Love Letters

A piece from Anna Buckner's "LOVE LETTERS," which debuted on Friday, Feb. 1. 

This past Friday, local backyard gallery BAD WATER debuted its exhibit of Anna Buckner’s “LOVE LETTERS”.

BAD WATER, which opened its doors in November, is located in a petite white barn in the backyard of local artists Marla Sweitzer and Kelsie Conley. The housemates, who are both graduate art students here at UT, relocated to their yellow craftsman-style home in search of a space for a house gallery.

“Our aim is to have solo shows of work here,” Sweitzer said. “Being an artist and having an artist run-space is exciting—to be able to invite other artists in and not show our work in the process, to play a curatorial role.”

Not long ago, BAD WATER was a run-down backyard structure coated in graffiti. Sweitzer and Kelsie renovated the space, transforming it from an abandoned shed into a homey gallery. The gallery’s name pays homage to the structure’s humble beginnings; “Bad Water” is a graffiti symbol that is often found on Knoxville trains.

“It had this sort of out structure vibe to the space so we thought (the name) kind of related to it,” Sweitzer said.

The age and wear of the building certainly adds a great deal of character; its rustic qualities distinguish it from other more modern galleries that one may encounter in downtown Knoxville. Conley hopes that the project will inspire other locals.

“I hope more people open up spaces like this,” Conley said. “That’s how you get a growing art scene. I hope people see this and decide to open a space in their backyard.”

The humble gallery is currently displaying the artwork of Anna Buckner. Her collection LOVE LETTERS is composed of canvases created with fabric from garments that were given to her by important people in her life. The variety of utilized fabric gives each piece a unique texture and color scheme, yet similar stitching patterns and shapes can be deciphered within each canvas. The colorful works of art were created specifically for the BAD WATER space, and their abstract nature is easily highlighted by the white, simple barn, which apparently resembles a barn that was instrumental in the relationships behind the fabric of Buckner’s work.

Collaboration between gallery owners and artists leads to a unique artistic experience. When the artist preparers works based off of the gallery space, the gallery becomes a part of the art itself. The entire display becomes one large masterpiece.

“I followed (Buckner's) work and thought that it would specifically work really with this space,” Sweitzer said. “She was kind of one of the first artists I thought about to curate in this space.”

Local artist April Marten stopped by the gallery opening on Friday and agreed with Sweitzer.

“I think the artist responded to the space appropriately with what she does,” Marten said. “I find that interesting about BAD WATER that the artists are sort of given this very unique space to think about how they want to plug their work in and then they respond accordingly and create the work for the space.”

Small galleries such as BAD WATER are playing an instrumental role in re-defining the Knoxville art scene. Their existence puts the responsibility of displaying art into the hands of anyone, artist or not, who wants to join the artistic conversation.

LOVE LETTERS will be on display until February 24th, and showings are available by appointment only at

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