Experience meets innocence

It’s hard to imagine two more wildly divergent painters than the pair whose work will open Asheville Area Arts Council’s pristine, newly expanded Front Gallery.

He’s mature; she’s very young. His resume is crammed with high-profile museum exhibits; hers lists a few student shows.

And this stark opposition also extends to their respective paintings. Both artists take nature as their muse, though one approach is abstract (if tightly rendered) while the other is figurative (albeit loosely painted).

Message by William Price

Message by William Price

There’s nothing impulsive about the work of William Price.

His artist’s statement references an interest in medieval illuminated manuscripts and Persian paintings, and his work — though completely non-objective — is clearly influenced by that kind of intricacy. Most of his pieces in the Front Gallery exhibit, done in watercolor and gouache, have a kind of glowing luminosity despite the latter medium’s dense opacity.

Price, a serious student of the “sacred geometry” school of thought, has always been attracted to the wildness of nature: “All things,” he has stated, “are alive and awake and conscious.”

Accordingly, his “Secret Stream” is flush with finely detailed organic shapes painted in rich, dark colors — you can almost smell the deep loam of the creek bank. “Message,” meanwhile, is created in watery blues, with streaks of orange and white and bits of black suggestive of coy darting through a slightly murky pond.

Price switches media for “Spring,” opting for egg tempera and gold leaf. But the change in materials does nothing to alter the vibrancy of the work, which celebrates new life in all its delicacy and excitement.

Ocracoke Spiral by Miranda Hope Seals

Ocracoke Spiral by Miranda Hope Seals

Miranda Hope Seals, the arts council show’s second artist, is a recent graduate of the BFA program at UNCA. Seals invests a strong feminine perspective into her work, flinging circles, spirals and other organic shapes deep into space.

Her renderings of snail shells have a fine, painterly quality — “First Spiral” emerges from a swirling mass as if growing out of the very energy of the universe. Seals speaks of the big bang in romantic terms, referring to the spiral as “the very symbol of life and energy, growth and change, an ancient design of galaxies, water and wind.”

But her most vivid painting shows microscopic, one-celled sea algae rendered in bright yellow-greens, whites and red-browns. Many of Seals’ pieces, in fact, arise from her interest in the ocean — specifically, its relationship to the rest of the natural world.

In “Ocracoke Spiral,” one of her two paintings of fossilized shells in the Front Gallery show, a graceful conch descends from a black cloud that floats incongruously in a blue sky. The shell itself has lost enough of its outer form so that the winding curves of its interior are suddenly, nakedly clear.

[Connie Bostic is an artist and writer living in Asheville.]

Paintings by William Price and Miranda Hope Seals will be featured at Asheville Area Arts Council’s newly expanded Front Gallery (11 Biltmore Ave.; 258-0710) as part of the Friday, April 2 AAAC-sponsored Art Walk, the first of the season (see this week’s Smart Bets section for details). The exhibit will remain up through Tuesday, April 27. Regular gallery hours are Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

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