December 7, 2022
Dec 7, 2022
from the desk of Cassidy Ann, Citizen Vinyl Staff Producer
Asheville is a unique destination for artists, not just the musical kind. This month, we’re introducing you to three local artists whose work can be found at Coda.
Amar Stewart’s paintings often depict widely recognizable pop icons, like Wednesday Adams and Lord Voldemort. But beyond the well-known faces, the British artist aims to portray a familiar human emotion, too.
“I like to explore vulnerability because I think as human beings, we are all vulnerable, whether we are famous or not,” Stewart said.
The prints in Coda are from his best-known collection of oil paintings, featuring hip-hop artists. The series, called “Hip Hop Royalty,” garnered global attention and was exhibited at prestigious galleries and museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The lavish portraits include Renaissance-era flourishes, like ruffled collars and velvet trappings. Biggie was the first in the series.
“I wanted to not only celebrate hip-hop icons as kings and queens, but to also make it as authentic as possible, using traditional mediums,” Stewart said.
The self-taught painter hails from a small town outside of London. He moved to Asheville in 2019 to be with his partner. Stewart says the surrounding mountains and the city’s size set it apart from other places he’s lived and worked, like London and New York.
“I think we need to be careful because once artists, including myself, and small businesses get driven out because they can’t afford to make it work, this city will lose that creativity that makes Asheville so special,” Stewart said.
Books are the inspiration for Brandy Bourne’s artwork. It’s fitting, because she’s also a librarian.
“I definitely take inspiration from the book arts I come across in my work life,” Bourne said.
The interim university librarian at UNC Asheville says her work in book preservation involves a lot of shifting back and forth, between analog and digital mediums. In her paintings, she sometimes bounces back and forth, between illustrating with software and completing a piece with her brushstrokes.
At first glance, her work could be interpreted as minimal. Shapes with bold lines criss-cross or stand alone on a solid-colored background. But her selection of moody, jewel-toned hues seep through. The dreamy pigments evoke quiet and contemplation. It’s like spending an evening in a darkened library, lit by tapered candles.
“I usually do my visual arts work late at night, and I think that comes through in a sort of moonlit, cozy palette,” Bourne said. “It feels like a dream-time process for me at the end of the day, a process of clearing away the quotidian and tapping into something elemental.”
One of Wyatt Grant’s most joyful moments this year happened when he was painting a mural, high above bustling traffic on Haywood Rd. Curious pedestrians stopped beneath his extension ladder.
“I got to meet a lot of people while painting that mural, and the reactions and conversations enriched the whole experience, even if it was like, ‘what are you doing up there?,’” Grant said.
His now-completed mural on the side of a veterinary clinic is a striking addition to the city’s collection of public art. Grant says engaging with passers-by turned out to be a critical part of the process.
“What style to render things, how to use colors, to make things more minimal or complex,” Grant said. “There can be a subliminal, unexplainable layer in mural painting where the image becomes a response to the space, like a good musical performance.”
His smaller-scale endeavors, like screenprints and illustrations, deal mostly with bold colors, in “flat,” two-dimensional forms. But like the mural, Grant starts with a drawing and incorporates play and improvisation in the process.
The Memphis native says moving to Asheville has also influenced his work. The patchwork patterns depicted in his recent mural, for instance, are similar to the iconic barn quilts seen throughout the Appalachian region.
“Western North Carolina has so much visual inspiration, and there’s obviously so much of that manifested in Asheville,” Grant said. “Not just in art spaces, but in gardens, zines, building architecture, sign paintings — and most often, in nature.”
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