Bill Thompson, owner of Satellite Gallery, deserves praise for regularly promoting solo art exhibitions in his gallery space on Broadway. Displaying one artist’s work at a time can be financially risky; typically in Asheville it’s only the noncommercial or nonprofit venues that do so.

Graffiti artist Ishmael painted a gorilla directly onto the wall at Satellite Gallery. Photo by Jonathan Welch.

Still, a collector or client who walks into a solo show receives an immediate message that the exhibiting artist is important enough to be given full attention and respect. One is challenged to think about the art itself, rather than consider how it appears next to other works of art. The solo shows that Thompson curates boast not only the integrity of his artists—they enhance the artistic climate of Asheville in the long run.

Satellite is currently showing the work of graffiti artist Ishmael. Paying homage to the anti-civilization theorist Daniel Quinn, Ishmael’s name is taken from the ape in Quinn’s books. In spite of the politically-charged alias, much of the work in Tramp Life is surprisingly decorative. Painting on wood panels, the artist combines graphic elements and illustrative details, leaving much of the wood grain exposed. A nice touch is his use of clear varnish that appears and disappears depending on the viewer’s angle. There is humor to be found in “2012” which is signed and dated with the year 2012 (the year the Mayan calendar ends).

Other smaller works incorporate Ishmael’s signature ape, and Charlie Chaplin iconography. A huge gorilla with red eyes looms, painted directly onto the gallery wall, and the simulation of cracked glass has been painted onto the front window. It appears that the artist enjoys working large and is more comfortable in that capacity given his background in graffiti art.

In other local gallery news, the much-anticipated group show On the Verge is finally on display at the Asheville Area Arts Council on Biltmore Ave. The show, co-presented by WNC Magazine, required that artists be in the “emerging” state of their careers—never having had a “major solo show” anywhere. Of 150 people who entered the juried show, only 10 were selected, and the end result makes for an impressive exhibition of noteworthy local artists. To be fair, the term “major solo show” is a bit ambiguous, and it seems likely a fair amount of artists didn’t enter the competition, thinking they did not qualify.

Semantics aside, the selections were made with much thought and intention. While the expressive styles and media of the exhibit run the gamut, the artists are each accomplished and committed to their vision.

The narrative paintings on paper of Ian Brownlee are quietly ominous in spite of their innocent allure. Cities and people in Gabriel Shaffer‘s paintings actively engage with ancestral and paranormal symbols. Marie Knight exhibits her graphic and richly-detailed two-dimensional multimedia artwork inspired by microbiological elements. Representing the more contemplative end of the visual spectrum are color “landscapes” by Genie Maples and quilts by Libby and Jim Mijanovich. The monochromatic glass vessels of Ben Johnson are a soothing alternative to the typical shiny multicolored work one imagines when thinking about glass art. Sculptural pieces by Sylvie Rosenthal and E. Ryan Simmons add a dimension of humor and pun to the show, while the figurative renderings on cloth of Megan Van Deusen marry traditional and contemporary approaches. Ultimately On the Verge succeeds in capturing a distinct regional sentiment with its contemporary, organic and folk aesthetic imbued in visual storytelling and craft. The show is up through May 29.

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6 thoughts on “Ursula

  1. AshevilleObserver

    Could the writer please tell us something about the mononymous Ishmael. Is he local? Presumably he was in Asheville to paint on the gallery wall.

    And speaking of mononymous, is the title of this column, “Ursula,” meant to suggest that Ms. Gullow is now the sole and recurring visual arts commentator for Mountain Express, as Mr. Hanke is for film? What’s happpened to your previous visual arts commentator, Connie Bostic?

  2. Rebecca Sulock

    The column was named simply because we like Ursula’s name (the writer didn’t choose the title, and we appreciate her humoring us). That name may change if we think of something we like more — you may have noticed the other A&E;column has changed names a couple of times. Suggestions?

    Xpress has always had a rotating cast of freelance writers, particularly in the A&E;section. Admiring Ursula’s work with Art Seen Asheville, we asked her to write a biweekly column on visual art, and here it be. Hope you like it. We do.

  3. AshevilleObserver

    “Ursula” is fine as her name and as the column’s name. Not as catchy as “Cranky Hanke,” of course.

    But what about Ishmael, who may or may not have another name. Is he local? Should she tell us more?

  4. Ken Hanke

    I am not the sole commentator on movies. Mr. Souther plays a significant role. (And I’m not just saying that because I’m going to make him watch Dance Flick.)

  5. Ursula

    In the interest of protecting the artist’s identity (graffiti is sorta illegal after all) I chose to omit his real name and his city of residence.

  6. doughnut gangster

    Most art reviews leave that some ol dairy berry(cheese cubes) and ranch flavor in my mouth. Gongrats Ursula for breaking the cheese mold… refreshing to have someone that understands this type of art write about it.

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