Asheville Art Talk: Celebrating spring with four RAD artists

COME TOGETHER:  whiteSPACE artists (from left) Lissa Friedman, Mark Harmon, Sandra Bottinelli and Melanie Norris join forces for their upcoming exhibit, 'Thallo.'
COME TOGETHER: whiteSPACE artists (from left) Lissa Friedman, Mark Harmon, Sandra Bottinelli and Melanie Norris join forces for their upcoming exhibit, 'Thallo.' Photo by Thomas Calder

It’s no secret that there are artists in the River Arts District. Nevertheless, painter Sandra Bottinelli considers whiteSPACE to be a hidden gem. Bottinelli founded the 1,500 square foot studio and gallery space, tucked away on the second floor of Wedge Studios, in 2011. Since that time, fellow painters Melanie Norris, Mark Harmon and Lissa Friedman have joined her.

While a quasi-covert art operation may have its perks — less foot traffic translates to more time spent painting — whiteSPACE is hoping to shed some light on its creative endeavors. On Saturday, April 29, all four artists will present their latest works in an exhibit titled Thallo: Four Artists Welcome Spring. Named for the Greek goddess associated with vernal buds and new roots, Bottinelli says Thallo is “a celebration of renewal.”

Norris also sees the exhibit as a push to renew local interest. “I noticed a lot of residents don’t come to the River Arts District as often as you’d think,” she says.

At the same time, Norris considers the event an opportunity to change the way tourists perceive the district. “A lot of times, [visitors] are just checking off a box on their list of things to do in Asheville,” she says. “We want to get people up here with the intention of looking at original paintings and making it less about the casual milling around.”

While all four artists share a common set of tools, each offers a distinct style and focus. Harmon brings viewers into the abstract world of lichens, a composite organism that arises from algae. The fungus can be seen on rocks and trees throughout the WNC region. “Mark is very detail oriented,” says Bottinelli. “He picks up every little thing … but it still appears to be abstract. But if you step far enough away, it becomes a realistic painting.”

Nature plays its role in Friedman’s works, as well. The artist creates fragmented landscapes. Animals are prominent within these settings. Their presences lend to each painting’s dreamlike quality, as elephants, giraffes, fish and birds traverse the recognizable, but unfamiliar, terrain. Bottinelli describes the work as a morphing of dimensions. “[Friedman] creates her own little world,” she says.

Like Friedman, Bottinelli’s collection features animals, too. Zebras, flamingos, horses and owls all find their way onto her canvases. Each backdrop creates a surreal quality; these creatures often stand before stars and galaxies. “I’m doing a realistic painting,” she says. “But I’m trying to make it abstract at the same time, without [viewers] noticing.”

Unlike her studio mates, Norris’ focus is portraits. She defines her work as abstract figurative realism. Her paintings eliminate backgrounds and objects, intent on capturing individual expressions. Layering adds texture to each piece, creating a more abstract visual. “She’s not afraid to experiment with exactly what it is she’s feeling,” says Bottinelli. “She’s very honest. You can see it in her work.”

Both Bottinelli and Norris hope the diverse set of paintings will lure people up the flight of stairs and down the hall that leads to their whiteSPACE studio and gallery. Norris says the exhibit will offer “a broader perspective” of what is available in River Arts District, while Bottinelli considers it a chance for visitors to see the unexpected.

WHAT: Thallo: Four Artists Welcome Spring

WHERE: whiteSPACE at The Wedge Studios, 129 Roberts St. whitespacewedge.com

WHEN: Opening reception Saturday, April 29, 1-6 p.m. Exhibit continues through May 31. Free

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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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