John Arley is a Nashville-based visual artist. A contemporary abstract expressionist, John’s art recreates the feelings and sensations that don’t get expressed. Each canvas is the muttering in an almost trancelike meditation, with each dripping of paint an intentional mapping of his brain chemistry’s geography.
Not afraid to speak his mind, John feels that the limitations of words don’t allow the nuance to come through. “When I paint, I pull out what’s on the top of my mind, and dig deep into all those little feelings that polite society demands we repress,” he says. “There’s so much that goes on in our heads that gets stored in these little pockets of our psyche. I find that letting some thoughts go unspoken allows it to ferment. I’ll build on it in my head, and it’ll give me a greater understanding of what that thought really is and why I feel that way.”
John’s first exposure to visual art came when he was nine years old. His uncle, who was actually close to him in age, wanted to be a comic book artist. He fondly remembers spending the hours they drew and painted together, learning to match the colorful action and fantastic characters depicted on the pages. Those hours spent with his uncle taught him the power of escapism, and how reality’s limitations shouldn’t be allowed to tamp down one’s imagination.
John’s creativity comes from being exposed to different vistas. Born in 1977 in Austin, Texas, lived in Amarillo, Texas and Chicago, and did his due diligence in traveling before landing in Middle Tennessee in 2009. He loves the nature of different regions, as well as watching people interact in everyday situations and picturing how jarring or serene their emotions might look on a canvas. He can look at, say, a couple arguing and see that one of the people is in a rut while the other isn’t doing their best to actively participate in the relationship.
“The freedom in art is that it will always be one of the last expressions of truth. It’s an honest, peaceful anarchy against the systems that rob this world of so much. I do what I can to try to give those lost feelings back to the person looking at the painting, to let them know that those feelings aren’t lost. They’re still in there, and the world hasn’t robbed you of your humanity,” John says. His desire to give the person a reclaimed sense of meaning and emotional sensitivity is why most of his works are left intentionally untitled.
John’s day job is a constant source of learning and inspiration, as the auction house he works for keeps him both humbled and inspired by the high caliber quality of artwork that comes onto the sales floor.
John’s work has been included in popup shows, the Franklin Art Crawl, multiple Rutherford Arts Alliance virtual gallery exhibitions, several pop-up art shows in the area, and an online charity auction. While John’s art show bookings for 2020 have naturally been disrupted by the pandemic, John looks to 2021 with a sense of hope.
“The pandemic has been a wrinkle in a lot of artists’ plans, but it’s given me time to focus on what I want to do. It showed me what’s essential to making art, and I’ve been doing a lot of self-exploring,” he says. “I’m pretty excited about some of the concepts that I have slated for 2021.”
John lives in Green Hills with his son.