Knapp’s dimly lit Performance Hall was packed Wednesday evening for Nashville-based painter Cody Tumblin’s artist talk. Supported by Denison’s studio art program in collaboration with the Vail Visiting Artist Lecture Series, Cody was brought to campus to speak with students enrolled in studio art classes as well as the general public.
Tumblin spoke richly, yet conversationally as he described his journey through different media, initially working with textiles and fabric as a fashion design student, and then branching off into printmaking after switching to graphic design–only deciding to be an artist in his final year at the School of the Arts Institute in Chicago.
According to Professor Keith Allyn Spencer of the Studio Art Department, Tumblin’s work currently “hedges between abstraction and representation. It has visual elements that point to iconography and imagery relating to our world, but also function in a way that is completely independent from it — it is what it is and not necessarily trying to be something else. Simultaneously, his work falls into a conversation of painting, but conventionally speaking, it is not. It stems from fashion and textiles affording him the opportunity to bypass historical baggage, freeing him from any disciplinary dogma.”
More recently, Tumblin has incorporated sweeping watercolor imagery and photographs into his pieces, with his most recent work showcasing a mélange of constellations from throughout his career. For Tumblin, his experience as an artist has largely been characterized by the recurring motif of the night: his art has been ‘learning the process.’ Musing about the criticism he received from a close friend and professor describing his first exhibition as “empty and childish,” Tumblin stated that it was nothing short of “soul-crushing.” Yet, this moment for him was a turning point and a chance for him to reflect on the stylistic choices he was making at the time, using self-described “empty” imagery and techniques inspired from his graphic design background. For a year he worked on incorporating representation into his work and intentionally understanding the significance and richness of his pieces. The take away that seemed to resonate with the creatively inclined audience was well received: “to make successful work, I have to be satisfied with the work I’m doing.”
Today Tumblin continues to use representation in his work, exploring a softer side of significance and abstraction and finding new meaning in his old works, especially relating it to what he sees in the natural world. Still employing his technical toolbox in bleaching, painting, dyeing, sewing, and collage, Tumblin’s work has a greater depth and continuity. Yet Tublin was adamant that he still doubts his work, often recreating and repurposing old pieces to give it new life. Spencer mirrored this by saying, “It is not unusual to question over and over again the validity of making art, doubting efforts and wondering if it is all just inane in the grand scheme of things…At the same time, though, that is the attraction to an artistic journey, it is contrary to what is expected. It is the unknown, the illogical, the ambiguous, and subjective which makes such a trek rewarding and eventually easy to persevere.”
Cody’s work can be explored on his website codytumblin.com and through his newest exhibition in collaboration with Professor Spencer running through November 11th at the Skylab Gallery in Columbus titled “Shits and Giggles.”