See What Inspired Severn Eaton

Mountain landscapes viewed from posh porches and south-facing living rooms high atop the mountains have supposedly inspired Tiger Woods … but I’m pretty skeptical. “See What Inspired Me,” the slogan from this ad campaign, only adds to the farcical nature of these billboards. But luckily, Severn Eaton’s exhibition at PUSH Skateshop and Gallery has taken this phrase and reassessed its core values. It now serves as the satirical title for a new body of work that examines the relationship with experience: the real, and the simulated.

The Asheville painter is known for the cross-cultural intensity of his paintings. They often highlight social and political differences among Americans and foreigners. Mask-wearing terrorist, policemen in riot gear, and military vehicles often share space with flowers, cases of Bud Light and kitschy logos from the “Life Is Good” series.

But for those of you familiar with Eaton’s work, leave your expectations behind.

Eaton admittedly hit a wall with his paintings. So what did he do? He walked away. This can be a sensitive subject with artists. Is this considered giving up? Simply put: no.  Eaton decidedly embraced this blockade, seizing it as opportunity to work on something completely different, something far from his hub.

The gallery’s walls are covered, but you won’t find any paintings. Instead, grandiose phrases and imagery from large-scale billboards have been pieced together, completely encasing gallery. Several hundred fragments cover the entirety of the floor and work their way up to the ceiling, quite literally creating a chamber of commerce. NEW! For Sale. Money! Delicious. Flowers. SALAD! They’re everywhere — layered, overlapping and upside down. Over and under the words are images of food, lots of people smiling and a five-foot-wide baby’s head emblazoned with a copyright symbol.

Eaton aims to make this show as experiential and interactive as possible. So to start, he constructed a wall to separate the gallery from the store, further enforcing the chamber-like atmosphere. It too is assembled from advertisement scraps. A small portal, roughly four-feet high and a-foot-and-a-half wide, serves as your entrance.

A single sculpture is positioned towards the middle of the gallery. Two packing-tape casts of the human figure face each other from across a yellow and red box. Meet Mr. and Mrs. Eaton. The duo took turns meticulously wrapping each other from head to toe with clear tape. Afterwards the tape suits were cut off and re-seamed to create life size replicas. 

The box in between them houses a vacuum system operated by a rubber nipple toggle switch on top. When flipped to the right, Mr. Eaton begins to inflate while Mrs. Eaton deflates. When flipped to the left, the opposite.

He’s creating a dual between simulated experiences … ads, and the realness that occurs when viewing and interacting with an object … art. The two figures seemingly share the same breath, a deeply personal interaction. But then the ads, slogans and images that surround them harken back to his and our own moments of disconnection from reality. 

It would seem that Eaton’s 2-D stagnation is faintly present in the room. Though the ads may be our simulated source of experience, a false source for that matter, how much different is a painting? They too evoke emotions and ideas. And though they may not always make us hungry, as food ads might do, they are still representative of an experience. But then isn’t viewing the painting a real experience? Or is it a real and a simulated one? It’s a cyclical spiral, and I’m not certain which way it goes.

Whether it’s aesthetic, social, political or theoretical, Eaton describes having this kind of unmistakable “tension at the core of everything he does.” This time, it’s physically manifested and you, the viewer, must interact.

See What Inspired Me opens tonight, Friday Dec. 9 from 7 – 10 p.m. at PUSH Skateshop, 25 Patton Ave. 225.5509.

Kyle Sherard writes about the visual arts for Mountain Xpress and can be reached at







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

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