by Trevor Leach
In its sprawling downtown Asheville gallery, Blue Spiral 1 brings together the distinctive creations of several North Carolina artists for one of its first exhibitions of the year.
Opening on Friday, Jan. 6, Insignia will occupy the space’s entire lower-level gallery with works by numerous local and Charlotte-based artists. Mediums include painting, paper collage, trompe l’oeil, metal sculpture and clay installation.
Blair Guggenheim, the assistant director of Blue Spiral 1, says, “The artists in this exhibition include distinguished signs or symbols in their work that serve to characterize their concepts or materials.”
With a cut-up style of painting, Kreh Mellick creates timeless images of people, plants and animals woven into tangled worlds of abstraction and figuration.
After completing her bachelor’s in fine arts from the Maine College of Art, Mellick earned a Core Fellowship at the Penland School of Craft from 2007-09. She now resides in Asheville and continues to show her work around the world.
Mellick paints with gouache on paper in a monochromatic palette using shades of blue — sometimes with black or gray — slicing out various shapes to arrange in new compositions.
“Trying to wrap my head around the word ‘insignia’ and thinking about how it related to my work gave me a bit of challenge. It forced me to take a closer look at some of the imagery I use in most of my drawings and hold a lens to those elements,” says Mellick about her preparation for the show.
Among her featured works is “Nest Branch,” which depicts an owl flying through foliage with a single branch held by its talons. “Owls are such special creatures,” Mellick says. “And they also hold a mysterious place in our minds.”
The symbolic significance of the work, however, is left up to the viewer. “It could just be asking you to center the owl in your thoughts, revere it,” the artist says.
Like Mellick, Duy Huynh has also gained recognition for his fantastical and uplifting paintings. Originally from Vietnam, Huynh moved to California in 1981 while still a child. He later relocated to North Carolina where he studied illustration at UNC Charlotte. Today, he shares a home studio in Charlotte with his wife, Sandy Snead.
Magic and word play provide the inspiration for much of his art. “If I can think of anything that’s a consistent theme through my work the last few years, that’s probably it,” says Huynh. “I’ve had fun with that.”
Each of his surreal paintings bring focus to a particular subject by situating them in tranquil, nearly empty scenes. Speaking more about the meaning behind his symbols, Huynh says, “Some of it is very personal, but I always want to make it as universal as possible to where any random viewer can look at it and possibly relate — or something about it resonates with them, and they can have their own experience and their own narrative with it.”
Another of his featured works, “Greater Together,” makes a subtle reference to the political divisions in our current culture. In it, a figure in a red dress is surrounded by blue herons and white egrets flying in various directions over the sea below.
Along with interpretations of the natural world, several of the featured artists explore, create and reinterpret architectural designs.
With his passions for skateboarding and hip-hop, the artist Ishmael Leaver rides the intersections of street art and graffiti. He has painted numerous murals in Asheville, as well as fine art paintings in his signature style.
Insignia will feature his trompe l’oeil train cars and stop sign sculptures. The former, says Guggenheim, “are uniquely constructed out of PVC board and then painted with layers of finishes that emulate a train car that you’d see on the tracks.”
Meanwhile, Zack Noble combines sculpture and architecture from his Asheville workshop, Noble Forge. The artist has previously taught at the Penland School of Craft, where he also earned a Core Fellowship. His creations can be found in public and private spaces around the country.
“The work in this show is inspired by urban landscapes — skyscrapers especially — and the craft of blacksmithing itself,” says Noble. With a vertical pillar of painted steel, his sculpture “Forging (Yellow)” stands balanced on its base almost like a lightning bolt touching down.
“I hope that people who see the work will have an emotional response to it and also come away with a better sense of what blacksmithing is and how it works,” says Noble.
Additional artists rounding out the exhibit include BA Thomas of Charlotte, who re-creates architectural spaces in her oil and acrylic paintings, and local artist Eric Knoche, whose clay works are inspired by figures, bones, machine parts, homes, clouds, landscapes, algebra equations and the alphabet.
As the wheel of the new year turns again, the artists featured at Blue Spiral 1 share a fresh perspective of hope and resilience. In the months ahead, the gallery will show more local works alongside international artists. The gallery also has plans to display a collaborative exhib with The N.C. Arboretum about the art of bonsai.
Insignia runs concurrently with three other exhibitions at Blue Spiral 1, including Go Figure 2.0 in the main gallery, Connie Lippert: Ecological Survey in the small format gallery and George Peterson: SHRED GRIND CARVE in the showcase gallery. All four shows will have an opening reception Jan. 6, 5-7 p.m., and will run through Wednesday, Feb. 22.
WHERE: Lower level gallery at Blue Spiral 1, 38 Biltmore Ave. avl.mx/c99
WHEN: Opening reception Jan. 6, 5-7 p.m. Exhibit continues through Wednesday, Feb. 22. Free.