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Jared Small: Creating Beauty

Local artist produces art that is both passionate and poignant

Article by Jeannie Tabor

Photography by Sarah Bell, Sélavie Photography

Originally published in River City Lifestyle

The success of Jared Small’s Faded exhibition, shown this winter at David Lusk Gallery, was apparent before the preview event even occurred. Upon entering the gallery, I noticed that there were small red dots, indicating sold, on nearly every piece of his art. Jared attributed the demand for his art to the desire for beauty amidst a backdrop of concern these past two years and to the nature of our city: both beautiful and flawed.

The artist's typical composition categories are botanicals, portraits and houses. He is best known for his paintings of stately, run-down Memphis homes. “I started painting old, dilapidated houses because I grew up in a neighborhood with a lot of them,” says Jared. He noticed similar homes in neighborhoods, sometimes only a few streets away, that were in much better condition than the ones in his neighborhood. Jared reflects, “Even though the people living in the well-maintained homes might have been viewed in a more positive light, I knew the people in the rundown homes and had a positive view of theirs. I wanted to show the beauty of positive things that many people overlook.”

Showing the beauty amidst the dilapidation is exactly what Small so elegantly does. In his Faded exhibition, the painting Gray House depicts beautiful flowers growing around the door of a decaying home. Painting this house made Jared question the cause of the decay. “Is it because of a loss of a loved one? Or the loss of employment? And, yet, why is that same person able to maintain those beautiful flowers?” Jared continues, “I feel like unfortunate circumstances can prevent someone from maintaining their home, but maybe taking care of flowers is something they can control and a way to add beauty to their life.” He believes that most people are just doing their best, and that is where the true beauty lies.

This juxtaposition of beauty and dilapidation is also symbolic of the artist's own feelings about our River City, adding, “There are so many things to love about Memphis, its rich history, beautiful architecture, food, music and most definitely art.” But what would Jared like to change? “I wish the education system was better. If we could get it to a higher level throughout the city, I think it would fix a lot of the problems such as crime and workforce issues.” Maybe then the houses would begin to more closely resemble one another from one neighborhood to the next. “Although not everything about Memphis’ history is positive, I try to let the positive aspects and viewpoint inform my art.”

Small's process is complex, yet intuitive. He begins with an image and an idea in his mind. Most of his subjects are actual Memphis homes, people he knows and local flowers he arranges. Once his subject has been selected, he creates a rough sketch on paper and then takes a photo of the sketch that he uses to create a digital image on his computer where he can lay everything out and make adjustments. Next, he draws the future painting on its final surface: canvas or acrylic. And finally, he moves to the fun part: painting!

Jared's style of painting has been described as magical realism, where parts of each piece are very accurate in detail, while other elements are abstract or faded. His house paintings depict the gabled roofs, dormer windows and decorative woodwork found in many of the older Memphis homes. However, there is also an aspect of each painting that appears out of focus or faded, as if part of the scenery or house is dripping off the canvas. It has been said that this magical realism can allow the viewer to enter a dream-like state, between the realities of the obvious and the mysteries that seem to exist beneath the surface.

When Jared is not painting, he continues to create. “I am a very hands-on person,” he says. “Whenever I am not painting, I am building something, like furniture, or doing home renovations.” He also likes to travel and learn about different cultures. I had the pleasure of meeting Jared in his studio, housed within his beautiful, impeccably maintained Midtown home. His wife and creative partner, Cynthia, often builds the very canvases upon which he paints. Both Jared and Cynthia are native Memphians. He attended Overton High School and the University of Memphis and is a completely self-taught artist. His art can be found in the Brooks Museum’s permanent collection and is featured in many Memphis and Midsouth corporations, banks, schools, hospitals, and very, very lucky homes.

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