A Conversation with Will Maddoxx Safety and Belonging in "A Garden of Our Own"

Published June 26th 2024
By Bdirget Curtis

Will Maddoxx pictured in front of On the Edge of an Abyss, I am Finally Seen. 

Nashville based artist Will Maddoxx’s show, A Garden of Our Own, explores topics of safety, particularly the need for safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community. I was able to meet up with Will in his studio in Nashville to discuss this body of work. Stepping into his studio space, I get the sense that within Will’s work there is a transition between themes of struggle and themes of celebration. The early works in the series depict images that have a sense of forcefulness to them; this is due to the way the figures interact with each other as well as the scenes they inhabit within the painting. The series has a distinct flow to the images. Will has curated a careful order for the viewer to experience the work; as the series progresses the scenes of fiery struggle give way to a more hopeful vision of what could be. Within the work, Will asks the question: what can safety and prosperity look like for individuals who have been the target of violence? 

A Garden of Our Own, Acrylics on canvas, 2024 

Bridget Curtis

Thank you for meeting with me today Will! 

Will Maddoxx 

You're so welcome!

It's exciting to be able to talk to you leading up to your show “A Garden of Our Own. How are you feeling about how it's been going leading up to this moment? 

Yeah! It feels good. You were there, Bridget, when I came to Alex Lockwood with the idea of the show. I really just wanted to ask for a night —or just a reception— before I leave Tennessee to go to SVA. So, I asked him for a day to show this work. He ended up giving me a week —which I love. I wanted a night where I could say goodbye to Tennessee. This work feels very targeted at the south. It describes an experience that is specific to being queer in the south. 

Amazing. Can you begin by talking about the title, The Garden of Our Own, and expand on what it means to you? 

Yes. It’s few things. In my mind “Our” references queer people, and I see the “Garden” as drawing parallels to the Garden of Eden. It is a play on the idea of being locked out of that utopian space and having to create a space of our own. 

In 2021 or 2022, I had to write my first artist statement —this was in a class at Belmont University. In the first draft of it, I wrote that my artwork came from a garden. I described this garden as a safe space in my mind —one where you are free to be whoever you want. A place where creativity happens. I was looking back on this statement right after my last show at Elephant Gallery, Iconoclasm, finished. I found that it was still resonating. During the time after Iconoclasm, I thought I wanted to make this series about death. I was thinking at the time that, perhaps, homophobia comes from a fear of death. I also think that in these homophobic people’s minds there is a link between gay people and physical death; they associate gay individuals with AIDS. There was another death I was thinking about, which was a death of their way of living or being. To homophobic people, gay people symbolize the death of old norms. I view queerness as totally new, and against old traditional norms. I was thinking about this concept at first —I don't know exactly how it ended up becoming about a garden— but I was thinking about homophobia in general. Then I thought, well, I can’t just make a series of work about homophobia. That would be depressing. I wanted the work to not just point out a problem, but to point to a solution. 

Thresher, Acrylics on canvas, 2024 

So would you say you view “The Garden” as a sort of antithesis to the destruction homophobia brings? 

Yes, that's very eloquent. I would view it as my solution to that problem. I am thinking about the garden as a safe space in my mind. When it comes to dealing with the oppression homophobia causes, creativity and one's interpersonal world are really the only things that everyone has access to. Especially when you are living in a physical space where you are not allowed to be yourself. In those circumstances the only thing you are able to do is create a space in your mind where you can be yourself. 

In your work you can see images of figures overlapping, blending together, into compositions rich with movement. This series is a great departure from previous work you made that focused more on classically inspired compositions. Can you speak to that shift in style? 

Yeah! So my first body of work was Iconoclasm. It was definitely inspired by baroque work, I really was trying to copy that style but in acrylic paints. That was not my true style. It was most evident in my pieta inspired piece, My god, why have you forsaken me? —from the Iconoclasm series— that there were times when my own taste and style was coming out in that body of work. Now, I believe that this is the first series where I'm working in my true style. I feel like I can do so much more with the figure in this new style. I can play with abstracting the figure, while still representing and being able to recognize the human characteristics within the work. I think there is a lot more to explore with that rather than with fully representational work.

Referencing something you mentioned earlier, you talked about creating safe spaces in your work and how that is a way of protecting you from inhospitable environments. 


Are you taking this inspiration from safe spaces you've made in your own life? Or spaces you want to see in the future? 

I think it's both. If it's applying solely to me, historically I have used mental spaces to feel free to live how I want. I feel like I also owe a lot to spaces that exist in Tennessee that I have been able to feel at home at. One of the works, Vision of a Garden, was made really thinking about a specific moment when I was at Play, a gay club in Nashville. It was the first moment where I was seeing people that were being authentic in a way I had wanted to be my whole life, but never could. It felt like it opened so many doors for me! To see people that were being themselves, and not being harassed for it, felt important. That work specifically honored that moment.

Vision of a Garden, Acrylics on canvas, 2023

So you mentioned you're attending the MFA program at the School of Visual Art in the fall. Do you see yourself continuing this body of work into that program? How do you see yourself progressing? 

I've talked to a couple of professors and faculty there that have been really nice and welcoming —which is why I'm going there! One of them told me that they were glad I was taking this direction for my work, one reason being that it is much faster than previous styles I worked in. Something I didn't grasp until recently was that, in painting, not totally representing something but representing the idea of something is a great way to communicate your message. In grad school, I think it will be important that I carry on with this form of rendering even if I am not working with the same concepts. It's going to be so much easier on me than doing baroque style paintings for the rest of my life! I do feel though, that when I finish the last painting in this series, that this concept of the garden will be wrapped up for now. 

So, do you have any ideas for your next concepts after this body of work? 

I have in the past made comparisons of how I work to how musicians work. I view my bodies of work as albums. I like the concept of a self-titled album. One that isn't exactly going for a huge concept, but rather establishes a sense of who you are as an artist. I think I would like to do that —and maybe— if the title was just Will or Maddoxx, I could go into some family history. It's a concept that I think would be nice for me, but I would have to find a way to make it applicable to other people as well. 

Would you like to add anything else before we end our conversation today? Perhaps you could share the details of your show dates? 

The show is up May 27th through June 3rd at Elephant Gallery. The opening reception is June 1st from 6-9 PM, on the first day of Pride month!

Thank you so much again for speaking with me! 

Will Maddoxx (he/they) is an artist based in Nashville, TN, who graduated with a BFA in May 2023. He makes 2D work focused on the body, queer identity, and iconographic history. His focus is in acrylic painting, and his work is influenced and inspired by botany, color theory, and contemporary figuration. Artists that Will looks at include art historical icons like Caravaggio and John Singer Sargent, as well as contemporary artists like Sasha Gordon, Cecily Brown, and Robin F. Williams. In 2022, he participated in the New York Academy of Art’s Summer Undergraduate Residency Program. He served as President of Belmont University’s Kappa Pi chapter, a national art honors society, and showed his body of work ICONOCLASM at Elephant Gallery in Nashville in 2023. Will is set to show his series A Garden of Our Own at Elephant in 2024 and is pursuing an MFA at the School of Visual Arts.

Bridget Curtis is an artist and writer based in Nashville,TN. Bridget graduated from Belmont University with a BA in Art History. She works primarily as a painter and considers her studies of Art History and Chinese language as ways of informing her artistic practice. In her work she is interested in exploring the body; emphasizing research of feminist philosophy and theories of abjection, as well as how language and poetry shape the contemporary conception of the body.