Homb, a new show from three veteran Asheville artists, opens on Friday, Sept. 21 at Satellite Gallery. Pronounced “home,” the ambiguous word with its various nuances captures the thread that weaves through the paintings of Galen Frost Bernard, Ted Harper and Brian Mashburn.
There’s the word’s similarity to “womb,” as the three painters embrace the theme of life (and death). The pronunciation “home” references the trio’s first show together in nearly 10 years of friendship. Finally, the word also strikes a resemblance to “bomb,” insinuations viewers will likely detect in the range of references within the works to doomsday scenarios.
The three all employ architectural elements in their work, from Bernard’s “cliff dwelling” imagery, to Mashburn’s gutted-out urban landscapes, to Harper’s more abstracted angular forms. They all admit to an organic process of creation: Mashburn never makes sketches before executing a painting, Harper hones down his shapes from a loose gestural base and Bernard lets playful brushstrokes and drips take on a life of their own.
Despite this, the visual styles of each artist are vastly different. The Satellite show contains new work that ventures into some fresh stylistic territory for each of them.
“When I first met Ted, his work was chaotic scribbles,” Bernard says. Viewers may be familiar with Harper’s murals (one is on the alley wall outside BoBo Gallery), but many of his Satellite pieces reference neither of these modes.
Made of acrylic on small wooden panels, Harper’s works have the feel of Mexican retablo paintings. He embraces that iconic character also through his compositions — a centered object surrounded by blank space. These objects are amalgams of organic matter and geometric forms, fleshy and pink-colored, or “gutty,” as Harper coins it. An intestine merges with a feather, or another beet-red kidney-like shape, turning chaos into a clumsily functional body.
The pieces bring viewers to the verge of declaring “ewwww,” when a bird beak or cat head reaches out to ground them again. The stylization feels Egyptian in places; or others convey a subtle Mayan calendar apocalypse reference.
For a not-as-subtle Mayan reference, turn to three new paintings of Bernard’s in the Satellite show, in which he transforms a sunset over water into a calendar wheel. Other new works assume his signature style, pouring architectural structures into nearly every corner of the large canvas, crafting a presumed landscape. The oil-painted hues lean toward yellow, are pale and desaturated.
It is not surprising to hear that Bernard spent time in Asia years ago, as the sense of space and mountainous depths of his works seem to reference traditional Japanese landscapes. This is not a conscious reference, and Bernard says many people bring their own impressions of geography to his paintings. “Someone just told me they remind him of Greek Islands,” he says.
That universality of place is in tune with his artist statement, as he strives to connect with universal truths: life, death, love, struggle. He embodies the last of these simply by contrasting solid structures with erratic paint drips.
For a 180-degree turn from paint drips, look no further than Brian Mashburn. “I don’t like it when you can see brushstrokes,” he says of his work. And the viewer will be challenged to find one. His execution of desolate urban cityscapes, filled with billowing clouds of smoke and only a rare life form, borders on photographic representation.
For him, the theme of apocalypse strikes closer to home, as his cityscapes paint a Grimm’s fairy tale world spun out of control by overpopulation. Mashburn, a self-proclaimed “closet optimist,” still manages to create a sublime beauty in this bleak and calm state.
In addition to his foreboding scenes, Mashburn will debut some more abstracted pieces. In one of these, branch-like forms seem to march across a sky, abruptly revealing a hole in an Andy Goldsworthy-like fashion, maybe where a sun should be. Perhaps an apocalypse on the scale of a solar system dictated otherwise.
Bridget Conn is an Asheville-based artist, designer and photographer. Visit her website at http://www.bridgetconnartstudio.net.
what: Homb, featuring work by Galen Frost Bernard, Ted Harper and Brian Mashburn
where: The Satellite Gallery, 55 Broadway
when: Opening on Friday, Sept. 21 (7 to 10 p.m. More at galenfrostbernard.com, edwardsharper.com, and brianmashburnart.com.)