With 2007 behind us, it’s worth taking a look back at the trends that have shaped Asheville’s art scene over the past 12 months. There have certainly been changes—promising art spaces have closed and talented artists have left town—but this is to be expected. (In fact, new galleries and fresh talent have already begun to fill that void.) Many of the works on exhibit in 2007 were just variations on the same old themes: landscapes of widely different quality; still lifes; and formulated abstractions “to match the colors in the sofa.” On the surface, one might get the impression that the art scene in Asheville has had a standard, almost boring year.
However, there’s a growing group of artists in Asheville who seem willing to infuse their art with meaning that goes beyond commercial appeal.
With the huge success of the second annual RiverSculpture Festival, for instance, sculpture is finally coming into its own in the area. (Credit the hard work of organizers Arlene and Robert Winkler.) Hanging three-dimensional works attracted plenty of attention at the mobile auction at Mobilia, while Paul Sires’ exhibit of smaller sculptures at the Drew Dean Gallery in Brevard made a clear statement about the impact of gentrification in the region. Sculptor Harry McDaniel was awarded the first-ever Public Artist of the Year award from the Asheville Public Art Board, and DeWayne Barton’s backyard sculpture garden and performance space is a landmark in his West Asheville neighborhood.
The three dimensional images that will stick in many minds, though, are the heart-wrenching little figurines shown at Blue Spiral 1. Pavel Amromin’s innocent-looking puppies wearing combat boots and committing atrocities were impeccably crafted and carried a philosophical weight far above their size.
Some of the best painting seen in 2007 was intensely personal. Mary Charles Griffin’s abstractions seen at Blue Spiral 1 were all about her responses to the natural world. For his show at Flood Gallery, Taiyo la Paix painted his fantasy girlfriend with an accuracy that would have been impressive had she been sitting for him. The work of Robert Godfrey’s spontaneous and playful work at the Black Mountain Center for the Arts was the best conceived, the best presented and the best executed exhibition of paintings in the area of the year.
The year also saw an unusual number of fine ceramics exhibitions, even for a town filled with potters. The hands-down standout was the exhibition at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center of works by the 20th-century English, Japanese and American masters who taught and studied there.
Quilts are also a major part of the artistic heritage of our area, and there were several exhibitions solely of quilts and others featuring other fiber media. There are a number of artists making clothing, and there are even a handful experimenting with the sculptural possibilities of fiber. A favorite for the year was Lisa Klakulak’s Transplant at Ariel Gallery, an exciting and innovative exploration of the use of felt.
There were several noteworthy photography exhibitions in 2007. Those have included the straightforward work of the late Hazel Larsen Archer at Black Mountain College and John Dixon’s impressive landscapes. But the most resonant exhibit may have been Alice Sebrell’s emotionally devastating series on the ways we protect ourselves, using mannequins from taxidermists to depict human fears, insecurities and insensitivities.
Also of note are the efforts made by local arts-oriented nonprofit groups. The Open Hearts Art Center presented impressive multilayered works at the Arts Council Gallery by a developmentally disabled high-school student named Merlin. And thanks to the efforts of the Asheville TEACCH Center and the Autism Society of North Carolina, “savant artist” George Widener is exhibiting internationally.
Arts2People and the Asheville Mural Project continue their crusade to make the arts a part of the lives of all of our citizens. The Asheville Area Arts Council galleries continue to offer exhibition space for artists to show work that may not be commercially viable, presenting outstanding works by Brian Mashburn, Sean Pace and Skip Rhode.
Other notable arts-related events from 2007 included a visit from New Art Examiner founder Derek Guthrie, who ruffled a few feathers when he said that he found American art “profoundly pessimistic.” And last, artist, renovator and Lark Books founder Rob Pulleyn turned a dilapidated school building on Marshall’s Blanahassett Island into beautiful, affordable, high-ceilinged Marshall High Studios.
Looking back, it was a pretty good year for the arts in Asheville. Let’s hope there are more surprises in 2008.
[Connie Bostic is an Asheville-based painter and writer.]