‘Debut’ at PUSH Gallery features previously unexhibited artists

WELCOME TO THE WALL: Up-and-coming artists such as Tyler Martino, whose work is seen here, get an inaugural reveal at Debut, on view at PUSH Gallery. One of the ideas behind the group show, says curator Severn Eaton, is that it “may lead to another show down the road … or collaborations with other artists.”
WELCOME TO THE WALL: Up-and-coming artists such as Tyler Martino, whose work is seen here, get an inaugural reveal at Debut, on view at PUSH Gallery. One of the ideas behind the group show, says curator Severn Eaton, is that it “may lead to another show down the road … or collaborations with other artists.” Image courtesy of Martino

While in the process of creating a local exhibition, Asheville-based artist and activist Severn Eaton ended up curating something completely different from his original idea. He’d previously mounted a show at PUSH Gallery — the 2011 interactive, anti-consumerist statement See What Inspired Me. And he was looking forward to returning to the downtown art space.

But lately Eaton — who is known for his narrative paintings but also for political statements, such as a Ku Klux Klan robe made of underwear that he wore in Trump Tower in New York City; and “Withdrawl,” a large-scale target, based on Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion Map, rendered in raw meat for this year’s {RE}Happening — has been interested in “projects that connect people more and reach out to the community in a different way.”

So instead of showcasing an exhibition of his own new paintings, he decided to curate a collection of works by artists who, for various reasons, have not yet shown in a local gallery. “I had this slot for a show and I thought, ‘I’d like to pass this opportunity on to a lot of people,’” Eaton says. He’s doing just that with the group show Debut, opening at PUSH on Friday, June 16.

Though Eaton’s work will not be in the spotlight this time around, Debut does present another challenge for him: It’s his first turn as a curator. “I’m not just picking work that’s appealing to me or work that I identify with,” he says. At press time, 13 artists — including Laura Sellers, Flora Medawar and Tyler Martino — were taking part in the exhibit.

Beyond the caveat that participating artists are newcomers, Debut has no theme — an aspect of the exhibition that Eaton finds enticing. “I was excited to let go of that kind of control,” he says. “I’m shedding all of that juror kind of mentality and focusing on [that] these are people who put their heart and soul and time and talent into creating something and want to share it.”

Even if gallery exhibitions are hard for newcomers to land (and competitive for established artists, too), Asheville does offer an array of alternative exhibition spaces such as cafes and salons that offer wall space to up-and-coming creatives. Eaton’s own first local show, a collection of paintings, was at Short Street Cakes. It was soon after the bakery opened in its Haywood Road location; Short Street Cakes hadn’t featured artwork before.

Eaton’s first group show in Asheville was as part of WNC Magazine’s art happening On the Verge, held at the Flood Gallery, then located in the Phil Mechanic Studios. “Sean [‘Jinx’] Pace was in that show, and Dustin Spagnola,” he says. “That was the first time I met those people, and I still know them, and we’ve been in shows together since.”

Debut offers the chance for new artists to meet other creatives — both those showing in the exhibition and those who will attend the opening reception — and begin to form the sorts of connections and relationships that make inroads in the local art scene.

“I felt like, when I moved here, the art community was incredibly welcoming,” says Eaton. “It takes persistence and time — going to openings and meeting people.” But, he adds, it’s difficult in any city to approach a gallery and say, “Hey, I want to have a show here.”

The intention behind Debut is to create access as well as audience. It also reflects the direction Eaton’s own work is taking: “Trying to go beyond the studio and create projects that bring people together,” he says. “So I’m looking at transforming this opportunity for a show of my work to, instead, become a project to bring people together, to give the community a means to share their own work.”

WHAT: Debut
WHERE: PUSH Gallery, 25 Patton Ave., pushtoyproject.com
WHEN: Opening reception Friday, June 16, 7-10 p.m. The show will be on view through August.

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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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