Saturday, July 25, 2015

A Chromatic Constancy of Luminous Rhythms

A Chromatic Constancy of Luminous Rhythms

By Tom Wachunas

    “…The simplicity of the paintings and the intentional placement of each dot on the canvas felt like a meditation and a capturing of divine energy itself. I stood in front of their art with tears streaming down my face, the kinship so strong that I actually felt they were my paintings… My work is all about the energetic connection to spirit and depicts energy flowing through matter, energy flowing through color and various energies playing together…”
   - from artist statement by Barbara Harwell Francois

   EXHIBIT: From Down Under and Above - Aboriginal- inspired art by Barbara Harwell Francois, at Little Art Gallery, located in the North Canton Public Library, 185 North Main Street, North Canton -  THROUGH AUGUST 23, 2015 – 330.499.4712

   Some of the oldest images in the world are the cave and rock paintings made by prehistoric Australian Aboriginal artists, dated to between 40,000 and 50,000 years ago. The iconography of Aboriginal art points to an elaborate spiritual belief system articulated through ancient oral traditions that tell of the creation of the cosmos, death, and everything in between as it relates to communion with the land, forces of nature, and food gathering. Aboriginal artmaking continued into historical time, including the practice of making temporary images in the dirt (sand paintings) as part of the secretive and mysterious rituals of “dreamtime,” or “Ancestor Dreaming.” When the rituals were concluded, the symbolic images were rubbed out or left to the elements to reclaim them. In the early 1970s, contemporary Aboriginal artists developed a unique and more permanent visual language of abstract dot paintings on canvas that codified their traditional sacred symbols.
   When Barbara Harwell Francois saw an exhibit of Australian Aboriginal works at the Toledo Museum of Art in 2013, she tells us in her statement that she was inspired to paint for the first time, and “…felt an immediate kinship to the expression of their connection to the land and the spiritual realm…” Indeed, the intense sincerity and urgency of her statement leaves no doubt that the Aboriginal pieces she beheld had spoken to her with palpable resonance.
    A wonderful word, resonance. Webster defines it as “reinforcement and prolongation of a sound by reflection or vibration of other bodies.” I can’t tell you that all of this exhibit’s acrylic configurations on canvas are reflective of true Aboriginal iconography (though there are more than a few apparent similarities). But I don’t regard such knowledge as a prerequisite for embracing their spiritual sensibilities.
    There is an uncanny evocation of ethereal music and dance in these paintings - a communing with entities (or persons?) far removed from the incidentally ornate profusions of luminous patterns that comprise their look. Meticulously rendered rows of dots in a full spectrum of electrified colors (some of the paintings are monochromatic) seem to pulse and breathe, as if chanting a song of life under construction (molecularly and cosmically), or beating out the rhythmic momentum of sacred energy in an eternal cycle of congealing and dispersing. Call it a divine resonance.
   This ethereality is founded upon an exquisite materiality. Consider the somewhat architectural nature of the paintings’ pictorial structures, and their disciplined precision of execution. The myriad acrylic dots have a mechanical consistency about them, right down to the tiny crest of paint raised exactly in their centers, almost imperceptible from a few feet away. Maybe the applicator is a stamping device such as the eraser end of a pencil dipped in paint.
    While many of the paintings suggest fibrous weavings (one painting, Rag Rug 5, does in fact live up to its title), Francois infuses most of them with an effective illusion of depth. Her patterns aren’t merely flat ribbons of dots floating on dark grounds. Via a chiaroscuro effect achieved by the graduated transparency of color in the rows  of stamped dots (the paint wearing off the tip of the eraser with repeated pressing?), the bands take on a shadowed, wave-like dimensionality, curving into each other, or away from our gaze and into blackness.
   It might not be too much of a reach to think of that blackness as the infinite expanse of the cosmos and the dots as codified stars and planets. Or better yet, notes in a musical score. Perhaps in the spirit of Ancestor Dreaming, I’m reminded of the Greek philosopher and mathematician, Pythagoras, and his poetic speculations about sidereal harmonics. Imagine the physical universe as a single-stringed lyre, with one end of the string anchored in matter, the other in spirit. A grand harmony of gravitational forces plucks the string ceaselessly, producing the ineffable, beautiful Music of the Spheres.    

