Art and Words by JD Wise



The research for this Nashville skyline took me over two months. After studying drawings and paintings of ancient cityscapes to modern-day megastructures around the world, my mind was overwhelmed with a panoply of images. I couldn’t find anything that quenched my thirst.


Then, I realized that I don’t live, breathe, and have my being in those cities. I do that here . . . in Nashville. This is the city where songs are born—and my first line of this piece began with a smile.

Pure Nashville, 2018, Acrylic on canvas, 48” x 144”

Nashville! How fun is this city!

It’s the place where vision, music, and hope are nurtured—a place where the skies are literally limitless. Nashville is an oasis in the middle of the country. It gathers musicians like no other city in the world, and everyone is welcome here, from the banjo pickin’ troubadours of times gone by, to the modern symphony, ballet, and opera performers of today. Twenty-seven years ago, this “City of Music” became my home.


My roots are in classical and Cuban music, so most of my art reflects that combination of style and color. It was important to me that my appreciation for the city and the people who live here was equally reflected in this work. Each building in this city is a masterwork of its architect. City developers guided the vision, and the construction began. All I had to do, as an artist, was to choose which structures to paint.


I began painting Historic Broadway at the riverfront and walked north down Google Street, doorway to doorway, window by window, building by building to make sure the style was precise and the number of windows and doors was accurate. This process gave me the baseline for the drawing. It was so fun imagining each room inhabited by people filled with their own songs. Then, the music spilled out into notes on a conductor’s score with its high and low notes running across the page.


There were a few distractions, though. As I tried to get more detailed, I ran into a telephone pole, trees, and bushes, was interrupted by cranes and communications towers, got tangled in utility lines and guide wires, and was blocked by large signs. So, I decided to take them all out. The more minimal I got, the more I liked what was developing.

Then, I tried to add color. But when you notate music, you cannot add color or it will confuse the reader. In this instance, color just muddied the composition and slowed down the rhythmic flow of the piece. The power of black-and-white working together created that dramatic range of dynamics that I saw in my mind.


Even the rooftops of the historic buildings came to be an obstruction. So, I took off the tops of the buildings. This opened everything up and allowed a sense of limitless height and breadth.

Pure Nashville, 2018, Acrylic on canvas, 48” x 144”


To get the necessary definition between the acrylic Carbon black and Titanium white, three to eight layers of paint were required. One of the challenges was determining which windows, doors, and walls would be black and which would be white. After studying the light reflecting on daytime and nighttime buildings, it was more dramatic to create a black window with a very bright sun hitting the walls, especially on the historic riverfront row, and white on black in the shadows. Everything else started falling into place.


People ask me, “Why did you paint this skyline so large?” Well, it was rather simple to make that decision . . . physics. Once I knew the size of the smallest window pane line that I could paint with the smallest brush, I calculated the size that the skyline would need to be, and that ended up being four feet by twelve feet. I didn’t have a canvas that size so I decided to do a triptych: three 48” x 48” canvases.


My biggest “aha” moment was in the second canvas where that steep, jutted, shadowed building at the bottom of the painting created a powerful dynamic with the perspective. It confirmed my vision and gave me the confidence to move ahead using that application. It was quite fun to put in little extras like air conditioners on roofs, a lamp post, a staircase, and a patio—tiny details that you can find only if you look very closely.


This painting is titled Pure Nashville. “Pure” is defined as “without any extraneous or unnecessary elements.” Nashville, as I see it, is a musical symphony about a glorious, joyous, beautiful city of hope. I want this piece to exude refreshment to the soul and for the viewer to be proud that they have been here. 


JD Wise’s art is represented by Nina Kuzina Gallery, Nashville, See more of Wise’s work at and on instagram@jd.wise.

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