Portrait of the Artist
Tell us about yourself, how did you become an artist?
As a kid in Tennessee, I spent a lot of time outside in the rain and sun, following rivers, exploring hills and forests, looking under rocks and digging through the mud. The magic of the natural world taught me a lot about looking and listening that I carry into my making. I spent most of childhood writing adventure stories and roleplaying as characters from movies and books. These sorts of things carried me into the way
What is your background? and how did it inform the focus of your creative exploration or the medium you're currently working with?
I steered into fashion design and textiles at an early age and that took me to college in Chicago. There I discovered dyeing and something about its labor and slowness drew me in. The process left a kind of memory and warmth in the fabric that I understood. That and a long list of mentors that have pushed me to be weird, to be confident, to keep going beyond my limits and encouraged me to pursue my work, whatever form it took. It truly took so many relationships to carry my art and grow it.
What ideas interested you in the beginning of your practice, which ideas have you continued to explore, and where have they led you?
There were a lot of instances that drew me into thread, needle, and fabric. I grew up in the south with quilting and embroidery, handmade clothes and costumes, and those histories alone have thousands of ties to a greater textile world. In school I followed many histories down winding roads that unlocked the mysticism of cloth and its making. With those ideas as my foundation, I slowly found ways to search and describe my own ways of making.
Who were and are the biggest sources of your inspiration?
Inspiration is a surface level fleeting thing that doesn't quite get there. Truly pursuing an art practice is living in a way that you search your frictions and discover small moments, whenever they decide to arrive- but it is definitely slow and quiet. Sometimes these moments can feel miraculous and sometimes they explain something ordinary, but regardless they hold what words cannot, at least for me. My struggle with deep depression and anxiety is a driving force that pushes these pursuits. Having an art practice, for me, allows me to look beyond, underneath, and through my misshapen world- understand its connection to others, whether in fantasy or reality. Some days it feels like world building and some days it feels like finding scraps of something colorful in the mud. I find a lot of solace in nature and its reflection of our inner landscape. In recent years, some artists that have moved me are Stevie Nicks, Hilma af Klint, Vivian Suter, Susan Cianciolo, Gustav Klimt.
Where do you find inspiration?
Instead I’d like to focus on the things that bring me joy outside of art. The community of artists and friends in Chicago is extraordinary. My partner Hyun Jung Jun and I share a love for cooking and host lots of dinners for people. I spend many nights playing board games, hosting DND sessions, playing MTG, and countless hours of video games. I think it is important that we take time outside of our “practice” to entertain, find small indulgences, give ourselves the gift of comforts that hold us when art cannot always answer. Art will always guide and center my life, but it is important for me to stand apart from it as often as I engage with it.
*assorted photographs of Tumblin's studio, works in progress, details
Is there are a single work, project, or series that is pivotal in your current trajectory?
My most recent solo show at Devening Projects last January was a body of work that answered a lot of what I have been looking for. The paintings were made over a period of 2-3 years and were unstretched, cut apart, sewn together, bleached, painted over and re dyed many times. They struggled a lot to come to the surface, and not that I think that suffering is a necessary road to find enlightenment– I think it was more that they held a lot of searching for me and the restlessness shows on their faces. Some carry immense darkness, some bits of stray light, some an uneasy ambiguity. The spectrum of making truly felt like a journey.
How did it begin? and how did it evolve?
The works first started with very small photographs I took of the sky near my home in Tennessee. These were sewn into large bodies of dyed solid color. Over a few years I danced around these photographs with painted gestures, stains, collaged forms. Lots of making and unmaking. Some of these smaller paintings, once finished for a few months or a year, were then sewn into larger bodies of fabric and restretched and the dancing took place again. Some were cut down and trimmed, pieces sewn onto the surfaces of other nearby works. So a lot of expanding, contracting, and eventually a slow settling. These works carry a deep emotional resonance that took a certain kind of labor.
Blue Eyed Stranger, 2019
Bother You Up and Down, 2016-2018
Up and Down, all over the Moon and Sky, 2017-2018
Ok Now We're Dreaming, 2017-2018
Shadow, Sun Between the Trees, 2017-2018
A Place Where Dreamers Wilt, 2018
Dreamer (Alborada), 2016-2018
Studio, Chicago, 2018
Serene/ Chaos No.36, 2017-2019
What were important lessons in the process that you’ve carried forward with you?
Making work that really rubs at something can take all the time in the world or no time at all. It's also important to eat well and sleep well in order to do the whole art thing or life at all really. And also it's important to leave art now and then, do something else.
What are you working on now?
I took a break from art the last few months, I needed it for the sake of my mental health and to be honest it’s been tough. I’ve slowly started to pick up small pieces here and there, making a watercolor, a bit of sewing or sifting through scraps of fabric. This time has actually afforded me a slower looking at what I’ve made recently and I’m starting to find myself drawn into particular moments I had forgotten. It’s been nice to have some time to reflect before I begin again. Many of the works mentioned here are headed to New York over the next month and I’m looking forward to filling that empty space with something new.
If you could go back in time to the very beginning of your art practice and give your younger self a single piece of advice what would it be?
I would have invested more time into learning more skills and trying new materials and techniques instead of trying to “make art” all the time. I was so focused on making something “good” or “cool” instead of simply learning, exploring. Also, I could go back to school for four years of just art history if anyone wants to pay for it. There is so much to discover and we barely have time to dig through any of it.
About the Artist
Based in Chicago, Illinois
Cody Tumblin (b. 1991 Nashville, TN) currently lives and works in Chicago, IL. Recent solo projects include Devening Projects, Mild Climate, Good Enough, SPF 15, and The Outlet Gallery. Recent group exhibitions include No Place Gallery, Andrew Rafacz, Chicken Coop Contemporary, and Good Naked. Tumblin is a Hopper Prize Finalist and has been published in Art Maze 12 and Anniversary Edition 15. He recently released a community collaborative cookbook titled Today’s Special with Extended Play Press and will be showing new work at the Egg Collective in New York this Spring.