Page Davis' paintings recall the exuberance of a young child who's just been handed a brand-new box of 120 Crayolas.
Color is rampant, coming in pleasing but totally unexpected combinations. Davis' work in the current multi-artist show at the newly refurbished Upstairs Gallery in Tryon suggests a theme of improvisation; the accompanying brochure quotes another Davis, jazz giant Miles: "Do not fear mistakes. There are none."
The artist's works are layered, revealing the under-painting. Her surfaces are rich and articulated, the colors sometimes wiped and sometimes scratched through.
Her palette is intensely feminine.
Davis' paintings are either 4-by-4-foot squares or 2-by-6-foot rectangles made up of two canvases. Though abstract, these works present the artist's point of view and are clearly autobiographical.
"Tire Swing," one of the square pieces, freely evokes thoughts of childhood. Depicted are a blue summertime sky, flowers and a bright yellow house, and the harsh feel of the hot black tire against naked legs.
In a vertical canvas titled just "Swing," Davis has used Xerox transfers of tree branches to make up the seat of the swing, which moves in quiet, rhythmic memory across broad pink stripes. A field of poppies is painted around another Xerox transfer, this one of silos.
These sophisticated works are shown to advantage in the beautiful new Tryon gallery, with its not-too-shiny wood floors, pristine white walls and excellent lighting. The Upstairs space also includes a Small Works Gallery, which now features additional, smaller pieces by Davis and other artists, including beautifully intricate fiber works by Patricia Samuels.
A lower-level gallery is large and more open, currently showing work by Janet Orselli, who's installed almost the entire space under the title Visceral Realities. This Colombian artist's world is littered by rescued bits and pieces -- an old, stripped-down, upholstered rocking chair has a bleached pelvic bone in the seat. On the chair's arm is precariously perched -- what else? -- a leg bone.
Nearby, a door taken from an old wardrobe forms a shelf for an encased knife set. The wooden box has a dark, velvet interior, and the knife blades have been replaced with carefully trimmed feathers.
Elsewhere, sculpture is made from old rulers, roots, spools of thread, parts of furniture, wasps' nests, brushes, wires, ropes, chains, fasteners and fittings. Taken as a whole, Orselli's work brings forth visions of lost hope and missed opportunities.
One exceptionally poignant piece is that of a child's doll carriage, its metal frame rusty and warped, its body and hood made of woven strips of lamb's wool. A small bird's nest sits in the bottom of the buggy, stark and alone.
Two handsome sculptures by Michael Newman complete the downstairs space. Both freestanding works are fabricated from heavy-gauge, core-10 steel, and each is 4 feet tall and filled with openings through which objects float (fabric panels with pale images of tall, waving grasses) or protrude. Some small holes are filled with little, rolled pieces of day-glo paper in various colors, and an occasional rolled-up dollar bill. The permanence of the heavy steel creates a brooding quality, in sharp contrast to the fragility of the colored papers; the rusty metal could be parts of a sunken ship retrieved from the sea, underwater life clinging to its surfaces.
Lots to think about here.
Including this: It's extraordinary to realize that one of the very few nonprofit spaces for contemporary art in all of Western North Carolina thrives here, in tiny Tryon -- proving there are no small towns, only small expectations.
[Connie Bostic is an Asheville-based artist and writer.]
Grand Reopening, a multi-artist exhibit at the Upstairs Gallery in Tryon (49 S. Trade St.; 828/859-2424), will remain on view through Wednesday, June 30. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., or by appointment.