In the last month, the Asheville Area Arts Council’s The Refinery Creator Space has been covered with birds, but they aren’t the egg-laying variety you normally find downtown. These birds are the latest artistic creations by Warren Wilson College art professor and muralist Lara Nguyen.
“This is my first large exterior mural,” Nguyen said. “I’m doing it as a small-business owner. I’m doing it as an artist. I’m doing it as a teacher. I’m doing it as a part of the community.”
Nguyen, who received the college’s 2015-16 outstanding teaching award, applied for the commission knowing she wanted to create a mural that represented the Coxe Avenue building’s occupants – Asheville Area Arts Council, Asheville Darkroom and Local Cloth, among other artisans.
“This building is a creator space, and I thought: What do artists do? They woo the public,” she said. “So, how do you attract people to a space like this and get them to look at the art and participate in events?”
Her answer revealed itself through the work of another artist.
“I thought about bowerbirds, which I was introduced to through artist Andy Goldsworthy, who uses the birds as inspiration for his own work. Male bowerbirds court females by creating a bower that’s surrounded by objects with specific colors they have collected. The bower is not a nest but a small enclosure that’s not functional except as a stage to attract a mate,” she said.
With this thought in mind, Nguyen created her mural, which is called “Bower Power.” The design features two larger than life bowerbirds in their habitat in front of a sky blue background. The artist says the birds are a perfect match for the building because “we are creating this bower, and we’re trying to bring the community in so they can take part in this visual arts scene.”
Nguyen completed the mural through her company Stone Cloud Studio, and her partner, Todd Frahm, assisted with the project. Artist Ian Wilkinson also provided technical assistance, and numerous community members, including Warren Wilson College students, helped with painting.
In addition to the new downtown Asheville mural, Nguyen also created a piece for Warren Wilson College’s Jensen Building featuring prominent figures from the school’s past. She also recently exhibited at the ArtPrize competition in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and locally at the Tryon Painters and Sculptors gallery.
The Asheville Area Arts Council officially unveils “Bower Power” Sept. 29, at The Refinery’s grand opening. For more information, visit ashevillearts.com/event/the-refinery-grand-opening.