    PHOTOS, from top: Winter’s Rest; Vitality; We’re Rollin’; Patch Work; Life Force

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Some Notable Quotables

Some Notable Quotables

    As I begin teaching the Summer III session of a course called “Art as a World Phenomenon” at Kent Stark, it occurs to me once again that even though I’m the “teacher,” I am in fact, first and foremost, a perpetual student of art. As such, over my lifetime, I’ve gathered a bountiful crop of ideas and attitudes about art and artists. As teacher, then, I’m simply an impassioned student who gets to literally give away the fruits of my labors to other students . Or at the very least, I see my role as tilling the soil of other minds and souls in order to sow the seeds of an authentic and lasting art appreciation (not to be confused with “liking” art).
    And so it is that I present the following list of quotes not just to my university students, but to all of you faithful readers who share my passion to any degree. These words are NOT to be taken as indisputable truths or ironclad definitions of art. And I don’t agree with all of them. Rather, let them plow up contextual possibilities for embracing the sheer vastness of what we call art. In any case, I hope there are plenty enough seeds here to lead to a nourishing harvest.    

    The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.  -Aristotle
    The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection. – Michelangelo
    Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art.   -Leonardo da Vinci
    The mediator of the inexpressible is the work of art. - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
    Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse.  -Winston Churchill
    A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament. -Oscar Wilde
   Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.  -Edgar Degas
   Art is a harmony parallel with nature.  -Paul Cezanne
   Great art picks up where nature ends.  -Marc Chagall
    Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.  -George Bernard Shaw
    To send light into the darkness of men's hearts - such is the duty of the artist.  -Robert Schumann
    The history of modern art is also the history of the progressive loss of art's audience. Art has increasingly become the concern of the artist and the bafflement of the public.  -Paul Gauguin
    Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.  -Thomas Merton
    I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way - things I had no words for.  -Georgia O'Keeffe
    You don't take a photograph, you make it.  -Ansel Adams
   I have no fear of making changes, destroying the image, etc., because the painting has a life of its own. -Jackson Pollock
    Art is the only way to run away without leaving home. -Twyla Tharp
   If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don't write, because our culture has no use for it.  -Anais Nin
    Art is the unceasing effort to compete with the beauty of flowers - and never succeeding.  -Gian Carlo Menotti
   Art is a step from what is obvious and well-known toward what is arcane and concealed.  -Khalil Gibran
  The role of the artist is to ask questions, not answer them. ― Anton Chekhov
  A writer should write with his eyes and a painter paint with his ears.  –Gertrude Stein
  What art offers is space - a certain breathing room for the spirit. -John Updike
  Painting, n.: The art of protecting flat surfaces from the weather, and exposing them to the critic.  –Ambrose Bierce
  Art is what you can get away with. ― Andy Warhol
    It may be that the deep necessity of art is the examination of self-deception.  -Robert Motherwell
   Photography is a major force in explaining man to man. -Edward Steichen
    Artists don't make objects. Artists make mythologies. -Anish Kapoor
   Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”  ― C.S. Lewis
   Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.― Banksy

    PHOTO: The Sower, by Vincent Van Gogh

Monday, July 6, 2015

Alluring Waterborne Decisions

Alluring Waterborne Decisions

By Tom Wachunas

    EXHIBIT: Bits and Pieces, paintings by Nancy Michel, Nancy Stewart-Matin, Lynn Weinstein, Pam LaRocco, Judi Longacre, Gail Wetherell-Sack (mixed media assemblages), Peter Castillo, and Suni / in The Loft, upstairs at 2ND APRIL GALERIE, 324 Cleveland Ave. NW, downtown Canton, THROUGH AUGUST 1 

