Lesley Eaton – Featured Artist

Like many artists before her, Lesley Eaton, our featured artist for August, questioned her vocation.  It was in college when those pangs of doubt hit her – but like many other creatives, instead of leading her to some truly profitable and practical study like accounting, Eaton says, “I decided studying English literature and creative writing was more practical than art.”

Thus, the call of wild and the creative urge stayed with her and when the Savannah College of Art and Design opened a campus in Atlanta, where she was living and working, Eaton applied and was accepted to pursue an MFA in illustration.   We’re very happy to see some of the results of that decision hanging on our walls this month.

The exhibit is entitled “By Land or Sea, a collection of painted paper collage by Lesley Eaton.”

For Eaton collage is a specific, detailed approach: “I paint all of my papers and then cut out and glue each detail. The painting is very free and expressive, and the cutting and gluing is very meticulous. I like the balance of my process and the balance of the result, with the sharp clean edges of my design complimenting the chaos of the painterly papers. The fact that my work is all cut paper is very subtle. I’m always telling people to look closely to see the detail. “

In addition, the exhibit will include a handful of her older collage pieces, and she says, “I’m experimenting with some more expressive designs and am excited to see these hanging next to my other peppered paper pieces.”  In some ways this style represents creative recycling because, she says, “My peppered paper is a collection of papers originally used as a type of drop cloth. I use butcher paper to cover my drafting table as I paint my papers, so it catches all of the spills, splatters, and brushstrokes as I paint. The result is this paper covered with a beautiful mess of color and texture; it’s ‘peppered’ with paint.”

The process may sound chaotic, but, while there’s certainly an element of the random and unpredictable, Eaton’s eye creates order out of all these shapes and colors and textures.  “The image or idea comes first, then it’s trial and error until I find the perfect piece of ‘peppered paper’ for each part of my object. On my drafting table now is the body of a lobster and part of a shrimp that didn’t make the final cut. Most often I have an idea for what color I want each piece to be, like, ‘I really want these antlers to be bright blue with lots of texture,’ but in the end it’s more important how the piece is coming together as a whole.”

Eaton’s work is vibrant and alive with color and detail.  She says that she’s drawn to sharp, delicate edges: “I like how graceful and clean these shapes are when crafted out of cut paper. Clean, sharp lines are a unifying element in most of my collage pieces: whiskers, antlers, antennae, claws, petals, thorns, guitar strings.”

Still, Eaton’s art isn’t chained to precise representation, though, she says, “Most of my work isn’t super realistic, but I like to have the right number of strings on an instrument and legs on an insect.”

You can see “By Land or Sea, a collection of painted paper collage by Lesly Eaton” from August 7th to September 4th, 2016 at the downtown location and September 5th to October 3rd at the West Knoxville location.

Kellan Catani – July/August 2016 Artist

It’s hard not to love a spoon.

From small to large, the spoon is the bearer of many good things – heaped with sugar, wrapped in honey, filled with soup or mounded high with sour cream, spoons contribute much to the life worth living.  So much do we love the spoon that we’re decorating our walls with them.

In the month of July, Tomato Head Market Square will feature the functional art of Kellan Catani.  Kellan’s exhibit does, in fact, include many spoons and other small kitchen wares like rolling pins, ice cream scoops, and cutting boards, along with some very special wall mounts; what binds these pieces together is their combination of beauty and simplicity as governed by Catani’s overriding principle: authenticity.

Catani works with wood, mostly walnut, and only with wood that’s sourced domestically and ethically.  For this artist, beauty rests far below the surface and present manifestation of the piece – both the wood’s interior and its history are essential components of anything that Catani would call beautiful and authentic.



“To be authentic is to be just who you say you are.    So [in my work] what’s on the surface is what’s underneath.  There are no facades.”  In addition to meaning that if the piece is made of walnut, it’s made of all walnut, core to surface, Catani also means that he doesn’t stain the wood.  “If you stain a piece, then what’s on the surface is not what’s underneath.”

