State of the Arts

Untitled, by Anthony Bellemare. Image courtesy of the artist
Untitled, by Anthony Bellemare. Image courtesy of the artist

The streets of Asheville serve both as subject and setting for a duo of local art events. PUSH Gallery hosts an exhibition of photographic works by Asheville photographer Anthony Bellemare. Meanwhile, the annual, weekend-long Asheville Tattoo and Arts Expo expands its footprint to include the Renaissance Asheville Hotel and Masonic Temple.

Street scenes

Just Looking: New Portrait Street Photography, an exhibition of works by Asheville photographer Anthony Bellemare, is on view at PUSH Gallery through April 14. The collection highlights both familiar faces and the visual record of an attentive passer-by. But, at its core, the show is less about Asheville than it is about personal observations, individuals and day-to-day interactions.

Bellemare draws his focus to the people, the place and the pavement itself in three series of untitled, large-scale black-and-white photographs. A set of six 24-by-36-inch images offers glimpses of the grooves and grit of the asphalt below. They detail granular physicality: the cracks and stains, slicks of oily water and, more recently, broken chunks of ice.

But it’s their sheer size that morphs these could-be static images into energetic, abstract topographies. Thin, glistening puddles take on marshy qualities in two photos, while the clumpier forms of a chipped and broken traffic lane mimic an aerial perspective of snow-capped mountains in another. Likewise, shards of fractured sidewalk ice offer a bird’s-eye view of a frozen waterway.

Bellemare’s portraits, which are arguably the primary focus of the show, offer little in the ways of technology or time-stamped personal effects. No phones. No gadgets. No period constraints. The collection creates a vein of timelessness. Any single photo could have been taken within the last 50 years. A handful could be from more than 150 years ago.

A few of the usual Asheville street-photography suspects have made their way onto the walls. There’s the abstracted self-portrait via window reflection and an up-close shot of a bearded man growling through a puff of dense smoke from the cigar pinched between his teeth. There’s also a stripe-socked Gypsy leaning against a wall while wielding an accordion. But the works push past these happenstance encounters to embrace a broader view. While they’re all inherently in and of a specific moment, the collection reaches toward a deeper understanding of the individual.

The show’s central series includes eight up-close, intimate and simultaneously barren portraits. These images were shot against the same minimalist background — the I.M. Pei building on Biltmore Avenue. It’s that backdrop that dramatizes each figure and further draws attention to the captured personalities. Some eyes lock with both casual embrace and icy stares. Others break away at the last moment, glancing off to the right and left. Cheeks, eyebrows and piercings are propelled forward. Ruffles and wrinkles are monumental. Hats, hair and lapels grab the viewer.

Meanwhile, the concrete background’s pits, cracks and faint lines add just enough texture to each photo to keep the eyes busy while also reviving the atmospheric detail of Bellemare’s ground shots. Those scars imitate bullet holes in two portraits, each featuring military attire. One subject sports a Russian hat and officer’s jacket, circa the 1940s. The other, a former antiques-mall booth salesman, dons suspenders, a white button-up shirt and steely gray Confederate cap, placing him somewhere in mid-1860s.

Each work offers insight into Bellemare’s efforts to capture, in an instant, a subject’s pure essence of character. But best of all, they instill familiarity in strangers and shroud regular faces in a new anonymity.

Visit Just Looking, on view at PUSH Gallery through Monday, April 14. pushtoyproject.com.

Think ink

The third annual Asheville Tattoo and Arts Expo descends on downtown Asheville Friday through Sunday, March 14-16. This year, organizers have added a demo by the Blue Ridge Rollergirls team and a Saturday afternoon food truck showdown to the itinerary.

The expo’s footprint has expanded to include both the Renaissance Asheville Hotel, where hundreds of tattoo artists and aficionados will gather during the three-day event, and the Masonic Temple, where a pop-up art exhibition is slated to take place.

Fine art has always been a part of tattoo culture, and the convention for that matter, according to event organizer J.R. Yarnall of Freaks & Geeks Tattoo Sideshow. “We’ve always tried to include more fine art,” he says. “The expansion into a second location gave us the space for an entire exhibition.”

Of the exhibiting artists, Yarnall says, “We’ve got folks coming from all over North Carolina and North America, and as far away as Japan.” The pop-up show features a mix of these visiting tattoo and fine artists showing work alongside local painters Alli Good, Gus Cutty, Gabriel Shaffer and Dustin Spagnola. But what they and the visiting artists will bring to the show is still up in the air: Work for the exhibition will literally be collected and hung on Friday afternoon, adding to the spontaneous nature of the pop-up show.

“I wanted it to be different, so I very intentionally am not putting a central theme on the show,” Yarnall says. “A lot of the work naturally tends toward the lowbrow, or graffiti. At the same time, they have the tattoo niche in the background.” The exhibit opens with a reception on Friday, March 14, at 8 p.m. Proceeds from the sale of artwork benefits ongoing restorations to the Masonic Temple, which was designed by Richard Sharp Smith and built in 1913.

Asheville Tattoo and Arts Expo takes place Friday, March 14, from noon-midnight, and Saturday, March 15, from noon-8 p.m. avl.mx/getiw

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About Kyle Sherard
Book lover, arts reporter, passerby…..

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