Actually, Asheville artist Lisa Nance found herself there.
by Ursula Gullow . photo by Anthony Bellemare
You can call her Lisa, but sometimes she’s Gus. That’s because 27-year-old Asheville painter Lisa Nance was once so obsessed with the astronaut Gus Grissom that she started using his name. (And still does.) She even printed up flyers for her senior show at UNCA that said her artworks—with images of astronauts, saddles and cowboys—were by someone named Gus Grissom.
The actual Gus Grissom, a man from Indiana, was the second American to fly in space. He was part of several famous NASA missions in the 1950s and ‘60s and was killed in a pre-test launch for the Apollo 1 mission at Kennedy Space Center in 1967. When Nance was a teenager growing up in the North Carolina piedmont, she wanted to be a pilot too. But she simply wasn’t that good at flying, she says, and it was an expensive pursuit. She had much more natural aptitude for art. As she started researching NASA and astronauts, she was drawn to Grissom’s story because many of his missions failed. “I was a cursed pilot stuck in the art field. I identified with him as a failure,” Nance says flatly.
But Nance is far from a failure now—particularly on the local art scene. At such a young age and in a city full of artists, she’s managed to land solo shows of her paintings at venues like West Asheville’s Harvest Records and the PUSH Gallery downtown. Lately, she’s been collaborating with friends on projects like murals and album covers. Last spring, for her friend Ross Gentry’s band Villages, she made album art using photos of caves and stalagmites as a reference for the abstract forms she created. “I was trying to interpret it without sticking my brain into it too much,” Nance says of the band’s slow, droning music.
Though she still loves astronauts and space as themes, she says her work in the last few months has become more process-oriented rather than product-motivated. Her painting itself has also changed, with less pop-art reds and blues and more neutral colors in the mix. Over the years, Nance, who works behind the counter at Downtown Books & News, has also designed sets and illustrated comic books. Nance frequently adds her creative touch to the bookstore, painting murals of bookshelves, hanging art and arranging the front window displays. “I feel like I’ve been given this great skill—to make things—and I don’t want to take that too lightly,” she says.
To see more of Lisa Nance’s work, check out Gus Grissom on Facebook.