For some to create is the only way to survive. Within all the changes that are molding Asheville into some sort of TRAVEL BLOG’S wet dream there is still, at the core,what makes this city unique. Still. Creative people making their voices heard. People making their mark here and beyond the city limits. Somewhere further. Voices that are very alive and pushing us toward that better future we all strive for. From the blossoming fashion scene, to the hallmark music interlaced among the arts, Asheville is still on it’s way to giving the world these new Americana-laced cultural gifts. Visual representations of what fuels our collective hearts, minds and souls.
Before we get started here a side note: I ate and helped out with the Blue Bus. I discussed the future and other topics on the “back porch” of Malaprops. Saw a couple shows at the Pink House. Wrote letters to the editors of the Asheville Global Report. They were published, by those amazing champions of truth. I played shows at the Asheville Community Resource Center and Vincent’s Ear. These were all Culturally relevant, vital and sad to say archived institutions of Asheville. Fucking slipped thru our fingers. Our voices are not nearly done. So listen up and observe. ALL RESPECT DUE.
On a recent and beautiful Asheville morning, I made my way from an undisclosed secret location to the outskirts of downtown. I was en route to meet up with my friend and invisible ‘mediaographer.’ His preferred manner of travel. We grabbed some pick me up from Izzy’s Coffee Den and traversed thru the winding roads passed the River Art’s District to Spiderbrush. The stomping grounds and living art home of Mr. Gabriel Shaffer. We took a brief tour of this mystical mountain top country home that he shares with some other artistic minds. Then there was Ned, a giant mythological dog, who keeps watch over the bountiful lands of deep mountainous horizons. The view. Panorama-magnificence. Reminds me of another reason why I absolutely love Asheville. The other is because of people like Gabriel Shaffer. A man who approaches his art like a fighter trains for a bout. “Not a monk” [GS] by any means but he spends a lot of time in the studio. A fine integration of work and play. The walls are covered with local and not-so-local artists. This place is oozing with glossy creative juices. Better mind my footing. Maybe should’ve worn my boots.
Enters Asheville Contemporary Artist Gabriel Shaffer.
Artists often surrender when surrounded by the knick knacks that feed their creative process. Asheville Contemporary artist Gabriel is beyond no exception. He has effectively made any corner of a typical home into a studio or gallery showcase. Even the dining room and the garage were littered with supplies. Always more into the breach, dear friends. Tools of the trade. A man after my heart when he presents some new sketches for a hip-hop series of nostalgic bass beat gravity. Legends. RZA, KRS-ONE, 2-PAC, BIGGIE, ODB. Bunches of these dudes. Oh, and a little side note, one of the sketches for a cat named Dangeruss has made it’s way to the cover of a mix tape! That is some pretty instant props.
GP: I have never quite figured out how to survive the way I would like to with my music and my art. That is I make music and art but I am juggling them. It seems that most people I know, who have been successful at their craft, have focused on one thing.
GS:Yeah I had to drop a few things. I only wrote before I ever started painting. I remember specifically making the decision after I moved to Chicago. Being there for a couple months and observing what was going on in the scene and around the city. At that time i was still working and had a “regular” job. I had to use my [own] time as much as I could. I thought, you know, I don’t know shit about painting. I knew what I saw from being around my mom, specifically folk art styles.
GP: Your mom was a prominent folk artist right?
GS: She still is…(Gabriel is the son of Cher Shaffer). She has been making art since, well longer than I have been alive. She was doing up until I was in about the fifth grade. Mostly paintings and sculptures in the classic southern folk art styles. Stuff with Biblical subject matter: share croppers. My grandmother was full blood Cherokee. My Mom was doing memory paintings based on growing up around share croppers in rural southern Georgia. The early stuff was what you would expect from the 70’s-80’s Folk art then. But my mom had a near death experience. When she came back from this she changed frequencies. When she began creating again it was along the lines of ART BRUT, EUROPEAN OUTSIDER ART, GERMAN EXPRESSIONISM, THE COBRA MOVEMENT. I mean we were living in West Virginia at the time, we had no idea of this world it was just naturally emanating thru her. So when I was growing up I spent time in her studio or my dad’s office. They shared the top floor. (Gabriel’s Dad was a boxing historian) So i remember going to my mom’s shows. She had an agent my whole life and i remember there being other kinds of art. The Folk stuff wasn’t regarded by contemporary artists as being valid and I remember paintings being made fun of. There was a time when Folk Art just was not regarded in the same way as other forms.
