X-rays and Spectres

The mark of a brave artist is a willingness to take risks and challenge personal formulas. Often this evolution in creative process is as important to the work as its content.

Such is the case with the latest assembly of artwork, entitled X-Rays and Spectres, by Asheville artist Lisa Nance.

“I wanted to see what would happen if I just enjoyed working; for these pieces I was interested in leaving content alone—I just moved my hands without planning or thinking,” Nance says. The end result makes for an inspired display of Nance’s technical proficiency and creative buoyancy.

Prior to this series, Nance’s artwork primarily depicted characters and symbols from a tight narrative about astronauts she developed while getting her art degree at UNCA. As a student she wasn’t interested in painting women, wary of being labeled a “feminist” painter.

“Looking back on it I probably overcompensated by painting the utmost of men—astronauts,” she says. Nance was particularly drawn to the real-life dichotomy between heroic astronaut Alan Shepard and the astronaut Gus Grissom. “I got really interested in Gus Grissom because all his space missions failed.”

A painting of Grissom appears in this exhibition and serves as the bridge between her old work and new work. In “Grissom Double” he is portrayed wearing full astronaut attire and is mirrored by his image in flames—a reference to his tragic death in Apollo 1. To produce form, Nance separates her painting into contours and blocks of solid colors, achieving a confident and visually appealing “paint by numbers” effect.

“Grandmother Double” is the second of two paintings that appear in X-rays and Spectres. Here Nance paints herself and her grandmother with lackluster expressions in the lower third of the painting. “I felt like she was another self of mine—a ghost,” Nance says.

Architectural spires, trees and hands rise out of the figures; and while a distinct narration is not clear, the suggestion of memories and ancestry is. The composition of this piece materialized while the painting was being created—a development in process for Nance, who previously always drew the work out first and filled in the blanks with color.

Letting the works be themselves: Nance lets go with her new series, X-Rays and Spectres. Photos by Jonathan Welch.

The 10 mixed-media pieces on display are a clear departure from Nance’s previous fill-in-the-blanks approach. These are the X-rays and spectres suggested by her exhibition’s title. The contours and shapes that define her work are still present, but gone is the overt representational quality of her paintings.

The pieces read as an abstract stream of consciousness where recognizable forms appear, such as the head of a samurai or the antenna of a caterpillar. Fragments of identifiable elements are connected to create stylized abstractions. The drawings are rendered with mechanical pens and the quality of line is deliberate and controlled. Intricately cut pieces of vellum and construction paper are layered over and under the drawings so lines and colors appear through surfaces and cut holes. In some, old photographs serve as “mats” and become integral to the overall design of the piece.

Not to be overlooked are sketches that have been reproduced and bound into a limited edition of books called Beachspooks. These works are essential to the exhibition because they are the first abstract drawings produced by Nance and are a powerful distillation of her creative voice. “Before I felt like I was ruining the work by being too analytical and obsessive,” Nance says. “With these drawings I didn’t want to control them, I just wanted them to be themselves.” 

Ursula Gullow is an Asheville-based artist and writer.

who: Lisa Nance
what: Paintings, drawings and collage
where: Harvest Records, 415 Haywood Road
when: Reception on Friday, March 13 (8 to 10 p.m.) Show runs through April 13 (www.harvest-records.com or 258-2999)

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