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Nall art exhibit ‘Alabama Art: Inside Out’ sheds new light on Alabama

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Andrea Hammack

Staff Writer

The International Arts Center will be hosting a reception and art talk for its new exhibit, “Alabama Art: Inside Out,” on Friday, Sept. 7, from 5 to 7 p.m.

The exhibit was originally just an artistic endeavor for the Troy native and artist Fred Nall Hollis.

Nall said he set out to raise the standard of intelligence people needed to replace stupidity and racism and to change the image of Alabama. He wanted to show the world the various types of artistic talent embedded in his home state.

He, with the help of outside sources, chose 12 artists and created a portrait series. Those artists were Steve Skidmore, Yvonne Wells, Jimmy Lee Sudduth, Mose T, Frank Flemming, Bill Nance, Clifton Pearson, William Christenberry, Chip Cooper, Kathryn Tucker Windham, Charlie Lucas and Flemming Tyler Wilson.

Later, two more artists were added, Bruce Larsen and Betty Sue Matthews, creating the now 14 artists who are being recognized. He then took the series and information on the recognized artists and published a book, “Alabama Art,” in 2000.

“Living all over the world, being a part of museums everywhere, I realized that Alabama had a movement,” Nall said. “We had an example of all the fine arts and all of the outsider arts that there are.

“We had a complete A-Z span of techniques, and they all held true through the common thread of being rural Alabama.”

When the book was first put together, The University of Alabama gave Nall the “Alabama Initiative Award” for taking Alabama out of its preconceived notions.

Nall said it took the image of Alabama and “added a little something of art.”

“Usually, Roll Tide … War Eagle … is about all we get,” Nall said. “Growing up, I was good in sports, too, but I thought art was lacking.

“I wanted to do something for art in general and to celebrate my fellow artists because nobody else was doing it.”

According to Nall, getting the exhibit all together was mainly just a long process of buying, teaching, and collaborating with other Alabama artists and collecting their works, eventually leading to the production of his current collection.

Nall said his main purpose with this project was not to gain appreciation for himself, but to give his home state he loves some recognition and to show it has something special to offer.

Carrie Jaxon, the curator of the International Arts Center, said although a lot of the pieces were donated by Nall, putting the exhibit together did involve some extra pulling of strings.

“This particular exhibition involved searching for art by some of the featured artists that we didn’t have in our possession,” Jaxon said. “Borrowing artwork from other institutions involves lots of paperwork but is well worth the effort.

“We are fortunate to have generous lenders.”

All of the work involved captures a beautiful range of talent found in Alabama, whether it be by a well-known creator or one likely unknown to the general public.

She said she admired Nall’s ability to translate the artists and their work in his portraits and found it inspiring.

Janice Hawkins, the major gifts support officer, and her husband, Chancellor Jack Hawkins, have been involved with Nall’s project for 20 years, since “Alabama Art” was first developed.

Janice Hawkins said this project tells the story of the history of its people, with raw, untrained talent. She said she has even had the pleasure of meeting some of the artists featured in the exhibit.

“Nall discovered Betty Sue Matthews after he had already put the original 13 artists together,” Hawkins said. “I accompanied Nall once when he visited Betty Sue to pick up some of her artwork.

“She painted on cardboard, metal and just about anything she could find.“

“Alabama Art: Inside Out” magnifies the talent that saturates the state.

“It’s reaching into the seams of our home and pulling out stories and art from people you wouldn’t necessarily see in mainstream museums,” Jaxon said.

The reception for the exhibit is free and open to the public,and will also have refreshments. Nall will be in attendance, as well as a few artists from the exhibition.

Guests will have the opportunity to hear the artists explain some of the inspiration to the origin of the project.

“What is the expression?” Nall said. “Alabama lives matter?

“Alabama artists matter. That’s it.”