Asheville Art Talk: Carlos Vera brings the festival home

CREATE: "I would say, it's about taking all the hard knocks that come with life and taking all the good, the bad, the love, the hate, the anger, the imperfection and taking that and using your established craft — or whatever you're good at — and expressing it," says Carlos Vera. Photo by Thomas Calder

It would be difficult to pass The Artist Kitchen on Hillside Street without taking notice. It is a bright orange, two-story bungalow, with turquoise window frames. Abstract paintings of gold, purple and blue hang on the home’s exterior wood paneling. A birdcage houses a stuffed animal in the front yard. A komainu (lion-dog statue) guards the front door, sporting a gnarly snarl and red wig. And mannequins of all sorts line the front porch.

Across the street, The Hill House Bed, a bed and breakfast, welcomes guests from around the world. Often these visitors wander over to The Artist Kitchen, mistaking it for a gallery. Others find it on Facebook and seek reservations, assuming it’s a restaurant. But it’s neither of those things, says homeowner Carlos Vera. “I’m an artist and this is my kitchen,” he explains. “[I’m] just a dude in his house who needs to create.”

Vera first arrived to Asheville in 2010. He had spent the previous 15 years creating art in a variety of industries, including the film world (as a set designer and illustrator), the non-profit sector (starting the California Artists for Humanity) and eventually the festival circuit (creating art installations at such gatherings as Bonnaroo and Coachella).

A desire to leave Los Angeles led Vera on a road trip across the country without a clear destination in mind. A chance encounter landed him his home on Hillside Street. “A dog showed me the place,” Vera says. “And there was a horseshoe in it. The horseshoe was turned upside-down and anybody who knows about horseshoes knows you got to turn it right-side up, so it cradles the luck and doesn’t let it drain out.”

Luck, however, initially failed to find Vera. Shortly after arriving to Asheville, he had to “hightail it back” to California. His stepmother, Deborah Vera, passed away, leaving Carlos’ father, Rosendo Vera, a widower in his mid-80s with health problems of his own. The two men decided it was best for Rosendo to come live with Carlos in Asheville.

Within a year, Carlos’ mother, Sarah Rath also relocated to Asheville, by way of New Orleans. A few months later, she was diagnosed with lung cancer (an illness she would eventually defeat). “During that process of taking care of both of [my parents], my career as far at festivals took a nosedive,” Carlos says. “So one day, sitting here with my wife, I looked around and I had all these paintings around inside the house and I said, ‘You know, if I can’t travel and go to festivals, I’m going to bring the festival to me.’”

The home’s interior is just as decorative as its exterior. A dragon, shaped from Plaster of Paris, curves above the fireplace mantel. The dining room wall is a painted collage that includes a giant banana brandishing a gun, a pair of snakes and a half moon. Meanwhile, the kitchen continues the turquoise motif from the front windows. The backyard is a series of pallets and fire pits.

Carlos, of course, is open to guests and encourages people to come by and take pictures of his creations. An avid chef, he’s also toyed with the idea of one day making The Artist Kitchen an actual dining experience. “If I could get licensing for it … I’d do it in a heartbeat,” he says.

Ultimately, though, he views his home as his canvas and message. “Nothing in this house or outside this house is fully complete,” he says. “There’s no painting that I sat there and said, ‘Oh it’s finished.’ The house isn’t finished. But I really dig showing people what it’s like to take all your bottled-up tension and anxiety and everything and express it in a positive way.”

To learn more visit facebook.com/TheArtistKitchen

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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. He has worked with several publications, including Gulf Coast and the Collagist. For his weekly #tuesdayhistory tidbits on Asheville, follow him on Instagram @tcalder.

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