In 1992, more than 100 citizens of a small Russian city near Chernobyl reported a visit from aliens in a bullet-shaped spaceship. The event was widely reported in Europe and Asia, but not in the U.S.; Stephen Lange read about it in a UFO magazine.
Lange made his first images of the extraterrestrials in 1997. Then, for a number of years, he abandoned his subjects and worked instead on circular images.
But for his current exhibit at West Asheville’s Gallery 520 — well, to wear out a phrase, they’re baaack.
“The KGB,” Lange claims, “interviewed the witnesses to this visitation separately, and got remarkably similar reports from each of them.” Lange has based his paintings on those reports: Repetitive images in the works reinforce the similarity of the stories from the people who happened to be in the park that day. The sky is cobalt blue, sometimes with vertical stripes in a darker blue, and the giant space creatures hover prominently in the landscape. An energetic sun is made up of concentric circles, perhaps alluding to the shapes Lange dealt with over the past several years. A boy, holding his mother’s hand, points toward one of the visitors, unafraid. Text nearby reads: “‘They want to play.'” On another of the works, the text reads, “‘I wasn’t afraid, because mama was there, she was on her lunch break from the nuclear factory, the giants were smiling anyway. The sun was out, it must have been fifty degrees.'”
The pieces sport various technical-looking numbers and measurements collaged onto them, frequently on bits and pieces of bright-orange Day-Glo paper. In the background looms the nuclear power plant, ominously ever-present.
Julie Ward’s “The Hung Man” (could this be a play on words?) is only 3-by-5 inches, but the power of the image gives it a larger presence. Ward’s story of a missing cat, meanwhile, is told in a series of even smaller (3-by-3-inch) squares, with Kristov, the cat, fully materializing in the final work.
Elyse Manning and Patrick Byrne collaborated on their pink-framed works, pieces that are light but filled with all kinds of symbols and art-historical references. The paintings’ pastel colors ride acerbic shotgun with their faux-patriotic titles: “Land of the Free,” “Prayer Flag.”
“Welcome to the Invisible Kitchen” comes close to giving the exhibit itself its own narrative. In it a lone female figure stands in the corner of a room. She faces the viewer in a modified poodle skirt, holding a pan of fried eggs. And if her long cape doesn’t give her away, her Darth Vader-esque head certainly does.
[Connie Bostic is an Asheville-based artist and writer. Her work is currently showing as part of Road in Sight: Contemporary Art in North Carolina at Duke University.]
New Work at 520 Gallery (520 Haywood Road, in West Asheville) runs through Tuesday, May 3. Gallery hours are 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. 350-9430.