For an April Fools' Day show two years ago, Vadim Bora drew colorful pictures of himself on his $700-$800 in unpaid parking tickets, selling each for the amount of the fine printed on it.
Not only did Bora bring in enough cash to settle his debt with the city, but a few of those deliciously embellished tickets -- complete with the consuming beard and hyper-pronounced nose the Russian-immigrant artist likes to give himself in caricature -- still crop up on scattered office walls downtown.
Bora, 49, owner of the eponymous gallery in the Haywood Park Hotel lobby and a varied-media visual artist with an impressive pedigree, is open to trying new things. His gallery, in fact, is now hosting its first show of work by someone else, one of Bora's own countrymen. Nikolai Glukhov: Celebrating 300 Years of St. Petersburg in Etchings, Oils and Monotypes runs through July 20.
The bulk of the show consists of Glukhov's striking black-and-white etchings, some about the size of postage stamps.
"The audience [for this] might not be that wide, because this is not an easy medium," notes Bora.
The process, he explains, is extremely labor-intensive.
After coating a zinc plate in shellac, the artist scratches it with a needle to create an image. The completed "drawing" is covered with an acid solution, which burns in deeper grooves.
The artist then smears the plate with ink, scraping off the excess. Typically, only a limited number of pressings is made from each plate, which is afterward destroyed.
Not many contemporary artists use these techniques, Bora reports.
"This is almost extinct," he adds, his native accent strong.
One series of Glukhov etchings depicts graceful dancers; another portrays distinctly Russian cityscapes. A third, "My Dreams," fancifully pairs nature and human achievement -- one inspired piece shows a big-headed, bulging-eyed fish suspended above an imagined city with several buildings plucked from the St. Petersburg skyline.
In all the etchings, the detail is exquisite, from the multiple fish scales to the tiny faces of passersby on the street. Many finer points are evident only with a magnifying lens, though Glukhov himself apparently works without one.
His exhibit shares space with Bora's own art in a variety of media, primarily painting, works on paper and sculpture.
"The materials are just words for my story or notes for my music," Bora muses, resorting, as he often does, to metaphor. "If an idea asks for clay, then clay; stone, stone; bronze, bronze."
A highlight is Bora's series of oils involving doorway images, including the provocative "Talking to the Doors," in which an archetypal human figure stands Christlike against a background of fiery red and orange, beneath a large wooden gateway beset with chattering birds. The modestly sized piece, bordered by a gorgeous handmade frame, seems considerably bigger than it actually is.
A consistent theme pervades Bora's work: the conflict between the artificial and the organic. One collection of sculptures features a voluptuous nude cradled roughly by the buildings of New York City.
Bora may be one of the most visible artists you didn't know you knew. He's responsible for some of Asheville's best-loved public art -- the three playful Wall Street cats (and hidden rat) just to the right of Jubilee! Community Church.
The cat at pavement level, worn in places from being fondled and from children standing on it, expresses part of Bora's general philosophy on three-dimensional art.
"Sculpture likes to be touched," he reveals.
Nikolai Glukhov: Celebrating 300 Years of St. Petersburg in Etchings, Oils and Monotypes runs through Sunday, July 20 at the Vadim Bora Gallery in the lobby of the Haywood Park Hotel (1 Battery Park Ave.). Gallery hours are 1-5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, and noon-5 p.m. Saturday. Call 254-7959 for more information. The Vadim Bora Gallery will be included in the next City Center Art Walk (Friday, June 6). Contact the Asheville Area Arts Council (258-0710) or the Asheville Art Museum (253-3227) for details.