Alex Irvine's Ceramic Mural Art is a Three-Dimensional Experience!

The DayDreamer

Take The Daydreamer, a collaboration with artist Ian Wilkerson in the public parking garage below the downtown Aloft hotel. Mary, the subject of the Daydreamer, physically leans out of a windowsill gazing over downtown as a place where creativity flourishes. Commissioned by Asheville City Public Art and Cultural Commission, the Dreamer celebrates Asheville’s legacy of Art Deco architecture, such as the colorful terracotta and tilework onthe facade of Douglas Ellington’s downtown landmark S&W Building and City Hall.  

 

The piece is a perfect demonstration of his skills. He uses hand-sculpted figurative creations and tessellating patterns, which is the craft of arranging geometric tiles with no overlap or gaps for texture. To learn more about his fascinating and complex creative process, visit Alex’s blog: http://alexirvineceramics.blogspot.com/ 

 

“If you live somewhere and you’re going to make a piece of public art, you need to look into the local history to make it relate to its surroundings,” Alex said.

 

In fact, not only does his art interpret Asheville’s history, it also traces the arc of the flourishing public art movement. This is a scene that mirrors Irvine’s own journey—and struggles—as an artist.

 

ASHEVILLE VIA PHILLY 

 

Alex fell in love with ceramics in high school and studied at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, he graduated at the apex of the 2008 financial crisis and watched the demand for gallery quality art work crater.

 

Art school, he said, tried to push him away from his passion, craft pottery, and towards creating gallery work that catered to an elite customer base. “I have always felt weird about making work that only super wealthy people can buy,” he said.

 

At the time, his work was beginning to incorporate deeper themes, such as America’s messy racist history.

 

While the art economy tanked, gun violence in Philadelphia was surging and Alex’s sense of purpose was in flux. He needed a change, and eventually decided to pack up and move to Asheville to do a residency at the Odyssey Center for Ceramic Arts and a crash course in the history of southeastern pottery.

“Asheville felt so far away,” said Alex. The distance gave him a moment to calibrate his purpose. 

“[After the move], I feel like the content of what I was making really shifted into a more benign territory. It became more about aesthetics rather than social or political issues,” he said. 

 

He also felt that ceramics commanded greater respect in North Carolina, where clay is the official art medium of the state.

 

After completing his two year residency at Odyssee, he learned that owner Brian McCarthy was interested in commissioning a mosaic mural. “There was a crack in the door that I stuck my foot in,” said Alex. Although he had no mural experience, his life circumstances at the moment permitted him nearly unlimited time and energy to devote to art. 

 

He teamed up with accomplished ceramic artist Kathy Triplet. “Kathy is an amazing human being, really humble and open to collaboration,” he said. She also had the experience and breadth of skills for the project. And, according to Alex, they shared mutual respect. Rather than treating him as a subordinate with less experience, she accepted him as a peer. “Kathy said: ‘You do your part and I’ll do mine and we’ll make it all work together,’” he recalled.

 

Alex’s contributions were several dozen tesselating molds for the water, an ode to the floods that have historically devastated the River Arts District multiple times. He also constructed train car tiles as an homage to the railroad history of the district. The figurative sculpture wading through the flood has a cup of coffee in his hand in gratitude to the local coffee shop that gave Alex unlimited refills. 

 

“The process of making the piece was super exciting- this (was) my dream opportunity,” he said. 

 

For him, creating the mural allowed him to engage in a high level of sculpture and craft that was also a work of public art that was accessible to everyone. This was the purpose he had craved.

 

The project ultimately led to his collaboration with Ian Wilkinson on The Daydreamer.

 

Alex and Ian were a true team. “Ian is really an ingenuitive and creative problem solver. You see him as a painter but he has so many skill sets outside of painting. When a problem (came) up it was fun to make stuff up with him on the fly that served a novel function. He is a great dad as well as a great artist and hustles to support a family of five with his work,” said Alex. 

 

Unfortunately, both artists accrued a large debt due to installation and underestimating the extent of federal safety requirements required in a downtown urban setting with a pedestrian walkway. The budget for the project was $25,000 and the scaffolding alone cost $5,000. They also had to invest in expensive structural reinforcement of the piece. 

