In a different light

On a recent visit to Western Carolina University’s new Fine and Performing Arts Center, I find the 12 students in the school’s first M.F.A. program working in spacious, airy studios.

But not all students are enjoying an atmosphere of such well-lit comfort. Right now, some are enduring relentlessly tough critiques from teachers brought down from Yale and other lofty places.

At the same time, other students are working away on their latest project, while still others stare at their compositions, thoughtfully trying to figure out what to do next.

Tai Lipan is an accomplished still-life painter. Her work is dense, rich, luscious. Today she’s rendering a sliced cantaloupe tied together with a piece of string.

In the studio next door, her friend Heidi Nicole Leitzke contemplates a large painting based on a small, square drawing pinned to her wall. This room crawls with natural forms: flowers, foliage and vines. (The buzz in the hallways is that this is a breakthrough painting for Leitzke.)

Meanwhile, Laura Brown is camped out on the floor, adding color to a vibrant abstract. Brown, who received her B.A. at the University of Vermont, faces the hard decision of whether she should eliminate the figure in her paintings.

But Greg McPherson doesn’t miss the figures absent from his work. Instead, the struggle for this former University of Georgia student centers on the issue of beauty — how much is too much? On his wall are oil paintings on paper and several small pieces done on Masonite, and burnished with a spoon.

Wofford graduate Justice Littlejohn seems to suffer no doubts at all. Exuberance is a unifying factor in his paintings — large, graffiti-esque works that ask bold questions. For instance, what does New York City look like — with your eyes closed?

Fiber artist Kelledy Francis, though, gets top honors for street smarts. After meeting a man in a club who talked to her while looking down her top, she created a lime-green dress with a bustier containing two puppets in the cups of the bra.

Seated at her sewing machine, the Maryland Institute College of Art graduate quips: “I thought it might be nice for him to have something more entertaining to look at.”

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

Western Carolina University’s first 12 M.F.A. students exhibit their work at Wedge Gallery (115-B Roberts St., in Asheville) from Friday, July 30, through Monday, Aug. 2. The show opens with a 6 p.m. reception on Friday, with New York Sun art critic David Cohen giving a talk at 8. For more information, call 227-3597.

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