Letting go of control

image 1. “Mt. Wilson”
Image 2. “Grand View”

Nicole McConville and Travis Medford collaborate again, and the result is near-magic

who: Nicole McConville and Travis Medford
what: CO/LAB II
where: 5 Walnut
when: Show is up through Nov. 28 (sigilation.com and www.flickr.com/photos/causedefect)

Collaborations can be precarious for artists. They have to let go of control, to let go of expectations of the work that embodies their developed style. They can’t get too attached to a piece, as they run the risk of a precious image or mark being eliminated in the process. When the right chemistry is in place, however, the results can be near-magic for those who can submit to playfulness and experimentation. Such is the case with CO/LAB II, a collection of 40 collage works by Nicole McConville and Travis Medford.

These Asheville artists have known each other for years as neighbors, as well as former colleagues at Lark Books. While they have some overlapping visual interests, their solo art styles are different enough to add flavor to the collaborations.
Medford has a background in printmaking, drawing inspiration from ‘zines and pop-culture imagery. Local art-goers may recall his comic-book inspired mural-style painting at the now-defunct Coop Gallery earlier this summer.

McConville’s aesthetic, on the other hand, is based more in the organic found object, embracing mixed media and encaustic, dealing with universal and timeless themes.

The two showed their first effort, consisting of about 80 drawings, at 5 Walnut wine bar and art gallery a year ago. Based on its success, they decided to embark on another project, spending two months trading wooden panels, making marks on them, “waiting for each other to finish the sentence with our own creative voice,” as McConville puts it.

“Collaborations can encourage you to move beyond comfort zones and explore new ideas, concepts, mediums and themes,” she says. “It’s almost as if the collaborative act provides permission and even a more direct kick to be more flexible, playful and experimental. I have found collaborative work to be satisfying at a deeply nourishing level that simply isn’t available with solo work.”

While large artworks make a viewer stand back from a wall, small pieces draw a viewer close. This is fortunate for 5 Walnut’s already intimate gallery setting, because the collages don’t shout; they whisper. Most are 6-by-6 or 12-by-12 inch wooden panels, with a few shadowboxes and even a skateboard thrown in. They juggle a variety of materials: medical textbook illustrations, abstracted organic drawings, Braille paper, handwritten letters, vintage advertisements, found photos, blueprints and sheets of music.

The conglomeration challenges the viewer to make connections between the imagery and materials, sometimes provoking an invented narrative, or sometimes simply generating a pleasing composition. Western contemporary culture dances playfully with universal constants across the body of work.

Pieces like “Mt. Wilson” contain the focal point of the planet Saturn, but slice up the other images and materials more abstractly to fill the rest of the composition. White, black and pink paper, two other photographs and handwritten text appear in fragments and layers. The images insinuate connections between small human moments here on earth and an awareness of the greater cosmos. The whimsical handwritten phrase “have been charming a” also leaves a hint of cliff-hanger mystery.

Certain types of imagery find their way through most every piece in the show, namely marks in graphite reminiscent of an EKG graph. The marks may take a noticeable emphasis in certain pieces, being the first element a viewer notices, or they may provide subtle background texture in others, mostly covered by other layers. But they are noticeably present throughout, implying a heartbeat, a timeline, a continuum that flows through the chaos of all the cultural references and universal rhythms jumbled together.

In the two “Raindrop Man” pieces, some of the louder pieces in the show, EKG marks are contained within the raindrop shapes. The man’s arms are extended in an energetic gesture, as though he were actually expelling these drops, sharing his knowledge of this rhythm for all to hear.

“Circulation” is a black-and-white piece that merges the image of a woman’s head with a diagram of a bisected heart. Her head is seen at a side-view, tilted downward, perhaps implying a gesture of despair. An image of a galaxy swirls behind her head, with a layer of obscured typewriter text under her and a physical piece of Braille to her right. All the indecipherable language could speak to heartbreak, or a frustrated desire to communicate, or a simple comparison between bloodflow and the motion of galaxies.

Art lovers drawn to found materials, playful intuition and work that creates more questions than answers should not miss this show.

Bridget Conn is an Asheville-based artist, designer and photographer. Visit her website at http://www.bridgetconnartstudio.net.

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