The bombing of Mars, and other cautionary tales

The making of art can be as much an exploration of self as it is a demonstration of skill.

For All Desperate and Golden at the River District’s Wedge Gallery, curator Ryan Ford has assembled a team of seven, including himself. All are 20-somethings — some just barely so.

In promoting the exhibit, Ford references Carl Jung and his study of the unconscious. It fits: Some of these young artists are on a clear path, while others are clearly struggling to make sense of it all as they seek a place in an increasingly complex, depressing world.

Dustin Spagnola’s imposing paintings — which stand 5 inches off the wall, with all sides worked — examine how the hidden influences the visible. Spagnola silk-screens posters, tears them and applies them to his canvases, and then uses everything from sprayed tints to settling concrete to build thick, rich surfaces. His “Deviation Appearance” is finished with graffiti and a violent slash of red paint.

Lauren Gibbes, the show’s only woman artist, here presents two new works in her game-show series — terse comments on our desire for instant gratification. In one, a scantily clad blonde with big hair and pouty, collagen lips stands before a microphone; she’s dreaming of fast food and a fast buck.

Gibbes’ line drawing “The Evolution of Conception,” though another depiction of our advanced quest for perfection, is a departure in execution for the artist. It shows a couple having sex in a chemical beaker. (Artists Josh Vaughan and Jeremy Russell, on the other hand, make technology work for them: The former reconfigures photos by isolating his subjects in new contexts, and the latter takes inspiration from 20th-century films.)

Echoing many of Gibbes’ themes, Warren Wilson College student Zev Deans’ intricate silk screens use the dollar bill as a matrix. His work denounces America’s consumer culture — we see Santa choking on a McDonald’s burger and a desperate woman crawling into her TV to find the “real” romance offered by her soap opera.

“Disillusion is the security blanket in a consumer culture terrified of the truth,” Deans has noted in describing his work.

In his role as artist, curator Ford has created for this show new works filled with symbolism from different cultures. One large horizontal painting is divided into fleshy pink, representing the spiritual world, and a shade of gray suggesting earthly concerns. A big, pinker circle joins the halves, with Ford’s signature symbol — a respirator — in the center. On the painting’s left side, an upright, wolf-like figure stands with arms outstretched, an embryo protruding from her abdomen.

Jason Weatherspoon’s work continues to develop. His stylized figures, once so science-fiction-like, now arrive in a more mannerist mode, their elongated features finely sculpted. The artist’s paintings of warriors are patterned after classical Greek mythology, and bear the beautiful faces and helmets associated with the ancients. Yet Weatherspoon contemporizes his soldiers by trading Hermes’ winged helmet for one adorned with 747s, and Roman god Mars’ headgear for a new cap decorated with something bomb-shaped.

“A warrior’s whole life is built around war,” muses Weatherspoon in his artist’s statement. “He can gain glory and fame, but he pays with a loss of humanity.”

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

All Desperate and Golden opens at Wedge Gallery (129 Roberts St., in the River District) at 7 p.m. on Friday, April 30. The exhibit is up through Sunday, May 2. To see the work after May 2, call (828) 777-5271 for an appointment.

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