Climbing up the walls

Photo courtesy of the artists

The Downtown Asheville Art District’s (DADD) first art walk of the season kicks off this Friday, April 4, 5-8 p.m. Of the organization’s 20 downtown members, many of the galleries will feature an array of new works in group shows and solo openings ranging from traditional craft and sculptures to oil paintings and cutting edge photography.

But if you pay for public parking, either that night or at any other time within the city of Asheville, you may want to make a stop at Blue Spiral 1 between 5 and 8 p.m. The gallery will feature three new, in-progress works of art that you’ll have undoubtedly helped finance and can ultimately help finish. The project, currently called the “51 Biltmore Public Art Project,” is slated for installation later this year on the north side of the city-owned parking garage on 51 Biltmore Ave.

On Friday night, the City of Asheville’s Public Art and Cultural Commission (PACC) will host a public comment and review session for three project proposals — chosen from over 150 submissions — for a new piece of public art at the parking garage at 51 Biltmore Ave. The allotted space is roughly 25 feet high and 22 feet wide and is located above the garage’s north exit, which faces Double D’s Coffee and Desserts.

In September 2013 the City of Asheville issued a national, rather than regional, call for artists. That decision drew criticism for potentially looking past Asheville’s rich stock of artists and artisans. It was also met with praise for broadening the scope and spectrum of submitted projects and for challenging local artists to compete on a national level.

That said, there was also a clause which gave priority to regional submissions. “Part of the public art policy is to make sure that [the city] gives attention to local artists and the local arts community,” explained Punsalan. Over the last few months that search has been whittled down to two project finalists from Asheville: Marc Archambault and a joint submission by Ian Wilkinson and Alex Irvine. The third project finalist comes from central Tennessee-based artist Mike Allison.

The project is part of PACC’s public art policy, a program which allocates 1 percent of the total value of a capital expense project, such as a building remodeling, park construction or, in this case, a parking garage, to a piece of public art.

“Funding for the proposed public art piece at the Biltmore Avenue parking garage comes from the parking enterprise fund,” says Ken Putnam, Asheville’s Transportation Department director. Those revenues, he adds, are “generated by customers that use our facilities including parking garages, surface parking lots, on-street metered parking spaces and enforcement activities.”

By holding this review period during the first art walk and in proximity to the work’s final installation location, the city and the artists hope to garner direct feedback from the arts-going community. “The thought was to wrap up the public comment period during an arts event,” city events specialist Basil Punsalan told Xpress.

The comment period also marks the first time that the public will be able to see the proposals. Each presentation will feature visual mock-ups and moquettes accompanied by the artists’ explanatory narratives. PACC representatives and several of the artists will also be on hand to field questions.

As for the public’s input, comments and questions will account for 25 percent of the total selection process, thus granting gallery-goers the power to contribute to the final decision. The other 75 percent will be decided by members of a selection panel chosen by PACC.

The PACC formed a special committee to better serve the dense and diverse identity of both the building and the neighborhood. For instance, the garage is owned by parking services, which has apportioned the project funding. However, it also shares a common foundation with the Aloft Hotel. The space will eventually neighbor an affordable housing complex set for construction on the garage’s northeast facade.

Members of selection panel include David McCartney of the Aloft Hotel, PACC board member Sharon Trammel, Elizabeth Barr of the Asheville Artist Resource Center, Biltmore Ave. resident Sarah Larson and Asheville artists Jenny Bowen and Susie Millions.

After Sunday, the projects and corresponding visual materials will be moved to the second floor lobby of the Aloft Hotel. This review period will extend the opportunity for public comment from Monday, April 7 to Friday April 11. The panel will announce the winner following an April 30 selection meeting.


Chosen from the masses

Marc Archambault — Asheville, NC

Photo courtesy of Marc Archambault

Asheville stone mason Marc Archambault has submitted a design for a pair of cut-stone figurative works that capture and anthropomorphize the spirit of the Asheville valley. The earthen-hued stones reflect the natural landscape while the figures aim to embody the cultural body below.

