In the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains, alongside the French Broad River, stands a long, brick building. 120 years ago, craftspeople tanned leather and fabricated belts there. In the decades that followed, artisans used the building to spin and weave textiles, warehouse tobacco, and craft candles. Today, professional artists in Asheville have taken over and we’re taking a look at the artists in the studio.
Home to the galleries and studios of over 60 artists and artisans, Riverview Station on Lyman Street in Asheville’s River Arts District overflows with creative energy. On a drizzly afternoon in March, I had the pleasure of walking the halls and surrounding myself with enough artistic creations to overwhelm anyone.
And it’s not just the finished creations that inspire. It’s the work in progress, the smell of wet paints and the sounds of brayers on woodcuts. It’s the opportunity to talk with artists about their work, their process, their frustrations and triumphs.
Judy Smith, Triple Vision Studio and Unique Materials
“Have you ever gotten on the Blue Ridge Parkway and chased the sunset?” she asks me. Alas, that was not something I’ve done, but Judy Smith is excited to show me some of her latest photos. Brilliant reds and yellows stream across the sky, over deep blue layers of peaks and valleys. She shows me pictures of the cars parked all around her. She laughs, “When it’s time, you just have to stop and take it in.”
What first caught my eye while walking by her studio was a sign reading “Solar Printed Fabric Masks.” I have to know more, and Smith explains happily. She paints fabrics with light-sensitive chemicals, then exposes them to the sun, developing the fabric like a photograph.
“I’ve ruined a few printers”
The process makes a connection to nature that informs all the work displayed in the studio. Most of the photographs hanging are printed on handmade paper she creates herself. But making technology act in a way it’s not designed to work is a difficult task. “I’ve ruined a few printers,” she says with a chuckle.
Her paper isn’t reserved for photographs. She shows me a lamp she was working on, embedding botanicals such as Japanese maple and forest fern leaves to be lit from the inside.
Galen Frost Bernard’s Studio Practice: Abstracted Landscapes
I first spot Galen Frost Bernard as he wipes a bit of excess paint from a tiny brush on the wall above a canvas he paints. Thousands of such marks cover the walls of his studio, making his workspace almost as mesmerizing as the paintings themselves. Drips, palette knives, tubes of paints, buckets of gesso, and coffee mugs cover every surface, horizontal and vertical. This is an artist in his natural habitat.
For 15 years Bernard has worked from the Riverview Station. Originally from rural Virginia, he tells an anecdote about how his mother traded a cow for midwife services at his birth. Many of his works feature abstracted landscapes, dabs of colors dancing together, creating mountains, rivers, sunsets. In some paintings, mostly illegible text rises into the sky like smoke from a campfire.
“Sometimes it fuels me”
Bernard points to a mountain in one of the large paintings on the wall. “That one’s The Priest,” he says, referring to the highest peak in Nelson County where he was born. When asked whether a peak in another painting was also The Priest, he says, “I make them, and I don’t even know the answers. There’s lots of ideas and there’s lots of seeds from all these places, and then I overlap and play with them. But sometimes it leans more, or Mayan temples take over, or the vibe of Varanasi, India will be there. These places that have affected me in major ways will bubble up.”
More visitors filter in and out of the studio, and he stops his work to greet each one. I ask him how it is to work with so many people around. Whether the people walking in and out of his workspace distract from his ability to focus. After a long pause, he responds, “Sometimes it fuels me.”
Steve Trehub, Surrealistic Photography
Before even entering Steve Trehub’s studio space, I am struck by a huge photo print of a wall-sized chalkboard with the words “Before I die…” across the top. Spaces invite passers-by to pick up a piece of chalk and complete the sentence. The chalkboard used to be located on Asheville’s Biltmore Avenue, but the property owners painted over in 2019.
Trehub made the photo of the chalk wall into an interactive artwork of his own. After the original wall was no longer available, he invited gallery visitors to write on the large print he made. While most spaces are filled with positive, if sometimes cliched messages of positivity, one space has written, “Stop mass vaccine damage!” The space below reads, “Stop anti-vaxxers from killing us.” Trehub notes that this was written just months before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“All you have to do is trust your eye”
Stepping into his space I find myself awash in colors beyond reality, in scenes where light and shadow work differently than how we see. He explains to another visitor that he uses multiple exposures to create high dynamic range photos, which display details in the highlights and shadows that we could never resolve with our own eyes.
And when asked whether he knows what a photo will look like when he’s taking it, he admits that he doesn’t, that finding the final image is part of the creative process. “All you have to do is trust your eye,” he says.
Find Steve Trehub’s surrealistic photography at https://stevetrehub.com/