About This Painting
I created The Apotheosis of Dolly in response to East Tennessee State University’s Department of Art & Design’s announcement for Dolly: Positive/Negative 35, a national juried art exhibition for February and March of 2020, with Atlanta-based writer and editor Logan Lockner of Burnaway magazine as the creator of the theme and the juror for the exhibition. As Lockner describes, this show sought “works that emerge from the ideas or associations [Dolly] represents: homespun charm and Appalachian heritage but also camp and celebrity and sexuality; [and] an embrace of Christian traditions alongside vocal and longstanding support of the LGBTQ community.”
The complexities of Dolly Parton hadn’t occurred to me much before my partner and I moved to Berea, a small town situated between the Bluegrass region and the hills of Eastern Kentucky, where I’ve grown to understand the tensions between city and country, coasts and center. I appreciate how, as the exhibition announcement mentions, Dolly is “a unifying cultural figure” with “her special ability to occupy middle ground in America’s cultural wars.” I enjoy how she does this with grace, wit, charm, and playfulness. And, specific to this painting, I am interested in how Dolly Parton successfully unites the qualities of excess, sensuality, approachability, showmanship, and humility into an artistic identity.
The Apotheosis of Dolly or What we Saw at Dollywood’s “My People” Show While Taking Shelter from a Storm After Being Rescued from the Log-Flume Ride “Daredevil Falls” is from an actual event. In May 2019, I was with a group of friends at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. After lightning closed the rides, we went inside a theater to see a show. There we found a digital projection featuring a giant Dolly fantastically multiplying into other Dollys who danced and sang while her extended family performed on the stage below—matching her choreography, talking with her, and reacting to her as if she was there, as if they weren’t next to a fifty-foot hologram-like image of a global celebrity. This was a magnificent, strange, and contradictory moment: down-home simplicity unselfconsciously set to grandeur and spectacle. Inspired by this experience, The Apotheosis of Dolly is my depiction of the ascendant cultural phenomenon that is and forever will be Dolly Parton.