Friday, October 30, 2009


Skip Rohde, who is currently serving reconstruction projects in Iraq as a civilian employee of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is a many-faceted person. One facet is artistic insight. Another facet is an analytic mind. A third facet is a dedication to his country. A fourth facet is a commitment to serve humanity around the world. Each facet has an internal coherence that appears sufficient to describe a successful life, but we must consider all facets to fully appreciate this admirable artist.

Rohde’s artistic facet showed up early. Skip’s father was a career officer in the United States Navy. His parents found it necessary to provide him with butcher paper for his large-scale crayon artwork. Otherwise, his art would appear on the walls of the many houses they occupied.

Rohde’s analytic facet dominated when he chose to study engineering at Tennessee Technological University. His artistic facet resurfaced and he transferred to Memphis State University as a fine arts major, but he was uncomfortable with undisciplined “touchy-feely” instruction. His view of art is different. “Painting requires an analytic side, and then a lot of trusting your gut,” he has explained. He wanted the formal technique. He returned to Tennessee Tech and completed an engineering degree.

His patriotism surfaced upon graduation. He became a Naval officer, spent several years at sea and then transferred to Naval Intelligence. He studied Russian at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California and later served in San Diego (where he met his wife Janis, also the child of a Navy family) and other locations including Misawa, Japan.

His service to humanity began during his 22-year naval career. He was a peacekeeper in Grenada and in Sarajevo. Reflecting on Sarajevo, Rohde says, “I think a lot about photojournalist James Nachtwey, who produces photos with a viewpoint. I want to make pictures that make a difference.” From Sarajevo is his “Grand Re-Opening,” demonstrating hope through the gaily-colored awnings at the outdoor restaurant, alongside jarring signs of artillery damage and a yellow tape indicating that the building in the left foreground might fall down at any moment.

Retiring in 1999, Skip and Janis moved to our area. Skip added a BFA in painting (UNC-Asheville) to his BS and MBA, and began working in a roomy and inviting studio in the River Arts District where he creates narrative art. An early critic of the Iraqi War (which he states was promoted through the flawed use of hand-picked raw intelligence against the advice of the professional intelligence community), he drew notice locally with his Bush League political satire series. At the same time, he visited local retirement communities and painted the Old Times series that depicts aging in America. “The Dancers” shows a real couple that met late in life. Dancing dangerously (she in heels) on the side of a craggy hill, the painting is an appreciation of late love.

All these facets then came together, when Rohde was asked to assist in redevelopment in Iraq. Not only did he go, but he later extended his tour and will not be back to stay in Western North Carolina until April 2010.

Recently, he visited home, wife and friends during a two-week furlough. I caught up with him dusting cobwebs from the large windows of his Cotton Mill studio, giving his two dogs the pleasure of visiting the location in which they have spent many happy hours, and stretching a couple of small format paintings that he had brought home in his luggage. He told me “It feels good to be slinging paint again.” One new painting shows a coffee shop with pastries in a display case and a sign “Please Keep Weapons Away from Glass.” An acrylic entitled “Waiting” depicts a woman and her son awaiting action on a visa request.

Commenting on the effect on his art of several years spent improving the infrastructure of a backward and corrupt country, Skip says, “My approach will not change at all, but my subject matter will.” He mused that after he returns in April for good, it will take months or even years for the full experience to be incorporated into his art.

Rohde’s art is direct, clear and concise, leaving little room for ambiguity. “But there is a subversive element that will always come through in my work,” he says. Subversive, perhaps, in the eyes of those who believe in “my country right or wrong,” but profoundly patriotic to those of us who believe in the constant struggle to preserve the best of American democracy while improving the lot of humanity elsewhere. Skip Rohde is a remarkable human being, performing remarkable service and creating remarkable art.

“Grand Re-Opening” 24”x30” oil on canvas © Skip Rohde
“The Dancers” 60”x40” oil on canvas © Skip Rohde
“Waiting” 31”x23” acrylic on canvas © Skip Rohde
© 2009 Edward C. McIrvine
Arts Spectrum column #457
October 30, 2009

Friday, October 23, 2009


Western North Carolina may not be Vermont, but our fall colors are certainly superior to what most people see in their Southeastern hometowns. When “leaf time” arrives the bed-and-breakfasts, inns, restaurants and boutiques greet daytrippers from the Piedmont, the weekend crowd from neighboring states, and a liberal dose of tourists from Florida or further afield.

