These things usually work in reverse. Luke Whitlatch already had some success as an artist in Los Angeles when he and his wife chose to move to Asheville.
“I play bass for a band called Rocky Mountain Roller,” he said. “I met the two guitarists for Rocky Mountain Roller two weeks after I got here.”
So, two weeks into his Asheville life, Whitlatch found a band. It took him another three years, through the Tracey Morgan Gallery, to land his first local show as a visual artist. The exhibition is on view through late February.
“The other thing I did when I moved here that was actually painful and pertinent for me was I got rid of almost all my old work, just trashed it,” he said. “I didn’t know if I could take it seriously with a fresh start unless I made some really dramatic moves, because I was so stuck in a routine living in Los Angeles that it was ruining my practice.”
Whitlatch, who is 43, moved to Los Angeles from his native Casper, Wyo., to study at the Otis College of Art and Design and immerse himself in one of the top contemporary art markets in the country. He found gallery representation and a solid part-time income selling his work, he said, adding he only began catching his artistic stride about 10 years ago.
“A lot of this work is about this sort of area between being awake and being asleep and the supernatural and what you actually see in your daily life,” he said.
If that sounds confusing, you probably won’t find clarity by looking at his abstract paintings. Nearly all of them feature bisections and explosions of colors both washed into his canvases and layered atop them in sharp, fine lines. Except for the color pallets influenced by the environment here, Whitlatch said, the paintings he’s made from Asheville may not look much different than the ones he tossed aside from L.A.
“A lot of this work is sort of based in these ideas of tall tales or something you saw in the woods, and Asheville, and Appalachia as a whole, is just steeped in these ideas,” he said. “Representing these things through abstract notions is a way for me to try to explain that moment of inception for these myths or these legends or these histories we base a lot of things off of.”
Whitlatch works as a freelance framer and gallery installer, and he said living in Asheville has softened the pressure and competition he experienced in the Los Angeles art market.
“I’m the type of person that’s going to paint until I’m dead, whether I sell anything or not,” he said. “I feel it was a giant life shift to move here and I honestly feel like it’s manifest itself in me being able to more clearly execute the work I’ve always wanted to execute. Asheville’s been very kind to me and I’ve been really blessed to be here, and I’m not going anywhere.”