A feature article titled Branching Out in The Tennessee Magazine
January 2004

Story by Ron Bell
Photographs by Robin Conover

Charles Brindley Paints an
Uncommon Portrait of Tennessee

In the paintings and drawings of Charles Brindley, the gnarled trunk of a dying beech tree assumes the character of old bones, stretching and twisting until you can almost hear the crackle of bark. His rendering of a rock formation at Sapphire Ridge contorts into what could be the face of an old man, his ancient brow jutting out from the shadows to squint at morning’s first light. Upon close examination, one realizes that Brindley is not just a landscape artist; he is a portrait painter, and his models are trees, rocks and whatever else catches the keen, imaginative eye of this skilled Tennessee artist.

Charles Brindley paces quietly through his studio, responding to questions about his work with the humility of a first-year art student. One look at his work, however, reveals he is light-years away from those earlier days as a struggling young artist at Middle Tennessee State University and later as a graduate student at Gatlinburg’s Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts.

Born and raised in Middle Tennessee, Brindley developed his talent early, encouraged by his artistic, piano-playing mother. He had his first one-man show at Nashville’s prestigious Cheekwood Museum at age 25, and now his work can be seen in private collections and galleries across the country.

When attempting to explain his persistent interest in natural subjects, Brindley seems as awestruck as we are. When asked about his inclination toward trees, he responds simply: “I don’t know why. I am just pulled to draw trees­— even in college. I guess I always have been.”

Brindley maintains a practical, down-to-earth approach to his work, bringing that same attitude to his ideas about life as an artist. He lives simply; a soft spoken, self described family man with a pleasant southern drawl, falling somewhere between Bill Moyers and Mister Rogers.

With typical humility, Brindley denies he could be called prolific because of the time it takes to complete each painting. But aside from painting 10 to 12 large paintings of trees each year, he completes several other commissioned and personal pieces and also teaches creative painting and drawing at Cheekwood, counting Gov. Phil Bredesen and his wife Andrea Conte, among his private students. His studio has expanded over the years to three or more rooms of the house, with framed drawings and oil paintings leaning against the walls, waiting in stages for their next gallery appearance.

“I am a one man show,” he admits. “I don’t have an exclusive agent or gallery, so I’m in control of all my own promotion and marketing.” With adjoining credits as a graphic designer, Brindley is able to assume the production involved in having his work reproduced for brochures, mailers, postcards and prints. He also doubles as his own press agent, as we at The Tennessee Magazine discovered. He makes his own calls and personally handles the day-to-day task of self promotion, typically the most ill-fitting hat a successful artist is required to wear.

Having just moved into their Elizabethan-era, three-story home in the small town of Adairville, KY, Brindley and his wife, Jennifer, enjoy close proximity to nature as well as being just minutes away from Nashville and property they own in Cottontown, Tenn., in the Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation service area.

Brindley’s interest in trees, while core to his body of work as an artist, is just part of his focus these days. He is currently working on a series of commissioned architectural drawings and enjoys painting old homes and buildings, capturing them in their various stages of ruin.

Trees, he says, have a character all their own, just like people, and he works to bring out the “personality” in the natural objects the paints. With four children at home, Brindley’s title of “teacher” takes on added dimensions.

“I’ve worked with my children a little,” he says, “but I haven’t pushed them one way or the other. As an artist, I have had enough difficulty through the years and I wouldn’t force them into anything. I love being an artist, but this life can be hard at times.”

Hard, but rewarding, he admits. Like the trees he paints, life inded has it knots, but art is there to inspire us, to help lift our eyes from the mundane and sometimes painful details of life, to see the tangle of branches reaching gracefully toward a limitless sky.

CAPTIONS

Beech Comber “Study of Old Beech Tree,” graphite on paper, 29x23 inches, 2000. Collection of Governor Phil Bredesen. Drawn on site, this giant beech is just one of hundres of trees Brindley has drawn and painted.

“Charles is a wonderful Tennessee artist, and Andrea and I have enjoyed collecting his works. Much more important to me personally though, is that he is a great art teacher and he is my art teacher. His approach is to be a coach rather than an instructor, and I have learned a lot from this man.” — Governor Phil Bredesen

Rock of Ages

“Entry at Sapphire Ridge,” oil on canvas, 72x56 inches, 1995. This painting is from a series of rock formations Brindley made of the area. Collection of Richard Bogle and Ken Smith.

Uncommon Ground

“The Enclosure,” oil on canvas, 36x60 inches, 1996. Collection of Linda and Michael Marzialo.

Gap of Misunderstanding

“Devil’s Wall,” right, oil on linen, 26x24 inches, 2001. Fueding neighors in Williamson County refused to share a property line, so they built their own stone walls, leaving a gutter of briars and overgrowth in between. These stone fences, also known as mad fences, began in Europe and can be seen throughout the Southeastern United States.

Link to Ancient Artisan

“Mississippian Death Cult Man,” below, left, oil on canvas, 12x12 inches, 2003. Painted from an ancient indian artifact, inset, found on his property in Cottontown, Brindley was inspired by its weeping expression and the aged texture of stone.

Split Personality

“The Old Climbing Tree,” left, graphite on paper, 23x29 inches, 2003. Collection of Johnny Hayes.

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