Dane Carder Studio | April 7–28
WORDS Karen Parr-Moody
Fashion designer Matt Eddmenson, 43, is not having a midlife crisis. But he is undergoing a seismic shift in his thinking. To use the modern-day parlance of Urban Dictionary, he’s becoming “woke.”
No, he wouldn’t mind zipping around Nashville in a sports car worthy of James Bond—“Don’t get me wrong; I’d love to have a Porsche”—but Eddmenson is going in a decidedly more low-fi direction. A key aspect of that shift is his return to his long-ignored passion of creating art. He has returned to this first love after time focusing on what has, essentially, defined his identity in Nashville for years: designing upscale jeans.
Influencer, pioneer, hipster—call him what you will—Eddmenson essentially built the cornerstone of Nashville’s vibrant 12South neighborhood in 2009 when he, along with his wife, Carrie, opened the high-end denim boutique Imogene + Willie in a gas station formerly known as George’s Transmission. Since then, scads of celebrities have purchased jeans from the boutique at 2601 12th Avenue South, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, and singer-guitarist-producer Jack White.
Yet there is a little-known fact about the man behind the jeans: He got his BFA in painting from the Art Academy of Cincinnati in 1999. This aspect of his biography is unknown to most people beyond the members of his innermost circle, including art dealer Dane Carder, who will feature Eddmenson’s portraits at Dane Carder Studio, 438 Houston Street, Suite 262, throughout the month of April. The exhibit will be open to the public from Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and by appointment on weekends.
Carder explains: “I had been aware that he was a visual artist—kind of like a closet visual artist, because he was running his company—and I wanted to shine a light on that part of his talent. I appreciate his aesthetic, and Nashville hasn’t seen it.”
While Eddmenson has long put his soul and artistic talent into creating the Imogene + Willie look, from jeans to T-shirts to Zippo lighters, he has ignored a deeper longing to draw simply for art’s sake. He has also fought an inner struggle that many artists can recognize—that of not feeling one’s medium is high-minded enough. Whenever he painted a canvas it was a slog, yet he got lost in the zone when drawing. Still, he felt that painting was supposed to be the natural evolution of his work as an artist—and that evolution never happened.
“I kept fighting my love to draw,” Eddmenson says. “The reality is I was never a good painter, but I could draw anything. But because I thought there was supposed to be an evolution in my career as an artist, I always downplayed the drawing.”
In recent years, he decided to confront his inner critic by questioning this denial of self. “Why am I trying to leave this medium that I spent years and years and years practicing?” he says. “That would be like being a Suzuki violin player who’s a master and now plays in the New York Philharmonic as first chair, saying, ‘I’m switching to saxophone.’ What? That’s cool that you’re switching to saxophone, but it doesn’t really make any sense if your love and the passion you have is to play that violin. For me, that’s what I battled out. And I’ve figured that out, but it’s taken a long time. I still have blank canvases lying around, but I just get lured back in by the drawing.”
Interestingly, Eddmenson has gained a newfound freedom through jettisoning the notion of painting as the be-all and end-all. Whereas painting was always so stressful for him, it has now come back into his work as he has created a series of portraits for his exhibit at Dane Carder Studio. The work is a mix of portraits drawn in graphite and painted in black and white acrylic using vintage paper as the canvases.
“It’s almost like if you let go, these things start to happen in the right way—as opposed to overthinking everything, as I tend to do,” he says. “I’m getting back to that basic thing that made art exciting for me in the beginning.”
Eddmenson says his epiphany about his artwork has seeped into the world of Imogene + Willie. As the most visible acknowledgement of his reawakened passion, he now keeps a studio at work for creating art, which seems natural, since much of his job is art-based. The spillover is most obvious in his vintage-style drawings or wood-block prints that wind up on T-shirts.
“I’m really dialing it back,” he says. “I think that’s maybe the theme for me right now: dialing it back. Less is more. For the first time in my life, the goal is not how big I can get, whether that be the canvas or the business, but rather, ‘How can I keep this small and simple while still maintaining the lifestyle I want to maintain, which again is simple?’”
Eddmenson’s exhibit The Day and What We Gave Up is on view April 7 thought 28 at Dane Carder Studio. A reception is slated for April 26 from 6 until 9 p.m. For more information, please visit www.danecarder.com.