Queer artist hopes to raise the profile of visual artists in Nashville

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In a town known for its artistic expression through music, there is a vibrant scene of visual artists who are determined to make their mark. One such artist is Casey Promise, whose distinctive style and native-Nashvillian perspective have earned her an exhibition at The Red Arrow Gallery.

“We get lost in the whirlwind of music, sports, and religion,” Promise says. “It’s a little more difficult being a visual artist.”

Promise’s work literally stands out with its use of mixed media. “Drawings can only take you so far,” Promise explains. “I love to see people interact with art. With 3D pieces, even if it’s on 2D paper, they still have to turn their head and look in and out and around it.”

Promise grew up in Murfreesboro, raised by “hippies and artists” who didn’t try to steer her in any particular religious direction. Her work, however, contains lots of characters with ram’s horns or angel’s wings. She explains, “I never read the bible. For me, the Bible was mystical. I was really intrigued by it and I’m still really intrigued by it, the story of good versus evil, positive versus negative. I never once thought that this was real. To me, it’s a beautiful story.”

A lot of Promise’s work starts out telling a story about herself but expands to tell a larger story about humanity. There’s a piece depicting a squirrel busily nibbling on something inside a human head, called “Neuroticism.” Promise says the piece represents “my anxiety, my insecurity, my rapid thinking,” but the sentiment is universal.

“I understand the ‘be positive’ mindset, but sometimes we forget that pain is real and we all feel anxious and we all feel hurt and we all feel loss,” says Promise. “A lot of my art deals with the thought of ‘I feel this too.’”

Promise’s experience as a queer person has also informed her work. Many of the characters in her pieces are androgynous and very few have hair. “I love that two people can come up to a piece and one person thinks it’s male and another thinks it’s female. Much of that is from my being queer, but I met a lot of transgender people when I lived in New Mexico. In a way, my fight for them is using these characters.”

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Many of the androgynous characters in Promise’s work are intentionally covered-up nudes. “There are so many artists here who have pieces that are too sexual or offensive to display here in the Bible Belt,” explains Promise. “Artists have this amazing beautiful work but it’s considered too offensive and they’re not able to display it. That’s frustrating for a lot of visual artists, so they go outside of Nashville to display their work.”

Promise, however, intends to stay in Nashville. “I think it’s definitely growing,” she says. She believes the more artists stick around in Nashville, the more artists will come out of the woodwork and be unafraid to display their work, and artists will feel “safer in investing in the pieces if they are in a community that would be more accepting of it.”

Nashville’s art community continues to grow through Promise and other artists who fearlessly display their work. Promise’s show at The Red Arrow Gallery continues through June 14 and it is thought-provoking, deeply interesting, and highly recommended.

Red Arrow Gallery is located at 1311 McGavock Pike. Stay connected with Casey Promise here.