Mixing it Up on Gallery Row

Gallery Mélange unites the work of two abstract painters and a jewelry maverick

L-R: Mark Bettis, Victoria Pinney, and Jeffrey Burroughs share a colorful vision.
Photo by Colby Rabon

The story of Gallery Mélange, the newest fine-art venue on Biltmore Avenue, begins with a unicorn. No, not a mythical horned equine, but rather a real-estate rarity: desirable store frontage for rent on the south end of Biltmore Avenue. 

When a leasing agent approached contemporary painter Mark Bettis about the commercial property, his wheels started turning. Since 2012, Bettis has operated his eponymous gallery in the Wedge Building in the River Arts District. But he has always kept his eyes on downtown proper with hopes of opening a collaborative venture. 

“I had an idea of creating a space with other artists [who] could work together cohesively,” Bettis explains. 

And so, when the leasing agent presented him with 67 Biltmore Avenue, he reached out to Victoria Pinney, a longtime friend and fellow painter he met while living in Sarasota, Florida. “My first choice was Victoria because I have known her for over 20 years, and we have worked together in the past,” says Bettis. “Also, our work goes well together. We have a similar aesthetic.” 

Gallery Mélange sits at a high-traffic spot on Biltmore Avenue downtown.
Photo by Colby Rabon

With Pinney on board, Bettis began looking for a third artist — someone who “wasn’t a painter but could add another dimension to the space and team.” 

Jeffrey Burroughs, a jewelry designer based in the River Arts District, instantly came to mind. “Their energy, imagination, and distinct approach to fine jewelry was a perfect fit to finish off the team,” says Bettis. (Burroughs moved to Asheville from New York City; their work has been featured in Marie Claire and British Vogue magazines.)

Gallery Mélange took root from there, officially opening its doors on February 1. 

“The genesis of Gallery Mélange stemmed from the shared vision of Mark, Victoria, and I,” says Burroughs. “As artists deeply ingrained within Asheville’s vibrant creative community, we identified a longing for a space that not only honors the diversity and richness of contemporary art but also offers an element of surprise, brimming with distinctive experiences.” 

According to Burroughs, the venture’s moniker is derived from the French verb “mesler,” which means “to mix” and nods to the trio’s amalgamation of perspectives and styles. 

Bold refinement defines the work of jewelry artist Jeffrey Burroughs, abstractionist Victoria Pinney, and Mark Bettis, who paints on wood panels with oils and cold wax.
Photo by Colby Rabon

“Jeffrey likes to point out that we are LGBTQ- and woman-owned,” says Pinney. “So many different backgrounds and experiences inform our work.” 

Though still in its infancy, the “beautiful, light-filled” venue has been well received, says Pinney. “Both locals and tourists are finding us,” she notes. “We have had a great start.” 

Bettis seconds this, adding that the gallery has already “exceeded expectations for new clients and sales.” That’s thanks, in part, to the late John Cram. 

Photo by Colby Rabon

Originally from Wisconsin, Cram relocated to Asheville in 1971 and founded New Morning Gallery in Biltmore Village. By 1990, he needed additional space and decided to establish the now-iconic Blue Spiral 1 on Biltmore Avenue. The move raised eyebrows. At the time, downtown was a blighted area. Tourism was obsolete, and buildings were boarded up. But Cram’s decision to establish an art venue between an adult movie theater and a plumbing shop sparked a trend. 

In 1992, Asheville Art Museum relocated from the Asheville Civic Center Complex to Pack Square. Also in the ’90s, Zone one — a contemporary gallery on Biltmore Avenue founded by the late Connie Bostic — brought in works by the likes of Keith Haring and Robert Mapplethorpe. Then, in the early 2000s, American Folk Art and Framing and The Haen Gallery burst onto the scene. In 2008, Ariel Gallery — previously located on Haywood Street — set up shop, too. 

Today, about a dozen high-caliber art galleries are situated on the one-mile strip of Biltmore Avenue and Broadway Street, earning it the unofficial moniker of “Gallery Row.”

“We have the majority of downtown art galleries in this location,” says Bettis. “The more, the merrier. People know they can come to this area and walk from gallery to gallery.”

Photo by Colby Rabon

For now, Gallery Mélange will exclusively exhibit work by the three owners. However, there are plans to bring in guest artists with a “focus on work that brings a different point of view,” says Bettis.

Burroughs is also crafting an atelier within the venue to promote an “unexpected and innovative” gallery experience. “Anticipate transformations in these installations once or twice a year, alongside a lineup of events that defy the conventions of traditional gallery events,” they assure. 

But above all, the three owners hope to shape Gallery Mélange into a “dynamic hub,” says Burroughs. “Our aim is to dissolve the traditional boundaries between artistic mediums and styles, inviting each piece to narrate its own unique story.”

Gallery Mélange, 67 Biltmore Ave., Suite 20, Asheville, 828-782-1110, gallerymelange.com. Hours are Tuesday through Thursday, 11am-5pm; Friday and Saturday, 11am-6pm; and Sunday, 12-5pm. (Open Mondays by appointment.)

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