Garden of Ivey 

Roadside painter has first commercial show at Barbara Archer Gallery

Sometimes you get the feeling that there can be nothing new under the sun. Marshall Avett, a musician and one of Eyedrum's founders, proved otherwise last summer when he discovered the art of local visionary Toby Ivey. Barbara Archer Gallery is introducing the erstwhile roadside painter to the gallery scene in a solo show that opened last week.

Avett found Ivey by chance. "I was just driving down Moreland Avenue one day and saw a bunch of paintings at the edge of the Texaco on the corner of Memorial Drive," he remembers. "I thought someone had thrown them out and I was going to take them home. When I got out of my car, Toby walked up. I thought his work was breathtaking." In Ivey's gas station gallery, there were about 50 paintings on cardboard, some on discarded billboards and chalkboards. Avett flipped through them and bought two on the spot.

The musician had planned on showing his own work for the August art show in the Eyedrum basement. But the ideas weren't coming, and Avett was haunted by Ivey's paintings. As they became friends, Avett was dogged by another issue; in his words, "whether or not you take a gifted person and give him over to the art world." He tossed and turned on that one, finally deciding that when people saw Ivey's work, the artist might make enough money to buy a pick-up truck he'd been wanting.

So the musician organized Remembering Eden. A big success, the exhibition brought Ivey to the attention of Barbara Archer. Archer, a gallery owner who specializes in outsider art, was drawn to the paintings, too. Many hold the same spiritual aura found in the work of folk artist Nellie Mae Rowe. Ivey's vision is full of idyllic nature, pacific animals and innocent humans. "They're in their own little magical kingdom," says Avett.

Archer says the paintings "possess both a childlike naiveté and a strong sense of wisdom. They conjure up biblical scenes and storybook illustrations, and they share a symbolic language that parallels some of the most sought-after imagery in African-American self-taught art."

In his first commercial gallery exhibition, the 60-year-old self-ordained minister from Thompson shows more than two dozen paintings. All untitled, they appear on squares and rectangles of corrugated cardboard, bulletin boards and poster board. Couples and families inhabit Ivey's universe, along with craggy elephants, prehistoric birds and primitive trees.

Most of the paintings are achieved in vivid yellow, blue, green, red and pink, though a few step back from that intense palette to a pastel paradise. A pale green palm tree centers one scene painted on poster board. Beneath its fronds are six small figures. Five wear unstructured lavender and pink clothes that cover hands and feet like a baby's sleeping suit. A fifth figure on the right swoops away on sprouted wings. In another painting, long curved fish swim two by two in bright blue water.

The most neutral compositions are the only framed works in the show. Ivey paints a series of wonderful lollipop flowers in lavender, red, yellow and blue. While lacking the spiritual feeling of his other paintings, the simple bold florals reveal the artist's intuitive color sense.

More soulful is the square of cardboard that gathers a community of brown birds and animals atop a frothy waterfall. And emotions fill the garden where a couple walks with their dog and a flock of great white and yellow birds. Gazing directly at the viewer, the woman's Raggedy Ann eyes seem to regret the transience of her perfect world.

The Toby Ivey show continues through Jan. 29, 2001, at Barbara Archer Gallery, 1123 Zonolite Road, Suite 27. 404-815-1545.

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