published Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

Tension and contrast: Bryan Rasmussen' artwork answers the question: How do I simplify?

IF YOU GO

* What: The Sculptures and Drawings of Bryan Rasmussen.

* Where: Graffiti: A Hill City Art Joint, 505 Cherokee Boulevard.

* When: Through March 10.

* Hours: 11 a.m-6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; noon-5 p.m. Sunday.

* Information: 423-400-9797.

Bryan Rasmussen was hard at work a couple of years ago, installing one of his steel sculptures at the Volkswagen plant, when a VW employee decided to offer some commentary.

"Well, I guess I just don't get art," the man said.

Rasmussen made a nebulous statement about how not all art touches all people, but the man continued with his thoughts.

"I think what's happening, though," the man said, "is it looks like something's coming apart and revealing something within."

Rasmussen was pleasantly shocked.

"I said, 'Exactly right! That's exactly what's happening,'" he recalls. "And that's happened to me several times since. They'll tell me exactly what I want them to take away from it.

"It's really good for your ego and, if they understand it, maybe it's not as intimidating as I thought."

In an exhibition at Graffiti on Cherokee Boulevard, Rasmussen's steel sculptures thrust skyward like spires, yet each is cut and angled in some way, offering the dangerous impression that they may tumble at any second. While the outside of the sculptures are painted red, black, blue and other colors, inside the cuts, the surfaces are different shades, almost like different pieces of flesh.

The idea is to blend "tension and contrast," says Rasmussen, whose multicolored tattoos peek out from under the sleeves of his black T-shirt. The tension comes in pieces that seem to be teetering and in danger of collapse, the contrast from the different shades outside and in.

"It's all about the cut, the line," says Rasmussen, 37, who has pieces at Chattanooga State Community College and Red Bank High School. "It comes apart and it reveals something more."

Along with the sculptures, Rasmussen also is displaying his drawings at Graffiti. Like the metal pieces, they're blends of tension and contrast, light and dark vertical stripes and washes made with charcoal and graphite that he hand smears across the paper, then uses a sander to blend "and give it that effervescence," he says.

The drawings -- most between 4 and 6 feet tall -- are meant as complements to the sculptures, not as actual representations of the 3-D works, he says.

"Artistically speaking, this is the way I look at any art; this is my art on paper," he says. "I'm not trying to draw my sculptures, not trying to show you what a sketchbook would look like."

David Jones, owner of Graffiti, says Rasmussen approached him a few months ago about having a solo show for his work, the first solo artist exhibition at the gallery, which opened in September 2012.

"We thought we'd give it a try," Jones says. "We liked his work and we liked that he had two-dimensional drawings to hang on the wall. And he's such a professional; he's easy to work with."

A native of LaFayette, Ga., Rasmussen has lived in Chattanooga for about six years. He came here to work for internationally known sculptor John Henry, whose metal pieces -- ranging from enormous outdoor installations to tabletop -- can be found from Florida to Texas to California to China and at several places in Chattanooga, including the Tennessee Pavilion, Rock City and Main Street.

It was Henry who made Rasmussen take a closer look at his work and what he was trying to express. Examining a group of several pieces by Rasmussen, Henry said they were all good work, but looked as if each was made by a different artist.

"It gave me something to think about. I knew what the 'line' that connected every piece was, but he couldn't see it," Rasmussen says.

Henry says Rasmussen's new work "shows a real effort to open up and separate himself from his more academic past."

"His work is definitely coming together and it's taking on a character of Bryan Rasmussen and not a scattering of things that are reminiscent of things that he's seen," Henry says. "He's developing his own vocabulary."

A graduate of the University of West Georgia with a bachelor of fine arts degree, Rasmussen came out of college with the knowledge that that, as an artist, "you either have your question that you're trying to ask through your art, or you found the answer to your question and you're trying to express the answer."

For him, the question that arose after Henry's comments was "How do I simplify?" The new sculptures, made between 2010 and now, are the answer.

"My work is a simplification of what it once was, and the simplest element in art to make is a line," he says. "Each piece builds on the next; each piece inspires the next. I take the elements from the previous work that I liked the best and thought were working and apply them to the next pieces."

Contact staff writer Shawn Ryan at sryan@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327.

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