Roads taken and not taken

After a number of years of floundering, the Asheville Area Arts Council is once again a functional entity.

What’s more, the AAAC’s open-house auxiliary group, the Artist’s Roundtable — formed during a stormy period to give local artists more voice — is still alive and relevant. The group originated a yearly scholarship given to a high school senior who wants to pursue a career in the arts. It also provides a forum for any local artist to air his or her views and propose ideas.

Which is all very admirable. But Roundtable members are, of course, artists first — not just activists. And through Nov. 13, they submit their own work for critique at the Council’s Front Gallery downtown.

As might be expected, a show from an open group like the Roundtable can feel somewhat random, its pieces exhibiting wildly different approaches to art and its purpose. In this case, that means we see everything from coffee tables to sleek bronze nudes, from traditional/functional ceramics to a kimono that doubles as a topographical map.

As for painting, Karen Lane exhibits a large canvas reflecting on Picasso’s Blue Period, Joan Maxcy offers a colorful abstract and Skip Rohde shows two painterly portraits.

“Mr. Freeman #2,” by Margaret Katz Nodine, is another fine portrait — here, a fragile, bony old man perched on a kitchen chair folds his cane into his knobby hands. Ian Brownlee’s “Fall Painting #4” is a misty, timely landscape with Queen Anne’s lace and goldenrod nodding in the foreground.

Mixed media is represented by James Anderson’s “Asphalt Jungle” and by Julie Masaoka’s “Veiled VW Fantasy.” Robert Winkler’s wonderfully ambiguous wooden sculpture, “As Is,” tempts the viewer to touch and manipulate the piece. It is worm-like, and evokes memories of puzzles from childhood.

Works by Will Price tend to stand out in any company, and this show is no exception. His small watercolor, “Illumination,” is a monochromatic kaleidoscope of intricate geometric and organic shapes. Small and easy to miss amid the other, more flamboyant works, it has a jewel-like quality that deserves attention. Intricacy is also a primary trait of Lynette Miller’s works. Described as “digimontage with ultrachrome inks,” they suck the viewer into many-layered worlds of wonder combining modern scientific research with iconic images from the past. Complex and luminous, the pieces have a conceptual base that reinforces their beauty.

Lisa Morphew presents work hewed in stark contrast to the delicacy wrought by Miller and Price. Her Canto series shows stark images of attacking airplanes crudely and powerfully scratched into a black waxed surface. The pieces take us to the scenes of today’s news reports — they may not be much fun to look at, but they certainly make their point.

No overt political agenda colors Sherrie Hunt’s mixed-media “Interlude” — but it’s hard not to ponder one’s environmental responsibility while standing before it. The pale background of the three-paneled piece achieves remarkable depth, and the fragile images of various seedpods, lichens and late-blooming flowers give it the contemplative feel of an altar piece.

But the show’s most innovative piece must be Angie Dunfee’s “Topo Kimono.” Another work with serious political implications, “Topo” is a machine-stitched topographical map — showing hills, rivers, lakes, and man-made alterations such as highways and subdivisions — assembled as a traditional Japanese garment. Skillfully pointing out the dangers of overpopulation, the artist uses a comfortable Madam Butterfly image to draw the viewer in, hopefully for deeper contemplation.

Though ultimately as uneven as the mountainous portion of Dunfee’s map, the Artist’s Roundtable show nevertheless offers viewers a similarly intriguing ride.

[Connie Bostic is an Asheville-based artist and writer.]

The Artist’s Roundtable Members Show at Asheville Area Arts Council’s Front Gallery (11 Biltmore Ave.) runs through Saturday, Nov. 13. Call 258-0710 or see for more information.

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