    I was tempted to title this entry “My Partial Summer’s Reading and Listening List.” Hopefully you’ll see what I mean as you read (and listen?) on.
   Recently a printmaking friend (Bill) reminded me (via a lengthy email) of the significance of scale in the work of the Danish-American sculptor Gutzon Borglum, whose legacy includes the colossal presidents’ heads on Mt. Rushmore. Without getting into the whole context of the email (note to Bill: you might consider authoring a blog), one of the take-aways has been a deeper consideration of any artwork’s scale in relation to its content and meaning.
    Tangential as it might seem, this consideration brings me to the notable popularity of watercolor painting as I’ve seen it manifest for many years in these parts. Canton a Watercolor Mecca? Possibly. In any case, what usually occurs to me when looking at even the best locally exhibited watercolors is their consistently small-to-modest scale: pristinely framed, consumer-friendly, and suitable for displaying in designer-savvy domestic interiors. But please don’t take this as a categorical disparagement of either the practice or the form.
   Monumental physical dimensions in a painted canvas, for example, can be useful in elevating the presumed importance of its underlying idea. The largeness of many Modernist and Postmodernist abstract paintings comes to mind here, and how they can still impress us with, and immerse us in a unique visual language that speaks of things we deem somehow “larger than life.”  
    That said, small-scale paintings (those we measure in inches, not feet) can be equally potent despite their size. I think those that are the most finely executed (and there are several remarkable watercolor examples in this exhibit) are intimate, experiential objects in same way that some books are. Books. Remember those? Hundreds of small sheets of printed paper bound together so you can hold them all at once in your hand? Both require the author/painter to arrange chosen compositional elements into an organized structure or theme of one kind or another. While many literary works are essentially evidence (symbolic journals?) of an author’s decisions on how best to evoke an immersive sensory experience in the reader, by extension you might think of some small paintings as writing with line, color, and shape with the same intentions and results.
    Judi Longacre’s sharply drawn and spectacular Lavalanche depicts an exotic forest invaded by a river of rainbow-colored lava. You can almost feel the heat, and sense the motion of the flow, signaled by its diagonal placement across the center of the picture plane amid the rhythmic swaying of vibrant green bamboo shafts. Hung next to this piece, both Lynn Weinstein’s liquid and playful Pigs and Pears, and Lemons and a Lime, display a similarly elegant, unifying balance of hot and cool hues.
    The richly toned background of Nancy Stewart-Matin’s Midnight in the Garden is dark yet neither brooding nor too eerie. Looming (and blooming) before us is a loosely rendered flowering tree. A mystical light gently illuminates its diaphanous form, as if glowing from within. Fluid passages of color seem to shimmer, aided by the wispy white lines that trace the contours of blossoms.
       The wrinkled-looking organic shapes that hover over the background in Nancy Michel’s Over the Edge are actually very low-relief painted cutouts, and are a bit more challenging to name. While the artist told me what the shapes were modelled after, I’m opting not to share it here, if only because I think there’s some magic in appreciating the ambiguity of the work. Suffice to say that the shapes (are they coming together or flying apart?) break the periphery of the picture plane and creep into the surrounding black matte. That blackness is in turn picked up by the serpentine line - a cut-out appliqué - placed atop the picture plane while simultaneously seeming to be behind it. It’s all an utterly intriguing playtime with figure-ground dynamics. 
   In “reading” these paintings we necessarily engage the terminology of applied principles in effective visual composition: unity, symmetry/asymmetry, balance, variety, texture, pattern, rhythm. To behold these principles (these decisions) in action, whether wholly or in part (and beyond any specificity of pictorial content), is to embrace the sheer pleasure of discovery – the essence of “an aesthetic experience.” And interestingly, this vocabulary that we apply to assessing the efficacy or beauty of a visual work is largely the same as when we assess a musical composition.   
   These painters are, then, accomplished orchestrators. As such, their paintings are beautiful music to my eyes.

    PHOTOS (from top): Lavalanche, by Judi Longacre; Pigs and Pears, and Lemons and a Lime, by Lynn Weinstein; Midnight in the Garden, by Nancy Stewart-Matin; Snacking After Swimming by Nancy Michel; Over the Edge by Nancy Michel  

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Sweet Fruits of Inspired Labors

 Sweet Fruits of Inspired Labors
by Tom Wachunas

    “…But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…”
 -Galatians 5:22-23

    “…Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -  if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things…”  - Philippians 4:8

    EXHIBIT: Unveiling the Beauty of Spirit – work by Deborah Woloschuk, THROUGH JULY 11, 2015, at The Little Art Gallery, located in the North Canton Public Library, 185 North Main Street, North Canton, Ohio

    NOTE: Deborah will be in the gallery from 3 to 7 p.m. on Wednesdays, June 24, July 1 and July 8, using it as a public studio, letting the gallery serve as a space for live art-making and education.

