Luckett/Guinn Artist-in-Residence Mr. Jared Small Brings Vintage Schoolhouse to Life

November 21, 2014



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By Megan Phillips

Memphis artist Mr. Jared Small brushes on a royal blue sky, a stark contrast to his white, one-room schoolhouse – with an owl in the belfry – as he describes its symbolism.

“It’s an old schoolhouse, where America’s history of learning began and from which America’s educational system evolved. The schoolhouse shows education’s testament to longevity in the world and how it is the foundation of American culture.”

Small, the 2014 Luckett/Guinn Artist-in-Residence, worked in the MUS art studio for seven days in November, creating his painting as students watched during their classes or stopped by to observe. He is the fourth local artist in the program, launched by art instructor Mr. Grant Burke in 2011. Each artist – David Lynch, George Hunt, and Nancy Cheairs – has created a painting to adorn the walls of MUS.

Small, who grew up in South Memphis, has a fascination with dilapidated houses and neighborhoods, which often provide inspiration for his artwork. His paintings begin very realistically and morph into abstraction. He contrasts timeworn structures with dark blue skies that grow darker and more ominous-looking toward the edges of the paintings, meeting with touches of white or color that drip down the canvas.

“Jared’s paintings illustrate the hidden beauty in decay and age,” Burke said. “Each painting captures a lifespan and tells a story. What something is, what something was, what something will be. His work straddles high-definition photorealism and an abstract dreamlike fantasy. It’s a painting you really can’t stop looking at.”

In Burke’s 2-D Design class, students worked on still-life paintings – studying shadows, highlights, and reflected light – as they watched Small paint, observed his techniques, and listened to him describe how his life has informed his art.

“He was talking about his childhood experiences and how they influence the way he depicts his paintings,” senior Samuel Gordon said. “He’s kind of expressing a darker side.”

Senior Spencer Richey shared a helpful technique he learned from Small and applied to his own painting: “He got a flat brush and showed me that if you brush the wet paint with a dry brush, it’ll blend the colors more than trying to just paint over it.”

Sophomore Christian Berry admired Small’s selection of rundown buildings and use of contrast. “I like his style. I would like to incorporate [some of his techniques] in my paintings.”

Senior Alex Creson lauded Small’s meticulous method. “He stops and attends to each detail for every single plank on the schoolhouse. I couldn’t have that kind of patience.”

Junior Eli Weinberg said he enjoyed meeting an artist who shares his appreciation for ramshackle buildings. “It’s great to see someone so talented express his own imagination through the same outlet. His style is so original; it resembles realism, but at the same time it doesn’t really look like a photograph.”

Small attended Overton High School and won the Scholastic Art Award from the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art in 1998. He studied at the University of Memphis and afterward began his successful career as a full-time artist. In his home studio he creates paintings that reflect the heart and history of the Mid-South, whether through an old building, an enigmatic individual, or a farm animal. In his short career, he has had exhibitions in Memphis, Baltimore, and New York, and his work has been published in The Commercial Appeal and The Memphis Flyer.

The artist-in-residence experience presented a welcome change of routine, Small said. “I think it’s good to expose kids to artists while having artists get out of their rhythm. Being here has a totally different energy and reminds me of when I was in high school. When other people view your work and when you’re wondering what they’re thinking behind you as you paint, you become much more conscious of what you’re doing.”

Just as Small was hyper-aware of his art while working with students, the students became more conscious of their own creations as they observed his artistry. They not only learned more about painting but also about the importance of originality and following one’s passion.

To see more of Jared Small’s work, visit

Artist Mr. Jared Small demonstrates the use of new technology with his painting of an old-fashioned schoolhouse.

Artist Mr. Jared Small demonstrates the use of new technology with his painting of an old-fashioned schoolhouse.

Old School, New App

Mr. Jared Small, the 2014 artist-in-residence, and Mr. Grant Burke, instructor in art, collaborated to apply augmented reality technology to viewing the artist’s work. When viewers scan Small’s finished painting of a one-room schoolhouse with a mobile app called Layar, they can watch the painting decompose and repaint itself. Burke is also applying this process to the works by former artists-in-residence – David Lynch, George Hunt, and Nancy Cheairs – that hang at MUS.

“It adds a whole new level to our growing local art gallery at school,” Burke said. “Art enthusiasts can use an iPhone or Android to scan the painting and relive its creation from canvas to completion.”

Download the Layar app at, scan the finished image of Small’s painting below (press pause button first), and watch the transformation.

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