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VIProfile: Chris McAdoo

By Gay Lyons

Chris McAdoo, whose exhibit, “Make it Real Compared to What,” was on display at Bennett this spring, has always known he could create.

“I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t creating,” he said. “In elementary school, I had trouble with long division but caught on to perspective right away. It always made sense to me.” Chris sold his first piece of art at age 12. “It was a drawing of a horse,” he said. “It led me to my first entrepreneurial adventure. I did drawings of horses on t-shirts and sold them at horse shows. I made enough to buy my first computer.”

In 2000, the same year he graduated from Carson Newman, he started his first business, Revolution Letter Press. “I fell in love with printmaking,” he said. “I loved carving blocks. I did limited edition prints for five years.”

Following a year as art director for the Knoxville Chamber, Chris became a studio artist in 2006. “Ruby Tuesday called,” he said. “I was selected as one of the artists whose work would appear in every Ruby Tuesday. At its height, there were 800-900 locations, and I had 8-9 prints per location.”

In 2008, Chris had his first show, “Coming Home,” at The Emporium. “That was where I began the particular journey to where I am now,” he said. “It was landscapes in charcoal, a very unforgiving medium. You have to trust your hand.”

In 2009, Chris opened Best Behavior Creative Club (also the name of a podcast he still hosts), a branding and design company. In 2018, the business was acquired by Design Sensory, an integrated advertising agency, and Chris became its creative director and account manager.

“I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to do this professionally for a long time,” said Chris. “I’ve been able to build a life intentionally around creating something romantic to say about the starving artist--if you’re watching it on television.”

Chris, who grew up on a working horse farm in Sevier County, said he always drew. “It didn’t occur to me that I would do anything else,” he said. “My parents encouraged my creativity. They never asked ‘What’s your fallback?’ I worked construction in college. I like to see things before they exist.”

“I’ve been blessed with a wonderfully creative family,” said Chris. “My wife Robyn, an architect, creates all day. Carter (age 18) is studying design and has started doing photography. Harper (age 10) loves to draw and paint.”

Reflecting on his career, Chris described a “watershed moment” in 2014 when he painted live on Gay Street as part of a First Friday event. “I realized how much I liked to create under pressure,” he said. “I’m not precious about getting to decide what it’s going to look like. You have to balance self-motivation with self-preservation. Your art can beat you to pieces: ‘I’m not good enough.’ ‘This isn’t good enough.’ When I’m in the studio, it’s not relaxing. I’m focused. It’s cathartic.”

“You get this idea in your head that to be a true artist, you’re waiting for this magic lightning bolt to strike,” said Chris. “Those moments happen when you work more. You have to be intentional. If you want to be a painter, paint. Don’t talk about it. Don’t philosophize about it. Just do it.”

“Intentionally creating doesn’t just make you a better artist,” he continued. “It makes you a better person. It allows you a challenge not dictated by anyone else. It’s a very intensive process for me--infinitely enjoyable and ever challenging. I’ve already got my next show in my head.”

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