18 Ways to See: An Exhibition at Upstairs ArtSpace

 Photo by Renato Rotolo.

Photo by Renato Rotolo.

Artists may labor in solitude but few wish to labor in obscurity, so a community that shows its support for the arts is a vital element of creative life. Western North is so blessed, a happy state of affairs that’s drawn artists from other less felicitous environments. “I think the awareness of the arts has certainly grown along with the population of artists who have moved to Asheville,” says Virginia Derryberry, who was among the first artists to be profiled in the pages of this magazine ten years ago and is now one of the 18 artists included in 18 Ways To See: Selected Bold Life Artists opening at Tryon’s Upstairs Artspace on March 21st.

Guest curated by Bold Life‘s founders and publishers Mary DiOrio and Rimas Zailskas, the show presents more than 50 works from artists who have appeared in Bold Life‘s pages since the magazine’s first appearance in March of 2003. “Mary and I chose work that is kind of unconventional,” Rimas explains. “The art in this show is definitely not milquetoast.” Nor is it heavily thematic, drawing on a varied body of work from nine painters, four photographers, three mixed media artists, a commercial illustrator and a puppet maker to fill both floors of the Upstairs’ 4,000 square feet of exhibition space.

Robert Asman is one the four photographers whose work appears in the show. “I believe the articles and pieces in Bold Life were very helpful in allowing the arts community to recognize kindred souls in the area,” Robert says. Robert’s photographic companions for “18 Ways…” include Maureen Robinson’s gritty photographs of young people living on the streets in Atlanta’s Five Points neighborhood, and the atmospheric work of Italian-born Renato Rotolo, whose photographs of serpent handlers are among the most up-close and personal in the genre. Brigid Burns uses photography as a starting point for her heavily textured pieces that can also include fabric, text and painted surfaces.

The illustrator in “18 Ways…” is James Flames, who’s designed Bold Life covers for several years, while the puppet maker is Karin Eberle, whose handmade creations are characters drawn from the children’s stories she heard growing up in Germany before World War Two. Other works in the show move closer to the symbolic or the surreal, like Virginia Derryberry’s striking figurative paintings derived from alchemical lore. Rowan Farrell’s mysterious and ritualistic paintings draw heavily on elements of the Wise Woman movement to celebrate the generative power of femininity, while Heidi Hayes’ highly colored, Dadaist-inspired paintings draw on childhood imagery. Taiyo la Paix’s buxom alter ego Papillia la Paix and her graphic arts-influenced adventures are depicted with his signature bright palette and meticulous composition.

Unusual materials bring their own unique character to some of the works. Robert Seven works in a variety of media, from old suitcases and hubcaps, to flatware, fabric, bones, and construction waste although his art also incorporates work on paper and canvas. Gabriel Shaffer’s urban-tinged folk art is created from found objects like window frames and old handwritten letters, while Philip DeAngelo uses tin sheets, Masonite and fabric to create his shimmering landscapes. Bobbie Polizzi, featured in last month’s Bold Life, fashions totemic sculptural pieces from downspouts, dolls’ eyes, baby shoes and other castoff items.

Religious faith finds a place in “18 Ways…”, too. Carol Bomer’s collaged paintings incorporate text drawn from the Bible and other religious sources to capture, as she puts it, “the human condition surprised by the grace of God.” William Thomas Thompson’s vivid acrylics are more apocalyptic in nature, including startling images of heaven and hell based on the Book of Revelation that appeared to him after he experienced what he called “an anointing of the Lord.”

“The work is provocative,” Rimas says. “All art is to one degree or another, but the work in this show is really deep.”

Just as enriching as the variety of style, material and message is the show’s celebration of the survival of Western North Carolina’s vibrant tradition in the arts, despite the challenge of dwindling government support for the arts at the state and federal level. “I haven’t noticed increased support for artists in the region in terms of grants available, reasonably priced studios or exhibition venues,” Virginia Derryberry says. “But that being said, I can’t think of anywhere else I would rather be as an artist.”

18 Ways To See:
Selected Bold Life Artists

Opening Reception:
Saturday, March 22, 5-8pm

Show runs through May 3

Panel discussion with curator Rimas Zailskas and select artists on Tuesday, April 8 at 7pm

Upstairs Artspace
49 South Trade Street, Tryon



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