Outside the lines

Studio Italiana is filled with the intense colors of the Tuscan sun: Chairs and lamps in brilliant yellows, oranges and reds compete for attention. Dramatic shapes and bold colors in large, lyrical abstract paintings by architect Peter Alberice join them. Nestled quietly among all this excitement are some very different works by another architect, Mark Allison. Allison’s pieces are quiet, almost to the point of being completely overlooked in their energetic surroundings.

Their colors are soft and muted, and they’re small, only seven-and-a-half inches by five-and-a-half inches. These drawings don’t demand attention. The artist is interested in the communication of ideas, but he has certain expectations of his viewers: They have to take the time to find the work and then to look at it with care and curiosity. There is no “in your face” insistence here. You either get it, or you don’t.

This body of work is new for Allison. His previous works were larger, four-by-four-foot oil paintings on canvas. His subject matter was somewhat related to the new work. It was all about geometry, and was heavily influenced by the Russian Constructionists. In these new pieces, Allison says that Le Corbusier, one of his favorite architects, who was also a painter, influences him. “His work was so pure; I want to maintain that same purity, but I want to express the event as well as the space in which it occurs.”

The drawings show many sides of objects and the geometry of the space in which they live. Some, says Allison, are microcosms, and others are macrocosms. Some contain both elements. The works are autobiographical, based on everyday events in the artist’s life. Sometimes they’re about big concepts and tiny details. There is no attempt to “draw a straight line.” Objects are rendered freehand, with care, but without restriction. Some have active diagonals; others, calm, solid shapes.

“After a day of thinking about practical spaces with air ducts, electrical panels, codes and the amount of money a client is willing to spend,” says Allison, “it’s wonderful to turn the mouse loose, to let the hand go, to change the thought process and experiment with something geometrically pure.”

A work can be triggered by something as simple as a trip across town or as complex as an architectural idea for a building that could never be built. Each piece represents a connotation or a subconscious aspect of a real experience. Critical Moments is crisscrossed with dynamic diagonal lines creating acute triangles.

“What it looks like is an implication,” Allison says, “[of] falling icicles or shattering crystals.”

Oligy#3 is very different: the forms are weighty and stable. “It is about a landscape and the crossing of forms, as on a campus or a cluster of civic buildings in a city.”

Water of the Stone is fluid in movement. A curvilinear matrix spirals around a cube. “It’s about space, a comfortable place where you’d like to live.”

Maybe you can’t go home again, but Allison, who has been back in Asheville for eight years after living in Atlanta, Richmond, Charlotte and Copenhagen, says that he is always drawn back here after a long or short absence. The Philosopher’s Stone describes circuitous routes to and from a central location. The oval shape on the right could represent the pond in front of the Biltmore Building. There is a central form that could describe the top of the Vance Monument. The large pale gray form in the lower right-hand corner must be the restaurants on the square.

Allison has allowed his hand and his thoughts free play in the creation of these small, unassuming works. They are almost like little secrets.

[Connie Bostic is an Asheville-based artist and writer. Her work will be seen in the inaugural exhibition of the new Fine Arts Museum at Western Carolina University.]


Mark Allison’s works will be on display on an ongoing basis at Studio Italiana (1550 Hendersonville Road), Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. and Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. 277-7474.

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