Down by the River, part 1

If every art gallery in Asheville had synchronized first-Friday art openings, we’d never get to half of the shows. Fortunately, there’s room to breath. Two exhibitions opening in the River Arts District this Friday, Dec. 13, help to round out the 2013 arts calendar with an unlikely ceramics/street art combination at a Salon, and a sampling of 40 of Asheville’s finest painters, printers and makers packed into the Asheville Area Arts Council.

This is part one of a two-part story.

Edwards Harper at Ananda West

A new exhibition, opening from 7 to 9 p.m. at Ananda West, features portrait paintings and ceramic works by an Asheville artist better known for his murals and street art — Edwards Harper

The show brings together ceramic tiles and sculptural works that may be new to some viewers. There are nearly a dozen 4-inch-wide square and circular ceramic tiles, several 6 to 8-inch-tall, free-standing ceramic sculptures of mice, cats and birds, and a handful of acrylic paintings that combine portraiture and still-life arrangements with the influence of street art.

Such street art is no stranger to Asheville’s stock of fine arts galleries, or salons-turned-galleries for that matter. The same can be said for canvases in place of walls. But, while many a street artist utilizes the canvas, it often serves as a placeholder for the largeness of a building or bridge. Such works often act as an extension, offering viewers a cropped piece of a hypothetically larger work.

But Harper’s works break from that mold and embrace the rectangular confines. His background in script and street art manifests itself in abstracted and emboldened geometric forms. They run through each of the paintings, and the small tile works, creating graphic undercurrents.

Aerosol has been replaced by acrylic paint, with layers have been built up and scratched through to reveal darkened, shadowy recesses and blackened planes. Would-be flattened forms and limited-color renderings have been exchanged for full-paletted detail.

There’s a fleshy, organ-like nature to many of these forms, one that mimics soft tissues and muscle fibers. They bind Harper’s subjects — small birds, villainous rats and vanitas-style skulls and bones — to one another, pulling them into the center of the canvas.

This conglomeration of animals, objects and abstracted shapes gradually takes on an anthropomorphic quality. Some are more literal than others. Lines jut out and bend to form ears, a nose and a jaw in one panel. With a simple step back, the form takes the shape of a rather reverently-poised cat. Others simply occupy the canvas with an abstracted, portrait-like appeal.

Harper’s show is the second in a series of monthly exhibitions organized and curated by Asheville artist Jeremy Russell.

Ananda West, Russell tells Xpress, is a platform to show lesser-known works by well-known area artists — or lesser known area artists in general — in a new space and to a potentially new audience.

Asheville, Russell adds, is small enough that artists are often showing the same bodies of work in the same handful of locations to the same handfuls of viewers. And while he admits that some of these works have been shown before, the bulk of them are new to both Harper and gallery-goers. “Ted is sincere in what he does,” says Russell, “his stuff is always refreshing, it’s always evolving.”

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

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