Laying his cards on the pable

Yellow City,” by Randy Shull

One of the most dangerous things mid-career artists can do is change something major about their work. With his new exhibit at Blue Spiral, furniture maker and sculptor Randy Shull risks much.

Sure, there are tables, and one of his signature clocks. And the medium is the same: wood, treated with many coats of paint. Colors are still multi-layered and vibrant — but the palette feels new. Beautifully presented in the main gallery, these pieces offer themselves as unabashedly experimental.

But the big news here is two-dimensional: paintings. Predictably made of wood, and frequently carved into, they retain a sculptural quality — but the paint is, newly, the primary feature here.

Perhaps the most successful of the paintings is “Yellow City.” Rhythmic rows of golds, rusty oranges and a few greens skate across the surface. The paint is distressed, and the edges of the colored swatches reveal a multitude of under-painted hues. To be sure, it’s very much about the paint — but Shull hedges his bet just a bit by incorporating his name in two-inch letters in the bottom right-hand corner.

It’s hard too not to notice the titles “Striped Pable” and “Red Pable” — presumably Shull’s coupling of the words “painting” and “table.” In these works, Shull hangs on to his commitment to furniture: “Red Pable” is a vertical painting accompanied by a low bench painted in the same colors and patterns. “Striped Pable” is slightly horizontal, and is partnered with a taller table with sturdy 4×4 legs. Another “pable,” “Red Reflection,” is richly colored, with strong diagonal lines and another low bench riding shotgun.

“Color Freeze” and “Color Bar,” though lighthearted, provide fascinating experiences in how colors interact. “Freeze” is a huge painting — only 22 inches high, but 36 feet long, with stripes parading along its length like a paint-store display gone mad. A viewer with a little patience could learn everything knowable about color relationships by contemplating these intriguing works. Surface hues interact with adjoining shades, but also with the colors revealed around their own edges, and those on the edges next door. Further animating the work, a narrow white stripe intersects the bands. There is endless interplay.

“Bar” is smaller and lacks the drama of the larger piece, but offers the same rare opportunity to see color as a living, ever-changing entity.

The courage Shull shows in this new body of work places him on a precipice of sorts. Now we wait to see if he leaps.

[Connie Bostic is an Asheville-based artist and writer. Her work is currently showing as part of Road in Sight: Contemporary Art in North Carolina at Duke University.]

Randy Shull’s Momentum: painting/sculpture/furniture shows at Blue Spiral 1 (38 Biltmore Ave.) through Saturday, Aug. 27. 251-0202.

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