Three Studio Visits in Asheville

Asheville, NC | by October 30, 2010

During the last week of Sep­tem­ber of this year I was in the moun­tains near Asheville, North Car­olina. The osten­si­ble pur­pose of my stay was to help out some music cats that I know who were on a rehearsal blitz before head­ing back to New York — basi­cally I was doing gro­cery runs, cook­ing, clean­ing, and I spent a lot of time play­ing with fire (lit­er­ally). In the mean­time I arranged to visit three artists. There are many, many artists and crafts­peo­ple in the Asheville area, and art and craft com­min­gle there, with many artists sup­ple­ment­ing their income (or at least their fine art prac­tice) with side projects such as jew­elry mak­ing and silkscreen print shops. When I first learned I would be down there and started arrang­ing the vis­its I thought I would have the time to do more vis­its and that I would be able to write a short the­sis about both the work I saw and the gen­eral con­text of west­ern North Car­olina. Every­one is famil­iar with Black Moun­tain Col­lege and the role it played in Amer­i­can art, so I won’t drop any names here (though I guess I just did). Maybe I could link the past to the present with the notions of artis­tic retreat or exile? As it hap­pened I sim­ply did the vis­its, and what fol­lows is a brief telling of them. The accom­pa­ny­ing videos show what I am too lazy to tell here, prob­a­bly in a bet­ter way. But do read on.

Tara Jensen cur­rently works at in an apart­ment she shares. I asked her if she likes work­ing at home. She does not. Dur­ing my visit Tara was in the final stages of putting together an instal­l­la­tion for a group show (also fea­tur­ing work by Julie Arm­bruster, below) at Satel­lite, a gallery in down­town Asheville. Her cur­rent work con­sists of dolls com­posed with a vari­ety of dis­carded fab­rics. She begins with sketches, real­izes these sketches with smaller pro­to­types, and uses the lessons of the sketches and pro­to­types to cre­ate larger dolls. The heads and faces of these dolls are con­sis­tently two-​​faced. Gen­er­ally speak­ing one eye and side of the face is vio­lent, the other is peace­ful. The col­ors are neon-​​bright.

Julie Arm­bruster is a friend of mine from school. We met at her house in North Asheville, where she keeps a small stu­dio which she uses mostly for apply­ing resin to her character-​​driven paint­ings. After­wards we drove to her stu­dio at Wedge, a ware­house among oth­ers in Asheville’s River Arts Dis­trict. Julie shares her space with a jew­elry maker. Julie’s sto­ries are obtuse and involved. Hilar­ity some­times ensues.

When I vis­ited Celia Gray she had just returned from a grad­u­ate school scout­ing trip to New York. She works in the con­verted attic of her house, a Victorian-​​looking deal with a front porch jammed in a row of the like on a one-​​sided street. Her dog fol­lowed us up the stairs. While two small fans whirred in front of an open win­dow (Celia works with encaus­tic and thus requires a well-​​ventilated work­space), Celia talked about encaus­tic and about her process in par­tic­u­lar. After­wards Celia showed me her met­al­work­ing stu­dio in a shed behind the house.

More about these artists at

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