“Almost all of the pieces are dark, so people just assume they’re stained,” but they are not.  Instead, Catani blends his own bees’ wax and mineral oil balm which makes a piece kitchen worthy without covering the wood’s natural beauty.  Catani also tries to highlight the organic complexity of the wood’s grain by keeping the designs relatively simple.

In talking to Catani about his work, it’s easy to imagine him in a kitchen with walls hung with attractive, handmade kitchen wares that he takes down and uses.  Time to chop an onion? Grab the cutting board off the wall.  Catani’s passion makes him earnest about using beautiful, real things in what he calls “The artisan kitchen – if you’re making beautiful food, If you’re going to put so much time into making the food look beautiful having beautiful tools as you go along makes sense as a part of the journey.”

Serving Pieces

Serving Pieces

In addition to his functional kitchen art, this exhibit also features a unique reunion as some very special parts of the original Tomato Head come back home in an apt tribute to the final weeks of our 25th anniversary year.  Catani lived downtown during our remodeling and, most importantly, at the time that the contractors were removing the flooring.  “I’ve studied a lot of the flooring wherever I go, and downtown flooring is usually the coolest – because its patina is so good and old.  Of all the flooring I’ve ever seen that [Tomato Head’s floor] was the coolest…  The differences in color, its patina were really cool.”  Catani was able to salvage much of the floor and to repurpose it in a fashion that we find aesthetically pleasing and beautifully nostalgic, too.

Kellan has used our old stomping ground, literally, to create several wall mounts that, for him, highlight the flooring’s unique colors and gradients.  For us, it’s a poignant reminder of the many footsteps we’ve taken and the thousands of other feet that have traveled with us on this 25+ year journey.

Catani’s functional art will hang on our Market Square walls from July 4th through August 7th.  He will then move to the West Knoxville Tomato Head from August 9th through September 5th.  To learn more about the artist and his work, visit his website, purebredwood.com.

Carl Gombert – May/June 2016 Featured Artist

Carl Gombert believes in magic.

And if you were to meet him, in person you might sense some magical vibe – the good kind that tells you if a person has been to Narnia, knows talking beasts and believes in Aslan.  It’s the magic of play and imagination.

Gombert is currently the featured artist at Tomato Head Market Square, and while you probably won’t catch him there to share his personal magic, the works in his exhibit have a magic all their own.  The exhibit consists of rubber stamped decorative pieces that have been Gombert’s focus for the last five years.

Gombert owns a series of little rubber stamps – things like butterflies, guitars, and fish and so on – very much like something you’d buy for your kids.  These varied images become the building blocks of Gombert’s work – he combines them in ever widening shapes.  In one instance the shapes form a circle of alternating banjos and guitars, in another you might find a stamp of a fish next to one of a skull and crossbones.  The results, in both black and white and color prints, are all visually alluring – but they aren’t always what they seem.

The individual pieces vary in size and shape, but they all share a seemingly deliberate structure.  And yet, Gombert insists that “They’re a lot more improvisational than they look.  They look like they’re incredibly planned out – all I can really tell you is that they start with an image in the middle that’s vaguely round and then will get bigger and bigger.  I just try to make decisions that don’t reckon.”

Still, one look at these pieces may make you wonder if Gombert is telling the truth.  He is adamant that he is, but, he adds, “I know now from a lot of experience that certain kinds of repetition and rotation will yield very geometric, mandala like organization; and yet I don’t have a preset idea of what images I’ll use – one thing will suggest another.  And so that improvisational nature versus the highly structured underpinnings really appeals to me as an artist.   I’m all about the dichotomies of planned chaos or ordered disarray.”

One particular piece is an alluring series of what appear to be pinwheels, perhaps even flowers, and yet if you get close to the image, you’ll notice that the prominent stamp is the image of a pistol.  Likewise, a series of decorative triangles, upon closer inspection, reveal themselves to be a series of butterflies.

