The art of obsession

If you venture off to New York during the summer, you might find that your favorite commercial gallery is showing work by an artist you never heard of. In Asheville, the seasons are reversed.

Taiyo la Paix’s “Elizabeth (Ma Between Brain Surgeries)”

Here, the galleries are more apt to exhibit work by new artists during the winter doldrums, when sales are apt to be a little flat anyway. It’s a chance for artists who have not had shows in the commercial spaces around town to see just how much interest there is in what they do.

Since its inception, Blue Spiral’s winter exhibition has been for artists who have never shown there. This year’s NEW x Three (New Artists, New Works, (New Year) showcases works by 16 artists and crafts people. Some of the work has a bit of a corporate feel and some is a little derivative, but many of the pieces are fresh and new.

Vivian Beer’s chairs are fun to look at, and are possibly fun to sit on, but since they are on pedestals, there is no way to know for sure.

Paul J. Nelson’s glass work is lush in color, and almost erotically mysterious in shape. His wall pieces, according to the gallery handout, reference “tools and every-day objects,” but the interesting and undulating shapes suggest organic nature at her most obscure.

The prize for the most obsessive works in the exhibition has to go to Ukrainian artist Olena Nebuchadnezzar. Her fabric wall hangings are wonderfully rich in texture and color. The works are small for the quilt medium, but the detail achieved by the use of many different media and the careful study of the natural world is impressive.

Well, maybe Nebuchadnezzar isn’t the most obsessive in the show after all, as her level of fixation is seemingly matched by that of William Houston. Houston’s landscape drawings, with their focus on the sky, read as photographs from a distance of just a few feet.

The figures in some of Vicki Brunner’s mixed-media paintings are a cross between Léger and advertising art from the 1920s. If you enjoy a bit of whimsy, you’ll love her work.

It’s hard to know where to begin with the work of Taiyo la Paix, easily one of the most interesting artists in the show. The artist’s attention to detail in the patterning and the intricate detail in the background objects and figures also borders on the obsessive. In some ways, these works appear to be influenced by 19th century Japanese prints, yet the work is wholly contemporary, even giving something of a nod to modern Japanese animation.

Then there is the deeply personal nature of la Paix’s vision. In his artist’s statement he writes: “My muse, Papillia, lives only in my heart and on the canvas. The man who shares her life is not so much my self-portrait as is the man I wish I was, living the life I wish I had. In other words, my works are shameless fantasies that a sensible person would keep private.”

La Paix’s work often deals with some of life’s harshest realities. His “Elizabeth (Ma Between Brain Surgeries)” is crammed with symbolism. To start, nearly everything in the painting is pink. A carousel with pink and red stripes on its roof holds Papillia astride a pink unicorn, while the artist sits on a pink pig wearing a wildly bejeweled pink belt, and a laughing boy and girl ride an orange giraffe. Pink clouds surround a crescent moon holding pink nudes. A pink phoenix with exaggerated breasts sits amid baroque splendor above the children. In the foreground, Elizabeth smiles quietly out at the viewer. She is clad in a sheer blouse decorated with roses and butterflies. She holds a pink-and-orange striped journal and a pen, and on her lap is a long-coated Chihuahua wearing a heart-shaped dog tag. A blue macaw perches on her shoulder. With la Paix, the devil—and the insight—is in the details.

In “Last Days of Summer,” Papillia lounges face-down on the grass, a book at her side. The book is called The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. It’s next on my reading list.

[Connie Bostic is an Asheville-based painter and writer.]

who: NEW x Three (New Artists, New Works, New Year)
what: New works by a variety of artists
where: Blue Spiral 1
when: Through Saturday, Feb. 23 ( or 291-2513)

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One thought on “The art of obsession

  1. Paul Chebator

    Does anyone know how to get in touch with Olena Nebuchadnezzar? Her website does not seem to be active. She did some work for us about 6 years ago and we would like to order an additional piece.

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