FEATURE

Creative Collective

by Casey hilder

David Johnson

“Somewhere between fine art and craftsmanship.”

 

Form and function are one and the same for Hernando-based sculptor David Johnson. The 31-year-old potter’s work is driven by a sense of purpose and compelling, handmade aesthetic that is as eye-pleasing as it is useful.
“My work is predominantly functional. Some of is really decorative, but most everything has some sort of use,” he says. David produces a number of personally crafted ceramics including custom white stoneware flasks and old-timey whiskey jugs. He specialized in colorful, oceanic pieces that stand in stark contrast to the average ceramic sculptor’s muted palette. “I’m really into the idea of movement, waves and bright colors,” he says. “I try to show that in my work, it’s usually one of my selling points.” David’s eye for practicality can be attributed to his background as a house repairman and construction worker. “I’ve been becoming somewhat of a Mr. Fix-it lately – it’s what pays,” he says. “I’m currently building a bathroom for somebody, actually.” Though he’s handy around the house, David says that pottery is his passion. “I’ve been making pots professionally for about three years,” he says. “My work has really changed a lot in the past few years from being able to work on it every day.”
The Virgina-born potter eventually found his way to The Magnolia State after graduating from Memphis College of Arts in 2003. Where he came to work under the watchful eye of seasoned Hernando stoneware sculptor Joseph Eckles after a short stint traveling abroad. David’s work has grown and evolved under Eckles’ tutelage to become more refined and readily available products. He typically produces dozens of pieces a week, though some take more time than others. “The process of making pottery is a lot faster than most people think. Working by myself, I can probably get started on around a hundred pieces a day,” he says, adding that the finishing process can take a week or two.
While avenues for art in North Mississippi are somewhat scarce, David says he’s discovered plenty of Mississippi markets to sell his wares through the Craftsman’s Guild of Mississippi. David’s pottery can be found at a number of local shops including Tin Roof Market in Hernando and Everyday Gourmet in Jackson. “Eventually I’d like to bring some of my stuff down to the coast, I think it’d sell really well down there,” he says.

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The MidSouth is brimming with compelling artists and entrepreneurs of all sorts, from the underground scenes to the gallery halls or the latest Internet buzz. Whether it be found art or fine art, young or old, classically trained or self taught, the region offers avenues for anyone with an artistic bent — painters, potters, publishers, printmakers and everything in between for all manner of Southern exposure. These 10 inventive artists who make the MidSouth come alive.

Janice Kennedy

“I don’t like anything dull.”

Janice Kennedy didn’t discover her own artistic talents till she was nearly 50 years old. The Hernando homemaker seemingly fell into the world of painting on accident when she decided to pick up a brush one day while in search of a new hobby.
“I didn’t take any kind of art classes till around my late 40s,” she said. ”I went from not painting at all to selling my art and having it displayed in galleries, banks and restaurants around the area.”
What started as a once a week class eventually led to a passion that would blossom into a still blooming post-retirement career that garners more attention than the 66-year-old painter thought possible. After becoming accustomed to the basics, Janice was enthralled with painting and soon discovered that she was a natural in the field of watercolor, oils and pastels.
“I’m a colorist who likes to try anything. A lot of the time it’s just putting different things together and seeing what works,” she said. “I like to paint different things, so I can’t really lock myself into a single category.” And breadth is something Janice’s body of work has in spades. She has been known to switch her style at the drop of a hat, from striking still-life oil paintings to watercolor landscapes recreated from old photos and her latest attempt, an abstract work in progress. However, the overriding theme in most of her work has always been flowers and the beauty of nature. “I love flowers and I love color,” she says. “I worked with the Hernando Garden Club before I picked up painting – it’s a good fit.”
Despite her lack of formal training, Janice’s work has been displayed in galleries and exhibits across the MidSouth. Janice was recently featured in a DeSoto Arts Council exhibit titled “Three Points of View” and is currently one of the Delta artists featured at the Tunica Rivergate Museum. “I have been amazingly blessed and lucky to be at the right place at the right time. I’ve sold many paintings and that was definitely something I didn’t expect.” She currently lives by the mantra “creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes,” and offers a few choice words for aspiring artists her age. “Go for it, try it, and see what happens. Just keep painting till something hits you,” she says.

Elisha Gold

“Precision is a part of me.”

