If variety is the spice of life, the Upstairs Artspace in Tryon has, as Emeril would say, “kicked it up a notch” with three exhibitions, each containing very different kinds of art. The shows have long, descriptive titles, but the work is not the least bit tedious.
The street-level gallery’s show is called Where In The World: Looking For Cultural References. It includes works in several media by seven artists. Carole Knudson Tinsley evades predictability in her abstract works with the use of spatial illusions. Her “Now All is Quiet” is a composition of dark, rich pigment with small passages of fine glitter near the center.
Next is a selection of “Little Women,” small porcelain figures by Winnie Owens-Hart. Hart takes a basic shape used in goddess-worshiping societies from prehistory and inscribes and glazes them with modern cultural references. Her tour de force in this exhibition, though is a hollow female form, just breasts and abdomen, with crumpled and distorted dollar bills at the base. A white hurricane image swirls on the stomach of the figure, and the reverse side has a painting depicting some of the unforgettable scenes of human suffering from Hurricane Katrina. Written vertically along the side is the obnoxiously insensitive remark made by Barbara Bush when she visited the refugees at the Astrodome: “These people were, uh, you know, underprivileged anyway, so this is working out very well for them.”
There are simple, restful pieces by Sarah Simpson that she calls “Zen Collages.” They are created from thin strips of handwoven paper in simple patterns and soft colors.
John and Margie Labadie have remarkable computer-generated works. Their presentation is impeccable and their technique is mysterious, and these qualities make the work engaging, but the real attraction is conceptual. These two obviously are obsessed with the evolution of the technologies of digital photography and other electronic media, but they use them to enhance their ideas, not just to prove their proficiency and knowledge. The technology is just a means to an end.
One of the most intriguing of their works is Margie Labadie’s “Don’t Fake Chicken Blood.” Presented on a traditional Chinese scroll, a base of woven patterned fabric in a dark burnt sienna and silk ribbon, the piece itself has a double row of red roosters marching across a boney-looking surface. Their heads are up and they are crowing. On the lower end of the scroll, photographic images of an ancient carving of a fierce rooster, one reversed, face each other. The images are distinct, but are joined seamlessly.
Finish is also important to Len Fury, who shows his wall sculptures in the smaller front gallery in an exhibition called A Gathering of Form. His amusing “Caterpillar’s Castle” is made from children’s blocks. Other pieces have more serious content. Found objects are an important part of the work, but everything is polished, and there is none of the raw quality sometimes found in this kind of work. A small carving of an Egyptian bird breaks the border of “Song.” A glass strip on the right discloses a vertical row of speckled bird eggs, and an old brass caliper is attached to the front.
Hanging in the downstairs space is A Landscape for All Seasons. There are nine artists, some making traditional works and others exploring new ground. Scott Cunningham has it both ways, but his more abstracted pieces are dark with activity—nature is alive. But Ruth Ava Lyons steals the show with her Whistler-like “Blue Forest Night,” just a sliver of moon and the tiniest suggestion of stars. No matter what your taste is, you are bound to find something you like in one of these shows.
[Connie Bostic is an Asheville-based painter and writer.]
Where In The World: Looking For Cultural References, A Landscape For All Seasons and Len Fury: A Gathering of Form can be seen at the Upstairs Artspace (49 S. Trade St., Tryon) through Saturday, Oct. 20. www.UpstairsArtspace.org or (828) 859-2828.