Wired and inspired

“You can go home again,” artist Ron Meisner declares. “You just can’t stay too long.”

Meisner, unlike the author to whom he’s alluded, wasn’t born and raised in Western North Carolina. However, his mother was, and summers and college here have led the artist to consider this region home. And with his parents now living locally, Meisner comes down regularly from his longtime residence in New York City.

And in so doing, he’s also found a second home for his quirky, ever-changing artwork.

Meisner’s current exhibit at Semi-Public Gallery consists of more than 100 drawings, paintings, collages and mixed-media works, all done on paper. But not just any old kind; the artist uses a series of Chemex coffee filters — 12 square inches, thick, heavy and strong. Not the Mr. Coffee kind at all.

Looking at these java-inspired tableaus affords a rewarding peek into the restless mind of an endlessly searching artist.

Spread across both the warm, familiar amber of the old, throwaway filters and the stark whiteness of the unused ones, Meisner’s works range in style from baroque to minimalist.

Meisner fearlessly explores whatever he finds interesting: Although his format is the square, circles also abound — macrocosms to microcosms, atoms to planets, basketballs to mandalas.

Some pieces incorporate exotic symbols and images — one includes a pattern of abstracted Arabic text. Another used filter has a tie-dyed, wine-colored stain surrounding a lacy central panel. On a third, circles of mica dance around a tiny square of mirror sitting in the center of yet another circle, interspersed with even tinier dots in a commercially produced holograph pattern. The artist seems in this piece to be searching for some kind of spiritual center.

Animals help provide balance: a ceremonially decorated elephant from India, a blurry close-up of a cat’s face, an owl perched on a tree limb. A smear of bright yellow creates a miniature canvas for a bold ink drawing of the claw and tail of a Chinese dragon that’s running off the end of its allotted space. A claw from the other end of the creature reaches threateningly from the opposite side, and a snake coils energetically in the center, backed by — what else? — two circles (both are red).

Other works address the viewer with the eyes of ’30s and ’40s pop icons, which Meisner produced by taking digital photos of old movies on TV and transferring them to the coffee filters. One beautiful piece features a collage of basketball players — many hands reaching for many balls.

But what blooms on the unused filters is quite different. Most of these works are abstract, about color relationships and interactions, their bright whiteness producing an entirely different effect. One serene painting stands out with a passage of soft Wedgwood green, which begins as flat color and then changes, becoming iridescent. An air of Eastern mysticism dominates this contemplative work.

Meisner’s show is not one to dash through. Connections, one piece to the other, can be elusive. But they are there, percolating, and it’s a worthwhile adventure to let them soak in.

[Connie Bostic is an Asheville-based artist and writer.]


Ron Meisner’s The Coffee Filter Project: Refiltered, Revised, Regrouped shows at Semi-Public Gallery (305 Hillside St.) through Sunday, July 11. Hours are 1-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, or by appointment. Call 253-5048 for more information.

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