Breakout Artists 2020: Chicago’s Next Generation of Image Makers

for Newcity Art, April 2020

The artist in his Rogers Park studio/ Photo: Hyun Jung Jun

Cody Tumblin

Mixed-media artist Cody Tumblin received an invitation in 2017 to exhibit his paintings at a space in Nashville called Mild Climate. Feeling disheartened by his studio practice and the political climate, Tumblin decided not to hang work on the walls. but to instead host a community potluck in the gallery on opening night. Titled “Today’s Special,” the exhibition focused on food-based programming. Every other week Tumblin would install his microwave in the gallery and invite people to bring their leftovers, heat up food and share with others. The independent publisher Extended Play Press would print “Today’s Special Volume One,” a cookbook curated by Tumblin that scrapbooks the recipe swaps and culinary contributions made during these events.

“Blue Eyed Stranger,” oil and acrylic on muslin, zipper, dyed cotton, thread, 11 x 14 inches, 2019

For a culinary enthusiast who received his BFA in 2013 from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, exercises like these reflect the hospitality and humility that Tumblin infuses into his visual practice. “The act of making paintings, for me, is very personal and very intimate—reflection, searching, excavating, finding hope. Because of this, painting doesn’t always feel outwardly generous,” he says. “I am constantly looking for ways to build a kind of giving into my work.”

Tumblin’s paintings intentionally avoid direct aesthetic associations, instead favoring recycling and reuse. He was originally a fashion design student at SAIC, and each piece has a base material make-up of fabric, dyes and thread. Works evolve from these foundational elements through collage, where Tumblin brings bits and pieces from his studio together to reflect an accumulation of time; layered raindrops and moons shift on the canvas, but never settle. This process of repetition and reworking combines with the aforementioned goal of making paintings with a built-in social engine; stitching scraps of fabric into the canvas, painting into the dyes, snipping threads. All these small acts add up to convey the larger themes of loss, growth and joy Tumblin wishes to express.

Ok Now We’re Dreaming,” dyed cotton, bleach, photograph of the sun on cotton, acrylic, dye, thread, 50 x 64 inches, 2017-2018

The themes that speak so loudly to the possibilities of being an artist for Tumblin saw their latest maturation in his 2019 exhibition “Stray Light Shadow Between” at Devening Projects. The press release described the way Tumblin makes a painting as “similar to making a soup.” Photographs of the sun printed on cotton were stitched into the middle of some of the paintings to serve as a conceptual and literal starting point. The repetition, or as Cody puts it, “the regurgitation” of form seen in both singular works and in the multiple pieces throughout this solo presentation emphasizes the importance of memory, which serves an alchemical purpose in the studio: to reference the past and inform the future.

“Warm in the Veins,” dyed cotton, photograph on cotton, acrylic and thread, 32 x 40 inches, 2018

Tumblin is scheduled to present a new body of work in October at H.G. Inn in Chicago. One can imagine that familiar shapes and colors, possibly even certain pieces of hand-dyed fabric, will harken back to that which preceded it.