Art exhibition in a white wall gallery space. Two large figurative paintings hang on the left wall, and a staircase with wood railing goes up the right wall. In the center, a colorful sculpture hangs from the ceiling.
Installation view. All photos courtesy of Red Arrow Gallery.

Fifty reds in their minds

Joe Nolan

Sir Isaac Newton, the English physicist and mathematician, conducted a series of groundbreaking experiments with light in the 1660s. His treatise Opticks is one of the great works in the history of physics, and Newton was the first to demonstrate that clear white light was actually composed of seven visible colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. He also discovered that the human eye can only perceive a narrow portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, and that the perceived color of a given subject corresponds to the portion of the light spectrum that it reflects back at the viewer.

Artist Josef Albers’ book, Interaction of Color is as foundational to visual art education as Newton’s treatise is to the physical sciences. The 1963 first edition included only 2000 copies and each contained 150 silkscreen plates allowing students to actually experience the perceptual phenomena Albers recorded. The artist’s observations about the perception of colors and combinations of colors is still so foundational to art school curricula that they are now available as an iPad app more than half a century after the book’s original release. In Interaction of Color, Albers writes that pure color “is almost never seen” because it “deceives continually.” The author explains that “If one says ‘Red’—the name of a color—and there are fifty people listening, it can be expected that there will be fifty reds in their minds.” 1

Albers’ quote provides the title for a new group exhibition at Red Arrow—an oasis of contemporary art in the East Nashville neighborhood better known for its music venues, dive bars, and concept eateries. Fifty reds in their minds is unique when compared to contemporary curatorial trends: it’s a small group show featuring abstracted formalist explorations of color, tone and hue by a handful of diverse and talented artists.

Brianna Bass is from Knoxville, Tennessee and currently based in Connecticut, where she recently earned an MFA at Yale. Bass’s sumptuous but studied paintings on panels recall Newton’s experiments in their mathematical plotting. Chromanumeric Dissolve 1 is a colorful grid design with a pyramid pattern rising in the center of a two foot by two foot panel covered in rows and columns of soft squares of acrylic paint generously applied like bakery frosting. Bass plans her patterned paintings by assigning numbers to the color wheel and then laying out her geometric abstracts using various numeric patterns, mathematical formulas, and random number generators.

Chromanumeric Dissolve 1 tips its hat to experiments of the 1660s, but Event Axis is a psychedelic experience courtesy of Albers and the 1960s. The man who wrote the book on the deceptive ways in which colors interact with our limited and individuated perceptions is the ghost in the Event Axis machine. Bass puts oil to panel here with super tight precision compared to the more textured and sensual takes with her buttercream acrylics. She paints a grid of R-O-Y-G-B-I-V vertical girders floating in front of a horizontal bank of R-O-Y-G-B-I-V clouds descending through the background. The interacting colors create a flashing effect, like looking at a pattern on glass with moving lights reflected in it. It’s a supremely trippy painting, and even a little vertigo-inducing. The word psychedelic means to behold the mind, to perceive your perceiving, and Event Axis is a painting that shows viewers their own seeing—both the limits and unique wonders of one’s particular perception.

Mathew Tom’s Vase (After Ming Dynasty Vessel) and Stigmata (After Hans Memling) are two large, figurative/representational, grayscale oil on linen works that represent the polar opposite of Bass’s candy colored abstracts. They hang together on the longest wall at Red Arrow and they’re so stylistically similar—and so unique in an exhibition brimming with a bouquet of bright colors—that I assumed the pair was a diptych. Stigmata pictures the titular bleeding hand floating against a charcoal background. Vase similarly finds a lone vessel pictured in the center of the work. Each speaks to Western and Eastern art histories respectively, and the arrangement reads like an age-old global art dialog. Red Arrow gallery director Ashley Layendecker confirmed that the works weren’t created as a matched pair, but the decision to hang them at connecting proximities was a conscious curatorial choice, and it’s a good one. Figuration nearly always inspires narrative, and at Red Arrow, these paintings tell a bigger story together than they do apart.

Katie Hector’s portraits are the most fully-realized figurative works in Fifty reds in their minds, but her dye and bleach renderings of a young woman (Christine) and a young man (Jealous Tendencies) are abstracted by extreme stylization—they look like full color x-ray images. These works aren’t hung next to each other in a design-inspired diptych arrangement, but that would have worked here. Ultimately it’s the implications of their fraught titling that tells me these two were never meant to be.

Jason Bard Yarmosky’s paintings take portraiture one full step into pure abstraction. Yarmosky’s Rainbow body 18 (Diptych) references the Tibetan Buddhist notion that deep realization can transform the body into an array of radiant lights—a Rainbow Body. Rainbow body 18 is a recent work in a series of portraits the artist started when his grandparents were still both living. They’ve both passed, but the art continues. Yarmosky’s works are simultaneously glowing and grief-stricken—they’re holy and haunted, and they share their disembodied colors with the cotton candy auras of Kirlian photography. Yarmosky’s paintings are a highlight of the exhibition. His expressive abstractions are spirited in more ways than one.

Duncan McDaniel’s suspended sculpture presents color via geometric abstract acrylic forms. Individual pieces vary from small circles to large squares in a sequential, symmetrical arrangement that looks like two tunnels forming on either side of an entrance/exit/portal. Viewers can gaze from one end straight through the work to the other side. The sculpture includes more than 30 pieces, beginning with small violet circles, followed by increasingly square-er and larger shapes in red, orange, yellow, green. A big blue square marks the center of the sculpture and the sequence finishes with diminishing squares giving way to smaller circles on the other side. The sculpture’s title, Circling the Square, speaks to a symbol in mandala design that represents the union of heaven and earth, and the work’s symmetrical construction speaks to that interpretation. Formally speaking, it’s the most genre-bending work in the exhibition: a 3D sculpture suspended in the middle of the gallery, but colored with broad bristly brushstrokes that ultimately underline McDaniel’s primary painting practice. 

Fifty reds in their minds is a colorful show about how we see the world, highlighting the primacy of personal perception. Albers warned us about color’s capacity for deception, but there will never be any truths more true for us than the ones we see for ourselves with our own, unique, individual eyes.


  1. Josef Albers, Interaction of Color: 50th Anniversary Edition (Yale, Yale University Press, 2013), page 3.

A painting in grayscale of a disembodied hand, palm facing the viewer, with a small bleeding wound visible in the center of the palm.
Mathew Tom, Stigmata (After Hans Memling), 2018. Oil on Linen, 60 x 48 in.

A painting of a young person’s face with their neck and collarbones visible. The marks used to create the image are shades of light teal and purple against a dark background.
Katie Hector, Jealous Tendencies, 2023. Bleach and dye on canvas, 40 x 30 in.

Art exhibition in a white wall gallery space. In the background, two large gray paintings and two small colorful paintings hang on a wall. In the foreground, a colorful sculpture hangs from the ceiling.
Duncan McDaniel, Circling the Square, 2023. Acrylic on suspended acrylic, 36 x 36 x 54 in.

Fifty reds in their minds was on view at Red Arrow Gallery in Nashville April 1 through April 29, 2023



Joe Nolan (he/him) is an intermedia artist based in Nashville, TN. His diverse practice includes photography, multimedia paintings, radio poetry broadcasts, live performances, musical releases, public art projects, and his critical writing about art and film.

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