Sparks fly whenever Memphis-based sculptor Elisha Gold goes to work. This former Greenville, Mississippi resident has held a deep love for all things metallic from a young age.
“I spent most of my time in high school making metal structures in machine shop,” he says. “I did all types of welding — all the technical stuff you learn at any vocational school. It really gave me a jump on college.”
The energetic, 31-year-old, University of Memphis graduate’s body of work ranges from the practical to the otherworldly, with some of his more elaborate human-shaped pieces resembling the iconic work of Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger (minus the overt sexuality). One of his recent works is a scale model of himself constructed entirely from nails welded together in a single day on a street corner in Downtown Memphis. Like any versatile sculptor worth his salt, Elisha uses a variety of media to form his needs as a constructionist. “Stone carving, modeling and resin casting — I’ve done it all,” he says. “I like to do a little bit of everything. Unlike painters, I’m not really set in a single style.”
Elisha says he often finds appreciation from his work in unexpected places. “I’m not a hotrod or motorcycle guy, but those types are usually the biggest fans of my work,” he says with a grin. “I like to see myself as more of a fine artist. A lot of the time I feel like I’m caught between the metal workers and the art world.”
Elisha is involved throughout the entire sculpting process, from the drafting table to material gathering and the lengthy welding process. “Many metal sculptures aren’t actually made by the artists, they’re made in foundries by fabricators,” he says. “I make all my own work. I’m involved there through the whole process — not because I can’t afford it but because it’s my passion.”
Elisha often incorporates found objects into his work, as shown in a towering globe that was recently constructed from discarded bike wheels known as the “Beacon” at the corner of North Watkins Street and Autumn Avenue near Downtown Memphis. Elisha has recently taken a liking to a form of performance art that involved brandishing the tools of his trade for a spectacular shower of sparks. In addition to his sculptures throughout Midtown and Downtown Memphis, Elisha has designed many of the strange and surreal structures that dot the campus of his alma mater, the University of Memphis. “It’s hard working as an artist full time — I try to be fearless in the eyes of my enemies,” he says. “And poverty is pretty much my only enemy.”

Jamie Harmon

“Precision is a part of me.”

Sparks fly whenever Memphis-based sculptor Elisha Gold goes to work. This former Greenville, Mississippi resident has held a deep love for all things metallic from a young age.
“I spent most of my time in high school making metal structures in machine shop,” he says. “I did all types of welding — all the technical stuff you learn at any vocational school. It really gave me a jump on college.”
The energetic, 31-year-old, University of Memphis graduate’s body of work ranges from the practical to the otherworldly, with some of his more elaborate human-shaped pieces resembling the iconic work of Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger (minus the overt sexuality). One of his recent works is a scale model of himself constructed entirely from nails welded together in a single day on a street corner in Downtown Memphis. Like any versatile sculptor worth his salt, Elisha uses a variety of media to form his needs as a constructionist. “Stone carving, modeling and resin casting — I’ve done it all,” he says. “I like to do a little bit of everything. Unlike painters, I’m not really set in a single style.”
Elisha says he often finds appreciation from his work in unexpected places. “I’m not a hotrod or motorcycle guy, but those types are usually the biggest fans of my work,” he says with a grin. “I like to see myself as more of a fine artist. A lot of the time I feel like I’m caught between the metal workers and the art world.”
Elisha is involved throughout the entire sculpting process, from the drafting table to material gathering and the lengthy welding process. “Many metal sculptures aren’t actually made by the artists, they’re made in foundries by fabricators,” he says. “I make all my own work. I’m involved there through the whole process — not because I can’t afford it but because it’s my passion.”
Elisha often incorporates found objects into his work, as shown in a towering globe that was recently constructed from discarded bike wheels known as the “Beacon” at the corner of North Watkins Street and Autumn Avenue near Downtown Memphis. Elisha has recently taken a liking to a form of performance art that involved brandishing the tools of his trade for a spectacular shower of sparks. In addition to his sculptures throughout Midtown and Downtown Memphis, Elisha has designed many of the strange and surreal structures that dot the campus of his alma mater, the University of Memphis. “It’s hard working as an artist full time — I try to be fearless in the eyes of my enemies,” he says. “And poverty is pretty much my only enemy.”

Maysey Craddock

“Making art is very mysterious.”

