Leisure class

After finishing art school, Montreal-based Susanne Wesley and Meredith Carruthers found themselves toiling in post-grad purgatory — with lots of work, no place to exhibit, and little community support.

Here’s where their road diverges: Wesley and Carruthers decided not to be-whine their fate, but to take charge and create exhibits themselves, their way, in their leisure time (hence the name of their ongoing mission: The Leisure Project).

Wesley still had contacts from her MFA days in Glasgow, so she and Carruthers sent small watercolor sets and brushes to eight artists from her list and eight more from Carruthers’ list of Montreal artists. They eventually got back 12 watercolor paintings and hung their first exhibit in an empty apartment in Montreal. From there, they became a floating gallery, placing work in any interesting alternative space that presented itself.

They’ve installed exhibits of their own work and that of other artists in an unused barroom in the basement of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and in the window of a paper-goods store, and will be putting up another in conjunction with a film festival when they return home. “We missed the sense of community we had in graduate school,” laments Carruthers. “We have that back now.”

The work they chose for Warren Wilson College’s Holden Gallery is that of 28-year-old Montreal-based Kevin Finlayson. Titled Parade and Parade II, the unframed series are all on paper, drawn with ink and ink washes.

Borrowing heavily from the comic-book oeuvre, Finlayson takes our fear of difference and turns it briskly but amiably on its head: Portraits show creatures sporting multiple sets of teeth, horns coming from their foreheads, eyes protruding wildly from their sockets, and rows of breasts marching defiantly down their bodies. Yet the beings imply no evil or threat. They just seem to be going about their everyday business, and in this instance, their business is marching in a parade.

The impression is one of benign indifference: an acceptance of life as it is. Finlayson achieves this partially with his consummate skill as a draftsman — but that skill isn’t enough to give these creatures the presence they possess. An astute student of contemporary Japanese literature and mythology, Finlayson is playfully nudging our collective unconscious. The participants in his parade have universality and speak directly to the viewer about his or her own world and those creatures — real or unreal — who populate it.

The shape-changing Asian fox Kitsune makes several appearances in Parade I, growing his multiple tails (when he gets to nine, he can take other forms, usually morphing into a beautiful woman). Finlayson’s fox, depicted in India ink with sparingly (but confidently) applied wash, demonstrates the artist’s proficiency with his medium. Lines are spontaneous, and remarkably fluid.

In Parade II, Finlayson breaks into color. Images in this grouping are less imposing and more ambiguous, but the pop-culture cribbing is ever-present in the Japanimation references.

An unquestionable affinity for the postmodern is at work here, though Finlayson’s intent may yet be in its evolutionary stages. It’s one of the fairly rare cases where the spirit of exploration presents a serious omen of success.

[Connie Bostic is an Asheville-based painter and writer whose work will be seen in the inaugural exhibit at the new Fine Arts Museum at Western Carolina University (opening Oct. 23).]

Kevin Finlayson’s Parade, the latest installment of The Leisure Project, will show at Holden Gallery at Warren Wilson College through Wednesday, Nov. 2. 231-2130.

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