WORDS Kathleen Boyle
Artist Ed Nash has established himself as one of Nashville’s leading abstract painters. Such achievement is reflective not only of great talent, but also a combination of his persistent hard work and keen business sense. In the following interview, Nash explains how his balance of creativity and industry knowledge have led him to success.
What is the inspiration behind your work?
I have always had an interest in the Japanese aesthetic of Wabi Sabi. It deals with finding beauty through the natural process of decay and erosion. I find that when we focus on perfection, our eye finds flaws. If we accept imperfections as adding to the work, we accept the art as a whole. I want to create surfaces that are full of undulations, texture, imperfections, and layering. These layers give the work structure and composition, a framework upon which the rest of the painting hangs. This is really a mirror of the human condition. The cracks, layers, and texture are somehow balanced and organic, bringing them a sensation of calm and contentment. There is probably a cognitive dissonance there which is also intriguing.
I have never been an artist who sticks in one genre or palette. I’m always experimenting with different mediums and materials. My Terrain series continues to investigate the Wabi Sabi theme but uses more highly textured surfaces and materials to build up layers . . . In many ways, they are my experiments in exploring the boundaries of painting.
You have established an incredible studio and showroom. How does your business exceed a more traditional notion of an artist’s studio?
Winston Churchill said that “We shape our buildings and our buildings shape us.” I shaped the studio, and in return the studio shapes my work. It’s important that the public can experience not only the art, but the environment in which the artwork was created. I have formed a space that inspires and adds dimension to my work. People can come and experience a connection with my art. It’s all about connection, and the studio bridges that gap.
What are some of the milestones that you’ve reached over the years?
Developing a recognizable style was a milestone for me. When people tell me they have seen one of my paintings in a gallery or in a collector’s home and know immediately by the style, texture, and composition that I created it, that’s really exciting.
Probably the most important milestone is being at the place where I am creating art that I really love to make, and it is being well-received! That is not always the case for artists. If my work was selling but I hated that particular style, I couldn’t do it. Equally, I couldn’t support my family if I was making art that nobody liked.
What were some of the particular risks that you experienced as you became a full-time artist?
The risk would have been to not pursue my dream and have to live with regret. It wasn’t a decision taken lightly. Working for yourself with no guaranteed income is a huge risk, but it also breeds persistence, determination, and a huge work ethic—all of which have contributed to getting me to where I am now.
Even though you have created your own showroom, you still maintain close working relationships with art galleries across the country. Can you talk more about how commercial art galleries fit into your business practices?
I work with galleries all over the U.S. They are really important to my business practice, being a great source of feedback, building credibility for my work, providing exposure and potential sales. Also, because the curator will choose only your best pieces, you are pushed to create focused work.
Such understanding of the art world does not just happen overnight. What kinds of preparation—educational and professional— did you do in order to solidify your understanding of the art business?
I graduated Magna Cum Laude with a B.A. in Fine Art, but while I was at university I realized no one was preparing us to be independent working artists. I decided to gain experience by running a small sales business during my summers. I decided I needed more knowledge of the art market, so I became a private dealer in Nashville for about four years—looking at thousands of images and paintings, understanding the real criteria used for determining value in fine art, learning how to present and discuss art in a comprehensible way.
It wasn’t until I was about 30 that I started regularly painting again. Initially I felt like I missed out on ten years’ experience of painting, but I did gain valuable skills, knowledge, and experience. And it means I never have “painter’s block.” I am always ready to get to the easel.
Would you say that this preparation was essential to your success?
I feel like every artist who wants to make a living from their work would benefit from experience in the business world, either in sales, marketing, or advertising, before moving into a specific field. You are running a small business, after all. It is like a combination lock. I feel like these are the areas that art schools are really less equipped in providing education to their students. I think they also need to develop an eye for connoisseurship, and that can only be developed over time.
In your opinion, what are some under-utilized practices or avenues that artists should uphold more to promote or sell their work?
As a small business owner, I cannot rely on the hope that someone else will sell my paintings. If we only hope and do not prepare, plan, persist, and pound the pavement, we could easily end up with a studio full of paintings but no money in the bank. Artists may need to spend anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of their time on the business . . . So that means a lot of late nights and early mornings.
It can be a lonely road at times, so find great peers, read or listen to great books, and guard your time at the easel. Artists also need to be as creative at marketing our work as we are at creating it. Seek feedback from people who will challenge your art before developing a really strong catalogue of work. You often only get one shot. In short, squeeze out the hope.
For more information, visit www.ednashart.com.