That being said, the seven art pieces that comprise Tennessee artist Mike Calway-Fagen's solo exhibit Went to Leave (on display through Aug. 4), emerge as disparate and vague at first glance. For example, an overturned table embellished with a geometric neon duct tape design appears to hold no connection with a drawing of two birds fighting.
Then there's the sculpture of a glass-eyed camel that stands unassumingly baring a propane tank out of its back. Brown packing tape covers the animal and patches of neon peek through the beige skin. The large sculpture "Skink" appears to be a tail cut cleanly off a lizard's body. Calway-Fagen has taken a real skink and placed it on the sculpture – its teeny body is easily overlooked in relation to the sculpture. (After days of sitting on the gallery floor it has started to decay and is no longer recognizable.)
According to his artist statement, Calway-Fagen seeks to embody the activist spirit of the '60s that he feels has been marginalized and trivialized. The photograph, "went to leave," is an aerial view of a highway with the sentence I was here but now I'm gone scrawled in chalk by the side of the road. Evoking a sense of absenteeism and disassociation, this piece is one of the stronger works in the show. Another persuasive photograph, "Norm" depicts a fairly nondescript bearded Caucasian male upon whose face Calway-Fagen has carefully drawn a mask of tribal ornamentation in ink.
An underlying commentary on sensationalism and cultural appropriation seems to be the thread that connects all the work. In the video, "White Gold," a young mustached man in a white T-shirt proceeds to huff a can of gold spray paint and then, in a stupor, spray it all over his face. The effect is rather disarming, considering what the man put himself through, and succeeds as a spectacle of bravado, machismo and masochism.
Recently the work of local artist Adam Smithmada has begun appearing in venues like Downtown Books and News and Atelier — both located on Lexington Avenue in downtown Asheville. Smithmada paints despondent faces with big noses and oversized eyes for an effect that is rather humorous and engaging. The faces are primarily men's, and seem to be very personalized even though they bear little resemblance to the artist's own face. The expressive brush strokes are rendered confidently and clever nuances of color make the work more sophisticated than it initially appears. Smithmada says he plans to head out of town by October, so check out his work while it's still here.
Also worth seeing are the scrupulously rendered paintings of Asheville artist Brian Mashburn currently on view at Satellite Gallery on Broadway. Silhouettes of old water towers, power lines and trees are placed behind lonesome rats, pigeons and dogs. In spite of the dystopic subject matter, there's something very uplifting about Mashburn's work – perhaps it is the way he renders light that literally suggests the dawning of a new day, and metaphorically delivers something more reflective.