Down by the River, part 2

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. View part one here.

A Girl and A Gun

French film director Jean-Luc Godard proclaimed that “all you need for a movie is a gun and a girl.” Asheville artist Taiyo La Paix has taken that approach from the silver screen to the gallery walls in A Girl and A Gun: Asheville Artists Cope With Love and Death, a group exhibition, curated by La Paix, opening Friday from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Asheville Area Arts Council.

Over the last six months, La Paix gathered works by 40 artists, all but one of whom live and work in the Asheville area. (The one exception is Britney Carol, a Knoxville-based artist who La Paix first encountered at her 2010 solo exhibition at the Phil Mechanic Studios.) The list reads like a data sampling of Asheville art. It spans several generations of painters, photographers, illustrators and sculptors and covers an equally diverse array of styles and techniques. Though there are plenty of aesthetic differences, all of the works harbor and convey the inherently emotional and soul-gripping nature of love and death.

“Who among us doesn’t have the desire to love and be destroyed by that very love?” La Paix asked. We may think of love and death as drastically different from one other, he argues, but the two are inseparable. And it’s that dichotomy that drive the show.

The first work that anyone will notice upon entering the gallery is Severn Eaton’s root-studded, five-foot-wide fiberglass sphere called “Bang/Whimper.” It’s hanging in the center of the room, dangling from what would appear to be a knitted chain. Viewers are encouraged to enter the sphere through an opening in the bottom.

It’s immediately disorienting. All five senses are activated and overwhelmed by a barrage of environmental factors. The ball is held in place be a single chain and gravity, and so it moves ever so slightly. The studs visible on the outside turn out to be roots that provide an earthy, soily smell that changes the atmosphere and leaves a sour taste in the air. A heart beat blasts from above. It’s setting the scene for a panic attack while also calling to mind Poe’s floorboards. The fiberglass absorbs no sound, and so each utterance immediately bounces back and hits you in the face. Breath hard enough and you’re bound to lose your balance.

Some works take on a direct approach and utilize weaponry, icy stares and historically-tinged backdrops, such as Julyan Davis’s “Michelle Bishop, Exotic Dancer, as Salome.” Davis departs from his southern landscapes and ballad paintings in this work. The roughly four-by-four-foot oil painting depicts the biblical seductress as a bare-chested warrior, sword in one hand and silver platter in the other. She’s crouched, ready to spring for the head of John the Baptist.

Betty Clark’s “Amputee” relies on word and pattern association to create a haunting image, conflict image. Red paint is smeared across the top half of the canvas. The concentration is marred by black swirls of paint that end abruptly as red lines drip from the canvas’ center to the bottom edge. Its shape is that of a human torso, arms outstretched and the profile titled to the side. The piece was painted during an early stage of the war in Iraq.

Others works are looser, more free-formed in their approach. Timothy Maddox’s “Every Day Comes/Every Day Goes” features thinly-painted outlines of orange and pink salmon jutting up against a teal river-scape. It’s playful and lighthearted. But anyone familiar with the salmon’s lifecycle knows that the aquatic orgy will eventually end as a mass grave.

“It’s as light or heavy as you want it to be,” Maddox tells Xpress, “but it’s still reminiscent of the struggle for life.”

Such is the entire outlook of the show. The matter at hand is both joyous and unavoidably grave, but the works leave that interpretive power up to the viewer. La Paix pulled them from studios, saw them at other exhibitions and even culled a few from private collections. Many of the works may be familiar for that very reason. But the curator admits that viewers may leave with new interpretations. The pieces work with and against each other and hinge on social surroundings and interpersonal interactions. Just as his own interpretations and responses have changed while pairing and hanging the pieces, La Paix expects that others will also transform.

A Girl and a Gun is on view through Friday, Jan. 24 at the AAAC, 346 Depot St. A brief note: there are adult themes, nudity and potentially disturbing images portrayed in some of the works.

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

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