It’s not about sales; it’s about sharing.” Bill Brimm, owner of Bryant Gallery and a respected presence within the Nashville arts culture, leans back and collects his thoughts. “I was speaking with a person in the neighborhood. I said, ‘Why haven’t you ever been to the gallery?’ and the response was, ‘I can’t afford anything.’ I was like, ‘I don’t care. Just come by and look at the work.’ Because for me, the biggest joy in having this place is for people to come in and take the time to really look at the artwork, and want to talk about it. Now don’t get me wrong: I love to sell work! But I’m blessed because I don’t have to.”
Brimm began his career as a stained-glass artist. He earned a BFA from MTSU in 1977, and joined Emmanuel Studio in 1979, becoming a co-owner in 1986. Emmanuel specializes in new and restored stained-glass windows for churches. “We restored all the windows in West End United Methodist Church, and we did all the new windows for Covenant Presbyterian up on the hill in Green Hills. We do work all over the Southeast,” he says.
Brimm also crafts beautiful furniture — sturdy, precise pieces based around elements like metal, wood, poured concrete and glass. The pieces are simple and clean, and carry a whiff of whimsy. A bird’s nest is built into the interior of one of the tables; another is bisected by a miniature Japanese Zen garden. One series of side tables and rolling carts is comprised of striking antique suitcases on simple metal and wood bases. “I’ve always had a real passion for interior design, so that’s how I got into the furniture thing.”
Like many artists, Brimm felt his way toward mastery of this new medium. “I’d think, ‘I’d love to do a table with a stained-glass top.’ So then I thought, ‘Well, I’ll have to build a base,’ and then I thought, ‘what materials am I gonna use? Well, I wanna use metal.’ But I couldn’t weld, so I had to teach myself to weld, and it’s just evolved into incorporating architectural pieces and found objects in the furniture.”
Photography rounds out Brimm’s triad of personal artistic endeavors. His images are often printed large, showing a fascination with texture, materials and light in a way that complements his glass and furniture pieces. “I like to zoom in on details of objects and landscapes. I like to pick up texture and color.” Recently, Brimm took a few selected images to 5 Points Digital Imaging and had them printed on oversize, grommeted banners to hang on the fence in Bryant Gallery’s lush courtyard area. Brimm is enthused about this new idea. “Art for privacy fences! They are all weatherproof, and I just thought it was a neat idea for if you have a dead space in your backyard.”
“We jumped through many hoops to get this place built. Patrick Avice du Buisson was our architect. At first, people weren’t very open to it.”
It’s rather ironic that he’d say that, because his backyard is a verdant, green living space; when Brimm and partner Andrew Krichels began planning their compound at 1113 Woodland St., the lot was completely barren, thanks to the 1998 tornado. The photography business that had been there for years was shuttered and the building razed. Initially, the whole downstairs area was used for Krichels’ Pilates studio. Living space is upstairs, while the back building holds a guesthouse upstairs and studio space downstairs. A garage was added in the fall of 2012.
“We jumped through many hoops to get this place built. Patrick Avice du Buisson was our architect. At first, people weren’t very open to it. We got some flack from neighborhood people about putting up a modern building. Since then, of course, modern’s popping up everywhere.” Brimm reflects on how the neighborhood has changed since the early 2000s. “No Bongo, no Margot, nothing. 3 Crow was still Shirley’s, but shortly thereafter, things started taking off.”
From the beginning, Brimm had a gallery in the back of his mind. He began by showing as “Bill Brimm at Home,” opening the space up and exhibiting his own creations. Bryant Gallery is two years old now. Running a business centered on selling art has its predictable ups and downs. Economic conditions, and simple existence in a world loaded with distractions, have both brought challenges. “We’re inundated with Facebook and emails … I mean, how many art events do you get invited to?” Nevertheless, Brimm is committed. “Up to this point, it’s all been local artists. We have some incredibly talented people here.”
Bryant Gallery has been working alongside Art & Invention Gallery, the Hatchery, Wonders on Woodland and the Shoppes on Fatherland to get people out of their homes and into the neighborhood on the second Saturday of each month. The idea is to celebrate art, small business and the thriving 5 Points area. “We’re trying to build up Second Saturday. I want people to come in and feel comfortable and not feel pressured that they have to buy something.”
Bryant is exhibiting a group show through July 28, featuring the work of Kieran Kane, Solomon Behnke and more. Next will be the landscapes and tablescapes of Susan Simons. There will be an Artist Reception for Simons Aug. 3 during Second Saturday, a practice Bryant Gallery is now employing for every new show. Next up is Ndume Olatushani, a self-taught oil painter who was just released from prison after serving 28 years for a crime he did not commit. “Ndume’s opening will be on Sept. 14. Such a gentle, kind man and his work is very interesting. I like it and I want to help him.”
Brimm considers the exhibits he mounts as partnerships between himself and the artist. He’s well versed in artists’ motivations and quirks. “For me, and I think for many, it takes us out of the place we occupy — and I’m in a really good place so it’s not exactly that — but it takes you someplace else. It’s self-satisfying. And when you have that creative urge, it has to come out or you’re going to be really frustrated.”
Brimm admits that the one downside to running the gallery is that he makes less art himself, but adds, “I’d just like the neighborhood to know that the art in this building is to share. If people are walking by on Sunday, going by for coffee … stop in! We’re open on Saturday and Sunday and all are welcome.”
For more on Bill Brimm & Bryant Gallery, see his Instagram accounts at @billbrimm and at Facebook.