Although the work of 41-year-old painter Maysey Craddock has been shown in dozens of galleries across the country and abroad for years, her paintings are rarely displayed on a traditional canvas. “I can’t really say why I haven’t made the leap to canvas over the years,” she says. “I didn’t find it to work as well with the imagery and the way I paint.”
Maysey’s work focuses on somber depictions of splintered structures forgotten by time and ravaged by the forces of nature. Her “canvases” are entirely of her own creation and consist of plain, brown grocery sacks stitched together with silk thread to form a coarse, makeshift support medium as a way to add sculptural qualities to her paintings.“There’s a real materiality to my work that I don’t think you can get with boards, canvases or archival paper,” she says.
And the work is a labor of love for Maysey, with each piece undergoing a lengthy process that begins with taking pictures of ruined structures, carefully replicating the photos with a drawing pencil and finally adding several coats of paint.“Everything is drawn two or three times before I sit down to paint it,” Maysey says. “Everything is very laborious.”
She fills in every drawing with gouache, a kind of thick, opaque watercolor paint that adds a smooth, weighty quality to her work. Maysey’s focus on ruined structures is prevalent throughout her architecturally-based artwork. Many of her pieces explore the history of the Southern landscape and evoke solemn feelings of loneliness and the passage of time. “I’m very interested in nature’s reclamation,” she says. “But not every fallen structure attracts me. I’m really interested the idea of echoes or traces of the last beings in these structures.”
Life in the South has been a prevalent influence in Maysey’s work, with many of the ruined structures featured in her art captured in Mississippi and Arkansas. “For some reason, I’ve always been drawn to the South and the Delta. It’s such a fascinating part of the country,” she says. “I love to roam around and get lost in small towns and countrysides with my camera.”
Since 1996, Maysey has been a mainstay of sorts at the David Lusk Gallery, with dozens of paintings and exhibitions represented within the halls of the East Memphis art house alongside other contemporary artists. Her upcoming exhibition, “A Different Kind of Landscape,” will be shown at the Brooks Museum in September.

Tony “Mighty Quinn" McGowan

“Just believe again.”

Ink runs in the veins of Tony “Mighty Quinn” McGowan in more ways than one. The 37-year-old illustrator, writer and comic book aficionado works as one of South Highland’s most prominent and talkative tattooists.  “At 37, this is me.  I do lots of things right now but I’m an artist by nature — walls, a screen, a piece of paper, flesh...they’re all my canvases,” he says
Quinn also heads Legends Press, a group with a line of digital and print comics that includes his flagship titles, Future Shock and Project Wildfire, which feature a kid-friendly atmosphere and a colorful, inspired take of the modern mythology of superheroes. Along with his coworker and cohort Michael "Mic" Luster, he also writes and illustrates a series titled Wild Kingdoms, a slapstick and stylized take on life in Memphis through the eyes of a stuffed rabbit and Teddy Bear. “The books themselves are kind of a commentary on comics — like Marvel, all of the cities in Future Shock are based on the real world and more focused on adolescence and growing up, while Wildfire is more like something you might see from DC, with fictional cities and skewed toward a younger audience,” he says. “Wild Kingdoms is your classic grown-up cartoon; think Mickey Mouse hanging out at a bar. The big gag of that book is that they’re very aware their creators.”
With a manner of speaking that tends to break the fourth wall of everyday conversation, he proudly proclaims that he hasn’t held a “real” job since his time in the Navy and spends his days tinkering with his line of prototype action figures and organizing read-ins at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library. He conducts most of his business from “his board room,” a tattoo studio that resembles equal parts hospital room and personal dwelling, with his own paintings and cutouts from classic silver-age comics plastered against the walls. “Being a tattoo artist lends itself to personal expression to begin with,” he says. “I doubt Fred Smith would allow me to have a setup like this if I was working at FedEx.”
Nowadays, Tony is clean-cut, garbed in a nice pair of slacks and leather shoes for every appointment. He wants his style to mimic the old Norman Rockwell painting with the gentleman tattoo artist working on the sailor. “We eventually came to the conclusion that we were artists first, so we instated a dress code,” he says. “It became less about standing out as tattoo artists and more about taking the vocation of art seriously.”

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Kong Wee Pang

Jay Crum

“Original is best.”

Although they grew up 10,000 miles apart, husband and wife duo Kong Wee Pang and Jay Crum are two of a kind. “I think we are really influenced by each other but we also try to stay out each other’s way,” Jay says. “We cannot compete with each other,” Kong Wee adds.
Kong Wee, 33, is a Malaysian immigrant with a knack for high-fashion, high-concept transformative silkscreen artwork. Jay, 31, is a New Orleans native who produces work that is more grounded but no less spectacular, with several prints that present a unique take on traditional architectural structures. Kong Wee and Jay were both drawn to Memphis with a common goal of creating fine art and attending Memphis College of Art. The pair first met in a figure drawing class 10 years ago and have been an inseparable and unstoppable force ever since.
“Memphis is a really tight-knit city. I think that’s what keeps us around here,” Jay says.
Together, they have collaborated on numerous projects including logos for local musician Harlan T. Bobo and community initiatives, such as the emblematic design associated with Project Greenfork. The couple is currently cooking up plans to expand their first big venture, TaroPop, a joint project that focuses on custom T-shirts, jewelry and screenprints delicately crafted for the masses.  “We got started because a lot of people love our art but few can afford silkscreen prints,” Kong Wee says with a slight accent that has faded over the course of her 13 years in Memphis. “We have fun building the brand and everything, but it’s really a small mom-and-pop kind of thing,” Jay added.
The collaboration is named for the taro root, a plant native to Malaysia that produces what is commonly known around these parts as “elephant ears.” Kong Wee says that her multicultural background and Jay’s influence have helped her form a unique style of her own. “I try to think about and address a topic in every piece of my art. That is why I like to do most of my art in one sitting,” Kong Wee says. Future plans for the pair include a website featuring TaroPop creations and a series of recycling bin designs for First Congregational Church in Midtown Memphis.

