If you visit Layton Hower‘s LinkedIn page, you’d find someone well-established in the world of business: for the past five years, he’s served as vice president of finance and operations at the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce; before that, he was the chief financial officer at United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County.
But if you were to conduct a general online search, you’d soon discover Hower’s also a professional painter with over 20 years’ experience creating chromatic abstract works.
So, what answer does Hower give when asked, “What do you do?”
“I think about that all the time,” he says. “Depending on the situation, I will lead with ‘I’m an artist’ as much as ‘I work at the chamber.’ They’re not in that order all the time. There’s not a hierarchy.”
A graduate of Davidson College, Hower earned his degree in fine and studio arts in 2003. Though no stranger to showing his work throughout the country, his latest exhibit, Everything Is Endlessly Vast, marks his debut in Asheville. The show runs Friday, Aug. 25-Sunday, Sept. 24 at Pink Dog Gallery, 348 Depot St. An artist reception will be held Saturday, Sept. 9, 5-8 p.m.
Art and business
“People contain multitudes,” Hower says, in discussing his professional and artistic lives. “My experience having multiple interests is pretty common, but maybe it’s expressing itself in a more pronounced way than it does with other people.”
Hower’s introduction to the business world came while he and his wife, Michele Torino, lived in New York City. For four years, he worked as an assistant to the chief financial officer at Cunningham Dance Foundation. This on-the-job training in management and accounting ultimately led Hower to his next gig, the director of finance and human resources for the Baryshnikov Arts Center.
When the couple were expecting their second child, they decided to move to Asheville “for all the familiar reasons,” says Hower: natural beauty, artistic culture and to be closer to his family in Virginia.
Despite his experiences in New York, Hower believes his art training was just as valuable in preparing him for his position at the chamber.
“Learning to paint was a very rigorous activity,” he says. “It’s about planning — it’s thinking about the unlimited amount of things that could happen and then making decisions from there. Accounting doesn’t use all of the things that painting does, but it’s based on organization. It’s like project management. To me, it doesn’t seem like they’re totally different.”
An unexpected connection
Hower’s two worlds collided in 2022, when local artist Joseph Pearson, who has a studio at Pink Dog Creative, telephoned the chamber. He wanted to donate his portrait of Matthew Bacoate, a former chamber employee and an Asheville civil rights pioneer, to the organization. Pearson was directed to Hower.
“When he invited me into his office,” Pearson says, “I noticed a well-crafted painting on his wall and commented about the quality of the work.”
Hower noted the piece was an original. Impressed, Pearson asked if he was showing his work anywhere. Hower was not.
“He seemed a bit shy about putting himself out there,” Pearson says. “I totally get that.”
Pearson suggested Hower reach out to Hedy Fischer, co-owner of Pink Dog Creative. To Pearson’s delight, the two eventually connected. “Lo and behold, it was a pleasant surprise to learn that he would be showing there,” Pearson says. “The public will be in for a real treat.”
Fischer agrees. “When I looked at Layton’s sumptuous acrylic abstract paintings, I knew he would be a good choice for us,” she says.
‘Rollicking food fight’
Whereas Fischer calls Hower’s paintings “sumptuous,” Wesley Pulkka, an art critic for the Albuquerque Journal, described them as “lusciously gorgeous,” in his 2005 review of the artist’s first solo exhibit. “They are knock-down, drag-out, heavy-duty, pedal-to-the-metal, knee-deep in acrylic,” Pulkka wrote. “There is no fear of paint in this artist. He applies layer upon layer of intense color until the surface looks like the aftermath of a rollicking food fight.”
For his Asheville debut, Hower chose 15 paintings created in the past five years. “The scenes we see, our routines, dusty objects at our places of work or home, all of it, is an incomprehensible mix of time, energy, feeling,” he says, in describing the show’s title.
If the “rollicking food fight” of his earlier works recall the splatters of Jackson Pollock held in place with the flowing, fragmented forms of Willem de Kooning, these recent works are more architectural. Sharp geometric shapes emerge from hotly colored tectonic plates of magma.
After laying down the geometric shapes with thin paint applied by brush, Hower then turns exclusively to palette knives, adding layer after layer of paints with varying viscosities.
“My work is all additive,” Hower says. “The layers are applied with different kinetic impact. I may use nine different kinds of palette knives with different grips. Each one gives different results.”
Right brain, left brain
In reflecting on his two careers, Hower posits: “Our culture doesn’t like complexity or ambiguity. Our culture rushes to the concept of right brain and left brain.”
As a person existing in both the creative and business worlds, he takes issue with the notion.
“That’s a caricature,” he continues. “That would only exist if you truly did not have a right brain, or you truly didn’t have a left brain.”
With his upcoming exhibit, Everything Is Endlessly Vast, audiences will see an artist with both sides of his brain working in synergy.
For more information, visit avl.mx/cwv.
Editor’s note: This article was updated on Aug. 24 to include additional show dates.