Clayton Center for the arts presents “Figured”

Melanie Norris’ Biagio, Bowls, Carelessness is a large scale, uniquely colored portrait created with watercolors and oil paints on panel. – Lauren McCarter

Not one, or two, but four different contemporary artists currently have their pieces on display in the Blackberry Farm Gallery of the Clayton Center for the Arts in an exhibit collectively titled “Figured.” The exhibit features work from Knoxville-based artist Denise Stewart-Sanabria; Seth Haverkamp, former graduate of the nearby Carson-Newman University; Nashville native John Woodrow Kelley; and Melanie Norris from Asheville, North Carolina. All work represents the human figure in some form from painted portraits to life-size plywood figures.

“These works are part of a series concentrating on the large-scale representation of contemporary people,” said Stewart-Sanabria in reference to her pieces, which are drawn with charcoal on top of plywood. The images are then cut out, so they can go on to become free standing figures. To make these drawings, she references photographs that she personally captures of people at other art gallery receptions.

“I carry a 35mm digital camera on my hip and leave it on continuous shoot setting,” she said. “When I see someone walk under the gallery lights, and they look really dynamic, I press my finger down on the shutter and get at least 5 shots.” It’s with this method that Stewart-Sanabria can capture people in their truest states, as she only uses pictures of people who didn’t realize they were being photographed.


“In my portraits, I want to go deeper, search out the soul by sitting and having conversations with my subjects, taking photographs and soaking in their presence,” said Norris in the biography on her website, for she seeks to convey emotions and ideas rather than a subject’s factual appearance. Opposite of Stewart-Sanabria’s method of photographing people, Norris desires to see how one actually feels in front of a camera.

Mixed in among the other works, Haverkamp’s portraits look back at the viewer with a raw intensity. Having been previously honored for his portraiture, Haverkamp finds comfort in realistic representations of the human form combined with aspects of color and value. Proving to be an almost whimsical yet unique element from piece to piece, 

Norris’ portraits are accomplished in a similar yet different fashion. A combination of oil paints and watercolors on muslin, each of the faces are more ambiguous with added pops of color in comparison to the other works. Her compositions focus solely on the subject’s facial features while disregarding background objects or clothes of any kind.

patterns of a bubble-like texture are also easily recognizable in nearly each of his portraits.

“The meaning?” inquired Haverkamp in the biography on his website. “It is found in the beauty. At the moment, that’s enough,” he said. Similarly, the idea that one’s face holds and displays the most information is a notion he doesn’t shy away from, which is seemingly evident within each subject’s gaze. Of course they are portraits, but each individual’s face is presented with such realism that it demands the viewer’s attention.

Melanie Norris’ Nose Ring Girls: Fire on Party Rock, a watercolor and oil on muslin piece, features recognizable human faces with added pops of color. – Lauren McCarter

References to Greek mythology abound within Kelley’s paintings. Coming from Tennessee, Kelley believes his interests in the classics stem from his experiences as a young boy, because he was able to visit the Greek Parthenon replica in Nashville. His contemporary takes on classical Greek ideas are certainly represented in his pieces of this collection. 

“I have tried to present the old myths in a new way, showing all the irony and conflict of the modern world,” said Kelley in the ‘about’ section of his website. “The figures are contemporary, but the situations are ancient.” Certainty, Kelley’s pieces bring recognizable figures into familiar settings along with historical elements. Such imagery seems to rely on the notion that history has a tendency to serve as a lesson, yet it often repeats itself.

A reception will be held on Friday, February 23 from 6-8 p.m. for the exhibit. The Blackberry Farm Gallery is always open from 10 a.m. Monday through Friday as well, but “Figured” will only be here till February 28.

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