Not surprisingly, galleries and artists want to take commercial advantage of the added traffic of the “leafers.” So the Gallery Guild of Henderson County, in collaboration with the Arts Council of Henderson County, fixed the dates of their “Henderson County Open Studio Tour” as October 10-11 this year. That posed a problem for me, because the “Church Street Art and Craft Show” in downtown Waynesville was held on that Saturday and twenty-seven artists from Black Mountain, Swannanoa, Fairview and East Asheville participated in the “East of Asheville Studio Tour” on the same weekend.

I had to make a choice, and Henderson County won out this year. Having formerly lived in Hendersonville, I am familiar with many of the 26 artists and all ten of the galleries that participated in this year’s self-guided tour. It was too much for one day, so I hopped and skipped about, briefly touching base at familiar territory but also paying attention to new artists and artists who have made recent changes in location or style.

Dave Goldman is an interesting recent arrival in our area. Formerly an oceanographer, he left mid-career in order to paint full time. His work for several years has been primarily “imaginary landscapes and seascapes.” His work can be seen at Number 7 Arts, the co-operative art gallery in Brevard, and at the ®evolving Arts Gallery in Hendersonville. His landscapes are very well painted oils, but I find them a little commercial, intended to appeal to the buyers he meets at Southeastern art festivals that are a regular part of his sales effort. Personally, I was more attracted to his recent mixed media collages, which use darker colors and incorporate found objects such as chains and wires. They are edgier paintings that seem more personal to the artist.

Sue Fazio recently made a major commitment to encaustic painting. If you are familiar only with her earlier oil paintings, I recommend that you consult to see images of her recent work. Fazio is a painter who continues to show admirable development, each year incorporating more of her own sensibility into her painting.

I spent a liberal amount of time that Saturday taking in the quite wonderful “Chair Show” at Hand in Hand Gallery in Flat Rock. This exhibit will stay up through November 29 and is worth a trip. Fine crafters David Voorhees and Molly Sharp, owners of Hand in Hand, invited other crafters and selected artists to submit entries that incorporated the “chair” theme, and the resulting exhibit is full of works that are bubbling with humanity. There are practical chairs such as Mona Grabon’s “Painted Chair” and Kevin Felderhoff’s “Mountain Laurel and Rhododendron Root” bench. There are useless but charming chairs such as Del Holt’s “Beach Chair” filled with sand and an attached starfish. There are photographs of chairs such as Robin Smith’s “Primary Colors.” There is jewelry incorporating tiny swings and chairs by Pegi Pike and Laura Dahl. There are paintings such as Mike Gilboy’s “Power Nap.”

To my mind the finest entries are two “haiku” constructions by Henry Mitchell. Each construction incorporates wood pieces silhouetting a chair, and each includes a haiku, written out in stylized wooden letters that are in the Roman alphabet but shaped to appear like Asian characters. The chair silhouette itself also resembles a Kanji. In “Rocker” illustrated at the right, the second line of the haiku is “arc to arc from rest to rest,” a wonderful evocation of a rocking chair. I will leave the other two lines as an exercise for the reader to puzzle over.

That is what filled my day on Saturday, October 10. What about Sunday? I spent October 11 looking at the fall foliage up on the Blue Ridge Parkway. After all, I moved to Western North Carolina not just for the beauty of the arts but also for the beauty of nature.

“Living Well” © Dave Goldman
“Rocker” © Henry Mitchell
© 2009 Edward C. McIrvine
Arts Spectrum column #456
October 23, 2009

Friday, October 16, 2009


A new art gallery has just opened in Asheville. Entitled the Echo Gallery, it is a co-op run by its six founding members, all of whom are already well established in working studios in Asheville. These six now seek a retail presence for their work and that of invited guest artists.

Photo artist Laurie McCarriar’s “Reed Creek Flow” is shown to the right. This is typical of her works, which often dwell on the verge, at the interface between water and land, on the French Broad River and its tributaries. McCarriar is a River District Artist, as are painters Genie Maples and Barbara Fisher, both also represented at the new gallery. Ms. Fisher’s new paintings demonstrate a considerable break with her style of recent years, much less geometric and with interesting new gestures. This is an exciting departure by a talented established local artist. A new Fisher painting is shown below.

