I first met Zach Searcy last May at one of the great events hosted at Paulk and Company on First Friday. His work spoke to me and I told him so. You can see some of his work in this article, but much more of it on his website. I was lucky enough to be there when the first work of the night sold and learned later that he’d sold a half-dozen or so that night, with the first selling in the thousand dollar range. I learned just yesterday that Virginia Adams and the gang at Paulk and Company have sold almost $40,000 worth of art out of their space since they began utilizing it for art exhibitions.
Just a few months later, Zach has a larger project underway. He’s opening an art studio and a gallery which, together, he’s calling Zach Searcy Projects. It officially opens this week with an exhibition of his own work for First Friday. Located at 317 N. Gay Street, it’s just over the viaduct from the 100 block, across from the old Regas restaurant and around the corner from the Public House. It’s a pretty block of Gay Street and it is located in the up-and-coming area just across the tracks. He’s calling it Zach Searcy Projects because he has nascent dreams of other possibilities for the space.
Born in Knoxville, his mother is dancer Sandy Larson, owner and operator of Sandsation Dancers dance studio. He graduated from Bearden High School in 2003 and credits his art teacher, Stan Hillard, with placing less emphasis on structure and repeatedly telling his students to “learn how to innovate.” After graduation he attended ETSU for a year with a major in mass communication. He loved art, but didn’t see it as a realistic course of study or a practical vocation.
He returned to Knoxville and took courses at Pellissippi State. There he took painting and print-making courses and, “became obsessed with the vision of painting.” He took a job, moved into his brother’s basement and made a studio they referred to as “the lab,” because he was always experimenting, trying to “capture that vision.” At that point, he wasn’t thinking of money, but rather refining his art. It’s a trait still present today in his perspective on making art.
A turn in his career happened in 2009 when his mother called him to say that an artist had been forced to cancel a First Friday exhibition at Knoxville Arts and Fine Crafts Center. The call came in November and the show would be in January. Feeling his current job had run its course and having little art ready for an exhibition, he quit his job to focus on preparation for the show. He didn’t sell any of his work, but it was important for him because people showed up and said nice things. It seems to have shifted his view of himself and his art.
Other showings followed, with one just a couple of months later. He had First Friday shows at Java. He did a couple of shows inside the Sunsphere. A painting from one of those shows was shown on the news and resulted in a sale. He’s had his work at Rala where he sold several of his drawings. He had shows at Relix and sold a painting to Bobby Drinnon. That painting was a significant work to him, with its theme of achieving goals.
In 2008 he bought a nice camera and traveled alone to Seattle, Portland and Vancouver, documenting images that spoke to him, looking for inspiration. The result of that trip was his work “Movie 1,” named in reference to the fact that he felt it read and played like a movie. He pursued a gallery showing and secured one at Red Line Gallery in Farragut simply by walking through the door and telling the director that he wanted to have a show there. He’s appreciative to Jean Hess whose article in Metro Pulse helped sell that painting. Bringing well over a thousand dollars, it became his largest sale price to that point.
Rather than moving from Knoxville to a larger market, as some ascending artists decide, he committed to having Knoxville as a base while attempting to mount regional shows in some of the larger art markets. Last year, in the midst of attempting to get an exhibition in Nashville, he’d put some samples of his work in his car and driven to Chattanooga to meet with gallery owners there. As he left Chattanooga, he got a message that Red Arrow in Nashville was interested. He drove there directly from Chattanooga and secured the show based on the art he had in the car.
The show in east Nashville was set for September and he learned of it in June. They wanted a gallery full of his work and he had to produce, which he did. He indicated he often works under pressure and it seems to go well for him. He sold a work at that showing that became his new most expensive sale.
He works about thirty hours a week tending bar and minding social media for Mellow Mushroom in Farragut where the owners have been very supportive of his art and the job has offered some opportunities he wouldn’t have otherwise found. For example, recently he’d begun thinking that having a space for a studio would be preferable to working at home. He met movie producer Libby Sherrill at Mellow Mushroom and learned that she had a downtown space.
Initially interested as a possible place to host his own exhibition, she suggested they share the two-room space which she only needs sporadically. He would use one room as a studio and the other would be shared as a gallery and for her purposes. After some initial uncertainty related to running a gallery, he became excited about the idea. He plans to showcase his art and that of others as time passes.
This Friday’s opening will feature his work – much of which you see in this article – but future shows will feature his work along side others, likely with a unifying theme. He pointed out that while initially he thought the Internet would be his vehicle for advancing his career, once he started focusing locally, things seemed to begin falling into place. At the same time, he’s still working outside the city; he just shipped a painting to Denver and is awaiting a couple of pieces back from Nashville in time for Friday’s show.
I asked him how he would characterize his art and he had a prepared artist’s statement he’d memorized. His art is, “Dark and Light. Loose and Tight. Digital and hand-made. My work explores the space in the middle.” He continued, “It’s important to me that all my work is done by hand,” though all his work contains digital elements. His work is mixed media on canvas, taking patterns from collected images and applying them to figures and forms.
Nothing is glued to the work like you might imagine in a collage. He prints the images and transfers them to the canvas through a physical process he has developed, thus it is digital and hand made at once. He likes to imagine that moment in which early man watched the firelight flicker on the surface of the cave and began see the surface as a canvas to contain their personally formulated images.
He strives for his work to be active, dynamic and almost athletic, in a sense. He wants the static work to be a party on canvas. He’d love it to make you want to dance. When he says it explores both dark and light, he means the human condition in all its inescapable complexity. As he put it, “No one can escape the human condition, so you may as well dance.”
He hasn’t decided if he will hold regular hours or if he will only be open for events, though he said he’d happily open up by appointment. You can make an appointment via email at email@example.com or via the website: zachsearcy.com. He also regularly does commission pieces, so if you have something in mind, let him know. His work has also been used for album art. Additionally, he is willing to discuss renting the space for small private events.
It’s another step in shifting downtown and the arts district, particularly, toward the north and connecting better with Fourth and Gill and Old North. I really enjoy his work and I think you will to. Please carve out some time to drop in on Friday night. He’ll be open from 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM.