Men plan, women perceive

Envie II by Wener Haker
“Envie III,” by Werner Haker.

There are those who insist there’s no such thing as a female aesthetic, but a visit to Upstairs [artspace] in Tryon makes it hard to deny. The works in the small front gallery are dramatically different in sensibility from those in the two main rooms.

In the big street-level space, architect Werner Haker exhibits large collages that are a real departure from his earlier cool, minimalist paintings. In his new artist’s statement, Haker says, “My work is abstract because abstraction calls on the viewer for active participation and makes participation worthwhile.” It’s hard to argue with the “active participation” part — turn a bunch of ten-year-olds loose in a gallery and watch them head for the biggest abstract work in the room.

There is, however, a great deal of figuration in Haker’s recent works. We also see expressive brushstrokes — uncontrolled drips and splatters. Despite these spontaneous passages, the work is tightly structured, the divisions in the canvases strict and exact.

Haker hasn’t strayed from his need for order.

Images include African masks, wood grain, photos of dilapidated buildings and body parts, floor plans of medieval cathedrals, sheet music, and text from a book with a passage about Malibu Barbie. “Prescient Memory” is one of the show’s largest works: The canvas is divided into sections, and a soft, pale-blue sky hovers over a collaged photograph of two nude women lying together in the grass. Thin green paint drips from that grass, running toward another section showing a clover. Haker’s paintings all boast provocative, well-deserved titles — none of them hailing from the “OK, this is finished, now what should I call it?” school. Indeed, everything in these works is meticulously considered, and each element selected with great care.

Although visually incomparable, Kenn Kotara’s installation downstairs is just as acutely conceived, and as intellectually stimulating. Kotara imposed certain limits on himself based on the cubit, a unit of measure used by ancient peoples. With 18 inches (the measurement from one’s elbow to the tip of the middle finger) as his basis, Kotara explores many mathematical possibilities in different media. Colorful pastel works on paper are pinned to the wall, butting against each other. Some have Kotara’s signature squiggly lines, others depict forearms and reaching hands. The number and order of fingers extended varies, as do the colors, suggesting a hidden sign-language message.

A mysterious double row of 18-inch white cubes sits at the bottom of the stairs. On the wall above the cubes hangs a series of amazingly complex works on Mylar. Perhaps the most effective of all these is the arrangement of monochromatic forearms and hands suspended from the ceiling. Done in watercolor with errant pencil lines peeking through, they are simple and fresh.

And yet not as organic as the works of Donna Price and Katie Walker in the Small Works Gallery — which are as intuitive as the pieces by Kotara and Haker are deliberate. Walker’s small, abstract paintings nestle comfortably around and between Price’s sculptures. The paintings are done in enamel with elegant, spontaneous marks in playful color combinations.

Price’s works are based on the tools and found treasures she uses as a landscape gardener. “The old materials have marks and scars that add personality to the work,” she says. None of the sculptures are frivolous, but neither do they take themselves too seriously. “To Sweep or Not to Sweep” is a “broom” made of unruly wires bound to a stick. It has a great deal of meaning to anyone who has wondered, on many occasions, “Should I sweep, or should I just sit and read?”

[Connie Bostic is an Asheville-based painter and writer. Her work is currently showing at the Meadows Museum in Shreveport, La.]

Showing at Upstairs [artspace] (49 South Trade St., Tryon) through Saturday, April 15 are the following exhibits: Werner Haker: Transfigurations; Kenn Kotara: Cubitum: The Measure of a Man; and, in the Small Works Gallery, Paintings, by Katie Walker, and Sculpture, by Donna Price. (828) 859-2828.

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