Tracks of the abstract

Asheville artist Marie Hudson compares abstract art to modern jazz — an acquired taste, and certainly not for everyone. But Hudson insists there is a method to her madness: “I am probably more interested in the content,” the artist explains. “Whether it says something or not to somebody else, it has to say something to me. I can’t just put pretty colors down and make a painting. It has to talk back to me, have some kind of meaning and emotion.”

Hudson, along with fellow artists Barbara Fisher, Marjorie Hellman and Mary Lou Gibson, will be featured in an upcoming exhibit titled “Asheville In The Abstract.”

“We’re all very different, so it should be a good show,” she promises.

Hudson’s one-woman showcase at Zone one contemporary gallery last year — the “Women Waiting Series” — featured her figurative work. But the artist also exhibited a couple of abstracts, because local poet/arts writer David Hopes had praised them so highly. It should be noted that even Hudson’s figurative work dances with abstraction. Her surrealistic images — women formed from vapors or hung in cocoons — recall of the work of Joan Miro.

“The figures are very contemporary, mythical. A lot of it [pertains] to women and the things that women are about. Underneath, I’m trying to say something, but I don’t want it so overt that it’ll knock you down. A lot of times, it’s better to let people read into a painting what they see. But if I can evoke an emotion, that’s what it’s about,” the artist says.

With her abstracts, Hudson is increasingly toiling in a mixed-media world, usually beginning with oils: “I mix in charcoal. I’m also doing some collages with handmade paper, and that’s been an experiment, too. This has been great, to try this different direction.” She may sprinkle in feathers, dirt, tree bark and gold wire — one piece incorporated the shells of a marauding band of cicadas that besieged the town several years ago. Referring to the recent controversy at New York’s Metropolitan Museum, she points out mischievously, “So, you see, the elephant dung is not so far out.”

Mary Lou Gibson employs a river motif in much of her work, weaving deep greens and blues together in a swirling, flowing mass and punctuating the dark with dashes of red and orange. She strives to take the viewer on a journey, revealing in her artist’s statement: “The exposed self, through the creative process and its eventual expression, gives rise to the journey. … The river is an engaging source of energy and grace that flows through our being while on this journey.”

Marjorie Hellman, meanwhile, explores design and pattern, stressing the spiritual and symbolic properties in the natural and abstract forms she paints. She interlocks defined shapes — circle, oval, rectangle, obelisk and the feminine shapes of gourd, vessel and chalice — securing them into mazelike structures, producing what she calls “a search for balance, a path to harmony and order.”

In Barbara Fisher’s paintings “14 Things I Know Are True” and “16 Ways To Get There,” rows of images are placed in semi-ordered compartments. Sounds cubist, but it’s more like an abstract version of Hollywood Squares. Many of the images are unrecognizable — but occasionally, a glove or something vaguely familiar appears. Fisher says she explores “the subtle realms of consciousness and perception where what is seen and what is intuited come into conflict. What is ‘real’ and what is imagined merge to create new and richer realities.” Other works use both new and recycled images: “By joining … order and chaos — a visual paradox is created.”

Marie Hudson’s favorite artists are Picasso (“Even though he was a dirty old man”), Matisse (“I thought he was too organized, but when I saw an exhibit of his, I could see the emotion in his work”), and the German expressionist painters Kirchner and Kandinsky, who stressed a spiritual and emotional approach to art.

“My paintings are a personal perception of life, relationships, alienation and isolation,” discloses Hudson. “They are not what I see; rather, they’re a visual response to how I feel.” Her paintings “Bye Bye Blackbird” and “You Can’t Go Home Again” have a minimalist flavor, arranging contrasting colored objects and lines to create a sense of distance and an inaccessible entranceway, evoking the pain of separation and segregation.

Painting is a discipline for Hudson, a local businesswoman who returned to college in 1979 to pursue her interest in art. She goes to work at her riverside studio every day (though when she broke her foot this past Christmas, she had to paint at home for a couple of weeks). “I’ve had to wait a long time to be able to do what I wanted to do, so I take every moment that I can. It’s a passion with me: It’s what I do.”

The four artists will hold a panel discussion on abstract art at Zone one contemporary gallery on Feb. 10, — which should help enlighten those accustomed to more concrete images. “I think it’s going to be exciting. Changing the style I’ve been doing for the past 15 years has been a learning experience for me. I really think that these paintings are about … a journey,” Hudson reflects. She applauds the vision of Zone one’s Connie Bostic and Judy Swan in hosting the exhibit:

“Connie and Judy don’t represent shows just to make money. They truly are interested in art. They show what they consider good or different. They don’t just want barn paintings and things that they know are going to sell.”

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