Drive-Thru America

Medusa III
“Medusa III,” by Molly B. Right.

Anticipatory of spring, the various galleries at Blue Spiral 1 are alive with new works by a great spectrum of artists.

There is real exploration going on in the work of James Daniel: It’s as if he’s decided that consummate skill as a draftsman just isn’t enough in the 21st century. Daniel has courageously placed his photo-realist drawings and paintings in the center of passages of paint – just paint for its own sake. He plays with the various ways to apply and manipulate his materials with smears and slashes;  in “Manichimo,” he draws rebellious multiple lines around the head and hat of his gracefully modeled conte drawing of a man, then places the whole thing on a paint-smeared canvas. A pallet knife is used to add burnt sienna and jarring yellows to a sand-colored background scraped to reveal bits of dark blue. (It’ll be interesting to see where this leads.)

A sort of Jacob Lawrence-meets-Stuart Davis hybrid, Melanie Eberhardt paints scenes from everyday life: a carnival, a pool party, surfers, animals on a city street – a bright, colorful palette applied to flat, rhythmic shapes.

Molly Right’s bottlecap mosaics are big, bold and startlingly Byzantine. Her depictions of famous women from art history and myth are first painted on sheet metal, then encrusted with bottlecaps, some in their natural state, some rusted or painted. The iconic result is helped by Right’s refreshingly nostalgic choice of caps, including Fresca, Teem, Squirt, Nugrape and Nesbitt’s Imitation Black Cherry Soda.

“Heirloom,” by Joe DeCamillis.

But the real star of the Blue Spiral show is nestled away in the small format room at the back of the gallery’s street floor. Joe DeCamillis’ A Drive-Thru America is a series of small, intricate paintings from photographs he takes on the road. Early in life, DeCamillis wanted to be a writer, so his current work may be an outgrowth of that ambition. His exquisite little works are placed in routed-out spaces in old books – intricately tooled, antique-leather volumes; school books; reference texts; and inexpensive old novels with illustrated covers.

The installation feels like some kind of ancient library – a copy of Boys’ Life Book of Football Stories, probably from the 1920s, encloses a tiny circular painting of a football. “The Big Chill” is what DeCamillis calls a work framed by an old school book titled All About the Ice Age; the cover is soft blue and shows a drawing of a polar bear. A huge old leather-bound Funk and Wagnall’s dictionary sits on a pedestal. In a slot in the pedestal, DeCamillis has placed a small, well-worn volume telling the story of the finding of this book in a used-books store in Florida, where it had been left for sale by a homeless couple. “Heir-Loom” is typed in the opening in the lower center of the book, and in the cutout above a tiny painting shows the headlights of an approaching car illuminating the book’s former owners, thumbing on a highway at night.

Another work with a similar feel, “The Beginning of a Long Dark Night,” is created from The World’s Economic Dilemma, an old hardback book from the turn of the 20th century. The miniature painting for this piece shows cars in a nighttime parking lot. In the darkness, a Wal-Mart sign beckons the weary travelers.

Interestingly, DeCamillis says he has been a “full-time traveling art-fair artist since 1992.” This is not work one would expect to find among the too-pretty watercolors and redundant photos of bright blossoms that normally spring up in these venues.

[Connie Bostic is an Asheville-based painter and writer. Her work can be seen next at the Meadows Museum in Shreveport, La.]

New Artists + New Works + New Year shows at Blue Spiral 1 (38 Biltmore Ave.) through Saturday, Feb. 25. Call 251-0202 or see for more information.


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