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The magic of making art is revealed in group show

Finding Freedom, a new work by Cristy Dunn.

By Dan Cullinane
Freelance Writer

Laughter rang out among the three artists gathered around the table at the Johnson County Center for the Arts as they discussed the impulse driving the transmutation of emotion to object at the heart of artistic expression.
Clarity dissolved and drifted away, and because defining art is like gathering starlight, the artists laughed.
“It’s something maybe bigger than words can express,” Cristy Dunn finally said.
I’d been hammering at them to detail the connecting thread linking fiber artist Mona Alderson, painters Cristy Dunn and Temple Reece, and photographer J. Jackson in the upcoming group show Embracing Authenticity, which launches Friday at the arts center. While I may have settled on the word authenticity for commonality, it’s not holding up. Not yet.
When Mona Alderson picks up a hammer and pounds the color from leaves and flowers into fabric, she refers to it as “The most basic, most essential way to move color from one place to another.” But why do it? The photogravure process J. Jackson uses to transfer light to film to paper has a step, which requires the etching of a copper plate. It’s an essential component he refers to as fundamental, but why do it?
“Can’t you feel it?” he asked me. “Can’t you see it?” Yes, I can. It renders the term photographer inadequate. It renders the term quilting meaningless. The copper plate is holographically layered and stunning, and the positive image it creates on paper pulls you in and haunts you with its ghostly realism. The stitches Alderson uses to corral the color she has pounded into fabric are so organic it is as though they were revealed, not created.
Essential. Fundamental. Revelatory. When I ask about it, Jackson replies, “A lot of its process, but when people can see the mystery and passion behind it when it comes through, and it evokes that, it’s a gift.”
Dunn, whose paintings often draw their power from the use of light, and the suggestion of shapes, attributes some mysterious magnetism of their shared work to their surroundings. “It’s born of culture,” she said. “It is landscapes, and the people, and music. I can’t make the work I make if I didn’t live where I live.”
“All the paintings done for the show were done in reverence of my family, my friends, my heritage, and my mountain home,” Reece said.
Jackson picked up the thread, “The successful pieces reflect some of the magic that goes on around us, so we have to make it. It’s a requirement.”
Oil and canvas. Light sensitive film. Fiber and fabric. Embracing Authenticity connects these disparate elements, not through similarities in style or content, but through process and passion and through place and personality. The authentic Appalachian voice is ingrained in and links their work. It’s as elusive as the mists that make our mountains blue, but it can be seen, and it can be felt.
“It can’t be put into words,” Dunn said again. “It’s the function of art and music to put that magic into something we can see or hear or touch. It bears witness to that and brings it to life in a way that we can hold onto.”
Embracing Authenticity, featuring new work by Mona Alderson, Cristy Dunn, J. Jackson, and Temple Reece, opens Friday, March 4, with an opening reception with the artists at the Johnson County Center for the Arts at 127 College Street in Mountain City.
For more information, call (423) 460-3313 or visit their website at