“During this process,” says Archambault, “I stuck with the working title ‘Mountain Spirits.’” His sketches lead him to creating two characters that embody the push-and-pull nature of the city’s bustle and its natural, calmer landscape: Rio, a young-hearted, female water spirit who is both powerful and flexible, and Apu, the older, slower and wiser mountain father figure. “To me, they are a good balance,” he says.

Archambault’s cut-stone proposal patterns itself after mosaics he encountered on a trip to Italy. “The Italian tradition of mosaic is opulent, polished, like jewelry,” he says. “I like to work with the texture and the significance of the geology as well as well as the color and pattern.”

“Asheville’s history to me begins millions and millions of years ago, when the rocks that surround us now were so deep under towering mountains, they were fluid and soft like taffy,” he says. “The coils of black and white minerals we see as we drive through the gaps and ridges are the product of ancient and powerful forces; that’s the history that excites me — it’s the natural byproduct of being a stone mason.”

Mike Allison — Joelton, TN

Photo courtesy of Mike Allison

Tennessee-based sculptor Mike Allison’s proposal combines steel with blown glass in a 35-foot-tall, free-standing and socially introspective sculpture. The work is designed to simulate the water delivery systems that exist below the paved surface and bring a once-evasive and now-common utility to life.

“We don’t often think about what it takes to get tap water to us,” says Allison, citing Asheville’s own history of water service and the recent turmoil regarding the transfer of water management.

“Up until 1884, residents in Asheville collected their water from two public wells on Pack Square and a spring located on N. Lexington Ave., and hand-carried water to their homes and businesses.” Now, he says, it such a modern convenience that it’s largely forgotten about. “In my piece I want to bring some of that underground infrastructure — that we all rely upon to survive — above ground.”

The neon-yellow, telephone-pole-sized stalk rises directly from the sidewalk, extending above the garage’s entrance. Above that entry point, the branch-like steel appendages reach and turn out from the base. They’re offset and pop out against a dark, circular wall painting specifically designed to make the sculpture pop out from the garage’s north exterior wall.

Thick watery bulbs of white and cobalt blue blown glass drip out from salvaged valves and faucets. They’re just shy of being 2 feet long and balloon from a narrow stem to a 4-inch-wide droplet. Each of those drips, and a neighboring series of glass-fronted water pressure gauges lining the work, are backed by LEDs.

“It’s really going to light up,” he says. And as for the neon colors, he’s anticipating the work’s positive visual transformation as the weather changes its surface. “I see the piece as having more character as time goes on.”

Alex Irvine/Ian Wilkinson — Santa Fe/Asheville

Photo courtesy of Alex Irvine and Ian Wilkinson

Asheville-based artist Ian Wilkinson and Alex Irvine, formerly of Asheville and now of Santa-Fe, submitted a joint proposal that combines Irvine’s ceramics background with Wilkinson’s work as a full-time muralist and painter.

The design combines natural and manmade beauty in both paint and tile work. It also aims to balance Asheville’s historical legacy with its present-day cultural growth. Their work features a daydreaming female figure framed by elements of Asheville’s bountiful and historic Art Deco and Modernist architectural facades. Her arms are casually folded over one another while she smiles and looks out to the right from her window-like perch.

“Every time that Alex and I do a collaborative work we include someone we love,” Wilkinson says. In the past it’s been friends and family alike. “This time,” he said, “that would be Mary, Alex’s longtime partner.”

She’s both bordered and backed by aesthetic and architectural elements from all over downtown Asheville, but most notably the S&W building. “We felt the design challenge of marrying the modernity of the Aloft with the tradition of the Art Deco,” they said in the joint proposal statement. The work combines both old and new visual elements, but also in technique. To create the Art Deco tile work, Irvine researched and replicated the same molding techniques that were used nearly a hundred years ago.

“It’s distinctive of the cultural heritage,” Irvine told Xpress, “kind of a jump from the terracotta facades to modern architecture.” While terracotta may bring to mind flower pots, he says, it actually means stoneware when used in reference to architecture.

In Review

The 51 Biltmore Public Art Project goes on display at the Blue Spiral 1 on Friday night, 5-8 p.m. It will remain on view through Sunday, before moving to the Aloft Hotel for the week of April 7 through 11. An online poll and comment survey will be available for access beginning this Friday afternoon. For that link and more information on the project, visit


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

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