Illustrating the New Great Migration: Cleaster Cotton Debuts at Blue Spiral 1

Cleaster Coton, "Parliament of Owls"
“Parliament of Owls” by Cleaster Cotton.

Asheville artist Cleaster Cotton, who shows for the first time at Blue Spiral 1 this winter as part of the downtown gallery’s Into the Blue: Artist Invitational 2018, will present her journey in an artist’s talk on Friday, February 16. Since moving to Asheville from New York City in 2011, Cotton has drawn attention for her self-described “contemporary primitive” style, a bold blend of traditional African and Cubist influences.

“People often look at the word ‘primitive’ and feel a negative connotation, where it seems not as fabulous or refined,” Cotton explains. “But for me, ‘primitive’ is primary, primal, what comes first. I’m primitive because I draw on my ancestors who created the hieroglyphics, built the pyramids, and charted out the solar system.”

An advanced open-water scuba diver, Cotton finds inspiration through observing nature and the unusual color pairings present in the natural world. All of her pieces at Blue Spiral 1 include living elements: two large paintings depict “living still life” scenes of vases filled with foliage, while two smaller works show groupings of abstracted birds.

Asheville’s natural surroundings have certainly found their way into Cotton’s work, but she also feels a personal connection to the human aspects of the region. Although raised in the city, her parents are from North and South Carolina, part of the “Great Migration” of African Americans to the North throughout the 20th century.

“I am a member of a new Great Migration, moving from the North back to the South” Cotton says. “A lot of us have roots that we can recall through family members still being here.”

Cleaster Cotton’s artist talk takes place at Blue Spiral 1, 38 Biltmore Avenue, Asheville, on Friday, February 16, at 6pm. Call 828-251-0202 or visit for more info.

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