Nall posing in front of his Violata Pax Dove, one of numerous works spanning the Troy, Alabama, born artist's career on display at Troy University.
The Fred “Nall” Hollis Gallery inside the Troy University International Arts Center is filled with the titular artist’s work from more than four decades of artistic expression.
But for the artist himself, the gallery stands for more than the individual pieces – it serves as his autobiography.
Containing work dating to his childhood in Troy in the 1950s, the gallery features work that conjures times, places, people and precious memories for Nall.
“It’s not done in a chronological order, but I can see certain things, the people that I knew,” Nall said as he perused the gallery. “It depends on who you’re working with, who you’re seeing, what you’re eating, what language you’re speaking, the whole plethora of choices and experiences that you’ve got in your digital file of life.”
The works represent all these things and more for Nall, who said his own memories can fade, but the work brings him back to the eras and locations of his past.
“If you work as much as I’ve worked for 45 years, just constantly, then you look at that stuff and say, ‘Really? Did I do all that?’ These memories become vague,” he said. “Thank goodness I was working all the time, and now I’m glad that I worked rather than wasting my time on something else.”
An internationally renowned artist, Nall’s work was recently featured in retrospective exhibitions at the Menton Museum of Art in Menton, France, the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, the Museum of St. Augustine in Pietrasanta, Italy, and the National Arts Club in New York City.
He served as artist-in-residence at TROY for two semesters and received an honorary doctorate from the University.
Nall believes artists are born, not made, and his journey started at Murphree Park in Troy.
“At my grandmother’s house, the backyard ran into Murphree Park,” he said. “Mother said I stabbed my way out of the womb with a pencil. I’ve always been an artist. It’s been that way since birth. I’ve always been painting and drawing and sculpting things. That’s been my life.”
As he grew, his love of art intensified, and it became clear where his life needed to go.
After finishing school, Nall’s father offered him control over a chain of banks, but the artist’s wings were ready to spread.
“My father tried to give me this chain of banks, and I said, ‘Please, do not. There’s lots more in life than money, as I’m sure you’re aware, Mr. Hollis, so I’ll have to pass,” Nall said. “I think that’s where America’s stuck. We’re more concerned with what not to do, with staying in the lines, with regimenting ourselves, than with breathing, because with breathing we find all these magical things.”
The gallery details Nall’s journey from Troy to France and all the countries he’s visited since, and through it all a life narrative is told.
“It’s my autobiography, in that it takes the work back to the ‘50s and you can see the progression,” he said.
The Fred “Nall” Hollis Gallery is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9-11:30 a.m. and 12:30-3:30 p.m. Tours are also available by appointment.