The maze of rooms at Grovewood Gallery are filled with chatty tourists buying scarves, mugs, walking sticks, goblets, and wind chimes.
But one corner of the cottage resounds with words trying harder. Messages: Works With Words features 11 artists whose pieces range from the very traditional — Michael Hughey’s calligraphy — to the reasonably contemporary, like Bill Whipple’s interactive coffee table.
Kirsten Jongen’s “Balancing Act” is a large canvas gushing a profusion of drippy chartreuse paint. There are circles at the top, and text in bright blue covering the center of the work proclaims, with breathy abandon, “balancing inner and outer is a careful dance of dream … a two step that knows when to kiss the ground … and when to take flight.”
In sharp contrast (in both execution and sentiment) are Hughey’s tightly crafted lines. His rows of words stand in perfect harmony, many of them from the Bible, some written in English and some in Hebrew. Hughey shows lovely handmade books — no gimmicks, just words with meaning and calligraphy of consummate skill.
Aluminum tiles by Don Drumm are printed with such random pleasantries as “Scatter Joy,” “Art is a Rainbow Connecting Man to God” and, more ambitiously, the lyrics to the “Star Spangled Banner.” His “Don’s Tool Box” is a 32″ x 36″ casting of box shapes mounted on a larger tile surrounded by text that informs us: “This is my tool box. A collection of odds and ends. Philosophies & things. Many items are completely worthless, but remain. Their value is totally sentimental & I dare not throw any thing away.” Indeed he hasn’t: The text goes on for at least three more sentences.
On the other hand, Brian Watson’s highly polished chunks of maple are sometimes carved with just one word: TRANSFORM, say, or LOVE. Susan Marie Brown also shows vertical wood pieces, brightly painted and decorated with things like wooden cutouts of birds, hearts and stars. Referencing the ever-popular dream realm, Brown’s “Peace” tells viewers, in part, that “like fragile young branches[,] Peace has the ability to grow into a massive tree for dreamers to climb.”
Recalling melancholy dollhouses, or, more accurately, gothic altar pieces, Carol Owen’s muted Spirit Houses are filled with bits and pieces of memorabilia: old photos, text from old books and newspapers, keys, flowers, tiny pieces of bone, seed pods, flatware, and birds’ eggs. A rusty toy jack evokes sad nostalgia.
“To Each His Throne” is the title of an upholstered chair by Bill Whipple. The back of the chair carelessly reads, “One’s true throne is their heart.” The seat demands that the viewer (or, rather, the sitter) “Come Sit … Listen.” Whipple’s aforementioned coffee table is collaged with lines from the ubiquitous “Desiderata” — albeit with a refreshing twist: A bowl of printed words from the prose poem sits on the table; viewers are invited to participate by rearranging the familiar verses how they wish.
Finally, Mary Lounsbury’s fiber collages stand out for their tight conceptual qualities and for their intelligent, well-thought-out text. “The Bee Story,” seen some time ago in a Front Gallery show, retains its charm. Her newly exhibited work is titled “Lonely,” and depicts photo transfers of animated teenage girls, in pairs or groups of three. The text is a somewhat rambling monologue by a bright girl describing her frustration at being ignored by her peers. “It’s like I’m speaking another language that they don’t even understand. And by the time they understand, they don’t even know that that’s what I’ve been trying to tell them.” Well put.
[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.]
Messages: Works With Words runs at Grovewood Gallery (111 Grovewood Road) through Monday, July 4. 253-7651.