The other three founding members of Echo Gallery are fine crafters. Lori Theriault describes herself as a ceramist, while Anna Kolosike is distinctly a ceramic sculptor. Susan Webb Lee is a textile artist. The quality of their work is exemplified by “Tree Platter” by Theriault and “Words to Live By,” a recent piece by Lee, both shown accompanying this text.

Yes, a new art gallery has just opened in Asheville, and that is notable for two reasons.

Firstly, it is notable when a gallery opens in the current economy. Gallery retrenchment and gallery closures have been more frequent than gallery openings. Fine art and fine crafts are considered by most consumers to be discretionary purchases, and discretionary spending is definitely hurting in the wake of the financial downturn.

The current atmosphere of uncertainty in the United States is a fallout of the fiscal misconduct and greed demonstrated by leaders of our under-regulated financial system. I was recently in Toronto, where construction proceeds apace in both commercial and not-for-profit sectors. A recent $180M opera house with modernist architecture by Diamond and Schmitt and this year’s Frank Gehry-designed expansion of the Art Gallery of Ontario are the pride of the city. What is the difference between Toronto and, say, Miami? Canadian banks have much higher reserve requirements than American banks, were unable to play frivolously with our money, and therefore have been hurt far less than their American counterparts by the bursting bubble.

Secondly, it is notable that the new gallery is not downtown. The co-op members have chosen a very attractive storefront location in Town Square at Biltmore Park, near the upscale housing development. Whether such a location can generate the clientele and sales that a downtown gallery commands is an open question. The demographics of South Asheville suggest that Town Square may prove just as attractive as Biltmore Village for boutiques and galleries, and these have certainly proven viable in Biltmore Village.

However, tourists visit both downtown Asheville and Biltmore Village on a regular basis. Foot traffic is well established. Whether a new South Asheville shopping area can attract tourists and casual foot traffic, only time will tell. Being close to the new Barnes & Noble bookstore should help.

The Echo Gallery will have a Grand Opening on October 23 from 6:00 to 9:00 pm. The gallery is located at 8 Town Square Boulevard, Suite 160. Call (828) 687-7761 or visit their website at for more information.

“Reed Creek Flow” © Laurie McCarriar
“Big Bang” © Barbara Fisher
“Tree Platter” © Lori Theriault
“Words to Live By” © Susan Webb Lee
© 2009 Edward C. McIrvine
Arts Spectrum column #455
October 16, 2009

Friday, October 9, 2009


The research and writing that goes into New York Times obituaries is exceptional. They are capsule biographies. When someone dies whose path has crossed mine, I nearly always discover something new and interesting about her. So it was that I read with interest Allan Kozinn’s 600-word obit of Wilma Cozart Fine (who died in Harrison, NY on September 21 aged 82) and his much longer appreciation of Alicia de Larrocha (who died in Barcelona, Spain on September 25 aged 86). In the current sorry state of journalism, only the New York Times has the presence to use their music critics to write obituaries of people who figured in the musical world.

I met Alicia de Larrocha only once, although I heard her several times as soloist with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. Music Director David Zinman was on a quest to conduct every Mozart piano concerto. Over several years, he used many fine soloists. I remember Andras Schiff, Emmanuel Ax, Rudolf Firkušný, André Tchaikovsky, Peter Serkin and Gary Graffman playing Mozart. Others may have included Martha Argerich, Garrick Ohlsson and Andre-Michel Schub, but definitely included Alicia de Larrocha. On one visit, she asked to have dinner with board members and supporters of the orchestra. The “library” of the Rochester Club was the scene, and the diminutive de Larrocha (she was 4’9”) was a most gracious host. She circulated during cocktails, showing great personal interest in her eighteen guests and then held court at dinner. She was the sole focus.

As for her performances, Allan Kozinn states it well: “it was in music that demanded focus, compactness and subtle coloristic breadth that Ms. de Larrocha excelled. Her Mozart performances (were) carefully detailed and light in texture...” Many aficionados will remember her for her fine performances of the music of Albéniz and Granados; I treasure most my memories of her Mozart.

I never met Wilma Cozart Fine, but our paths crossed on the campus of the University of Minnesota. Mrs. Fine was a record producer who, along with her husband C. Robert Fine, ran the classical division of Mercury Records in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. Going to class, I would walk past the back of Northrup Memorial Auditorium, then the home of the Minneapolis Symphony (now the Minnesota Orchestra), and see several semitrailer trucks loaded with specialized equipment. I would know that Antal Dorati and his orchestra were recording.

