When a new gallery called Aster Hall opened last year, we expected something fancy, like a converted church or a historic site with high ceilings and tasseled tapestries. A place for Vikings to drink mead or a lodge where masons wrought their rituals.
Instead, the spot is named for store owner and jewelry designer Angela Hall. Aster's a retail space on King Street that sells clothing, jewelry, photographs, secondhand records, and art by Ishmael, Michael Morrison, and Katie Leonard. There's a lot to see in the modest space, and after a rush of tourists, it looks more like a rummage sale than an art gallery. We were pleased to see that the stock had been streamlined to make way for Points of Origin by Atlanta artist Alex Leopold, who has created several new mixed media pieces for the exhibition. They're pretty pop art pieces which often include found objects (keys, cutlery, packaging) that give them a funky folk-art edge.
Aster has been displaying Leopold's work since it opened in mid-2009. He has a following in Atlanta and is gaining one here — large enough to warrant his exhibition. Most of the work is small, but Leopold makes good use of each modest square panel. He adds bold colors, collage, and drawn or painted images, then gives each panel an epoxy glaze. A bird motif runs through a lot of his work, partly because of their spiritual symbolism and also because he was looking for something simple to depict when he was starting out. The birds, flora, and predominant blues and greens indicate Leopold's affinity with nature.
The artist was raised in Irmo, S.C. The Columbia suburb had plenty of countryside for young Leopold to explore. As an adult, he spent 10 years pursuing a music career. You can almost hear a phantom soundtrack when you look at these panels, because the music and the emotions it evokes are a strong aspect of his life and art. Reading the text on one of his pieces is like finding an orphaned song lyric: "All because of you," says one line, "all because of you." One-word titles give many of the pieces a pop-music punch; vinyl records are adhered to the latest additions to hammer home the message.
The elements are diverse. Some of the art has several pictures pasted onto one panel, but the artist gives them enough room to breathe and be effective. Eduardo Paolozzi-style pinups loll on bold red backgrounds (as in "Eight"). A key and a lock invite you to touch "Sing" and read the label on its O'Jays record. A cheeky rooster struts in "Look What I Got." The London Eye and Houses of Parliament add an exotic flavor to "Wish." At 36" x 36", it's one of the largest pieces in the gallery. "On These Still Wings" is the most striking in terms of size and color choices — its gray and black background give it a sepulcher grimness and the glaze reflects viewers' faces, effectively making them part of the art. "Hope Is" plays with the panel shape, placing a bird sculpture near the top of a tall 9" x 32" background to suggest flight.
Leopold describes his new series as an experiment with an emphasis on complimentary colors. His trademark cool gray-blue appears in some of the art. Leopold's eclectic collection is held together by the recurring birds and other repetitions; the lyrics, evil-looking Southern goats, old forks with twisted tines, and scraps of photos and handwritten notes give the art a more personal feel.
This kind of mixed media work can be found elsewhere, and the themes of wishing and romance are bubblegum thin, but Leopold's passion and industriousness shine through and make this show worth a spin. Most importantly, the art improves the interior of Aster Hall, and we're glad that the gallery has devoted so much wall space to a promising artist.