by Susan W. Knowles

Abstract painter Jane Braddock is fascinated by the world of words. Choosing text as a design element for her huge new paintings draws on her talent for color and design as well as her deep reverence for text. And her choice of excerpts from writers she has read and absorbed for many years offers potent commentary on the world in which we live.

One of this city’s top tier of full-time working artists, Braddock is a prolific maker. She came to Nashville in 1980 from New York City, where she had been a designer and colorist in the textile industry. Now she works daily in her studio, often on a whole series at once, generating ideas that multiply and cross over. Two new exhibitions this fall feature different yet related groups of paintings developed over the past few years, being shown for the first time.

At The Arts Company, Braddock will exhibit huge, text-based paintings composed around the shapes of letters that slowly come together to become phrases. Drawn from philosophy, poetry, and the occasional song lyric, the words seem all the more weighted and important because they are presented equally in the space of the composition, not read at normal speed. Joining the shape of the letters to the meaning of the phrases she has chosen has been hugely challenging. Creating an appropriate visual context for an idea is difficult enough, but she must also make sure that the text is ultimately legible, even if it is purposely obscured at first glance. Each painting begins with a full-sized sheet of tracing paper on which she plans the design to see if the words will work visually before committing them to canvas.

At Belmont’s Leu Gallery, Braddock will show a group of paintings based around the words “liberated while living,” which she first encountered as an alluring tattoo design done in Sanskrit lettering. When she learned the translation, she took it as an invitation to break her own artistic boundaries, making paintings that use the same text yet differ wildly from one another. Braddock, who has faced her share of hardship, embraced the process with abandon.

“Part of the fun of painting,” she says, “is that anything can happen.” The text pieces have proven the point.

Mistakes are more immediately visible and require ever more ingenious solutions. Characteristically upbeat, Braddock adds, “If you knew what you were doing then why do it?”

Braddock’s works are recognizable for their often-eye-popping colors, glittery metallic pigments, and richly painted surfaces, and she has the confidence to work in very large scale. Her artworks have been added to numerous public and corporate art collections, such as those of the Nashville International Airport, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and, most recently, to Janet and Jim Ayers’ Collection of Tennessee Art on view in FirstBank’s new Nashville offices.

Interspersed between long spells in the studio are purposeful breaks for inspiration: to hear Leonard Cohen perform almost anywhere, to attend the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago; Cape Town, South Africa; and Barcelona, Spain, and to absorb the sights, smells, and tastes of other cultures. Braddock is as fascinated by costumes and clothing, folk art, temples, religious icons, festivals, celebrations, and mythology as she is by nature walks and the presence of animals. She has studied astrology, which she values for its unifying qualities as a holistic worldview, for many years. And whether traveling or not, she is recording experiences, tucking away potent bits of what she has read and seen. On extended trips she has made daily collages from scraps of detritus—paper and other objects picked up along the way. These whimsical small creations vibrate with the energy of the street. Like all of Braddock’s artworks, they seem to come alive, giving the moments of her joyous, everyday journey permanent form.

View Jane Braddock’s work, This Has Nothing to Do with Thinking, at The Arts Company, November 3 – December 22, and in Liberated While Living at the Leu Art Gallery, Belmont University November 1 – December 13.

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