The oversized heads on the walls at Ananda take over even that vast space. Rising Asheville artist Benjamin Betsalel, known for his murals, titles his exhibit Dynamic Lines Within Us.
Just so: The works are spontaneous, alive with energy — the paint is swathed onto the paper with a fearless, childlike freedom.
However, with these portraits, Betsalel seems to be commenting about more than “just” his models (all friends). In each work, the sitter engages the viewer in a very direct way, and something dark in the state of the world pokes through. As in Gothic novels, the eyes seem to follow the viewer, mesmerizing gazes emerging from dark backgrounds.
“Georgi” locks on with a penetrating stare. Built up with intense colors and quick brush strokes, the features are strong, like those of some kind of superhero: Georgi is clearly someone who should be taken seriously. “Simon” looks directly at the viewer, but with a soft sadness. The face is heavily constructed with blotches of bright, hopeful colors.
Betsalel is a little less spontaneous and more cautious in his depictions of two of the women in the series. “Nora” and “Jenni” have the signature hypnotic stare and strong features, but here the colors are softer. Nora has long hair and big, haunting eyes; paint drips across her high cheekbones. In fact, a number of passages in the thinly painted piece are drippy. The work is almost monochromatic, leaving the impression of quiet introversion. “Jenni” is more intense. The paint is thick, the figure more solid and somewhat confrontational. “Kyoko,” however, grows even bolder — her dark eyes are placed high in her forehead, and her lips are full and very red, her expression confident and questioning.
“Bobby” is the smallest of the works, though the head fills the paper, cut off above the brows and below the lips. In between, every brush stroke emphasizes the eyes. The viewer feels the disturbance, the coming doom — and it’s still hard to look away.
[Connie Bostic is an Asheville-based artist and writer.]
Dynamic Lines Within Us shows at Ananda Hair Studio (22 Broadway) through Saturday, March 27. 232-1017.