What is Love?

Julia Martin Gallery: August 4 – September 28

By: Sara Lee Burd

Julia Martin has stepped up to ask one of the most compelling questions that has traversed history, “What is love?” She has curated an exhibition at Julia Martin Gallery that strikes a cord with a broad audience. It explores the concept of love, which we all acknowledge exists but experience in diverse ways. In the current turmoils across the world, Martin reminds us that it is worthwhile to get back to basics. Considering what the word means right now both personally and publicly, we learn who we are.

Harry Kagan, An Artificial Wind Picking Up on Main Street, Triptych, 2018, Acrylic on canvas, 18” x 42”

The resulting exhibition, What Is Love? consists of thirteen visual artists’ responses to “Love is______.” The purpose of the show is to broaden viewers’ conceptions of love through the unique perspectives of the artists. Each work of art contributes to understanding and provides space for reflection. It’s an exhibition that may challenge world views and bring up questions, and Martin posits that is just the type of exercise that brings about positive action.

One objective of the show stated by Martin is to better the community by defining love. Building a better community requires defining what “better” really is. It has been attempted to varying levels of satisfaction and results for centuries. Does it begin with the individual or the structures that shape them? Coming to a consensus on just this point has proven difficult.

While approaching love and betterment as open questions, Martin is definitive when it comes to taking action. She has chosen to donate a portion of proceeds from sales to the growing outreach efforts of Jessi Zazu, Inc., a non-profit, which supports education and financial assistance in the areas of arts and culture, social justice, and women’s health.

To accomplish her goal of presenting a diversity of perspectives, Martin reached out to a broad selection of artists in the Nashville community. The resulting works come from Big Fella, Rachel Briggs, Merrilee Challiss, Marlos E’van, Louisa Glenn, Harry Kagan, Courtney Adair Johnson, Megan Kimber, Becca Jane Koehler, Walter Lewis III,  Julia Martin, Lorne Quarles, Noah Saterstrom, and Kathy Wariner.

Harry Kagan, An Artificial Wind Picking Up on Main Street, Triptych, 2018, Acrylic on canvas, 18” x 42”

Ancient Greek philosophers defined love in four main ways: Agape—a form of charity and good will; storge—that exchanged between parent and child; eros—that of sexual attraction; philia—expressed as deep friendship with an equal. Looking at the collection of artworks, each of these types of love is represented. The definitions of love become clear and relevant with the artists’ 21st-century views.

Agape is evident in the philanthropic underpinning of the show. In addition to financial support going to Zazu, Inc., it is fundamental to the gallery’s programming. Porch shows by local bands are planned as well as a performance from a Southern Girls Rock Camp (SGRC) alumna. The SGRC is a social non-profit that supports girls and gender-non-conforming youth. These musical elements are complemented by the conceptual examples of human vulnerability, aspirations, and struggles presented in the visual art.

Love as storge is the beginning point of this exhibition because that is where Martin found her personal inspiration. The contrast of expectations and reality of love, especially familial, are introduced through her artwork Inside Out. The artist processes how notions of love in childhood differ from what one learns as an adult. The artwork features a woman with an array of accessories suggesting a collection made over time. She bears reminders of her grandmother’s nurturing, the romantic love inspired by her husband, and her father’s failures of affection. It is a complex work in concept and execution presented in her signature style of bold color combinations and tension between abstraction and representation.  

While Martin’s work is based in familial relationships, E’van and Glenn’s art contends with the power of eros. In Raphael & Ebony, E’van employs his signature expressive approach to painting. He presents the lovers from Shakespeare’s love story Romeo and Juliet in romantic discord. Perhaps they are sharing the reality of their “star-crossed” love. Through this artwork he also calls attention to how racial diversity is underrepresented, even when it comes to love. This artwork was inspired by the artist’s realization that this tragedy has never been produced by a full cast of people of color. As E’van has introduced disappointment, Glenn also discusses the chaotic side of romantic love.  

Glenn’s glimpse into love that has been left unspoken takes form as a multi-hued painting. In and then the current took me she strikes a balance between free form and precise lines. In combination the incisions create a visual veil over the vibrant modulated colors. Her artist statement provides details that facilitate deeper connection with the artist’s mindset about love: “For so long I’ve been throwing myself headlong into and through the world, maintaining a fierce independence. But recently I’ve found myself crying about satellites and their determined, solitary journeys into the depths of space.” In her work she explores the pain of love as an inward struggle. Like her work, Kagan’s art also involves self-awareness.

Solitude and the aspirations of self-love arise as themes in Kagan’s triptych, An Artificial Wind Picking Up on Main Street. It provides a perspective taken when void of philial and erotic love.

The scenes present the perspective of someone who feels like an outsider gazing in or out through a fence. The framed two-dimensional images are juxtaposed with cans of sardines. The visual relationship between these objects can be seen in the color combinations and echoing of metals in the tin and chain link. In a poem that accompanies his work, Kagan states, “Over and over again I fall in love with my misery,” and he concludes, “Perhaps I will eventually die/not of a broken heart/but in spite of it.”

Turning away from a purely positive connotation of love, he places it within the complexity of self-understanding.

By tapping into mindsets that show human vulnerability and aspirations of love, the exhibition allows for individual contemplation and group awareness. The additional art on exhibit introduces myriad forms of love from romantic to forbidden, from relation to nature and home, from struggle to understanding. What Is Love? commands attention and provides a foundation to build a better community. 


What Is Love? opens at Julia Martin Gallery on August 4 and ends September 28. For more information please visit www.juliamartingallery.com.


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