Those were the days when Mercury became famous for the quality of its records, using the term “Living Presence” borrowed from a Howard Taubman record review that praised the Fines. A graduate of the University of North Texas in music education and business administration, Mrs. Fine had served as Antal Dorati’s personal secretary at the Dallas Symphony and then the Minneapolis Symphony. Maestro Dorati was highly interested in the technology of recording, and embraced the Fines’ use of new techniques that included microphone technology and the use of 35-millimeter motion picture film to replace magnetic tape, giving their master recordings a remarkable permanence.

In the 1990’s, Mrs. Fine came out of retirement in order to bring back to life some of her 1950’s vacuum tubes and interface the ancient front-end equipment to modern digital recording. She oversaw the remastering of the Mercury Living Presence recordings onto compact disc. We will always be indebted to Wilma Cozart Fine for the quality of her recordings of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Detroit Symphony and Howard Hanson’s Eastman Rochester Orchestra as well as her Minneapolis recordings. The very best surviving master recordings of the 1950’s and 1960’s are those of Mercury; all other companies’ master recordings have faded with their magnetic tapes.

© 2009 Edward C. McIrvine
Arts Spectrum column #454
October 9, 2009

Friday, October 2, 2009


Last week’s column drew more comments than anything I have written in years. There seems no doubt among my readers that a Western North Carolina author will win the Nobel Prize in Literature or that Santa Fe will eventually be known as “the Asheville of the West” (although my forecast that visitors to New Mexico will have to bring their own water drew a wry comment that there would be an option of buying water from Coca-Cola). The bulk of the discussion focused on two of my many predictions:

1. The importance of viewing “original art” will diminish as copying technology is refined. Three-dimensional digital scanning will allow texture and brush strokes to be recorded in their entirety. A marking technology will be developed so that these “depth” features can be reproduced in prints.

2. The “genuine originals” of art will be placed in vaults, and will be of value only to scholars and the same collectors who value the handwritten manuscript of a novel.

Robin Rector Krupp pointed out the difficulty of reproducing folk art, where the original may be on tarpaper, corrugated cardboard or reclaimed shingles.

I got an email from Daniel Smith, who paints “hyper realistic original oils” and is represented at Red Step Artworks on 3rd Avenue just off historic Main Street in Hendersonville. He queried: “I wonder now how they will be able to "Capture/Scan" the energy that went into the painting. Although the 3-d repros will look, physically, like the original, some viewers, not knowing they are looking at a repro, will ‘feel’ that something is missing.”

This got me thinking about the noun “energy.” Artists use that word to denote “psychic energy” or “creative energy,” a concept that is alien to the scientist but meaningful to other artists. Perhaps creative energy taps into Carl Jung’s “collective unconscious” or perhaps it taps into the primordial quantum entanglement that caused everything in the universe to be part of one master wave function ever since the Big Bang. Whatever the mysterious entity is, there is little doubt that the act of creation leaves behind more than the marks on paper, board or canvas (or shingle, for that matter). We may as well call it creative energy; it is just as real in 2009 as the neutrino was when Wolfgang Pauli posited a particle with zero mass, zero charge and zero angular momentum in 1930.

Daniel and I had a conversation about creative energy. What is there that cannot be scanned? In his art, there is often a pencil drawing under the paint, and sometimes another painting under the new one. I thought of Willem de Kooning continuing to paint on a canvas that his fellow artists thought was finished, until eight months later every square millimeter of the image that they had admired had been covered over.

More profoundly, there can be a separation between conception and execution. The right brain has an artistic idea. The left brain participates in executing the idea, perhaps using freehand drawing or a grid to get started, and then later brush strokes, palette knife and fingers. Artistic energy was expended in the ideation, but more was added in the execution. We talked on, considering examples where the creative energy of two artists becomes combined. I cited Skip Rohde’s powerful “In Memoriam,” that uses Michelangelo’s “Pieta” as its model for an image of a dead soldier on an American flag on his mother’s lap.

Beyond these considerations is the simple fact that the artist has touched the canvas of the original. What did he leave there that cannot be reproduced? His energy. It is a mystery, but I accept it is real. I thank Daniel Smith for bringing this to my attention.

“Caboose” and “Robot” © Daniel Smith
© 2009 Edward C. McIrvine
Arts Spectrum column #453
October 2, 2009