Something to someone

Austen Mikulka artwork
Austen Mikulka, 22″x18″ acrylic on canvas, untitled.

The Secret Lives of … , the current exhibit at LIFT Culture House in Cherokee, is nothing if not inclusive. Curator Leon Grodski is interested in art being tied into one’s everyday life, not a thing apart.

“Some artists,” he points out, “show their work in museums, and some keep it to themselves for decades.” His goal is to prove that art is not, as he writes in his curator’s statement, “something distant, foreign or mysterious.” These artists have day jobs — but continue to make their work.

Martin DeWitt is director of the new Fine Arts Museum at Western Carolina University. His is the largest painting in Secret Lives, a diptych, with the two panels hanging to make a corner installation. Dramatic reds and blacks form an ark, and drips and splatters emphasize the piece’s strong movement. Matt Liddle, who teaches printmaking at Western, exhibits an ink print of six highly stylized panels with dancing organic shapes resembling Mayan glyphs.

Kristy Maney artwork
Kristy Maney, 40″x28″ photo, “My Name is I Am Nothing to No One.”

Beth Johnson teaches in Atlanta. She presents an incredibly lovely wall weaving which trails onto the gallery floor. At first glance, it looks somewhat traditional, and thus out of place in a gallery filled with more contemporary work — that is, until the pattern’s relationship to computer mathematics becomes evident. Another teacher, Appalachian State University’s Jody Servon (who also runs the gallery there), shows three large photos of Raggedy Ann dolls. In “Facing Forward,” the doll is shown head on, with a sheen on her pinafore making it look like the drapery in an Ingres painting. Disturbingly, coiled in a tight spiral on the floor beneath the photos, is a much-too-long doll’s leg, complete with the requisite red-striped stocking and black shoe.

Secret Lives‘ other photographer is Kristy Maney, a young mother and Cherokee native. Ghostly images of a nude woman are projected against a grid created by a cement-block wall. The contrast in the surfaces — soft, smooth skin against rough concrete — is haunting, painful. Is it a self-portrait? Big, competent-looking hands are held to the figure’s face. The title: “My Name is I Am Nothing to No One.”

At 17, high-school student Maxx Walker, who works in LIFT’s coffee shop, is the youngest exhibiting artist. She shows a short, angst-ridden video, “Sometimes People Only Listen When You Scream.”

Grodski says his own exhibited video — about a four-year-old Chinese boy who spent his days on the street in front of his parents’ Brooklyn restaurant — is still a work in progress. The child seems lonely and uncared for, until the father appears with a bicycle and, with obvious pride, teaches the child to ride. Grodski and his partner, Cherokee artist Natalie Smith, run the gallery at LIFT, manage and staff the restaurant, and organize events in the venue’s large meeting room.

Another work in progress is the installation by Frances Gloyne, also of Cherokee. Gloyne has assembled a collection of very personal items, including an etching plate of the Virgin of Guadeloupe, a beautiful briar-stitched crazy quilt made by her mother, a tiny pistol owned by her grandfather, two paintings, and numerous winged-monster figurines. (She could be one of the artists Grodski refers to who “[keep] their work to themselves.”) Emily Wilson exhibits a book of handmade paper filled with collage, text and drawings, closed with the fasteners from a garter belt. Pat Green’s contribution is a video and a letter describing his experiences with petit mal epilepsy.

Knoxville architect Harold Duckett’s interest in the history of sacred spaces is presented on frosted glass panels held up with a beautifully finished wood frame. The posts of the frame end in carved human feet; the frame itself encloses a mound of soil topped by a model of a lovely church rife with sacred symbols.

But Secret Lives‘ most unexpected — and even, exhibit theme aside, mysterious — work is a small, dark painting offered by construction worker Austen Mikulka. Popeye watches as Olive Oil decapitates Bluto. The composition is based on Artemisia Gentileschi’s painting “Judith Beheading Holofernes.”

All in a day’s work, really.

[Connie Bostic is an Asheville-based painter and writer whose work can be seen in the Small Works Invitational at Blue Mountain Gallery in New York.]


The Secret Lives of … will show at LIFT Culture House (516 Tsali Blvd., in Cherokee) through Saturday, Sept. 9. See liftculturehouse.com for more information.

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