“As with most of the commercial property we own, it seems to begin with Randy wanting a different studio,” says Hedy Fischer, speaking of her long-time partner, artist Randy Shull, while explaining how Pink Dog Creative came to be. The block-long studio/gallery complex — painted vibrantly in hot pink, sunshine yellow, shades of Caribbean blue, and various festive reds — is the “you can’t miss it” section of Depot Street in the River Arts District.
“Prior to our purchasing it, the building was a warehouse for thousands of boxes of household textiles from China,” reveals Shull, “and was used for manufacturing prior to that.” From the outset, the couple envisioned creating a series of working artists’ studios. “Keep in mind,” says Fischer, “when we first bought the building in 2010, there were no other art studios on the street except for the Fine Arts League. It was a ghost town on Depot Street, as far as the arts are concerned.” Pink Dog Creative is now a studio home to more than 25 artists.
But first they had to do something about the exterior. It was covered in graffiti and tags, and so painting it was first on the agenda, says Fischer. The vivid scheme was inspired by their home in Merida, Mexico, where they’ve spent part of each of the last 15 years.
“In Merida, where our home is located, every house is painted a different color,” she explains. “Not only did we want to enliven the building on Depot Street, but because each of its sections were all built in different years with different materials, we didn’t want it to look like a monolithic mishmash, but rather as separate urban structures next to one another. The different colors help to break it up as well as make the streetscape more interesting and appealing.”
Just the simple act of painting created a stir in the area. “People would stop their cars and ask what was going on,” says Shull. Adds Fischer, “We began painting it at the north end, where Fresh West Pizza is now located. When we got to the south end [now painted two-tone turquoise], someone asked if we planned to paint over the tag of a small but very ferocious dog that was on the building.”
That was the plan, she says. “But, thinking as an artist would, Randy took a photo of it with his phone and suggested we blow it up really large and paint it on the building. I was afraid a huge, angry dog with its teeth bared would scare people off. So I suggested we take some of its ferociousness away by painting it pink.”
The artists who work at Pink Dog do so in a variety of media, among them photography (black-and-white analog and color); Ukrainian Pysanky eggs; child-themed paintings; jewelry; mixed media; painting (oil, acrylic, metallic leaf, and watercolor); collage; encaustic; glass (stained and mosaic); and wood. Pink Dog Creative is also home to Fresh West Pizza, Vivian restaurant, Grind (Asheville’s first Black-owned coffee shop), Creative Hub Studio, and Pink Dog’s own gallery.
Shull and Fischer have guided Pink Dog Creative to active involvement in some of the most dominant issues of the day, curating exhibits on such timely topics as gun control (Trigger Warning), the environment (Impact!), the pandemic (Art in the Time of COVID), and the Black Lives Matter movement (In Solidarity, on exhibit through the winter months at Pink Dog).
They’ve also hosted a poetry and visual-art show (In Times Like These) and support Youth Arts Empowered, art classes for teens taught by local artist Cleaster Cotton at the Edington Education & Career Center. Fischer points to the stacked cargo containers located in the parking lot across the street from the gallery: “We use these as a rotating mural project. We have had seven different murals by six artists.” The current mural — Love Your Community — was painted by 12-year-old Trinity Harper Pierce, who was chosen via a collaboration between Pink Dog and “Easel Rider,” a mobile-art lab administered by LEAF Global Arts.
It goes on. Shull and Fischer also own 22 London, a 9,000-square-foot art and exhibit space at 22 London Road (22london.org) that recently hosted artist-in-residence Jenny Pickens, one of the lead artists of the Black Lives Matter mural painted in Pack Square. Through Nov. 22, the gallery will present High Anxiety, a display of the couple’s own collection of contemporary art.
Looking back on Pink Dog’s first decade, Fischer observes, “[It] has far exceeded our initial expectations. It’s a diverse, inclusive, and cohesive community of very different businesses — but we all work together to make it feel like a community, like a special place.”
Pink Dog Creative is located at 342-348 Depot St. in Asheville’s River Arts District. The studio’s artists keep their own hours. Pink Dog will be open for the RAD’s Fall Studio Stroll happening 10am-5pm Saturday, Nov. 14 and Sunday, Nov. 15. Masks and social distancing are required. For more information, see pinkdog-creative.com.