Gombert avoids defining his work in terms of specific style, but for this amateur observer, it’s hard not to make general comparisons to pointillism or the photomosaic technique which is probably best known through Dali’s Lincoln in Dalivision.  Gombert chuckles at the thought and proceeds to talk about Dali’s work, Mae West’s Face which May be Used as a Surrealist Apartment (which is definitely worth a visit with your favorite search engine).

The dichotomy of things that look like one thing but are really something entirely different appeals to him – but one wonders if the appeal arises from the artist’s aesthetic or comes from a more mischievous place where lions speak and fauns make tea for young ladies who travel via wardrobe.

Gombert, who is also a professor of Art at Maryville College, will display his work at Market Square through the end of May and then the show will move westward to the Gallery for the month of June.

March Artist Rick Whitehead

This month on Market Square, Tomato Head will be the home to an intriguing exhibit by artist Rick Whitehead; it features a dramatic series of pictures from the equally dramatic tornado season of 2011 when funnel clouds and hail descended upon Knoxville in nearly Biblical proportions. “It’s a series of photographs that I took over the course of several days. There’s no zoom and no cropping. I call the series the ‘Tempest Solarized’,” he says, “and that refers to the technique pioneered by Man Ray in the 20’s and 30’s. It’s an effect [that happens to the photo] when you’re in the dark room and open the door to the light for a few seconds.“

This is the first time that he’s had the chance to show the pieces together as a group, and it’s an exciting opportunity to see the sky through Whitehead’s lens. The collection owns an almost surreal effect that’s a natural element of cloud gazing – particularly on the stormy days when Rick was shooting. He remembers that “these were all very close by, all the churning clouds. The formations were very dramatic… this one reminds me of a landscape and this is just the churning of the tornado. And others become more like abstract shapes that you don’t recognize as clouds.”

Photography is only a small part of Whitehead’s métier – painting and drawing are his principle foci, and his show will include some of examples of that work. “I’ve been experimenting with pressed charcoal and I’ll have some of the latest pieces and also some from my Aboriginal Series. I didn’t want to keep the show completely in the clouds.”

Rick draws inspiration for his painting from many sources, including dream-life: “There are dream pieces that are directly from dreams, but mainly I think it is that when I look at certain things, especially a lot of the series of landscapes, they’re more like visions.” Still, the quality of the dream seems to pervade much of his work, which, at least to this eye, gives the whole exhibit a vast array of associations.

Whitehead is a graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, and his work has been exhibited throughout the country and internationally in Belgium and Spain. And while the exhibit that we’re hosting is only a small part of his work, it’s enough to make us want to know and see more. And while you can see more on his website, you won’t want to miss this opportunity to these absorbing works in person.

Rick’s show will hang downtown through April 4th and then transfer to the Gallery through May 2nd.

Jordan Kear – February Artist

This month, the walls of Tomato Head Downtown will feature the work of an emerging artist with a unique style that, he says, is still in development.

Jordan Kear, a graduate of the Appalachian Center for Crafts at Tennessee Technological University, works primarily with wood in a style that he hasn’t yet tried very hard to define or pin down. The show itself, he says, is a kind of mélange.

“There’s a lot of sculpture and some figurative sculpture as well. All in wood. There’s ash, walnut – a lot of hardwoods that are native to East Tennessee. And I’m using a little exotic wood just for the flair of it; they have really good grain, really good colors. In this show I’m using wood and paint – I intertwined them. Sometimes it’s all paint, sometimes just small portions. I’m just trying to find that fine line – I really don’t know where my work’s going. I’m young – my work is sort of everywhere right now.”

It would be an overstatement, perhaps, to say that Jordan’s interest in wood developed from growing up in the woods in Townsend, Tennessee, but it is fair to say that he grew up around a lot of sawdust. “I grew up with woodworking tools in my hands. I’ve been around woodworking, carpentry and construction since day one. My family’s built three houses and my mom’s salon.”

