Five questions with Richard Graves, an artist from the 'Wolf Hills of Virginia'

Jonathan Roberts • Dec 9, 2019 at 12:00 AM

A native of Atlanta, Richard Graves has made a home — and a name — for himself in Appalachia.

Graves, a graduate of Emory and Henry’s Class of 2008, has lived in Abingdon, Virginia, for over a decade and considers himself a “Neo-Appalachian artist,” something he describes as “an inclusive label that speaks to the emerging art scene in this area.” 

While he’s always been into art, one of Graves’ biggest breakthrough’s came earlier this year when his painting “Dr. Ford” was selected as part of the FL3TCH3R Exhibit at the Reece Museum on the campus of East Tennessee State University. The exhibit, which focuses on socially and politically engaged art, was curated by artist and activist Sue Coe and will be on display until Friday, Dec. 13. 

Graves briefly: 

Favorite color? Black and Red

Favorite restaurant in the area? Willow Tree

Coffee or tea? Coffee

Cats or dogs? “Corgis!”

Favorite book/movie? Book - Love is a Mixtape; Movie - check my website, richardgravesart.com. 

How did you get into art, and what drives you to becoming a painter?

Art has been one of those things that has always interested me. I couldn't imagine a better way to understand myself and the world around me.

What was it like to get accepted as part of this year's FL3TCH3R Exhibit?

It was surreal. I have known the work of Sue Coe (who juried the exhibit) for years, as well as the prestige and excitement around the annual FL3TCH3R exhibit. It was my first time being presented in a museum alongside international artists. There was a little bit of imposter syndrome, but mostly very humbling to be a part of such a storied tradition in Johnson City. I am beyond grateful to the Dyer family, Reece Museum and everyone that has come together to make this happen.

Tell me about the Dr. Ford piece that was accepted. What made you want to paint it?

The Dr. Ford piece was largely a result of listening to the stories and reactions from that day. I work at a radio station, and on September 27, we decided to preempt programming to run the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing live. It was a busy day at the station and many students and volunteers were in and out of my office trying to digest what they were hearing. For a lot of people I talked with that day and in the weeks following, it seemed to highlight many social concerns in our society. I was able to see that moment from a variety of different perspectives by hearing a diverse array of reactions to it. It was one of those times where the national conversation felt particularly important and an opportunity to reflect upon what it meant for our culture.

Why is social commentary an important part of your artistic expression, or was the Dr. Ford painting an outlier for you?

Social commentary is important, and often present in my work. Sometimes it is more explicit than others. I feel like most artists feel a responsibility to not be ambivalent to the world around them and social commentary is just one way to use art as a lens to examine the world we live in with more empathy. I don’t see my work as “political” per se, but more concerned with the fundamental question of how people are treated in our society.

What's your favorite part about creating art? 

My favorite part has to be seeing it make an impact on people. I always hope it resonates positively with everyone, but I would rather someone hate one of my pieces and remember it, than have it solicit no reaction at all. In those cases, I would hope that it would still contribute in some small way to their thoughtfulness, empathy or imagination. With most of my artwork, but the Dr. Ford piece especially, I feel like the reactions to it say more about the viewer than it does about me, and that is definitely one of my favorite dynamics.

Graves’ art can be purchased from his website www.richardgravesart.com, and his work can be found on Facebook (Richard Graves Art) and Instagram (@serpounce). 

The Press is always looking to highlight new artists, if you have a suggestion for a Featured Artist, email Jonathan Roberts at [email protected] or message him on Facebook or Twitter, @RobertsJCPress. 

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