Pushing back

From the outside, Push Skate Shop looks more or less like any number of other purveyors of skateboarder goods and fashions. But nestled in the very back of the store is a small, somewhat plain gallery. And, surprising as it may seem, Push Gallery always—and I do mean always—has interesting art.

“Nice Lawn, Yankee, April ’73” by Joel Stewart

It’s not always great art, and at times there is the feeling that the artist is still “working things out” and the exhibition may have been premature, but at least it’s not another space for all those artists who like to play it safe. Push Gallery isn’t there just to sell décor pieces to tourists.

The gallery’s current exhibit, Art Attack 2: Art Throb, showcases three artists whose work varies in both approach and concept. They range from mixed media and collage to fiber arts and etching, and also include a number of commanding stencil works. Alex Gundlach and Joel Stewart both have pieces with elements of street art or graffiti, while that of Lauren Whitley is more conventional in format.

Whitley’s prints of heavy-bodied horses on rough backgrounds with frayed edges bring to mind the drawings from the caves at Lascaux, but are very different from the pieces she presents in her “Winter Drawings” series. These are drawings done with inks, some black and some brown, and surprisingly, some created with embroidery thread. Her “Winter Drawing, 6 of 6” combines frustrated-looking staccato red marks with stitching and sharp ink strokes, while colored threads loop and twine around the surface of paper punctuated with needle holes.

“Winter Drawing, 4 of 6” is figurative, with the drawing defining the planes and features of a human face. While the stitching is more regular in places, in others it follows the shape of the head. The handwritten text in the lower right is indecipherable (it is upside down), adding to the distinct feeling of loneliness and isolation in the work, a feeling of perhaps being trapped in a storm. Whitley’s “All the Leftovers” is a deceptively elegant work made from twisted wire and colorful draped embroidery threads. Unexpectedly, the charming sculpture is held at the top by a cluster of plastic baby heads.

“Winter Drawing, 6 of 6” by Lauren Whitley

Alex Gundlach works on enamel-coated plywood, and most of his pieces in the show are about animals. They are accompanied by snappy, pun-filled titles. A collaged owl, banked by Gundlach’s signature drawn clouds, is called “Whoo dat is?” In his “Tiger Beat,” a big cat—clearly patrolling his territory—emerges from the clouds on the left of the painting and Gundlach’s fuchsia, orange and turquoise washes slide down from the top. There are five small drawings from a series called “Brain Dead,” which uses collaged newspaper painted a dark, red wine color. The drawings are of a somewhat human supplicant, with huge eyes holding a rosary, hands clasped in prayer. There are windowless structures in the background, and shapes like the tags sometimes found on train cars or abandoned buildings in the foreground.

Joel Stewart also works in mixed media, and there is a consistency in his pieces, both conceptually and in execution. He has a skilled hand with a spray can, and the images in his pieces can be dark and foreboding, although there is usually an element of wry humor or irony somewhere. In his “Nice Lawn, Yankee, April ‘73,” texts are repeated and overlaid: At the top of the work on the left, the word “Manface” appears, and at the bottom, the words “Nerdy South.” The right side presents the stenciled image of a black man who looks the viewer in the eye, directly but not confrontationally. Opposite this face is a collaged photo of a white suburban husband proudly pushing a new lawnmower over the grass in front of his ranch-style house.

“I Bet Ibex Make Nice Pets” features an accomplished drawing of a horned animal, collaged pictures of three big bugs with patterned backs and a cutout of a cheerful-looking nun carrying a big basket of grapes. Stewart uses simple forms to convey complex ideas. “Cowboy Cohen” has a collage of a middle-aged fat man in a Stetson hat. The image is repeated in “Make Your Own Goddamn Gravy,” except that this time the stenciled figure has a can of gravy collaged onto his belly. The Manface text is repeated, the head of the black man, with a halo of collaged plates of food around his head, appears again, next to an image of a big male hand wielding a gun, which is being guided by the hand of a woman.

Much of the work seen at Push can be a little raw. But, unlike the shows at a number of other area galleries, it’s anything but boring.

[Connie Bostic is an Asheville-based painter and writer.]

who: Art Attack 2: Art Throb
what: Edgy art by Lauren Whitley, Alex Gundlach and Joel Stewart
where: Push Gallery (25 Patton Ave.)
when: Through Tuesday, Jan. 8. (www.pushtoyproject.com or 225-5509)

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