At the turn of the last century, the space situated three stories above 52 Broadway was a meat freezer. Now, a quick walk up two flights of creaky wooden stairs leads to The Asheville Loft, downtown’s newest art gallery.
That gallery is actually the common room and occasional studio space for owners and residents David Lawter and Leigh Ann Singleton. Both are classically trained musicians who perform with the Asheville Lyric Opera and the Hendersonville and Brevard symphonies. They’ve primarily used the space for rehearsals and small musical performances since moving in over a year ago. But throughout that year they both longed for a more inclusive arts atmosphere. Creating the space to exhibit art was the next logical step. Singleton says, “It’s been a vision of ours for a while.”
The current exhibition, A Confluence of Elements (a group show on view through Sunday, Jan. 4), features the works of Asheville-based painters and illustrators Alena Hennessy, Matthew Beasley, Rose Candela Moore and photographer Taylor Taz Johnson. The pieces, according to Hennessy, who organized the show, individually and collectively seek to form a visual and meditative intersection between the worlds of nature and artistic expression.
“All the works are inspired by nature in confluence with design,” she says. “I see it as the elements of art — space, shape, value, line, color, texture and form — meeting the elements of nature — earth, water, air and fire.”
Beasley’s work places figurative or medallionlike icons over blue skies and sunset landscapes while Johnson’s photographs manipulate geometric patterns found in flowers and leafy vegetation. Moore’s art, meanwhile, takes an abstract approach. Her works weave loose blue and red linear patterns into and against the grains of wood boards.
Hennessy’s own paintings are inspired by or made for books that she created with former Asheville-based publisher Lark Books. She depicts imaginative terrains filled with loose floral gardens and starlit skies that backdrop sailboats and neon seas. This particular exhibition features paintings Hennessey made for her newest book, The Painting Workbook: How to Get Started and Stay Inspired, which hit bookstores in October. “They all overlap in some way,” she says. “Whether it’s with fluid ink or bright, saturated colors, they all harmonize together.”
Lawter and Singleton opened their first exhibition in May with a collection of drawings and paintings and a small reception held among friends. A second, larger group showing of local artists followed in August and paved the way for a greater audience.
These initial openings ushered in a steady stream of inquiries about potential art exhibits, musical performances, film screenings and vaudevillian acts. Most of these, according to Kaitlyn Allen, Loft’s curator and gallery manager, were based purely on the gallery’s exposed bricks, structural beams and warm speakeasy atmosphere.
“We’re about creating a space so that artists, musicians, actors and Bohemians of the world have a place to gather and be appreciative of each other’s art forms,” Singleton says. “We want to invite other people to be a part of that.”
In addition to exhibitions and the occasional performance, Lawter also hosts biweekly drawing sessions. There’s traditional live modeling most weeks, with quick gestural sessions on Monday nights and longer form poses on Thursday evenings. Every so often, Lawter brings in burlesque models and aerial dancers to perform and pose from the gallery’s central support beams.
It’s these events (along with Lawter’s and Singleton’s eagerness to access and involve Asheville’s peripheral arts community) that Allen says have formed a unique creative foundation — one that will help to shape events in the year ahead. “We’re up for anything,” she says. “That’s basically our motto, and if anyone wants to come to us with an idea that may seem way too over the top, we’re up for it. We want to be that space.”
The Asheville Loft is on the third floor of 52 Broadway and is open to the public every Friday and Saturday from 6 to 8 p.m. and by appointment. theashevilleloft.com