Lunchtime Art Breaks: Artist Project Space + Atrium Art

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Lunchtime Art Breaks are a series of gallery talks and presentations hosted by the Asheville Art Museum, typically twice per month on Fridays from 12:00 – 1:00 p.m. Our most recent Lunchtime Art Break featured Asheville residents and artists Hoss Haley and Gabriel Shaffer. Both artists engaged in dialogue and answered questions with participants about their work.

Haley has two featured works in the Museum: the lighting installations in the Museum’s newly renovated Atrium and a large-scale sculpture titled Cycle. Haley’s light installation design takes what the artist calls a “structural approach” that is more reductive than minimalistic. Haley spoke of how his biggest challenge with the light fixtures was balancing the ideas of the lighting installation as both a functional light fixture and a work of art. His large enameled steel sculpture, Cycle, was chosen as the inaugural site-specific art installation for the Museum’s new East Wing Artworks Project Space, or artist project space. The sculpture will remain on view through the end of the calendar year before becoming part of the Museum’s Permanent Collection.

Gabriel Shaffer, the artist behind a large-scale graffiti art mural in the Museum’s Atrium titled The Writing on the Pharaoh’s Wall, referred to his graffiti work as having raw characteristics, as an art form commonly thought of as being completed without commission or permission. But in contrast, Shaffer’s mural was especially commissioned by the Museum for the public restrooms in the new Atrium. The Museum recognized a prime opportunity to showcase the talent of a local artist in the space, and to highlight the evolution of graffiti as an art form increasingly utilized in the professional art world.

Shaffer spoke of the local elements reflected in his work, noting the challenge of depicting the community using only a few images. The artist combined images inspired by local music, literary references (Thomas Wolfe), break dancing and street culture, ultimately tying the scenes together with the common thread of what Shaffer described as “the town’s relationship with art deco”.

In his artist statement Shaffer writes,

“The mural is inspired by multiple elements, the predominant influence being the quilts of Gees Bend Alabama. In addition to the quilts being extremely forward thinking and beautiful, they have also become somewhat of a national treasure. Because of my extensive experience with folk and outsider art, I have had the pleasure of viewing these quilts, and have found their arrangements, use of color and recycled fabric to be reminiscent of abstract hieroglyphics.”

Shaffer spoke of the collaborative nature of his mural, which reflects the diverse talent of several fellow graffiti artists from the community who worked closely with Shaffer to complete the installation, demonstrating a collaborative, quilt-like process. He spoke of several artists on the forefront of Asheville’s street art scene, mentioning Ruiner, Sinker, Mom’s Crew, Graffiti Masons, and the B Team, to name a few.

Shaffer’s intent was to create an open narrative with the mural, allowing viewers to interpret the work for themselves. He felt that this characteristic would allow an additional stream of consciousness to emerge in his work.

Commenting on the unusual balance of showing graffiti art within a traditional museum setting, Gabriel described the delicate issues surrounding the production of graffiti and street art, often perceived as being produced illegally. When visitors questioned the artist about the purity of the mural as true graffiti, he described the mural as a “borderline” example, commenting that graffiti may be less offensive to the viewer in this case specifically because it was a legally commissioned work of art.

Always striving to bring new, enlightening and inspiring experiences with American art to the surrounding community, the Museum warmly welcomed the opportunity to showcase such cutting edge work in a safe, public forum that allows for greater dialogue around the changing role of both art and producer in the realm of graffiti art.

For the second part of the Art Break, artist Hoss Haley spoke with guests about his large-scale sculpture adorning the Museum’s new Artworks Project Space. Having worked in sculpture on an increasingly large scale for more than three decades, the artist’s main resource for the site-specific sculpture installation was enameled steel from area scrap yards.

Haley spoke of how his relationship with the scrap yard over the years has acted as an indicator of economics, witnessing over time a correlation between the current state of the economy and the changing type and quantity of materials coming in and out of scrap yards.

Haley also defined his recycling as being “green before being green was cool.” This habit of wanting to recycle, in addition to his habit of coiling things up—such as wadded paper thrown into a trash bin—has emerged in his art as well. Haley particularly brought attention to the symbolism of “wadding”. Wadding has become a natural human action to express an object’s transition from a resource to waste. However, in practical circumstances, disposing of a material in such a way only takes up more space and density. This idea of wadding could be seen as an ultimate act of declaring something as waste.

Through Cycle, Haley observed the subconscious symbolism of recycling and waste. The artist built special machinery to create large-scale recycled enameled metal pieces representing the appearance of paper “wadded in [his] hand”. Haley spoke of his adventure into the scrap yard as a form of “post-apocalyptic hunting”, using the term “field dressing” when referring to himself and his team of assistants, describing the process of seeking our discarded washing machines and “ripping [them] open and throwing the guts out”, taking only the “skins” or outer shell of the machines.

Expanding on the symbolism of material waste and economic concerns brought to the viewer’s attention through Cycle Haley also spoke of the relatively short life span of today’s washing machines—only two years on average. Being either too expensive to service or simply out of date, it has become common practice to discard machines and purchase new ones at an increasing rate. Such fast turnover has made it nearly impossible for metal recycling plants, such as those in Spartanburg, to keep pace. This was a revelation to Haley in his creative process.

In his artist statement Haley writes,

“For decades the scrap yard has been a major source of both raw material and inspiration. As the consumer demand for cheaper products increases, the quality of the products decreases, as does the life span of the goods…Cycle became a way to exaggerate the idea of ‘tossing away’ and to demonstrate the precariousness of this act. In the end there was a satisfying moment in the process when the castoffs became commentary.”

Lunchtime Art Breaks are often not only educational and insightful, but also brimming with humorous undertones and fascinating commentary from the very artists whose works are displayed in the Museum, offering visitors a unique view into the thought process and ideas behind a work of art. During this tour, Haley demonstrated the playful nature of his work, picking up one of the remarkably lightweight balls making up Cycle, and acting as if to climb the sculpture (both of which are not permissible for visitors to the Museum).

In addition to these humorous actions, Haley also commented on the earlier iterations of Cycle, such as his idea to combine three of the balled-up washing machines. He ultimately moved beyond the idea realizing that, “they just ended up looking like snowmen.” Haley concluded his discussion of Cycle by mentioning his more current twist of the Cycle series. Now, he is making the recycled enameled steel balls out of car and truck hoods from the late 1970s and earlier. The new series in progress has more color than this installation of Cycle and is designed to hang on the walls versus being structured in sculpture form.

For more information about Hoss Haley, please visit For information on Gabriel Shaffer, visit