Though he grew up on the “Quiet Side of the Smokies”, Jordan isn’t connected to any crafts tradition that defines his current output. And while his show features some of the staples that you might anticipate seeing from an artist with a woodworking background, it also includes a number of figurative pieces including some that come with a touch of whimsy – especially in his Golden Girls series. It’s a four piece collection of white wood sculpture set against a bright background that offers a unique perspective of the colorful TV characters’ faces.

“They’re sculptural pictures. They’re three dimensional and stand off the wall about 6 inches. I got my inspiration for that from Andy Warhol’s Lip Series. My thesis show was entitled From the Neck Up – everything was facial features. I anthropomorphize everything. I see faces everywhere I go – like in a beautiful piece of wood – I’ll find a face in it. Faces, lips, mouths draw my attention.”

Most of the pieces that Jordan includes in the show are eye-catching, with some that feature an intriguing sense of movement. In addition to his unique artistry, the work showcases Kear’s fine craftsmanship in some very detailed and loving carved wood. Don’t miss it.

Jordan’s work will be on view at the downtown Tomato Head restaurant on Market Square from February 7th through March 6th. After that the show moves to the West Knoxville Gallery Tomato Head from March 7th through April 4th.

January’s Featured Artist: Jonathan Howe

In Nature, Emerson wrote, “love of beauty is Taste. Others have the same love in such excess, that, not content with admiring, they seek to embody it in new forms. The creation of beauty is Art.”

Jonathon Howe, our featured artist this month, finds beauty in many places – from the warmth behind a face to the captivating views of nature that he finds on mountain peaks and the forests, fields and streams beneath them. Howe is both a portrait and landscape artist, and while his style for each form may vary, his work always manages to communicate the essential and individual energy of his subject. For him, beauty, art, love, and creation appear to mingle freely.

In this exhibit, Howe concentrates on his recently completed oil landscapes. These paintings, he says, share an effort “to capture dramatic lighting situations, stunning skies, and those brief transitional moments of early morning or late evening.”

Jonathon defines his style for landscapes as Impressionistic Realism. It’s something he discovered and developed when he started thinking about expanding beyond portraiture: “I wanted to diversify the subject matter of what I was painting and began experimenting with landscapes. But I found that the tight detailed style I was using for my portraits really didn’t communicate what I wanted in my landscape paintings. I wanted to set a mood in my landscapes much like capturing a person’s expression in a portrait. And in order to do that, I had to loosen up my style to be more impressionistic, focusing more on how I build color tones with multiple layers of brush strokes to let the paintings glow.”

His appreciation of and his hope to do justice to the wonders of creation comes honestly; Howe is an avid hiker. “My two favorite places to hike are Mount LeConte and Andrew’s Bald. I love LeConte for the challenge and the continually changing habitats as you climb up the mountain. The high elevation habitats have a certain smell and feel that you just can’t get anywhere else. And Andrew’s Bald is a favorite relaxing hike at high elevation. It was there on Andrew’s Bald that I proposed to my wife, so it’s a very special place. “

His engagement with the outdoors informs his style. When asked what draws his eye to a subject, he says, “For landscapes, I am usually looking two for things. The First thing that I am looking for is Light! The right Light has the amazing quality of transforming a scene into a beautiful glowing spectacle. Secondly, I am always thinking in terms of foreground, mid ground, and background in a scene. So I’m looking for something interesting like a unique tree or stream that’s close to me, then I want to see if there is room for your eye to wonder into the far distance. I think a good landscape pulls you in so you could imagine yourself taking a long walk through it and into the distance – if that makes sense. “

Howe is a lifelong artist. He says, “My parents tell me when I was a toddler, after they brought home a brand new white rug, they found me with ballpoint pen having scribbled all over the rug. But seriously, as a kid I was constantly doodling in class, drawing pictures of the teachers or other students, and going on walks in the woods to just sit and draw some random tree.”

