In the movies: Happenstance lands a Columbus painter and his artwork in a movie

July 6, 2013 4:02:44 PM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


If he wasn't before, Bob Nolan of Columbus is now a firm believer in that old adage about being in the right place at the right time. The right place, as it turns out, was the garage of an apartment he and his wife have with their daughter in Franklin, Tenn. The right time was a warm day in May, when a production crew happened to be filming at the upscale apartment complex for a new motion picture. 


Within the course of a few hours that fortuitous day, two of Nolan's paintings had been selected for use in SkipStone Pictures' upcoming film, "Like a Country Song," starring Billy Ray Cyrus and Joel Smallbone. The quiet-spoken artist had also landed a part as an extra on the movie due out in November. 


Nolan, 66, is a painter. He is best known locally for his mixed-media murals on the walls of Café on Main and CJ's Pizza and Italian Bistro in Columbus, and Hollywood Premier Cinema in Starkville. His large-scale handiwork is also featured in Skate Zones in Columbus and throughout the Southeast, as well as in private homes and other businesses.  


One of his more recent projects, however, has been Music City Art, a series of paintings inspired by his daughter Desireé's pursuit of a music career in the mecca of Nashville, Tenn. 


"I was trying to break into the Nashville art scene with something really different," explained Nolan, a Cleveland, Ohio-native who originally moved to the Golden Triangle as a toy designer with Flexible Flyer. "I came up with an abstract way of representing musicians so that they could be anybody." 


His bold, vibrant canvases channel the energetic, fast-moving pace of the city and the continuous stream of musicians at its heart. 


"I'd describe (his paintings) as authentic," said Nolan's musical daughter, a 2005 graduate of Columbus' Victory Christian Academy. "They're pretty much molded after the bands and the people you really do see performing in Nashville ... the banjos, the mandolins, steel guitars and everything; they're true to what you'd see if you were to walk through downtown and stop in any of the little honky-tonks."  




Chance encounters 


After finishing a collection of Music City paintings in Columbus this spring, Nolan transported them to the Franklin apartment in May. From there he normally delivers some to galleries that display his work. He sells others at art walks and events in the Nashville area. 


As luck would have it, while the artist had his canvases in the open garage one day, the paintings caught the eyes of film crew members passing by. 


Nolan remembers those busy hours at the apartment complex, where many of the neighbors are musicians, songwriters, production people and even relatives of chart-topping performers. 


"There were cameras and cables all over the place, I'd say about 50 people, two tour buses and two tractor trailers ... " he recalled. Urged by crew members, the film's producer soon made a point of stopping by the garage to take a look. 


"They loved the paintings," Nolan shared, modest and still marveling at the turn of events. On the spot, two of his Music City canvases were selected to use in the movie, and their creator was tapped as an extra for a future scene. (Later, when the Aloft Hotel staff heard about the paintings' appearance in the film, they asked to display them in their lobby.) 


"I was really excited for him," said Desireé, who graduated in December 2012 from Middle Tennessee State University and did an internship with the Warner Music Group in Nashville. Ironically, in her capacity with Warner, she helped manage press material for the award-winning Christian rock duo For King and Country -- Austrailian-born brothers Joel and Luke Smallbone. Joel Smallbone is a principal actor in "Like a Country Song" and recently rubbed shoulders with Desireé's dad during filming. 




At Kimbro's 


The scene Nolan participated in was shot in Franklin May 29 at Kimbro's Café and Pickin' Place, a small but storied venue that has attracted singers and songwriters for years. It was a long, hot, fascinating day. 


"You could tell who the actors were, but they weren't what you expected," Nolan said. "They weren't up on a pedestal. They were really down to earth -- Billy Ray, too; he visited with everybody."  


His daughter added, "I was surprised he got to be that close to Billy Ray that day, and got to listen to him sing." 


According to the film's website, the movie from producer/director Johnny Remo about "humility and forgiveness in the presence of pain and humiliation" revolves around Jake Reeson (Smallbone), an up-and-coming country singer who has the world in his hands, until his ego gets in the way.  


With only partying and music on his mind, Jake is finally forced to take a hard look at himself as his life slowly falls apart. The storyline, with a father he thought was dead, but is alive -- and the reappearance of an old flame, unfolds in footage shot at locations including Nashville's Station Inn, the Shelby Street Bridge, The Listening Room, the United Methodist Church of College Grove and The Cowboy Store, in Franklin. 


And, of course, at Kimbro's, where Bob Nolan of Columbus sat with "the audience" a carefully-measured camera distance from Billy Ray Cyrus and enjoyed a performance he believes will be near the movie's end. 


The whole "Like a Country Song" experience has been an unexpected highlight of the summer, and it just goes to show one never knows what any given day may bring. 


Nolan smiled. "I was definitely in the right place at the right time." 







    Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.