State of the Arts: A rich harvest of late-fall murals

Image 1. Joshua Spiceland’s new mural between Izzy’s and Dobrá. Photo by Max Cooper

Image 2. Nathanael Roney’s new mural outside of Bari Salon. Photo by Max Cooper

As murals appear on more of Asheville’s surfaces, it seems that walls without public art are longing for a little fresh paint. Artists and building owners continually find new means of repurposing the city’s facades — from the hideous and abandoned to the sleek and bustling. Here is a partial inventory of what’s gone up in the latter part of autumn.

Lexington Avenue

Joshua Spiceland has long claimed the narrow wall between Izzy’s Coffee Den and Dobrá Tea on Lexington Avenue. His most recent mural, which went up earlier this year and coincided with a solo show at Izzy’s, was defaced/tagged recently.

Spiceland’s initial response was to paint over the tag with a dense, black, rhombus-like shape. That is to say, a hole. But that twice-altered mural is now gone, replaced by a portrait of a woman against a faint mountainous landscape — a scene that would fit nicely on an ancient Egyptian urn. The heroine’s garb is rendered in the pseudo-fractal style that characterizes Spiceland’s work. The modern addition: she’s holding a boom box beside her head.

Montford

Artist Julie Armbruster wrapped up a nearly yearlong mural project in Montford’s Magnolia Park. She and fellow painter Hannah Dansie covered three sides of the squat, lackluster bathroom and storage building situated toward the back of the park.

The city owns the building, which means they now “own” the mural (after a year’s worth of board and City Council meetings and paperwork). Armbruster told Xpress that the mural has been officially donated to the city.

The project was initiated by Nathan Brown, who lives near the park. He contacted Armbruster and proposed the project. According to Armbruster, Brown helped with the tangle of paperwork, and also spearheaded the fundraising efforts to pay for materials and labor. Patrons included neighborhood residents, community members and Dobrá Tea.

Whether you’re familiar with Armbruster’s gallery-scale work or not, the Magnolia tableaux will draw you in even from a block away. The three-panel story scene features her signature motifs and characters: Professor Wunderbar (a white, almost rabbit-like owl/gremlin) and two junior Wunderbars bob about Saturn-ring-shaped waves in a wooden skiff; nearby, a log with a face floats too.

River Arts District

Two of Asheville’s more ubiquitous mural artists, Dustin Spagnola and Gus Cutty, recently finished two pieces in the River Arts District. Of all the places to spend such time and effort, they have done so on a decommissioned and soon-to-be demolished building.

Their canvas is the old Penland Auction house on Craven Street, which will be razed to make way for New Belgium Brewing. So, you might ask, why bother?

In a planning presentation this July, New Belgium representatives voiced their intentions to reuse as many of the resources and materials currently on the lot as they could, such as sheet metal, steel and wood.

“The intent is to repurpose as much as possible,” Melyssa Glassman, New Belgium’s creative director, tells Xpress.

She’s added to the task by commissioning Spagnola and Cutty to paint the soon-to-be-displaced building. The murals come down with the building, sometime in the next four to six weeks, Glassman says. She hopes to integrate fragments of the mural into the new building — dispersed among the tasting room, bar and other facilities.

Equipped with spray paint, brushes and rollers provided by New Belgium, the duo covered two walls of the sheet metal, glass and wood-patched building. Cutty spray-painted a large-scale facial portrait that sports thick, black-framed glasses, a nose ring and a snarl. Spagnola painted a roughly 15-foot-tall, orange and violet tiger, seated and surrounded by Nepalese flowers.

Glassman saw Spagnola's artwork around the city during recent trips to Asheville. Their official acquaintance came from Leslie Huntley of Roost Interior Design. Huntley had selected Spagnola's work for a house that New Belgium owns near the future facility.

"The opportunity to incorporate local art at the new brewery is something we're all excited about,” Glassman says. “But we’re still a long ways off from hanging art on the walls.”

The artistic details aren’t final, and most likely won’t be until construction is under way. So there’s no telling what kind of art can be expected at the new brewery. As for now, the mural was a starting point for New Belgium’s artistic partnership with the city.

West Asheville

Most people take a week off of work: they leave town, or at least stay home and listen to the Beach Boys. Artist and Xpress designer Nathanael Roney took a week off to work … elsewhere.

Large-scale painting isn’t exactly in Roney’s repertoire, which largely includes years of frame-appropriate ink drawings of baseball players, poets and writers, and a recurrent character not unlike the artist himself. But after his DeSoto Lounge exhibit earlier this year, where he displayed a series of large-format works, Bari Salon owners contacted the artist about a mural.

Roney spent a week covering the west-facing wall of Bari Salon, at the corner of Haywood and Wellington, with a Wyndham Lewis-like melding of his signature-style kudzu and animals. “I wanted to make the best of my time,” Roney said of his working vacation. Otherwise, “It would have taken six months of Tuesdays to finish.”

Kyle Sherard writes about the visual arts for Xpress and can be reached at kyle.sherard@gmail.com.

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

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