It’s hard to imagine his parents being happy about his rug work, but those random trees have grown into something worth seeing. You can check it out yourself at the Market Square Tomato Head in downtown Knoxville through February 7th, 2016 and at the Gallery Tomato Head in West Knoxville from February 8th through March 7th.

Jonathan Howe Landscape

Jonathan Howe Landscape

December’s Featured Artist: Lindsey Teague

Lindsey Teague is an artist who is inspired by Knoxville: “I live on Gay Street so I walk downtown all the time and notice the smell of the local business and the lights when the sun’s setting – all the things that make the city what it is – I like to capture that scene.”

Though our Featured Artist for December isn’t a native of the city, she says she has a deep seated love of the area that began while she studied at UT, “I’ve lived here for 10 years, I’m from West Tennessee, but I love Knoxville. It’s cool to be local now, and I love that – people appreciate their city and find value in it.”

Though Lindsey’s art is drawn from a variety of inspirations, it’s hardly surprising that, more often than not, she’s drawn to subjects that have historic and local value. In fact, one of her most popular subjects is an icon not only for the city, but for the State of Tennessee too: “There’s one scene that I’ve worked on from the very beginning, though it’s the same image I like to change the composition. It’s the Tennessee Theatre.

“I’ve noticed that people are drawn to things that say what they are. I have a Sunsphere piece that says Knox; people are drawn to the words as well as the image. Maybe it’s because that you know it’s an image of your home town but when someone else sees it, they know it’s from your home town, too.”

Teague’s medium lends itself to permutation. She starts with a photograph, then prints it on wood and finally adds layers of paint to create her signature style. A free-lance graphic designer by trade and training, the way she came to this technique is proof that necessity is the mother of invention.

“It’s something that I’ve picked up in the last 3 years, and it happened by accident. A friend, Kelly Absher, asked me to do an exhibit for Central Flats and Taps for a First Friday – they had an artist back out. So I did some photography. He asked me to do it again the next year in the same spot, but I wanted to do something different.  Something with my photographs but with more of a fine art application. So I was playing around with different mediums and techniques to develop a vintage rustic style that I liked. And I thought printing on wood was cool; and so I developed my pictures into vector images and printed them on the board. Once I got to that step I started playing with painting them to add some color back to them.”

The resulting pieces are certainly familiar, and while Lindsey adds dimension and a separate personality to each that distinguish her vision, it’s never at the expense of the subject itself. Nevertheless, sometimes, she says, the materials take over and speak for themselves: “The paint will go on one color and dry another. There’s one board of the Tennessee Theatre that I originally wanted to be red. Red’s the trickiest. But it dried orange. I thought, well, that’s okay. It’s Knoxville.”

You can see Lindsey’s Art Boards at the Tomato Head Market Square from December 7 through January 3 and at the Gallery location from January 5th through February 1st.

Tennessee Theatre by Lindsey Teague

Tennessee Theatre by Lindsey Teague

November’s Featured Artist: Sheila Lutringer

This month at Tomato Head the walls feature a broad assortment of work from artist Sheila Lutringer. It’s an intriguing exhibit that includes mostly acrylics and some pencil, but the subjects are eclectic and run the gamut from self-portrait to pie – all of which reflect the artist’s broad range of interests and inspirations (and a few of our own).

The pieces vary in size, but one near constant is a vivid sense of color and detail. She says “I love color and movement. I’m using a lot of the color spectrum, but at some point, I’d like to work with a more limited palette. Sometimes less is more, but right now, there is a ton of color. It’s part of my current journey to wherever the next visual stop is.“

Her style is generally varied, though Sheila opines that “My work at The Tomato Head really is the best reflection of what I’ve been doing artistically lately. Pieces like “Blue Thoughts” and “Peridot” are my favorites. Mostly I describe my style as “hand-drawn.” Cross-hatching and other shading techniques, as well as the layering of color, are really interesting to me right now. There is a looseness I’m trying to control in a lot of my work. There are some tighter pieces where a face is involved or where there are minute details as in a teeny landscape, but in general, there is drawing in my painting.”

