Several years ago in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, artist Mitchell Lonas laid eyes on something of such uncanny beauty, he has never forgotten it: a trio of swallows’ nests, which the birds had fashioned solely from horse-tail hairs. The nests, each a different color, were so improbable in their architectural intricacy and gossamer sheen, they filled Lonas with the inspiration to transmute common natural phenomena such as nests, feathers, and trees into the stuff of aesthetic rapture. These motifs are central to The Wrench Series, the artist’s debut exhibition at Gallery Bienvenu. To create the works, he employs a unique process to apply paint to steel and aluminum panels.
Then, working from sketches, he uses customized cutting tools to incise the picture planes with iconic imagery, the beveled lines glinting as viewers behold the pieces from different vantages. “You walk in front of them,” he explains, “and the light travels with you. There’s a sparkle, a feeling of movement. It’s almost a fiber-optic effect.”
Lonas, who studied art history at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, was a respected portrait painter before transitioning to his current style. A portraitist’s sense of focus, line, and beauty continues to inform his new work, which is included in notable private, public, and corporate collections, among them a series of large-scale commissions for Nordstrom department stores. An avid hiker and birdwatcher, he is compelled to portray nature in ways that are both poetic and inventive. “The challenge,” he reflects, “is to create something original using unconventional materials and
The artworks’ gestural drama is tempered by a hushed, Zen-like serenity, heightened by an intuitive use of negative space that recalls Asian sumi-e brush painting. Immaculately presented with hidden cleats that make the works appear to float in front of the wall, the incised paintings have a weightless, ethereal quality and a sculptural presence that is contemporary but not cold. In these semi-abstracted celebrations of the natural world, viewers will find a treasure trove of symbolisms and personal narratives, which lend themselves to extended contemplation and interpretations as varied as nature itself.
Gallery Bienvenu hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Please contact Borislava Kharalampiev, Gallery Director, or Cathy Bienvenu, for additional information or visit the gallery website at www.gallerybienvenu.com.