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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