Students, professors interpret Underwood’s ‘Open for Interpretation’

(photo by Maryville College)
‘The Forever Unknown’ shows a black and white photograph of a road stretching to a point on the horizon on a gold painted background.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then David Underwood’s images are worth a thousand interpretations. Underwood, a professor at Carson- Newman College, features a selection of his mixed media pieces in the exhibit, “Open for Interpretation,” currently on display in the Blackberry Farms Gallery at the Clayton Center for the Arts.

Each image features a collage of different photographs and materials in a square frame. The juxtaposition of the separate photographs speaks volumes about the messages behind each piece. However, while each work has its title prominently displayed within the frames, there is not enough information in the text to give away one specific message to the viewer. One such title is “Arbitrary Boundaries.” This piece features a broken image of a horse with several pictures of broken fences lining the bottom of the frame, all on a yellow painted background.

While an image with this subject matter could mean different things to each viewer, one interpretation is that many man-made boundaries on nature fail to completely fulfill their purpose. Many of the pieces in the gallery feature a large image on a colorful background, with several smaller images placed nearby in the composition. For example, “The Forever Unknown” shows a black and white photograph of a road stretching to a point on the horizon on a gold painted background. Underneath, there are numerous copies of a more ambiguous image that appears to be an urban wall. Ariana Rector, sophomore, said that this piece was her favorite as soon as she entered the gallery.

According to Rector, the placement of this image is particularly striking because it is visible through both sets of gallery doors, making it seem as though the viewer could jump right into the image. Rector’s interpretations of Underwood’s work were mostly positive when she could pick out a clear meaning from the composition; however, she felt as though some of the photo-collage pieces were a bit jumbled. Adrienne Schwarte, associate professor of design at MC, booked Underwood for the exhibit. She said that she personally thinks his works are about perspectives and expectations.

“However, it’s most important to see what message it sends to you,” Schwarte said. “Check out the exhibit to see how it speaks to you.” Underwood himself sent an inquiry to the faculty about creating an exhibit at the school. His work piqued Schwarte’s interest, she said, and the inclusion of work from a faculty member of another local college was another positive factor. “Open for Interpretation” is representative of Underwood’s body of work as a whole.

Schwarte said that composite photographs make up a good portion of his collection, and play a significant role in the current focus of his work. The themes that seem most prevalent are decay and a contrast between the manmade and natural world. However, the ambiguous nature of each piece and the titles do lend themselves to the title of the exhibit, because they are all open ended. Underwood’s work will be on display and “Open for Interpretation” until Nov. 30, when the final Last Friday Art Walk of the season and an artist’s reception will take place.

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