The following conversation was motivated by Tom Pazderka’s mixed-media exhibit, Americarcana, at PUSH Gallery, excerpted from a discussion between Tryon-based painter Margaret Curtis and Xpress writer Ursula Gullow.
Curtis: I think in Southern Art there’s this nostalgia for the past, for decay. I think part of that is because in the South there’s a lot of weathering, and there’s a lot of growth, so we’re surrounded by the look of it. But also on a cultural level Southerners are always confronted with the past, we always have to think about the past in the way that the rest of the country doesn’t have to as much. So there’s romanticizing about things that are weathered and old and have a story attached to them. I think it’s tied to this need to deal with a long history.
Gullow: Why do you think Southerners are more confronted with their history?
Curtis: Because of slavery and racism — that’s the burden we bear, and that’s what the rest of the country will never let us forget.
Gullow: But certainly racism occurs in the rest of the country as well.
Curtis: I agree completely. But I think the rest of the country has this need to shame us and not look at their own racism. When I was in New York City, the police department sodomized a black man with a broomstick [The Abner Louima incident of 1997]. If that had happened in the South, could you imagine the political outcry? Even after this [Amendment One] vote about gay marriage — everyone talked about how backwards we are, but California voted the same way.
Gullow: So bringing this discussion to art, do you think this work by Tom Pazderka is somehow romanticizing the past ?
Curtis: It feels like a very Southern show to me. There’s that sumptuous nostalgic thing that I see in a lot of work in this region. I like the piece with the stuffed heads because it’s a little goofier and not taking itself so seriously. I think in some ways though, the artist is seduced by the materials and imagines the materials to say more than they actually do. Like there could be more artistic involvement — more deliberate artistic decisions. (Pointing to Drawing for John Wayne (Gacy) Executive Suite) I do really like how this drawing is obliterated by the paint behind it.
Gullow: Do you think artists can reflect the present by referencing the past, or introducing metaphors attached to the past?
Curtis: Maybe. But I feel like the nostalgia thing is a way of distancing the art from yourself so you don’t have to go to the difficult emotional places. Being an artist is a really risky thing and I think it’s a way for artists to protect themselves — by putting this gloss of the past on it. That seems to be the theme that keeps coming up in a lot of artwork in this region.
Show hangs until Sept. 1.
who: The 23 galleries of the Asheville Downtown Gallery Association host the every-other-month art walk this Friday evening, Aug. 3, from 5-8 p.m. Newcomer ArtEtude Gallery has opened its doors at 89 Patton Ave. Castell Gallery introduces a new exhibit, and Atelier returns to the scene at their new location on N. Lexington Avenue. www.ashevilledowntowngalleries.org