Interview: Rocky Horton

Rocky Horton, Nashville Bedford Forrest, 2018-2019. Photo courtesy of the artist.

By Lexie Roland


Rocky Horton, Nashville Bedford Forrest, 2018-2019. Photo courtesy of the artist.


Rocky Horton is a conceptual artist living and working out of Nashville, Tennessee, with his wife Mandy Rogers Horton and their four children. On November 25, 2018, Rocky launched a self-declared artist-in-residency through an ad in the Nashville Scene. Over the course of the year, Rocky is creating work in direct response to Nashville and its community; the residency will conclude on November 25, 2019.


No. What prompted your self-declared residency? Why did you choose to begin in November?


LR. Since moving to Nashville, I’ve observed community projects happening here. Over time, the good ones hung out, but they did not fit within the scope of my work. The goal of my residency is to create a framework within which I can understand and incorporate Nashville as a community and as my place of residence into a site-specific body of work. November 25th is my birthday, thus it marks a particular time in my life in a city that is really growing up.


No. Tell me more about the Nashville Bedford Forrest project.


LR. I have been aware of the Nathan Bedford Forrest sculpture located off of I-65 in Nashville since I moved to town, and I have often made work that is in response to it. My initial goal with this project was to re-contextualize the sculpture, but I wasn’t sure what approach would be most effective. I thought about a parade float that I would either let rot or burn up, but I wanted to develop work with which Nashville residents could directly interact. The leaning tower of Pisa came to mind since I wanted to redefine the monument with humor.

Ultimately, I have developed a web-based puzzle platform in which participants are able to click and drag different parts of the statue around in order to transform it in any way they see fit. This ugly, hyper-racist monument is democratized through creative re-contextualization; it can now exist as a meme. Everyone has an opportunity to be creative by making new “Nathans”, and Nashville’s residents are able to “speak” louder than the statue itself.

Rocky Horton, Nashville Bedford Forrest, 2018-2019. Photo courtesy of the artist.

No. What is your rationale behind the website design?


LR. reminds me of Geocities circa 1995 when I was in college! The main goal is to make the site approachable, charming, and humorous. The idea of designing a clean, conceptual site feels turgid, and I want participants to express creativity and angst when creating Nathans. I’m not interested in convincing Nashville that this project is an artwork, which is why I refer to it as a project.


No. What has the response been for Nashville Bedford Forrest and for your self-declaration as a whole? Have you found anything surprising thus far?


LR. Overall the response has been pretty positive. I did receive this feedback to the project: Why don’t the flags move in the puzzle on the website? I have a childlike interest in re-sculpting the sculpture itself. Nobody I know likes the statue – it’s pretty universally reviled – and the flags aren’t where I want the focus to be. I encourage everyone to challenge any monuments of confederacy and explore what it means to represent a community. I am not trying to stir up antagonism, but I am interested in the growth of an honest and creative response. I have been pleasantly surprised by how funny people are! We’re progressing towards changing the weight of a socially negotiated sculpture through more constructive discussions.


No. Have you planned out your projects for the length of the residency? Was Nashville Bedford Forrest meant to be the initiation project?


LR. Nothing is necessarily planned out by date, but I do have three linchpin projects that serve as a general structure for the year. Nashville Bedford Forrest wasn’t necessarily intended to be the first project; it just worked out that Kyle Jones, the web designer with whom I collaborated on the website, was available to work with me at that time. Another upcoming project is Pedal Pubs Symposiums, which will involve various speakers delivering art talks while pedaling around Nashville drinking beer. I have already begun working on Pedal Pubs Symposium, and I will be setting up a Kickstarter project for it soon as well.


No. In your recent work outside of the residency, you’ve been making large-scale, detailed floral paintings. Are there crossovers in the types of work that you create?


LR. The paintings I consider romantic in the high meaning of the term, and the residency is also romantic in its own way. My work is self-effacing, humorous, and hopeful, and that is what ties all the work together. Throughout graduate school I would get in trouble because my work didn’t carry a consistent style or theme, but I don’t deep dive into one thing. Instead, I work on side projects that develop into “the thing.” The projects I am working on, like Nashville Bedford Forrest, are silly and critical, comedic and tragic. Most of my work feels romantic, hopeful, and silly, but is up to something serious. The structure of the residency as a whole underscores that ridiculous and silly structure visually present in my other work.


No. Are you worried about brand? Visual consistency?


LR. I don’t care. The way I see it, everything has some connection, as long as the relationship between the work is consistent (humorous, serious, romantic). I move about, discover, and allow myself to gravitate towards my instincts in my work. Authenticity in the work is my primary concern.


No. You are Department Chair at Lipscomb University, co-president of Coop, had an opening exhibition at The Arts Company in March, and you have a family. How have you managed your time throughout this residency?


Rocky Horton, Nashville Bedford Forrest, 2018-2019. Photo courtesy of the artist.

LR. Compartmentalization: I leave work at work. There are the occasional shorelines, but for the most part I enjoy multitasking and am able to burn bridges easily. I’ve got a design brain, so I love to problem solve and conceptualize. When it comes to production in my studio, once I think of an idea, I text a few friends about it, and stay active.


No. Is there an overarching goal you have for your residency?


LR. I’d like to end the residency with hopefulness, if possible. My self-declaration wasn’t intended as an act of hubris, but rather to be playful, generous. By putting my ad in the Nashville Scene, I made a commitment that held my own feet to the fire. I’ve been taking the residency seriously since the beginning, but it was the community that made it official, which I was not expecting. I’ve even gotten questions like Who’s next? I don’t have to pass off the torch, anyone can do this as well.


No. How does this self-declared residency compare to others in your experience?


LR. In my experience, I don’t find it refreshing to be away from my family. I can’t focus. Residencies are meant to be challenging and communal. My family and I have decided to schedule dinners with local artists and thinkers in our community, in order to share ideas; that is the perk of a traditional residency. The difference I maintain in this self-declared residency is that I am still living a regular life. I’m just placing this project into the structure of my life. Lenka Clayton’s artist residency in motherhood is similar; I’m essentially using the same strategy. I have resources here. Where I am now is rich and beautiful.


Lexie Roland is an artist and writer living and working out of Nashville, TN.