 

It was a hard lesson and highlighted a persistent challenge and frustration for Alex as he strives to create accurate estimates for his projects.

 

Money versus Art

 

In fact, money and art are often at conflict in Alex’s life. 

 

“I have a knack for not making money in art jobs,” jokes Alex. “Mural artists can easily paint a wall in a day but ceramics are so labor intensive it can take months.” The reality is that art lovers may not be willing to pay enough for the cost, labor, and creativity for a project.

 

A former professor reached out to him recently to tell him how impressed he was that Alex had become a successful artist, but Alex himself doesn’t feel pride in his accomplishments because they haven’t manifested in sufficient financial returns. He now has a family, and his priority has shifted from a focus on creating art to paying bills and building a house.

 

Earning enough isn’t the only existential challenge facing Alex and other artists.

 

He struggles with his perception that creating art can be selfish and ego-driven. “I should have joined the military, become an ambulance driver or a firefighter—someone who contributes to society,” he said.  

 

Yet public art that everyone can enjoy helps him bridge the gap between artwork and a sense of purpose. In fact, he’s contributed to the creation of one of Asheville’s most beloved local landmarks that combines his creativity, street art passion, and sense of community. 

 

Foundation Skatepark

 

When Alex moved to Asheville, he helped create the Foundation Skatepark, a communal skate park in the River Arts District. There he learned to build ramps, pipes, bridges, and bowls and created a skateable sculpture garden. He also fundraised to create a non-profit that manages and insures the park. 

 

Both of Alex’s passions- street art and skateboarding – share an outlaw renegade spirit. Both were previously illegal, and enthusiasts must scramble to find space to do what they love. The skatepark is also his favorite work of usable public art. It has become his refuge, a place to channel his creative energy, and has spun off into other professional pursuits, including designing skateparks across the country and residential concrete subcontracting. 

 

“My number one goal is to be the best dad and partner I can be, even if that feels like I’m compromising my career,” said Alex, who has lately experienced the joy of teaching his 18-month-old son to shred at the park.

 

Ultimately, his dream is to launch or join a public art company, specializing in rideable and interactive sculptures. For now, he’s focused on helping  the redesign of the Asheville Skate Park with new ledges, bowls, ramps and sculptural elements to capture the artistic spirit of Asheville and to make the park a “more iconic and an exciting place for locals and tourists to visit”.  

 

Duration
1 hour 30 minutes
Group Size
4 to 12

Mountain Mural Tour-River Arts and Downtown Asheville

Creativity abounds in Asheville and our artists love to take to the streets. Join us on a colorful urban art tour through the River Arts District and Downtown Asheville with an amazing collection of murals, graffiti, sculpture, and street art installations. You’ll learn about the creators’ stories and inspirations, local history, and the community businesses that have made Asheville a national tourist destination.

Duration
1 hour
Group Size
2 to 12

Walking Foundy Tour

Join us on a walking tour of the Foundy in the River Arts District where we learn about the only existing Street Art Gallery in Asheville and all the artists who have created graffiti and mural installations that have made our town an urban art destination.

Duration
2 hours
Group Size
Up to 14

Private Mountain Mural Tour

Take your group on a private tour and paint the town! A Mountain Mural Tour is the perfect way to spend meaningful time with your wedding party, family reunion, bachelor/bachelorette celebration, office party, or birthday pals. These tours are available 7 days a week at flexible times. If you need pick-up and drop off at your lodging an extra fee can be added based on miles from the River Arts District.

Duration
2 hours
Group Size
Up to 14

Street Art and Sips

Asheville is an amazing place to have a destination wedding and enjoy a Bachelorette or Bachelor party before the nuptials. Not to mention the perfect place to get together with your besties and enjoy the sights and flavors of this great city. Our breweries, cideries, and wine producers invest in Asheville's art culture by commissioning some of the best murals in our community. Come learn about urban art culture while you sample Asheville's best spirits. If you need pick-up and drop-off at your lodging an extra fee can be added based on miles from the River Arts District.

Duration
Group Size
no limit

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