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 Experience. The man who gave it to her was Gerald, a mystical and longtime resident of the spiritual community.
“Gerald had long silver hair and a beard, and he still looked like a fairy tale character,” Gerard explains. “Handing me the book, he said, ‘One day you’ll really like it.’ Since then, I’ve been a fan of Blake. His paintings 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 a rebel. Gerard praises the “fierce beauty” of his famous poem “The Tyger”. It is posed as a series of questions touching on Blake’s beliefs about human nature and the importance of desire, and an oblique commentary on the oppressive morality of the church.
Perhaps the mystic was able to divine the future. The ashram granddaughter is now a full professor at Eastern Tennessee State University, where she has taught painting since 2001. When she decided to start a new art gallery in Asheville, she chose to naming Tyger Tyger, from the first line of Blake’s poem. The 5,000 square foot venue opened in the River Arts District in August.
Tyger Tyger Gallery will specialize in emerging mid-career artists “working in a range of media and viewpoints, with a recurring focus on those who have traditionally been marginalized and underrepresented in the art world”, Gerard says.
“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 his partner, Melissa Crouch, associate director of the gallery, and Nora Hartlaub, gallerist. “The artists will be regional, national and, hopefully, international,” explains Gérard. Selection of artists and curation of works will be carried out by the gallery’s all-female management team, as well as guest curators.
Tyger Tyger’s inaugural show was titled What strange water, what strange airand 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 that Gerard has always loved. In this story, “a child is so immersed in the desire for what he has lost that he loses his way”, explains Gérard. “We are all in a time of change and flux, and the artists selected have addressed themes of change, transformation, and altered states of existence in various forms.”
The gallery plans to present works related to a single theme, with these themes changing every five to six weeks. “We will retain the work of most artists even after their shows have ended so people can see [artworks] ‘in the flesh’ if they are interested. (All available artwork, exhibited or otherwise, will be on the gallery’s website.)
“We were overwhelmed by the huge turnout at the opening of the first exhibit,” says Gérard. “We have received a lot of support from the artistic community and the community in general.
“It’s wonderful to feel such warmth. We are very grateful to be welcomed like this.
Tyger Tyger’s second show, which started in September and runs through November, is titled Everything is touched by the sun. Curated by Indiana artist Danielle Winger, this is a larger group exhibition featuring approximately 15 artists, most of whom work with figure or landscape.
If those early shows are any indication, Tyger Tyger actively embraces Blake’s visions of fire, darkness, and fierce beauty.
Tyger Gallery Tyger191 Lyman St. #144, Riverview Station in the River Arts District. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. 828-350-7711. For more information, visit tygertygergallery.com.