Art from the heart

The Madison County town of Marshall holds sentimental value to Eric Legge. Zuma Coffee shop downtown was the last place Eric and his father, folk-art sculptor Joe Legge, shared a cup of coffee before the elder Legge died in January. Eric and Joe were close, spending a decade working together in Dillard, Ga., before Eric moved to Asheville.

“In some strange way, everything you need is within your reach”: The art of Eric Legge. Photo by Michael Traister.>

The second-generation folk artist, who says he aims to paint the town, will have a show at Zuma through mid-March. A man of serendipity, Legge finds comfort in showing his paintings in one of the last meeting places of father and son.

“[Madison] sounds like a legendary county,” Legge says. “The town has that vibe, like The Twilight Zone, or a movie set.”

Legge had a working gallery off Lexington Avenue in downtown Asheville. But like many artists in Asheville, Legge was displaced by high rent costs.

Still, he says, “I always have a foot in the door in Asheville, and foot on the ground. Asheville is a wonderful town, I feel at home.”

Legge paints from the heart. His work radiates off the wall, with brightly colored paintings and woodcarvings created from a childlike color palette.

The work is visceral, upbeat and the artist’s presence ethereal. “I paint a spiritual landscape, but I never set out to paint a spiritual landscape,” Legge says. “Better than Disney World, there is free admission and you can always take it with you. You know what they say, ‘home is where the heart is.’”

Legge goes on: “Mother Nature is my favorite artist—which is both material and subject. The materials that I use, and the subject matter. I still approach things with wonder and awe.”

His father, folk art sculptor Joe Legge (shown in the “Not of this world” shirt) died in January. Legge has a new show at the last place the two shared a cup of coffee. Photo by Michael Traister.>

Legge transcends the traditional folk-art stereotype of his predecessors, finding a dual footing in fine art and craft. “There is a lot of misconception about what art is,” he says.

“But a lot of modern art today is influenced by folk art. Every culture is influenced by folk art. I had the privilege and blessing to spend a lot of time with really resoundingly true folk artists R.A. Miller, Clyde Jones, Rev. Howard Finster, Peter Loose, Willie Willie … I learned a familiarity in the art-making process. After I met them, I saw the process of art-making. You can make something out of nothing.”

Legge’s work makes use of found objects and reclaimed canvas, which touches on his philosophy toward subject matter and product. “It is a spiritual practice in some regards, finding available material and making use of it,” he says. “Art is a dialogue, a transformative process, picking things up and transforming them to live a whole new life. In some strange way, everything you ever need is within your reach. If not, it’s [material] in the backyard. I am an oxymoron in the true sense of the word … Everything you need is within arm’s reach.”

Legge’s work is at Zuma through March.

“The fellow that owns Zuma’s [Joel Friedman] bought one of my pieces at the very first art show I ever did, the Howard Finster Fest in Summerville, Georgia,” Legge says. “That’s serendipity! “

[Natasha Shealy can be reached at Natasha@thenoise.us.]

who: Eric Legge
what: Folk-art show
where: Zuma Coffee, 7 N. Main St., Marshall
when: Show opens Friday, Feb. 13. Uke-a-billy band Mad Tea Party plays the opening reception, 6 to 9 p.m. (free).
and more: Legge, along with other Asheville artists including Gabriel and Cher Shaffer and Robert Seven, is slated to show at the Fearrington Folk Art Show Feb. 21 and 22 in Pittsboro, N.C.

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