The art of unpredictability

Group shows, whether curated or juried, can be unruly. The most challenging group shows both to install and talk about, however, are those with no central theme or concept. While viewers are often assured of variety in message, concept and medium, these shows can be uneven experiences. Experienced artists’ works may find themselves displayed next to the work of relative newcomers. Some of these artists demonstrate a high level of competence and professionalism, while others are still feeling their way.

Lyn Miller’s “Describing the incalculable”

Such is case with Out of the Ordinary, the annual show from members of the Artists’ Roundtable, an organization of artists who act as helpers for the Asheville Area Arts Council. Roundtable membership is open to anyone, and the exhibition opportunity is available to any member.

Two well-known local artists who are trying something new are Margaret Katz Nodine and Lisa Morphew. Nodine usually works with paint, but in this exhibition she has two works in which she repeats images made with linoleum-block prints. Morphew is best known as a photographer, but is now working obsessively with bird images in both clay and encaustic. The sensitive little clay pieces are finished with underglazes and have uneven, flat finishes. The encaustics are done in bold primary colors with sculpted surfaces. The bodies of the birds are built up to bas-relief depth.

Another work about birds is a painting by Lisa Walraven. A 3-foot-square work called “Eastern Warblers” features oversized bird heads executed in a very flat style. The background is red, and the birds come in a number of different colors and patterns, giving the work an abstract quality.

Julia Masaoka’s new three-dimensional wall pieces have become much more coherent. She still uses her signature bottle caps and other shiny objects, but the work is tighter now and more resolved.

Doc Welty’s “Cowboy Coffee”

Jim Anderson goes in the opposite direction with his palette. His “Last Meal at the Hot Shot Cafe” fades away, just like Biltmore Village’s landmark diner did. There is none of the vibrant color so often admired in pastel drawings. All of the texture and most of the color has been rubbed away, leaving the ghost of that final meal barely visible on the page.

“Labyrinth Healing Blanket” by Laurel Reinhardt is a multifaceted fiber work incorporating symbols from many traditions, cultures and belief systems. The pale-blue bear shape in the center has the pattern of a labyrinth quilted on its body, while the bear is appliquéd onto the Native American colors representing the four directions. Tiny medicine bags hang from the circle, and patterned fabrics create a colorful border. Reinhardt’s other contribution to the exhibition is a lighthearted tribute to her household chores called “A Year in the Life of My Ironing Board.”

The ceramics of Doc Welty could be described as lighthearted, but if you look a little deeper there is also some food for thought. In virtually every Western movie, from Gene Autry’s in the ‘30s to Brokeback Mountain, there’s a scene in which the cowboys sit around a campfire and drink coffee made in a tinware pot. His “Cowboy Coffee” recreates the ubiquitous coffee pot in a super-size 2-foot version. Welty’s relationship with felines is expressed in the figure of a pop-eyed cat strapped into an electric chair. The cat’s claws are extended, his tongue is lolling, but he still puffs away on a big cigar. One is left to wonder if this is a tribute to kitties in general, or to one particular cat.

The “must see” work in this exhibition is that of Lyn Miller. It is outstanding in this company and would hold up well anywhere. Complicated geometric diagrams and pale photographs of mountain landscape broken into geometric shapes are transferred onto a subtly textured surface of Venetian plaster. The work calls into question our ideas about the relationship of science to the natural world and our connectedness to it. These pieces are more than visually beautiful; they are conceptually sophisticated and meaningful.

[Connie Bostic is a painter and writer based in Asheville.]

who: Out of the ordinary
what: Annual Artists Roundtable Exhibition
where: Asheville Arts Council Gallery (11 Biltmore Ave.)
when: Through Saturday, Jan. 26 ( or 258-0710)

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