Eric Powell’s Art Show Stumbles into Nashville

by Justin Stokes

The nature of Nashville’s arts community is binary; offering a pool of artists that are concurrently celebrated while still remaining very much under-appreciated. The city’s art community has provided Nashville with a quality of creativity many natives would say is on par with others. Because of this, the works of many artists – particularly those atypical taste – are treated with the same treasured reverence as a hidden gem.


So in this city of rhinestone, who’s sparkle catches our eye?

One gem in particular, soaked in violence and dripping in a crude-yet-universal appeal is Eric Powell. Winner of 5 Eisner Awards, he’s widely known for his popular comic book series The

Goon, Powell has taken his creative talents from the world of graphic novels and turned his paints toward Music City. In an art show titled “People I Know in Nashville When I’m Drunk”, Powell has taken the concept of a “drink-n-draw” and turned it to capturing our city’s denizens in the creative lens of a drunken excitement, much like two barflies telling each other a dirty joke.

The art show, which features 12 pieces and a car door, demonstrates a tremendous level of imagination and narrative voice reserved for a comic book. Many of the subjects in the pieces are people Powell actually knows, transplanting them from this world and putting them in his own.

“I just wanted to do an art show not directly based on comics” Powell shares. Motioning to an old truck door that’s been unhinged, repainted, and says “Townes Towing – Better Than Waitin’ Around to Die”. “I wanted to do something on that truck door, thinking about what to do, and some Townes Van Zandt just came on. He’s there in spirit”.

Indeed, there seems to be something metaphysical about a good chunk of the work, be it DJ Fat Andy “dropping the bass” and keeping the Devil at bay, the moral depictions of the Cushing Boys, or J-Mac making the scene on his rocket bike. A brief summary of the humorous, hyperbolic language to which our minds translate from the literal.

Over-seeing the opening was Jeff Bertrand, something of a local figure himself in the art community. While paying his respects to the major art installments of Nashville, he is widely known for redefining the pop-up art show. The curator of Octane! Gallery, Bertrand has taken the available space of Kustom Thrills Tattoo Studio. And since the culture of tattoo art seems to be a major influence, the gallery and studio go together like peanut butter and chocolate.

Citing Nashville as a growing mecca of music, food, and art, Bertrand explains that the growing desire to see alternative exhibits has changed the way people look at the city. “This is nothing amateur”, he says, “these are pieces that are museum worthy, classically-trained works that almost anyone can appreciate.” Bertrand also points out that it was the last five years that saw his labors come to fruition, when Kustom Thrills Tattoo Studio and other similar minds began reaching out to each other, making shows like People I know in Nashville When I’m Drunk an accessible reality.

“It’s that same mentality and passion for the community that loves hot rods, motorcycles, and tattoos that makes Kustom Thrills one of the better places to get a tattoo. They want to offer their space to help support wonderful artists like Eric” says Jeff. His contributing piece, titled “Toad” depicts a drunken, almost dead-looking Santa Claus with tape over the eyes and a sign around his neck that says “I’ll dance at your funeral if you dance at mine.”

Humorous. Macabre. But still friendly. Just like the exhibit by Powell, and right in line with the expectations from some of our better artists.

People I know in Nashville When I’m Drunk is on display at Octane! Gallery (inside Kustom Thrills) until September 12th.

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