“Funny Little Things,” Big Ideas

Valerie Hoh finally found appropriate venues for her imaginative work. Portrait by Lauren Rutten

If artist Valerie Hoh were inclined to body ink, her tattoo might read, “Make Art, Not Landfill.”  Instead, she’s using what she describes as “funny little things” to create a sign that will identify Hoh ReWorx, her installation in Marquee Asheville of recycled industrial castoffs transformed into themed works of art. The 50,000-square-foot warehouse — being reimagined by designer Robert Nicholas and his wife Rebecca as a multi-vendor design center — opens in early fall on Foundy Street in the River Arts District.

“It is my favorite expression, and where so much of my work begins,” says the chic, petite native of Hong Kong who moved to Asheville from Key West in 2004, trailed by a flatbed truck loaded with metal furniture. The weightiest of the heavy metal works is a 2,000-pound bed frame constructed of industrial rollers collected years before by Hoh and industrial furniture artist Cynthia Wynn on treasure hunts to the huge scrapmetal yard in Johnson City, Tennessee, as well as Biltmore Iron & Metal in Asheville. The determined duo hauled their finds back to the rear section of a former auto showroom Hoh renovated into Pandemonium Gallery and studio space. There, Wynn and an all-female team called Girl Power fashioned scrap into futuristic furniture.

“HohWorx” includes the artist’s small sculptural pieces, Ikebana vases, and ceremonial “connections.” (Not shown: works that can get up to 2,000 pounds.)

The bed and other large pieces will eventually be placed in Marquee’s event space; Hoh ReWorx will encompass Ikebana Industrial — her interpretation of the Japanese art of flower arranging; Modern Industrial, wall hangings of scrapmetal pieces mounted on metal shelving also scavenged from junk yards; and Textile Industrial, pieces using chains, chain link, and other materials that she “stitches” together with wire to resemble textile art.

“I have a mangled piece of aluminum fencing in my studio [that] I have already designed in my head to be a marriage of Textile Industrial and Modern Industrial,” Hoh explains. “When I go to the scrapyard, I see the beauty of all the crushed and mangled things. I have never left a scrapyard with nothing.”

During the pandemic, the prolific artist says she found herself bursting with ideas and creativity in a studio bursting at the seams with materials. She dove deeper into exploring mixed media, which she calls an expression of all her interests. When her friend Miryam Rojas opened Mars Landing Galleries late summer 2021 in Mars Hill, Hoh was one of the debut artists, exhibiting Hoh ArtWorx – ceramic totems, mixed-media ceremonial connections, and modern abstract paintings. “I was so lucky to have these two new outlets in Marquee and Mars Landing,” Hoh says happily. “I had to get the work out of my house and studio.”

But she’ll be opening her home studio and courtyard as a participant in the annual Kenilworth Studio Tour, which she helped found 17 years ago to pull together other artists living in the central, historic Asheville neighborhood.  Much of what visitors to her studio will see is Hoh Couture, a combination of paper fashion for display and wearable clothing she created while living in Key West, holding an annual fashion show with live music and her friends serving as models. “I’d love to do one here in Asheville,” she says. “The event space at Marquee would be perfect.” 

Valerie Hoh, Asheville. Hoh’s work can be found at Mars Landing Galleries (37 Library St., Mars Hill, marslandinggalleries.com); at Marquee Asheville (36 Foundy St., Asheville, marqueeasheville.com); and during the Kenilworth Artists Studio Tour happening Saturday, Oct. 9 and Sunday, Oct. 10 (kenilworthartists.com ). Also on Instagram: @hoh.artworx

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