A thread of melancholy and longing, laced with bleak hope, unites the work of Asheville artists Taiyo La Paix, Brian Mashburn and Phillip McGuire in the exceptional group show, Lean and Finely Textured, up through Aug. 6 at the Coop gallery on Carolina Lane. Despite this description, viewers shouldn’t worry about leaving depressed; they will surely be awed by each artist’s mastery of skill, layers of concept and the resulting beauty of each piece.
The show contains new drawings and paintings in complementary styles and cohesive moods, as well as others culled from area galleries like Blue Spiral 1, Woolworth Walk and Upstairs Artspace of Tryon.
Mashburn’s oil landscapes are a dark, complex lot, both in terms of their muted colors and in their post-apocalyptic subject matter. Influenced by visits to huge urban centers like Hong Kong, his vision embraces “the self-destructive tendencies of modern society” in the resulting somber forecast for humankind. Still, his illustration-influenced paintings contain small glimmers of hope.
“Fairground” is set within Mashburn’s trademark white and gray plumes of smoke which mingle among layers of decaying buildings, creating a sense of depth. These soft clouds contrast with intensely thin and laborious lines of tree silhouettes and building details. A Ferris wheel is discarded in the lower right corner, a familiar marker of happier times. A hopeful bird in flight occupies the near-center of the painting, while an ominous fleet of bomber planes in the upper left counters its message.
La Paix’s palette lies on the other end of the spectrum from Mashburn’s, saturated in a wide range of color with overtones of cotton-candy pink. His subject matter is also somewhat the opposite of Mashburn's: A giddy, idealistic world interspersed with notes of sadness and longing. La Paix’s work chronicles the adventures of his alter ego and his buxom blonde partner, Papilla La Paix.
La Paix’s latest work is the larger-than-life canvas of “Stardust.” In it, the couple strolls through a garbage dump. As a landscape, it is a departure for La Paix, who usually prefers the glamour of city backdrops along the lines of Miami Beach. Perhaps Mashburn’s settings of decay have influenced La Paix’s choice of environment; or if not, he at least signifies a brotherly connection through the “Mashburn” brand tire partly buried in the rubble.
The bulk of McGuire’s work eliminates color altogether, working mainly in graphite. Unlike La Paix’s work which seeks to occupy most available space with content, McGuire’s work celebrates blankness, drawing from the economy of haiku poetry. While the mark-making appears as looping doodles up close, at a distance the viewer witnesses McGuire’s appreciation for subtle tonal shifts and his mastery of naturalistic depiction. His work is the most varied among the three, featuring landscapes, portraits, animals and even some new, smaller illustration-like watercolor pieces in full color.
One piece, “Yohaku no bi (the beauty of the remaining white),” exemplifies McGuire's style: A long, thin, exquisitely crafted wooden panel shows two trees — one at its midsection and the peak of another — with the majority of the panel boldly empty. His use of negative space recalls Japanese painter Hasegawa Tohaku, as well as the white foggy spaces of Mashburn’s work. The composition also conjures the concept of memory, in that certain details of an event are solidified in its retelling, while the periphery disappears.
Lean and Finely Textured hangs at Coop Gallery, 25 Carolina Lane, until Aug. 6. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday (knock if the door is locked).
— Bridget Conn is an Asheville-based artist, designer and photographer. Visit her website at http://www.bridgetconnartstudio.net.