The art and space East Nashville allows
Ed Nash’s Inglewood studio is cavernous. His paintings hang from and lean against every vertical surface. “When I moved in here, the space was overwhelming — it was too big,” the 42 year-old says. “But gradually, it was freeing.” The two-story space, which he began building out in 2010, displays works with rolling blue hills of pine as one might see through a Vaseline-smeared lens. The heavy textures of others, their paint caked to create ridges and cracks, suggest lunar surfaces and volcanic fields. Blurred figures disappear into chalk-white fog, the lines faint and suggestive. And then there are those defying any recognizable form, abstracts evincing Nash’s command of composition and strong color theory, which have become some of his most popular and sought-after works.
“[Nash] has a way of showing depth and dimension,” says Chenault Sanders, a Nashville collector who currently owns seven of Nash’s works, the first of which he purchased in 2010.
East Nashville was the first place Nash lived with his wife after they moved to the U.S. from their native England and purchased a home in Inglewood. It was here he opened his studio, expanding into the adjacent unit when it came open a few years later. It’s also where he continues to operate.
At the back of the studio is a raised area with a wide view of the gallery reminiscent of a proscenium stage in an old gymnasium. Surely this must be where Nash creates his pieces. Indeed, an easel holds an unfinished work roughly two-by-three feet. But instead of lingering, he bends down against the back wall, grabs the bottom of a segmented garage door, and rattles it up, opening a space behind twice the size of our current space in length and width. More paintings lean against paintings, which lean against paintings.
It’s an impressive body of work, especially from an artist whose initial focus was not on painting.
Nash grew up in Letchworth, a small town 40 minutes north of London, England. As a child he earned a scholarship to a prestigious boy’s school, and it was during this time he began training as an artist, which continued through university. His focus then was on field hockey and installation pieces, the latter of which incorporated movie footage to make Orwellian points on privacy and what he refers to as “the embodiment of space.” “I wasn’t necessarily locked in to doing art at that point,” he says, explaining a double major of fine art and psychology. “I’d love to be an artist, but how does that happen?”
During this time, Nash was spending his summers in the U.S. — Nashville, specifically — selling educational books door to door to fund his U.K. art school. America’s symbolism, its Manifest Density and the Wild West, was not lost on him. Its space and mass: “You get on a plane and you fly across America, there’s just so much out there. It was a lot, coming from a little island,” he says. “But it was definitely more of, ‘There’s just a vast amount of opportunity.’”
After graduation and a stint in Edinburgh, Nash immigrated to the U.S. in 2006, but rather than working as an artist, he was a fine-art dealer, appraising and selling works by the Post-Impressionists. While some would consider it a special torture to work a vocation so adjacent to their avocation, the period was one of seeming enjoyment for him, and it would be significant in two ways: the development of a sense for what would and would not sell, and a master’s-level class in visual art. “I was looking at thousands of paintings every week, trying to decide what to buy,” he says. “In doing that, you’re training your eye really well in the composition of a work. You can’t buy that exposure.”
Nashville photographer and longtime friend Allen Clark says Nash’s shrewd understanding of art and commerce led to the artist’s success. “There’s not a lot of difference between selling an idea and selling a tangible piece of artwork,” Clark says. “He’s got a good sense for both business and for the art side of things, which is a hard balance.”
Nash’s return to painting — a boyhood passion he dropped in university for other mediums — was unabashedly calculated. (The market for installations was much leaner than for paintings, he admits.) But his fascination with space — which at one point in college had him (harmlessly) stalking his art tutor for a meta piece in which the artist became the art — carried over: “When I first started painting [again], it was, ‘How can I transform what I was doing here [with video installations] into something more marketable?’” he says.
Through the rolling garage doors in the back of Nash’s gallery are multiple rooms. One is a display area, its walls hung with works earmarked for galleries and private collections across the U.S. In another, the cinderblock walls are layered with sealant, a substance applied to protect the vulnerable surfaces his brushes create. And in another, a room coated with saw dust, his frames’ raw materials hang on hooks, ready to be custom-cut to the finished work’s dimensions.
Nash demurs as to the number of works he sells each year, but it’s obvious the volume is great. He employs multiple staffers, from assistants to framers to installers; he currently works from two studio spaces while openly discussing the likelihood of a third; and his own box truck, which crisscrosses the country to deliver commissions, is wrapped with his logo. “Ed Nash,” the brand, is booming, and yet Ed Nash, the artist, wages a constant war to keep himself in front of the easel as the demands of his shop grow by the year.