The Art of Being


By Gray Bennett | Photography by Jimie Luangrath/Creative Revolver

Art takes courage. With each swipe of color, an artist is someone who dares to bring something new into being. Here, we spoke with five local artists bringing their creative visions to life in Chattanooga. Read on to learn more about their unique styles, art-making philosophies, and the lessons they have learned along the way.

Carylon Cooper

Carylon Cooper

Using symbolism to uplift simplicity and the goodness of truth.

Carylon Cooper’s artist journey started in elementary school. After her fourth grade teacher told her she should be an artist, the resulting confidence stuck. She studied art in college, and after being a stay-at-home mom to three children, she went on to audit art classes at the University of Tennessee at Chatta-nooga. During that time, a gallery representing her work encouraged her to start painting on larger canvases, and she never looked back.

Large-scale subject matter and loose, expressive brushstrokes characterize Cooper’s style. Barns, boats, dogs, horses, and dresses are all important icons in her work, symbolizing themes such as hope, trust, loyalty, freedom, and abundance. In each painting, soft textures and nostalgic colors come together in a style she describes as “journaling on canvas.”

Her art-making philosophy is built on a foundation of faith. “For me, the nature and meaning of life is God,” she shares. “I believe in truth and honesty. The simple reason for my art-making is my devotion to responding to images in a clear, straightforward manner. We are blessed to live in the South and see signs of abundant life!”

Through the years, Cooper’s work as an artist has taught her the beauty of new beginnings. “At 75, I’m still learning. I hadn’t planned on starting over at this stage of my life, but I’m as excited as those hounds I paint. When I’ve painted something I’m not happy about,
I turn the canvas upside down and begin another painting. There are no failures – just more character to the painting. I’m betting that my new life at 75 will be richer, more fulfilling, and more worshipful than my younger days.”

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Dannita Noble

Dannita Noble

Exploring abstract color and texture to evoke happiness and healing.

The encouragement of a good friend pushed Dannita Noble to chase her dream of becoming a full-time artist. She began painting live on Facebook during the pandemic, and her work gained traction. Support came from all directions – friends, family, followers, and even a doctor she worked for purchased a couple of her paintings. Now having been a professional artist for four years, Noble continues to feed her creativity and live life outside of her comfort zone.

Noble says her style is abstract with a focus on acrylic paints. Her work features bright colors and fun textures. Electric pinks and blues as well as bold drippings and splatters are all part of her playful style. Currently, she shares her excitement about a collaboration with an upcoming bar and restaurant called Home and plans for a travel-inspired exhibition.

Her art-making philosophy is all about staying in the moment and fostering a sense of happiness. “I make my coffee in the morning, light my incense, put on whatever music I am feeling to get me in the mood, and I just create,” she says. As a mother of two, her art-making is a cherished opportunity for self-care and self-expression, and the resulting joy is infectious.

Noble shares that, when it comes to lessons learned, her work has been an agent of healing in her relationship with failure. “Creating and painting, for me, has healing aspects that go beyond creating in the moment,” she says. “My art has taught me to push past my comfort zone in all aspects of life. I have lived in comfort and fear of failing, but when I create, I know that there are endless possibilities.”

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Ashley Folkner

Ashley Folkner

Creating surreal environments to inspire curiosity and surprise.

A childhood fascination with unique environments led Ashley Folkner to her career as a full-time installation artist. She recalls building blanket forts, painting rocks from the creek, adding textured paint to the walls, and hanging up branches in her childhood home. She attended Savannah College of Art and Design from 2001 to 2003 and received her BA in Sculpture from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in 2007. Today, she continues to do what she loves most.

Folkner describes her style as whimsical and surreal. From dreamy murals and large-scale sculptures to delightful paper flowers and immersive wall installations, her work goes beyond limitations. Art forms such as painting, woodworking, and sculpting come together in her work. Currently, Folkner is collaborating with Mosaic Home to make limited-edition paper flowers and plants. She shares she is also excited about a new display for The Barn Nursery as well as a special altar project for her brother’s wedding.

When it comes to her art-making philosophy, Folkner’s driving force is to inspire and be inspired. “I want to create moments of respite from the struggles and heartbreaks of the world – environments and things that lend themselves to curiosity and surprise,” she says. “I want to work on projects that challenge me to evolve.”

Folkner says art has taught her much about self-expression, perseverance, and letting go of the expectations of others. She shares that, while continuous art-making is not an easy road to follow, it is a road that has always been worth it. “Even on the hardest of days,” Folkner says, “I am deeply grateful I get to do this work and keep showing up in my most authentic way possible.”

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Maddin Corey

Maddin Corey

Capturing everyday moments to depict the whimsy and sincerity of life.

Born and raised in Chattanooga, Maddin Corey began her adventure into the world of art when her daughters started elementary school. Her passion for oil painting flourished at Townsend Atelier, a local art school and art materials store, and her desire to learn more led her to a variety of workshops across the Southeast. As a professional artist today, Corey continues to create stunning work in her home studio.

Warm colors and expressive brushstrokes define Corey’s style. Children’s portraits, large triptych florals, animal portraits, and still-life pieces full of character and emotion are among her current body of work. She shares that her current excitement is about a series of large triptych paintings, including a giant rhododendron, whimsical tropical plants, and flamingos.

Her art-making philosophy has everything to do with letting go of perfection. “My first love is painting children’s portraits,” she says. “I encourage parents to allow the child to have some input in the process. I’m more able to capture the whimsy of childhood when the child is happy. The hair might be messy, but the smile is genuine.” In her portrait work, Corey aims to capture the sincere expressions of her subjects, and her passion for depicting real-life moments carries into all of her work.

Corey shares how art has taught her to savor the process with her loved ones. “I try not to take my art too seriously,” she says. “I paint because I love the entire process. My favorite times in my studio are the days when my three grandchildren join me. We have had painting days in which each has a giant canvas of their own.”

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Olivia Reckert

Olivia Reckert

Curating bright and bold spaces to spark joy and excitement.

From creating window murals for local Chattanooga businesses to painting leather jackets for celebrities like Dolly Parton and Kesha, Olivia Reckert has worked as a professional artist for nine years. She attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City from 2014 to 2018, and during the pandemic, she moved to Chattanooga and started to experiment more with her murals. Today, Reckert continues to inspire and connect with others through murals and painted leather jackets.

Reckert’s style is full of movement and bright color. In her work as a muralist, she creates large-scale paintings on a variety of surfaces, including leather, canvas, textiles, furniture, and cars. Currently, she shares her excitement about a project for Fast Break Athletics that brings “50 years of Chattanooga running culture to life” as well as her work painting leather jackets with Wet Leather Co.

When it comes to her art-making philosophy, Reckert believes that art should be created with the end goal of evoking a specific feeling or experience. “I have a degree in marketing, so I like to understand the clientele and make work that will spark joy, fun, and excitement when they interact with the space,” she explains. “I love to help make people’s visions come to life.”

Reckert says that art has taught her important lessons about perseverance, planning, communication, and patience. “Whenever I paint, I go into a meditative state and reflect a lot on my life,” she says. “Artwork forces me to be present in the moment, and seeing my work over the years brings me joy because it is like a Polaroid of memories and feelings throughout my life in NYC and Chattanooga.

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