State of the Arts

Swiss-born and San Francisco-based muralist Mona Caron spent a week here in mid-August. It was her first trip to Asheville, but she wasted no time getting acquainted with our arts and mural scenes and getting some work of her own on the city’s facade.

Caron spent one of those afternoons sketching and hand-painting a roughly 10-foot-tall wildflower rising from a leafy base on the side of West Asheville’s Collapseable Studios. Four leafy-green blades extend from the building’s brick foundation. A small, blueish-white flower is perched on top of the plant’s shoot. It’s set on a backdrop of red painted brick covered in an array of formless, nondescript and graffiti tags — not unlike weeds themselves.

Whether it’s their ability to thrive amidst and against concrete and a local floral populace, or their resistance to death, Caron says wildflowers and little weeds and plants are worth a second look. “It’s a celebration of nature and how it keeps coming back,” she says.

Such plants are the subject of dozens of similar murals that Caron has painted in and around the Bay Area and several coastal California towns. Each is created from a plant found within the vicinity of the mural’s location. She’s even transformed one of these small flowers, an inches-tall “common fiddleneck,” into a 5-story-tall painting on the side of a housing unit in Union City, Calif.

While the plant would quickly be shrugged off as a weed by most passersby, Caron sees it differently. “These insistent, resistant plants, these ‘nuisances,’ they’re called, they’re precisely the most humble plants that I find to be beautiful,” she says. The weed she found and painted turns out to be a wildflower in the Aster family. It was reaching out of a crack in Haywood Road parking lot tucked behind the Dry Goods Shop and artist Dustin Spagnola’s studio.

Caron’s trip was spurred on by a seemingly increasing San Francisco-to-Asheville artistic and ideological exchange. And vice versa. As more Asheville artists make their way out of Asheville toward the far corners of the country, more attention gets directed to our own city. Caron had heard about Asheville’s burgeoning arts scene and made the trip to see for herself. Within a day or two she linked up with Spagnola and Gus Cutty, among other artists, and began looking for places to paint. Collapseable, via these new contacts, was only a phone call away.

But Caron’s visit also doubled as an exploration of new horizons.

“Part of me is just looking elsewhere for greener pastures,” says Caron.

“There’s a mass exodus happening in San Francisco right now.” The creative class is being pushed out by the rapid rent increases. The sense of community is quickly dissipating, leaving some of the arts hubs completely barren, devoid of the very artists that gave those hubs their identity. Some have even been replaced by newer artists that can afford to keep a limping, unrecognizable scene alive.

That exodus is scattering artists across the Bay area. And further — much like Asheville’s similarly shifting arts scene is scattering decades-long tenants into new territory. Such is the reality of artists communities. But Caron, like her Asheville brethren, is confident that these artists will find new niches to invade and set up shop.

“Every invasive species is a native somewhere,” she says. In this case species is a variable: plant or artist. “We have people from all over the world living here [San Francisco], painting, drawing, mixing their ideas. [Weeds] are the perfect emblem for this globalism.”

Caron takes that sentiment to each mural, glorifying the small plants that dot the landscape, yet are often left unnoticed or found beneath our feet. Weeds, she says, are the first step to reclaiming what we’ve destroyed, be it abandoned lots or entire neighborhoods. “The more you step on them, the harder they grow.” 

For more information on Caron, her work and photos of past works visit http://www.monacaron.com.

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About Kyle Sherard
Book lover, arts reporter, passerby…..

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