GP: Now it is one of the most sought after styles of art by collectors around the world. GS: It has only existed for a certain amount of time. And that time is almost done. There are only a few remaining American old schoolers left.
GP: My dad recently took a piece of wood from this pile of scraps my older brother was working on and he wrote something on it and nailed it to a tree as you are coming up the driveway. I was like,”You realize, you just became a folk artist.” GS: Yeah and that is the stuff that I have always taken. I was going to different artists homes while growing up and seeing the environments they lived in and surrounded themselves in. People like Howard Finster, James Earl Jennings, certain folks like that whose art covers their entire property … RA Miller, Clyde Jones….
GP: So you moved to Chicago at some point…when was that? GS: Around 2002, I traveled like a lot of kids from ’93 to like 2000-ish. I moved to Wilmington from Cleveland I went there because I didn’t know anyone. I wanted to take what i was going to be doing creatively seriously… and i was kinda “spun out”.. GP: But you did create art? GS: Well i always was creating yeah but my intent was in my writing. I always wrote. I won an award when I was a kid. I thought people would pay attention to my writing. I would draw and paint because it was around. You know? Like if you grew up around a family that all played football, you’re going to reach for the ball. So 2002, i painted these three paintings and I had an epiphany. I can’t describe it any other way. It didn’t involve any drugs or psychedelics other than maybe smoking weed. But I don’t consider that to be crazy at all …
GP:Breathe of Life.
GS: Exactly. So it was strong and overwhelming and I knew that I wanted to make visual art for, maybe, my entire life. But I’m not closing myself off to any future possibilities. I was specifically in Wilmington cause I didn’t know anybody and I knew about folk art. But I was discovering Outsider Art too. This lady I met had a gallery. She knew of my mom and she had this library in the back. Filled with books and stacks and stacks of Raw Vision. (One of the premier Outsider Art magazines) I realized my family was part of this movement. She told me i needed to go to Chicago and Chicago blew me open. It was a very big supporter of Outsider Art.
GP: It’s interesting within the growing art scene in America, cause even still on one hand we now have this quote whatever “street art” and people want it. They want to see it. They want to buy it. Yet on the other hand it’s still alienated and looked down upon.
GS: American art is still finding it’s identity. The rest of the world is still having a hard time accepting the seriousness of us because of how young we still are. America as an art culture … abstract expressionism was the first sort of opening, where the American public accepted anything outside of landscapes and portraits. America since then, wether they are conscious of it or not, have been and are on a quest to find an identity. American Folk Art is one of the purest American art forms.
GP: You do a lot of installations…and most recently you did work with Facebook.
GS: Commercial stuff yeah….
GP: So when you do these type of gigs do you get to just go from your head? What’s that process like?
GS: Not exactly. Let’s see. They are all different and it depends on the client. Sometimes they say “do whatever you want,” well even in that I am still going to be mindful of the space or the event that my art is going to serve. I think it would be a little selfish to just pay no attention to that. Wether it’s a restaurant or workspace, what is going on day to day with employees or patrons, I try to come up with a general notion of what makes sense in that particular space and go from that. From that allow the ideas to form. The ones that magnetically speak to me are the ones that challenge me technically. That’s what I did for the Facebook Mural.
GP: Right. Ever since then I see you. You are out there, showing and making moves. We have such a diverse amount of visual artists. So many styles happening and I only see our scene growing. I wonder sometimes what we can do to build more bridges thru the community. To break down some of the things that maybe hold it back from a better future.
GS: I see competition, partly from growing up around art and athletics, that I view it as something that ultimately makes you a better artist. It makes you a better performer and a better human being if you are paying attention. If you are paying attention to the game and the lessons its trying to teach you. At this point, I really want to see Asheville get more exposure in larger arenas. I would like to see a Santa Fe-ish phenomena. The Asheville Contemporary Artist scene is going to play a major role in realizing that kind of future. I suspect. Upon my meeting with him a couple things became very clear to me: He is actually not David Cross impersonating some fictitious obscure artist. Gabriel Shaffer is like his art. He conjures up positive feelings thru use of imagery and bright inspiring colors. He pulls you in and, even in these strange days here in post-apocalyptic Asheville, gives a refreshing escape thru his art and his hospitality. See more of Gabriel Shaffer’s work.