Mira Gerard grew up in an ashram in New Hampshire, where, as a child, she was given a copy of William Blake’s book Songs of Innocence and of Experience. The man who gave it to her was Gerald, a mystic and longtime resident of the spiritual community.
“Gerald had long, silver hair and a beard, and he always seemed like a character from a fairy tale,” says Gerard. “As he handed me the book, he said, ‘Someday you will truly appreciate this.’ I’ve been a Blake fan ever since. His paintings have had a strong influence on my work.”
The English painter, poet, and printmaker, 1757-1827, was also a staunch abolitionist, and considered a radical and rebel. Gerard praises the “ferocious beauty” of his famous poem “The Tyger.” It’s posed as a series of questions touching on Blake’s beliefs about human nature and the importance of desire, and an oblique comment on the oppressive morality of the church.
Perhaps the mystic was able to divine the future. The little girl from the ashram is now a tenured professor at Eastern Tennessee State University, where she’s been teaching painting since 2001. When she decided to launch a new art gallery in Asheville, she chose to name it Tyger Tyger, from the first line of Blake’s poem. The 5,000-square-foot venue opened its doors in the River Arts District in August.
Tyger Tyger Gallery will specialize in emerging to mid-career artists “working in a range of media and points of view, with a recurring emphasis on those who have been traditionally marginalized and underrepresented in the art world,” states Gerard.
“We believe that what is put into the world can shape the world. Access is a priority for us, in every sense of the word.”
Gerard is assisted by her partner, Melissa Crouch, who serves as the gallery’s associate director, and Nora Hartlaub, gallery manager. “The artists will be regional, national, and hopefully international,” says Gerard. Selection of artists and curating of works will be done by the gallery’s all-women leadership team, along with guest curators.
Tyger Tyger’s inaugural show was titled What Strange Water, What Strange Air, and featured works by Gerard and two other artists: Christian Rieben from Wisconsin and Caleb Yono from Illinois.
The title was inspired by a fairy tale Gerard has always loved. In that story, “a child becomes so immersed in longing for what she has lost that she loses her way,” explains Gerard. “We are all in a time of change and flux, and the curated artists addressed themes of change, transformation, and altered states of existence in various forms.”
The gallery plans to feature works related to a single theme, with those themes changing every five to six weeks. “We will retain work from most artists even after their shows come down so people can see [artworks] ‘in the flesh’ if they’re interested.” (All available artwork, on or off display, will be on the gallery’s website.)
“We were bowled over by the huge turnout for the opening of the first exhibition,” says Gerard. “We’ve been given a lot of support by the arts community and the community at large.
“It’s wonderful to feel such warmth. We feel very grateful to be welcomed like this.”
Tyger Tyger’s second show, which opened in September and runs into November, is titled The Sun Touches Everything. Curated by Indiana artist Danielle Winger, this is a larger group exhibition featuring approximately 15 artists, most of whom work with the figure or the landscape.
If these early shows are any indication, Tyger Tyger is actively embracing Blake’s visions of fire, darkness, and ferocious beauty.
Tyger Tyger Gallery, 191 Lyman St. #144, Riverview Station in the River Arts District. Gallery hours are 10am-6pm Tuesday through Saturday, and 11am-5pm on Sunday. 828-350-7711. For more information, see tygertygergallery.com.