Sulphur Bluff, Texas, USA


Johnson City Press

Contemporary, historic exhibits on display

By Allison Alfonso
Press Tempo Writer

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I dropped in on John Simmons last week when he was installing his pottery and painting exhibit “Functor” at the Johnson City Area Arts Council.
Windows were open to let in a soft breeze, and he was measuring with a level the placement of the black letters of the show title, seemingly relishing the moment.

I wish I could say I was that careful about hanging work when Mom and I ran our gallery. Eyeballing it was sufficient to judge if work should be higher, lower or if it was crooked.

“Take your time and do it right the first time” often took a back seat to “Let’s just get it done.” Slight exaggeration, but I use the story to illustrate a difference.

Simmons is a worker, he said. He doesn’t mind the details.

He asked if I’d be attending his reception that Friday. This is one of many shows for him, perhaps, because he wants to be a practicing artist, not a teacher. Ceramics are his real love.

So, ever the questioner, I asked why he painted? He shrugged his shoulders as if amused by the question. That’s the worker in him.

Latex house paint on sheet metal is his chosen medium for paintings such as “Hecho en China,” which deals with the decline of American manufacturing.

It’s the formal concerns of art that really interest him, though. I was struck by the jagged and oblong shapes that puncture and ooze and repeat in various forms in his works. There’s a visual theme, but is there an intellectual one?

“Functors are used throughout modern mathematics to relate various categories. Within this show many different forms, techniques and concepts are used,” he said in his show statement. “Instead of categorizing everything, I would rather generalize – this work is a result from curiosity of how art functions. Not how it functions in the literal sense, but how it functions visually.

“Both the pottery and the paintings are a result of compositional problem solving, and what connects them are their formal qualities. Concept and process are equally important to me; they inform each other.

“Trying to make art is not easy to me, and my first idea is usually the most pedestrian. Sometimes on my third or fourth or fifth attempt I can find something genuine. Instead of inspiration, I look for possibilities.”

Exhibit hours are 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday.

The nice thing about living in an area as diverse is this is you can see a contemporary exhibit one day and a historical one the next.

“Trail of Tears” is up through June 15 in the Atrium Gallery of the Kingsport Renaissance Center and features 50 photographs of contemporary sites along the Trail.

Photographs are by David G. Fitzgerald, and text for the exhibit and accompanying book are by Duane King, Ph.D.

King, vice-president of museum affairs and director of the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Okla., will deliver a show lecture Thursday May 7 at 7 p.m. at the Center.

Between June 6-Dec. 5, 1838, more than 15,000 Cherokee were forcibly removed from their homeland in the southern Appalachians to the Indian Territory on a journey named the Trail of Tears.

Man is still trying to understand why, how it affected the people and how it changed the future of American political thought and justice, King wrote.

Principal Chief Chadwick Smith of the Cherokee Nation wrote in the book forward that the Trail of Tears violated the fundamental principles of fairness, justice and equality this country was purportedly based on, but it also proved evidence of the Cherokee legacy of surviving and excelling in the face of adversity.

The 12-minute film “One Road” accompanies the show and documents the process and building of “The Passage” at Ross’ Landing in Chattanooga by Cherokee artists from Oklahoma .

It’s the largest public art installation of contemporary Southeastern native American art in the country.

Exhibit hours are Monday-Saturday 8 a.m.-8 p.m. and Sunday 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

Allison Alfonso is a Press Tempo writer. Reach her at