, there is also sparseness and space. White backgrounds are common in his work, and so, while color comes at a premium, the limited use of it coupled with a minimalist backdrop turns what seems tertiary into something subtle and primary.
Chestnut Square is a space that allows the artists working within a great freedom of movement and personality, and for these two artists who are exploring various themes, mediums and ideas, who are perfecting and growing their artistic visions, it is an ideal location in which to create a unique foundation not only for their individual art, but perhaps for the slowly growing arts scene of Nashville.
To see more of Kuntal Patel’s work, visit his website at kuntalpatel.com.
- The Chestnut Square Art Co-op (427 Chestnut St., Nashville) was the former home of the May Hosiery Mill. The 100-year-old building is now the home of 12 artist studios.
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