Retrospective exhibit follows the development of Rodney Hatfield’s art and music
For those who had a pulse and an inclination toward live music in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, it would have been difficult to miss a performance by Rodney Hatfield, with one or all of his legendary Lexington bands. Starting with Jazzbo and then the Hatfield Clan, the Shysters and the Metropolitan Blues All-Stars and now with the newest musical ensemble, Tin Can Buddha, Hatfield has been jamming for decades all over the Bluegrass. With his harmonica and vocals steeped in soulful blues, Hatfield often leaves audiences clapping, whooping and screaming for more.
If you’re an art lover, you may likely be familiar with the artwork of Rodney Hatfield, or Art Snake, as he is better known in the art world. Hatfield adopted the pseudonym years ago as a play on the academic term “art for arts’ sake,” displaying the clever wit that fans often look for in his work.
As a well-known performer and visual artist, Hatfield is a figure woven into the fabric of Lexington’s art and music scene. Many Lexington homes boast an Art Snake or two on the walls, and many music lovers have great memories attached to years of nights out on the town spent rocking with Hatfield and the talented array of local musicians he has played with over the years.
Hatfield has taken his place among Kentucky’s most celebrated artists and has, as both a visual and musical artist, reached that milestone moment in a long and successful career — it’s time to look back. A retrospective of his work opens at New Editions Gallery in Chevy Chase on Nov. 16 and runs through late December.
As a child, Hatfield remembers always having been interested in drawing. He said he can’t remember a time when he didn’t draw, doodle and paint. His childhood in rural Pike County offered lots of time spent alone and out in nature, which proved to be the perfect incubator for an active imagination. Today he describes his ideas for paintings as coming from a place he can’t explain.
“An idea just comes, and it feels like it has always been there,” Hatfield said. “Art comes from a mysterious place. The creative process I use in painting is a lot the same as music. Performing a solo or being deep in a painting springs from the same place. Expressing and improvising musically has aided me with improvising on the canvas.”
Early on, Hatfield was reluctant to show his work outside his circle of friends. His girlfriend at the time strongly encouraged him to show his work to gallery owners and get some exposure and feedback. Not entirely comfortable with the idea, Hatfield agreed to show his work for the first time at the local restaurant Alfalfa with friend, local musician and artist Pat McNeese. The reaction was overwhelmingly positive, inspiring Hatfield to jump into creating more art and immersing himself more deeply. The next thing he knew, there were shows in other places like Chicago and Santa Fe, N.M., he said.
“For a time, I was on the road with the band, trying to pack art supplies and paint in hotel rooms,” he said. “It’s hard to do both and to grow and evolve as an artist. About the time I would get in a groove, we’d be back on the road. Now I’m in the studio more and the evolution has come more quickly. I’ve got time to take a more meditative approach. I am working on letting go of the handlebars and letting the work go where it wants to go. It’s an ongoing struggle.”
Even though Hatfield now resides in Louisville, he frequently plays music and shows his latest artwork in his old stomping grounds around Lexington. His following for both is large and loyal. Frankie York, owner of New Editions Gallery, has represented Hatfield’s artwork for years.
“I met Rodney many years ago,” she said. “When I see him, I am always struck anew with how pure he is as an artist and musician. He is his art. He creates because he has to — because it’s his soul, every fiber of his being. People are drawn to his work because of this. We don’t often find this in our daily lives or in ourselves, and it inspires us,” she said.
The retrospective spans over three decades of Hatfield’s career. Unitl now, Hatfield has hardly had time to look back. His work is in demand, and he has a dedicated following of art lovers who respect it.
“This business of art is tough,” Hatfield said. “You have to consider where to sell, develop collectors, find galleries, etc., but when you step in front of the canvas, that business part, that isn’t part of the deal. When I start to work, it’s just me and the canvas. The essence is in the making. It’s not about success or failure; it’s about the time I spend in front of the canvas.”
The New Editions Gallery show will feature older work from years past on loan from private collections and new work recently completed by the artist. The retrospective will showcase the evolution of Hatfield as a painter and mixed-media artist. Longtime Lexingtonians will enjoy a rich trip down memory lane, viewing photographs, gig posters and press interviews throughout the years and memorabilia
collected from the artist, friends and fans, illustrating a fascinating career and a life well lived.
See the retrospective celebrating Rodney Hatfield at New Editions Gallery at 807 Euclid Ave. in Chevy Chase. An opening reception will be held Nov. 16 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. The show will close Dec. 22. For more information, see the gallery’s website at www.neweditionsgallery.com.