Coco Villa discusses The Cloud Show and sustainable art

WEATHER OR NOT: Coco Villa dances while wearing a naturally dyed SOMOS by CocoNuco jumpsuit on top of a dreamscape that will most likely appear in The Cloud Show that Villa curated. The exhibition opens at the Asheville Area Arts Council and includes works by a number of area artists working in various mediums, plus a sound installation. Photo by Emilie Fong

The idea for an exhibition centering on the theme of clouds came to local artists Coco Villa, Ian Stabler and Mary Duncan Craig, aka Weeper, more than a year ago. “All of our mediums are very different, [but] everything we create is somewhat biomorphic or flow-y,” Villa explains. Weeper paints clouds, Stabler crafts large-scale ink drawings and wooden sculptures, and Villa makes “whimsical pieces inspired by landscapes — mostly sunrises and sunsets — along with garments.”

She elaborates, “A really huge inspiration was the fact that we could all come together: We all make clouds, in some way or another.” So when the Asheville Area Arts Council put out a call for Buncombe County artists to curate exhibits, Villa responded. The Cloud Show, which also includes work by Judit Just, Court McCracken, Carmelo Pampillonio and Neil Goss, will open in the Thom Robinson & Ray Griffin Exhibition Space on Friday, April 5.

The year that passed between when the exhibition proposal was accepted and the opening of the show gave the artists time to foment and experiment. For Villa, “It’s always been at the back of my mind,” but her multidisciplinary approach to creative work has kept her busy on other projects, as well.

For example, the idea behind the garments in Villa’s SOMOS by CocoNuco clothing line is, “how is it that any human would move in them,” she explains. As a dancer, when she sees a full rack of apparel pieces, she’s inspired to set up a photo or video shoot in the clothes. Villa studied performance art and photography and has lent her talents to locally made videos, such as Carley Taich’s “Wise,” for which Villa served as creative director and choreographer, made two costumes and danced.

“All I want to do is make clothes and make a movie,” she says with a laugh.

The artist learned sewing from her grandmother, “so I had that in my back pocket,” she says. And, while living in South America, she learned the basics of making and using natural dyes from plants — a process she employs for her clothing line. However, when Villa relocated to Asheville three years ago, the local plants were much different from those available in Colombia, where she’d been studying natural dye techniques. “But food scraps are generally the same,” she points out, so she partnered with local restaurants, shops, gardens and farms, which donate vegetable, floral and herbal waste, such as onion skins, dahlias and avocado pits and skins. With these, Villa can produce sustainable colors for her apparel.

Because the garments are one of a kind, they tend to be priced out of the Asheville market and are sold mainly through boutiques in larger cities. So, to offer locals (and those outside the Asheville area) an opportunity for a hand-dyed textile, Villa launched The Colour Lab. She announces a new color each season; through a poll on Instagram, she determines what color people are most attracted to. The spring 2019 shade is rust, made from walnut hulls, madder roots, onions skins and turmeric. Those interested can drop off fabric or apparel at Villa’s Riverview Station studio or at Ware boutique on College Street (guidelines are on Villa’s website, somosbycoconuco.com) to be dyed.

Part of the artist’s fascination with foraged pigments in her visual art is how the colors change over time. For The Cloud Show, “Considering these are pieces that will hang on the wall, I think there’s something really beautiful about taking something from the earth and being able to transfer it into something that could almost last,” she says of her dreamscapes. “I don’t know that a month will be long enough to see the transformation, but I’m going to play with lighting to try to make that happen.” The process she’s referring to is how natural dyes fade in the sunlight and certain environments.

The gallery event will offer other (less subtle) surprises and food for thought. Pampillonio’s contribution, for example, is a sound installation that can be heard at the opening. The local sound artist has lately been observing weather patterns, which are likely to inform his new work.

“There’s a full circle that’s created with all of the artists,” Villa says of those involved with the upcoming exhibition. “Even though our work is fairly different, there’s a connection.”

WHAT: The Cloud Show
WHERE: Asheville Area Arts Council, Thom Robinson & Ray Griffin Exhibition Space, 207 Coxe Ave., ashevillearts.com
WHEN: Opening reception on Friday, April 5, 5-8 p.m. with an artist talk at 6:30 p.m. On view through Friday, May 3

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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