By Nicole Keiper
The first time Nashville artist Caleb Groh created one of his felted animal plaques, it was a little more fanciful than the softened but fairly lifelike ones he sculpts now — it was a blue bear with big purple paws that looked more like mitts, all wrapped in crimped and crooked seams.
“That one came to me after watching (2006 fantasy film) The Science of Sleep, which blew me away when I was about 15,” Groh says. “It was the first film which validated the strange creativity in my head, which had no home even in creative circles, and made me feel un-alone.”
Now 27, Groh’s funneled his brand of strange creativity into a multifaceted art career, in visual art, music and other brands of expression, even the occasional bit of small-screen work (he landed a small role as a “Protest Band Leader” on the TV drama Nashville).
Weaving it all together, Groh admits, can be something of a challenge.
“It’s all one big mess,” he says. “I’m on the typewriter every day working on a novel-in-verse, arranging, writing and producing music for myself and others, touring, while making taxidermy pieces and designing furniture and some other interior elements. Looking at getting into perfumery if I can find space in my studio. Instead of living all of these exhausting separate realities, as I always have, I’ve finally grouped it all together as ‘art.’”
The music came first in Groh’s growing “art” assemblage, but the animals are far from an afterthought. In recent years, they’ve earned Groh a growing reputation in local visual-art and maker circles, and with plenty of Nashville parents too. His more recent pieces aren’t really classically cute — more faux taxidermy-esque, with complex textures, arching antlers and expression-filled eyes. But he’s crafted a healthy share of fun, fuzzy foxes and bright, beatific birds, too.
“I will say that I accidentally found myself in nursery world,” Groh says. “I think that was a consequence of my not having been in complete control of my work — the features were softer, which read as more kind. People won’t put the more realistic pieces in their nurseries. I’m really and truly grateful for that audience, and the evolution of the pieces begs to depart from that world gracefully.”
As his control has evolved, so has the inspiration Groh pulls from as he develops new additions to his creative zoo.
“Initially, I was inspired by the humble, woolly creatures from mid-century Russian and European stop-motion films,” he says. “Ten years down the road I realized I’d trapped myself in a folk art/fiber art corner, which hindered the evolution of the thing. Currently I’m loosely inspired by pushing boundaries within neo-classicism.”
The development’s been a completely self-driven one, too. Groh’s formal education wrapped in middle school, and his felting and sculpture skills are wholly self-taught.
“My greatest teachers,” Groh says, “are time and failure.”
Caleb Groh is showing his work at Artclectic 2018, an annual art show and sale benefiting University School of Nashville, 2000 Edgehill Ave., held October 18-20.