Storytelling exhibition at upstairs [artspace]

A PICTURE TELLS A THOUSAND WORDS: "You See I Had to Burn Your Kingdom Down" by Arden B. Cone. Image courtesy of upstairs [artspace]

Storytellers can pull a captive audience into an otherwise unknown narrative. This is also true in visual art, where the telling is begun by an artist and finished through a viewer’s own experience in viewing the work. Exploring these connections is at the heart of Storytellers, an exhibition at upstairs [artspace] in Tryon.

The show features narrative paintings by Arden B. Cone, Margaret Curtis, Dawn Hunter and Anna Jensen. Each employs the human figure as a means of forming basic storylines that allow their audiences to interpret as they please. But this is not to say that these are figure paintings. “These works are an attempt to take figuration away from technical ability and refer strictly to narrative,” says Curtis. “It keeps each story open-ended.”

Hunter’s works play with seduction and gender identity, leaving her figures — nude and clothed alike — shrouded, even buried behind curtains of tropical flora and bursting 1960s TV action effects. Cone’s works blend the delicacy of high fashion with pastoral scenes similar to those in our surrounding hills. Women in prom dresses wade through a greenhouse while others hover over gardeners and fence lines. Each is surreal and out of place, yet seemingly comfortable.

Jensen’s and Curtis’s works delve into the darker psychological side of interpersonal relationships. Jensen’s pieces have the look and feel of family photos: scenes from the beach, living room portraits, packed cars. But in each painting the scenery has been washed out. The beach has been replaced by bright red swaths reminiscent of blood. The car is a mere outline dropped behind a grinning, key-holding dad, begging the question of which memory is more important — the vehicle or the parent?

Curtis illustrates the idiosyncrasies felt between close duos. “I started off thinking about burdens and baggage we carry physically and psychologically,” she says. Her characters bring these connections and divides to life through awkward stares in salons, secretive actions in household bathrooms and even on a bicycle rickshaw driven by a pregnant women (her passenger a drunken businessman).

“As an artist, your duty is first and foremost to the image, to making it as compelling as you can, for yourself and your audience,” Curtis says. “That is what brings the story to life.”

View Storytellers through Friday, June 19, at upstairs [artspace], 49 S. Trade St., Tryon. For more information visit


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About Kyle Sherard
Book lover, arts reporter, passerby…..

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