Long live our finest

Connie Bostic’s commentary [“Drifting Toward Diabetic Coma,” Feb. 4] on the art scene in Asheville is very encouraging. I’ve been passing those ho-hum galleries for the unsophisticated art client by, allowing that the people who frequent them contribute significantly to the local economy. However, Connie’s article awakens a latent desire to ratchet art awareness up a few notches. Perhaps the best way we can do this is to call each other’s attention to the outta-sight art that is being shown, whenever and wherever we find it—a kind of citizens’ “Artwatch!”

I encourage all of us to take the time to report on beautiful and meaningful works of art in galleries and studios in Buncombe and any nearby county. Recently, for example, I was treated to a sensuous feast of clay art at Blue Spiral Gallery, albeit not an unusual place to find art of value. If you missed the show, which ended on Dec. 31, let me at least mention the artists and the work you might want to keep an eye out for. However, the installation itself was such a nourishing experience for visual and kinesthetic sensibilities that I want to briefly describe what a delight it was to come upon it.

I particularly like clay art because of how similar clay is to my own body. Clay and the inspiration to create with it are at the core of human creation stories, and clay is also such an everyday part of life—whether it’s the cups, plates, bowls, pots, vases or the not-quite-functional treasures we keep in special places in our homes and workplaces.

As I stood at the top of the wide stairs that lead to the Spiral’s lower level, I felt my spatial experience expand outward, as if energy was dancing up to meet me from the works below, circling around with a clear invitation to join the party—entitled simply “North Carolina Clay.”

The show was sumptuous in size as well as intensity. Even the smallest pieces exhibited what I’d call a distinct quality of being: a suchness, as Buddhists call the irrefutable presence. There was the way light reflected off the darker, shinier pots, but also light seemed to come from within quite a few of the pieces, and more than once I couldn’t resist looking inside for the source of illumination. Here are a few of the highlights:
• Tom Turner’s broad, colorful spectrum—his jaunty, skinny-necked bottles, those big fat pots with their round lids or the ones with small turtles crawling across them.
• Jan Lee’s saga-fired raku vases outpicturing what sensual, luminous and personal mean—just calling out to be touched.
• Susan Barett Whelan’s rich, earth-colored pots, also inviting physical intimacy.
• Ben Owen’s tall edo jar, making cozy company with Whelan’s squat and stocky matriarchs.
• Shoku Tenyama’s work, alive with light and color.
• Judith Duff’s wonderfully grounding biotic shapes—shells and moonscapes.
• Jim Whelan’s Spotted Jar, which made me want to crawl inside it.
• Akira Satake (perhaps no clay show on Earth should be lacking his work), whose pieces—including several delicately lidded pots—were some of the smallest in the show, but who managed to give those surfaces the most glorious intimations of forest and field, of dunescapes and of ancient creatures with soft, wrinkled skin. The utter organic-ness of one of his small teapots that made it appear shaped from tree bark could have inspired joyful looking for years.

And there you have it. If I have even slightly managed to encourage some of you to check these clay artists out, to keep an eye out for their next shows, and most of all to join Asheville’s unofficial Artwatch coalition and take your turn at alerting us to the best of the shows in town, then it was worth keeping your attention right down to these last words: Long live Asheville’s finest art and artists!

— Arjuna da Silva
Black Mountain

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