State of the arts

Josh Spiceland’s life is a blaze of art-making and public display.

The Asheville painter and muralist had a lengthy roster of exhibits in 2012, including shows at the One Stop Deli and Izzy’s Coffee Den, along with public murals and other gallery showings. He also pieced together a unique collection of architecturally-based en plein air paintings of Asheville that hung at Cafe 64 during its switch from Cafe Ello last fall.

He’s wasted no time starting off this year, with a new collection of works that utilizes gallery walls for more than hanging the work. “My Name Is A Verb,” a title that serves as a testament to his active painting style, opens this Friday at the ARTery.

The collection is largely figurative, with classically derived portraits and natural landscapes. Many, if not most, are intertwined with the mathematical, yet abstract designs that have become synonymous with Spiceland’s name. (Witness them in his work on the Lexington Avenue Gateway Mural, or the just up the street in front of Izzy’s.)

“The geometric patterning is pretty pervasive,” Spiceland says of his newest work.

He’s been incorporating such ornamentation into his work for years. Layers and multitudes of freehanded and loosely rendered lines, squares, triangles, diamonds and hexagons stretch across foregrounds and backgrounds, around figures or into their very structures. With this body of work he’s continuing to hone in and expand on this underlying spatial integration.

“The first highly disciplined geometric works were primarily composed of squares, and this is parallel to my quests to make art suggestive of musical rhythm,” he says. Spiceland refers to the repetitious shapes as visual records of both space and time. They draw from time signatures and key changes popularly used in western music. There is a slight disclaimer here.

“I don’t want anyone to think that I think of myself as some kind of visionary,” Spiceland says. “I try to stay away from the idea of ‘sacred’ geometry, as the word is over-used,” he says, adding that its use often has ties with an artist’s self-proclaimed clairvoyance. This is not a part of his work, nor his persona.

Many of his figures have passive, onlooking postures that bare resemblance to Ingres-like portraits. Their soft, almond-shaped eyes come across as entranced, putting the figures in a seemingly meditative state. Others take on robust, cubist aesthetics. Their faces are built upon foundations of repeated shapes. They dissolve facial features into planes. The basic, repeated shapes that form an angular portrait, as opposed to the smooth, curvilinear surfaces.

Spiceland is often drawing these portraits, opting to use archival ink over the brush to develop high, but softened cheek bones and the narrow gazes that appear in his work. It provides a stark contrast to the deep royal blues and dark umbers that surround the faces and their organically decorated busts before sinking into the backgrounds. They begin to take on spiritual overtones, and in a sense, mimic Madonna style religious paintings.

The works in My Name Is A Verb will be set against a not-so-ordinary backdrop in the ARTery’s Depot Street gallery. Spiceland got the go-ahead from Kitty Love, AAAC’s director, to install floor-to-ceiling murals similar in style and scope to his paintings. They’ll cover both of the gallery’s exhibition walls and the bathroom. “I want to make the borders of the canvas dissolve,” says Spiceland.

It’s not necessarily the first time that an artist has painted on the walls, but according to Love, not to this extent. “I think it is a fun surprise that breaks up the formality of the gallery setting,” Love told Xpress.

He’s utilizing the bathroom’s enclosed, cave-like atmosphere to paint icons and images from the likes of primitive, freehand motifs and, of course, ancient cave paintings. While he’s finished with the work in the bathroom, he didn’t start the main gallery’s walls until Tuesday. Though it seems like it’s more than enough time.

“I’ve got 3 days prior to the opening,” Spiceland says, “so I’m covering as much as I can.”

My Name is a Verb opens this Friday, February 8 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the ARTery on 346 Depot St. The show runs through Tuesday, March 5. For more information: ashevilleartscouncil.com

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