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William Baddour

“Persistence proves success.”

Necessity is the mother of invention for 23-year-old Will iam Baddour. As one of a growing sect of “found artists” in the MidSouth, the native Memphian often collects discarded wood to use as canvases for his work. “Living in Cooper-Young, I’m used to being around lots of home renovations and seeing stuff on the curb, so it’s kind of a recycle/green type movement, if you will — or maybe a broke man’s alternative to finding canvases,” he says.
William picked up painting at a young age while attending classes at Memphis College of Arts and the Maria Montessori School’s Harbor Town location at age seven. “My interest in art was noticed and nurtured early on in life — I was known as the kid who would draw anything,” he says. “Crayola was my muse.”
Enthusiasm from a young age led to the formation of a unique style with a focus on everyday icons in contradictory constructions, such as a series of paintings involving well-dressed individuals who appear as exotic animals from the neck up, and a group of collages inspired by 1940s-era tobacco advertising. “I tend to look at a lot of old black-and-white photos and kind of try to recreate them and put the viewer in a different time period,” he says.
A rebellious streak and the graffiti that coats the sides of many Midtown Memphis buildings influenced much of William’s art, which consists of a wide array of eclectic and colorful paintings at his improvised gallery on the cusp of Downtown Memphis at the Trolley Stop, where much of his work is displayed and sold. “We’re a restaurant, so it’s not the first place you think of for buying art. But the owners tell me it does pretty well,” he says.
The Trolley Stop also doubles as his place of employment, where the young artist perfects his culinary craft while daydreaming about his next elaborate work. “I’ve come to the conclusion that if you want to be an artist, you’ve just got to go be an artist. The longer you do it, the more you enjoy it, the better the outcome. I like to view my body of work and time spent doing it as sort of an evolutionary scale,” William says.

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Mark Adams

Alan Spearman

Chris Dean

“Embrace Serendipity.”

Alan Spearman’s lens captures a side of Memphis that few are privy to. This Memphis filmmaker recently produced As I Am, a documentary about Booker T. Washington High School graduate Christopher Dean’s life growing up on the gritty streets of South Memphis. The 15-minute documentary-style film offers a poignant, heartbreaking glimpse into life on the other side of the tracks and highlights a foreboding part of the city unseen by tourists and politicians.
“We really put together [the project] as an examination of survival,” he says.
The 39-year-old former Commercial Appeal photojournalist doles out short independent films with a heavy dose of Bluff City authenticity. Alan’s team includes Mark Adams, a cinematographer and producer who he worked in conjunction with on numerous projects and Chris Dean, his former subject-turned-intern. Together, the team runs Spearman + Adams Studio, an upstart company focused on the duo’s signature style of filmmaking. They are currently collaborating on their first feature film, Ground, a narrative woven by Alan and company that mixes Memphis street culture and Icelandic mythology.
“Last year, [Mark] and I finally got a chance to collaborate. He’s a great cinematographer and still photographer,” he says. “And Chris has been really instrumental in the writing of our latest project. He brings a wealth of information and authenticity of experience. I really like working together.”
Alan’s past as a photographer shows, as each frame of his films potentially makes for a brilliant and evocative still image. For 16 years, he has captured subjects from all walks of life — from the hustlers, hippies, hobos and street people to the movers, shakers and musicians of Memphis.
“Because of the nature of my assignments, I’m able to be constantly aware of who or what is making news,” Alan says. However, a life behind the lens of a still camera couldn’t quite sate his storytelling appetite. “As a still photographer, it was kind of frustrating — I couldn’t capture the music I was hearing,” he says of his evolution from photographer to filmmaker.
In 2007, he produced Nobody, his first short film that portrays a small-town steelworker fleeing the troubles of his life via an inflatable canoe on the Mississippi River. Since then, he has produced 30 short films. Alan’s body of work has earned a plethora of accolades, including a pair of MidSouth Emmys for As I Am and $5 Cover Amplified, a collaboration with Memphis-based writer-director Craig Brewer. His growing highlight reel also includes Hotel Memphis, a web series that depicts popular Memphis musicians playing in nontraditional venues.
“We have our interests in a lot of things right now,” says Mark. “Right now, we’re looking to do any kind of work that inspires us and visual storytelling is definitely a cornerstone of what we do.”

Mark Adams
Mark Adams

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Alan Spearman
Alan Spearman

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Chris Dean
Chris Dean

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Mark Adams
Mark Adams

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