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APSU Center of Excellence for the Creative Arts announces 2020-21 Tennessee Artist Fellows

Austin Peay State University - APSUClarksville, TN – The Austin Peay State University (APSU) Center of Excellence for the Creative Arts (CECA) is pleased to announce Benjy Russell, from Dowelltown, and Karen Seapker, from Donelson, as the 2020-21 recipients of the Tennessee Artist Fellowship.

Karen Seapker's The Sower
Karen Seapker’s The Sower

The CECA Tennessee Artist Fellowship celebrates contemporary art and to support the continued creative work of exceptional Tennessee artists.

Unlike other fellowships, nominations and applications from artists are not solicited.

A committee of APSU faculty compiles a list of outstanding artists from across the state and selects the fellowship recipient. Through the generous support of CECA, the selected artists receive $5,000 to aid in the creation of new artwork and $1000 for an artist lecture.

“Since APSU is the Center of Excellence for the Creative Arts for the entire state of Tennessee, we wanted to find a way to support artists state-wide,” said Barry Jones, dean of the College of Arts and Letters at APSU. “There is an incredible number of amazing artists here, but unfortunately there isn’t much financial support for them. We hope that this fellowship helps a Tennessee artist maintain their practice and to know that we support what they are doing.”

Benjy Russell's And the Night Illuminated the Night
Benjy Russell’s And the Night Illuminated the Night

“This year was a real treat as we were able to award an additional fellowship. We are honored to award this fellowship to not one, but two deserving Tennessee artists,” said a member of the selection committee. “We chose these artists as their works tackle very personal narratives that are exquisitely crafted.”

“Beyond that, these are two generous artists who have used their artistic practice to build and give back to their respective artistic communities. We’re also excited to host their respective artist lectures via Zoom to offer greater accessibility to the rest of the state. The artist lectures will happen during the Spring 2021 semester with dates to be announced.” member of selection committee stated.


About Benjy Russell

Benjy Russell
Benjy Russell

Benjy Russell is a Choctaw artist who grew up in Oklahoma and lives and works in Tennessee. His work finds its place at the intersection of philosophy, science, and art to see the world “prismatically” and to unlearn harmful antiquated social structures. Living as a gay man in rural Tennessee, he has found a thriving, diverse community of queer and trans people who serve as inspiration and collaborators. As an artist who has always looked to science fiction as a model for how we can shape the future we want, Russell creates a fictionalized version of the future he desires.

According to Russell, “Most of my work utilizes in-camera effects, using sculpture, studio lights, and mirrors to allude to magical realism. By creating a physical moment of impossibility, I can hold it up to the rest of the world to show what else is possible. My work points to some of the joy inherent in this life, showing it to be as much of the present moment as it is of the future.”

Seapker's Running Mama
Seapker’s Running Mama

The committee acknowledges, “Russell’s work is beautifully crafted and his constructed realities blend fantasy and science fiction with a true sense of personal investigation. It is Russell’s photographic vision and his building of a thriving artistic community that is thriving to change the future – and his place in it – that make him deserving of this support.”

Russell’s work has been exhibited in solo and group shows throughout the country and Berlin and has been written about in Voyage LA, Auture Magazine, Out & About Nashville, Oxford America, and LENSCRATCH. Russell is the Co-founder of Liberty Art Camp, an artist residency in Liberty, Tennessee. Liberty Art Camp has hosted over 30 national and international artists from England, Spain, Canada, New York City, and Los Angeles working in film, sculpture, performance, sound, photography, painting, and multi-disciplinary practices.


About Karen Seapker

Karen Seapker
Karen Seapker

A member of the selection committee states, “It is interesting to see an artist’s work change when they have children. From content to materials to time management, having children will influence how an artist thinks and how an artist produces. Seapker is an artist whose large, colorful, semi-abstract paintings seek to tackle the question of what it means to be a mother.

She questions the idea of maternal ephemerality, the need to comfort, and the need to be comforted. The way she forces the viewer’s eye to dance around her work reminds us of the rhythmic repetitions of daily schedules with children that turn into ritualistic endeavors consistently broken by the unpredictability of what children bring to the table. The unpredictability seems chaotic but is full of welcoming surprises – as, Seapker herself states, ‘an existence that reveals that consistency is a mirage.’”

The day before she was to deliver paintings to Zeitgeist Gallery in Nashville for an upcoming solo exhibition, Karen Seapker’s East Nashville studio was destroyed by the tornado that ripped thru town on March 2nd. The works in the studio thankfully survived, but the studio did not.

Seapker used the opening of the exhibition as a call to other artists in the Nashville community to donate works for $100.00, with 100% of the proceeds going directly to Gideon’s Army, which was working with the People of North Nashville on the tornado relief effort. This call garnered works from 67 artists that raised over $10,000 for the North Nashville community.

“Her work alone is worthy of any recognition that she receives,” states a member of the selection committee, “ but her selflessness in using her solo exhibition to organize the Nashville arts community in order to help other hard-hit neighborhoods really made her stand out this year.”

[30left]Karen Seapker’s paintings have been featured at museums and galleries in the U.S. and internationally. She uses a dynamic, gestural style and vibrant palette to create paintings and works on paper depicting abstracted imagery that allude to the power of human relationships, our connections to nature, and the passage of time.

Seapker received an MFA from Hunter College in New York, NY. Her work has been in shows at James Cohan Gallery in NYC and Shanghai, The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, PA, and California College of the Arts. The Crystal Bridges Museum recently included her work in a survey of contemporary art, State of the Art 2020.

Her work is in various private collections as well as the collection of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Reviews of Seapker’s work have been in publications including Burnaway, Hyperallergic, and ArtForum. She lives and works in Nashville, TN.

Past recipients of the CECA Tennessee Artist Fellowship include Maysey Craddock of Memphis, Alicia Henry of Nashville, Andrew Scott Ross of Johnson City, Bryce McCloud of Nashville, and Carl Moore of Memphis.

For more information on the CECA Tennessee Artist Fellowship, please contact Janice Crews, Director of CECA, at . To stay informed of upcoming CECA events, including the upcoming artist talks by Russell and Seapker, please visit www.apsu.edu/ceca or follow CECA on social media.


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