May 112023

This mural was created by Lara Nguyen in 2016 for The Refinery in Asheville, North Carolina. The local artist and teacher’s design was chosen for the building by the Asheville Area Arts Council.

From a Mountain Xpress article about the work-

Bowerbirds and butterflies decorate the building’s facade. Nguyen considers the former “the artists of the bird world.” Each year, for up to six months, the male bowerbird will spend its days building arches made of straw. He will then gather brightly colored objects and place them outside the construction in order to attract mates.

“They perform,” says Nguyen. “They use the hole [of the arch] as a stage. … They’re also great mimickers and singers. I thought that was interesting. They’re like actors, performance artists, builders, makers, collectors, [and] in some way they’re painters. They pick certain colors and situate them.”

Nguyen saw the creature as a perfect symbol for The Refinery Creator Space. She lists off the various types of artists (painters, photographers, sculptors, filmmakers, fiber artists…), in addition to the art-based organizations (Asheville Darkroom, Asheville Makers, The Bright Angle, Local Cloth and Mechanical Eye Microcinema) that now call the space their home. She views her mural, with its bright colors and visual appeal, as a way to help facilitate traffic; a way to intrigue the public to step inside and support the arts.

More recently, Nguyen contributed work to the 2023 annual ArtFields event in Lake City, South Carolina. The two pieces are from her series “Letters to My Children”.

Her statement about these works-

“Strong Arms” & “Keep Going” are from a series entitled “Letters to My Children.” I was diagnosed with uterine leiomyosarcoma in July 2018 when my kids, Atticus and Moon, were 7 & 9 years old. In January 2020, my lung collapsed and I underwent a lobectomy. Now with a stage 4 cancer diagnosis I have found myself up at all hours worrying about dying before my kids are grown. When I couldn’t sleep, I wrote letters to them, recording their favorite recipes and my fondest memories of them for them. In 2021, I decided to share my writing with them instead of saving all this pondering in a box for later. Making and sharing this work has allowed us to cry and grieve together, which, in turn, has opened up space to truly be honest and present for one another while we are all still alive. With my children’s permission, I present slices of difficult conversations we have had to a wider audience in hopes of easing any load the viewer might be carrying on their own personal journey.