Off-Site is an ongoing series of features about Nashville-based artists whose work is being exhibited elsewhere.
Jodi Hays has a long history in Nashville, and an even longer history in the South. A native of Hot Springs, Ark., Hays has lived in Nashville since 2005. She spent four years as the gallery director at Tennessee State University, where she brought in art-world heavyweights like William Pope.L, Hank Willis Thomas and Shaun Leonardo . She’s exhibited with Red Arrow Gallery and ZieherSmith, and her show at The Browsing Room inside the Downtown Presbyterian Church received a coveted ArtForum Critic’s Pick.
For The Findher first solo show in Los Angeles, Hays is exhibiting mostly large-scale works that the artist refers to as “backless quilts” – a kind of descriptive shorthand for her unique process.
“The Find relates to reclaimed materials and the idea that materials have been taken from Goodwill or recycling bins or hand-me-downs from my family, ”the artist tells the Scene from her home in East Nashville. “But The Find is also what an artist practices – a lifetime of searching for something. ”
Hays began utilizing used cardboard as artistic materials while socially isolating during the COVID pandemic. She arrived at a uniquely Southern aesthetic that references patchwork quilts and abandoned country stores, but also Rauschenberg’s “Bed” and Cubist collage. Her artist’s statement spells it out: “Landscape and the material vocabulary of the American South influence my abstraction. Mining a Southern povera, I use reclaimed textiles, fabric and cardboard. These materials serve as stand-ins for expressive marks, and resourceful labor. ”
The Find is a big show of big work, and in many ways, Night Gallery is the ideal platform for Hays to increase her visibility. Founded in 2010, the gallery was originally a strip-mall space that was open only from 10 pm to 3 am In recent years it’s developed into one of the West Coast’s most influential art spaces, representing an array of powerhouse artists like Samara Golden, Tau Lewis and Jesse Mockrin.
At 46-by-45 inches, “Darkest Hour” is one of the exhibition’s midsize collage works, and is made from the waxy dyed cardboard from a mattress box pieced together with pink-hued slabs that look like flesh and worn-out bedsheets.
“Canaan” is one of four 76-by-52-inch works. Its bright-yellow hues are unflinchingly cheery – like an old doll grinning up from a dollar bin. Along its lower edge is a star-shaped doily, the perfect representation for the Southern niceties that persist even in times of desperation – or, as Hays says, a lifetime spent searching. The work takes its title, she says, from the Old Testament promise of a land of milk and honey that took 40 years to find.