Sheila’s one of those lucky people who’s been certain of her vocation from early on; she recalls that “I was the kid who was praised for her art in 1st grade and so decided then and there that she would be an artist. I felt sure of it all my young life.”

Like several of the artists that we’ve featured on our walls, Sheila is keen on encouraging young interest in art: “Mom & Dad always called me their artist. I appreciate that they built a confidence in that.”  And that’s something that’s particularly important to her these days because, she says, her constant companion is her 2 year old daughter.

“She loves coloring with her washable markers and crayons. Play-doh is also a favorite medium. It’s amazing to see her improve in her dexterity and imagination each week. Perhaps she has an artistic future, but whatever she does, I hope to be as encouraging to her as my parents were to me. “

Sheila Lutringer

Sheila Lutringer

Our Featured Artist: Barbara Johnson

When you visit Tomato Head this month, you’ll be amidst a series of paintings that are full of images that are industrial and/or mechanical. But, if you’ll take a moment to consider each one and let them sink in while you sit and eat, you may find yourself asking what it is you really saw.

The collection on display this month is from the Mendelson Series composed by local artist Barb Johnson. The images are drawn from photographs that Barb took while visiting Mendelson’s Liquidation Warehouse in Dayton, Ohio. The choice to paint disconnected parts of old machinery may not strike you as an obvious choice, but Barb was captivated: “The light was coming in in such an interesting way, and there were so many things about the pieces as far as texture and color and shape that drew me to them.”

As for what draws her eye to anything she might paint, Barb says, “In so many artist statements I see this over and over again, and I would have to repeat it: light. The way the light falls on objects or changes them, their mood.  Light intrigues me. But as far as subject matter it’s hard to say. I like still life and landscape, but it’s funny when I took these photographs I thought I want to paint these things.”

As the idea for the series formed, though, an interesting thought occurred to her about the objects and the elements of life that they represented: “What got me about it was the fact that there were rows and rows of old machinery and mechanical pieces. Obviously they’re aged, and I think that someone used these for their occupation. They were productive, and now they’re just lying there to be refurbished or thrown away; and sometimes, unfortunately, that’s what happens to some people.”

And as she painted, Barb noticed a curious phenomenon: “It’s funny, I would paint them and stand back and say, wow look at that face. And I would have other people say, ‘Do you see a face in that?’ I would say, I do, do you?”

Even so, Barb isn’t interested in telling you what to see or worrying too much about it. In fact, after 15 years as a teacher, one lesson that she’s learned as well as any is that you can’t let worry about what people think destroy your creative drive: “When I taught I had general art, advanced art and Advanced Placement students – I had the whole gamut. And kids would come in and say, ‘I can’t do art.’ Unfortunately, that’s brought on by someone who says to them, ‘You’re not really an artist’. For me art isn’t about creating a thing to hang on the wall; it’s something you can do to fulfill yourself.”

“You have do it for yourself and not worry about what ‘they’ think about it. You fight the inner critic all the time. I have to tell myself, just keep going. If I feel that it’s right, that it’s working in the composition, I keep going.”

In addition to pursuing her own work Barb still teaches, but she offers private lessons now. And her experience leads her to one consistent piece of advice for anyone who is drawn to art: “Get the basics down and take those and run with them. And paint and paint and paint.”

“I have a student who says, ‘I just do this because I love it, not to put it up on a wall.’ I think that’s where we all ought to be.”

Barbara Johnson Art

Barbara Johnson Art

© 2016 The Tomato Head Site by: Robin Easter Design