    I’m fairly sure that many of my fellow visual artists would agree that sometimes (perhaps many times?) formulating an edifying “artist statement” can be a frustrating process. As for me, it’s one that often stirs up a temperament so adversarial that the very idea of issuing a written statement about my art feels like an absurdly unnecessary exercise. After all, shouldn’t I respect the intelligence and sensitivities of viewers enough to let them see the work on their terms, without spoon-feeding them a guide to meaning? Or am I being too grouchy and presumptive?
    Probably. By that I mean that there is no consensus as to what constitutes a necessary function or content of artists’ statements. Some can be replete with artsy jargon, arcane terminology, and/or obtuse philosophizing, others too unsatisfying in their generalizations. So be it. That said, I enjoy those statements that employ simple, direct language along with a certain degree of ellipsis, calling on readers to fill in the blanks once they view the artist’s work, not unlike movie trailers that entice without giving away too much of the story.
    Deborah Woloschuk’s statement for this show is largely comprised of biographical information. But it’s the disarmingly honest opening sentence that proffers a meaningful summary of her motivations and intentions: “By faith and prayer, Deborah’s calling by the Master Artist is to appreciate beauty, to know compassion, and to seek truth through creativity.
    Most of you who read these missives of mine shouldn’t be surprised when I say that for all of its concise brevity, the sentence runneth over with implications that resonate deeply with me. Starting with “By faith and prayer,” and “…calling by the Master Artist,” it becomes clear enough that for this artist, making art is a way of honoring God, the Creator, the Author of the truth(s) she seeks.
   The gratifying significance of her statement is in how it sets up a contemplative context - without being overly didactic or preachy - for viewing her oil portrait, still-life, and floral subjects. These are traditional compositions, many of them exquisitely rendered, as in the superb detailing of Ornate Olive Jars, the stunning illusory textures of Vintage Iridescence, or the mystical light of the floral Moonlight Serenade.
    Mystical light indeed. The metaphorically titled In the Son is a portrait of a sports coach who I take to be a modern-day disciple of Christ. Sitting at his desk, his form is bathed in rhythmic stripes of sunlight pouring in through the blind on his office window. For sun, read Son.
     The marvelous suite of paintings under the collective title, Fruit of the Spirit, depicts a woman adorned and bejeweled with symbols of virtuous living. It’s a compelling homage to the spiritual transformation, promised in the New Testament, to those indwelt by God’s Holy Spirit.
  Woloschuk’s best paintings take me back to the realization that all art-making is (or should be?) a conscious response to what I have in the past called the remnant, or latent spark of Divine creative energy still extant in the human soul. This desire to create, to call something into being “from nothing”, is a vital part of our spiritual DNA. I believe that whether they know it or not, artists have been summoned to be stokers of a preternatural flame. In its warmth and light, Woloschuk’s answer to the call is an excellent and praiseworthy one.

    PHOTOS, from top: Ornate Olive Jars; Moonlight Serenade; Vintage Iridescence; Moonlight Madonna; Fruit of the Spirit (top row, left-to-right, Joy, Patience, and Goodness: bottom row, Peace, Kindness, Faithfulness

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Communal Kniticisms

 Communal Kniticisms

By Tom Wachunas

    EXHIBIT: Crochetral: Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef – a collaborative project by faculty and students of Malone University Departments of Visual Arts and Mathematics and Computer Science, on view THROUGH SEPTEMBER 21, 2015, at Malone University’s McFadden Gallery (located in Johnson Center) and Art-in-a-Case, in the Cattell Library / 2600 Cleveland Avenue N.W., Canton, Ohio – open for viewing Monday-Friday during regular business hours

    “Mathematics is not scary when you can touch it.”   - mathematician   Dr. Daina Taimina

    The Crochet Coral Reef is a woolly celebration of the intersection of higher geometry and feminine handicraft, and a testimony to the disappearing wonders of the marine world.” -  from the website for Crochet Coral Reef, a project originally created and curated in 2005 by Christine Wertheim and Margaret Wertheim of the Institute For Figuring.

    Also from the same website, the following:
   The inspiration for making crochet reef forms begins with the technique of "hyperbolic crochet" discovered in 1997 by Cornell University mathematician Dr. Daina Taimina. The Wertheim sisters adopted Dr Taimina's techniques and elaborated upon them to develop a whole taxonomy of reef-life forms. Loopy "kelps", fringed "anemones", crenelated "sea slugs", and curlicued "corals" have all been modeled with these methods. The basic process for making these forms is a simple pattern or algorithm, which on its own produces a mathematically pure shape, but by varying or mutating this algorithm, endless variations and permutations of shape and form can be produced. The Crochet Reef project thus becomes an on-going evolutionary experiment in which the worldwide community of Reefers brings into being an ever-evolving crochet "tree of life."

    Consider ALL of the above as a necessary introduction to fully appreciate the scope and intent of this exhibit. I strongly recommend clicking on the web link. And wait, there’s more. The statement posted with the show tells us that as part of the crocheting process, the contributors “…explored the math of hyperbolic space.” To that end, I give you this additional link to a 1997 video of Dr. Daina Taimina explaining her application of hyperbolic surface theory to the art of crochet. It’s highly entertaining, and despite the somewhat arcane content, you need not be a math savant to get the essentials. 

      Further, from, here’s a definition of Hyperbolic Geometry:  geometry that adopts all of Euclid's axioms except the parallel axiom, this being replaced by the axiom that through any point in a plane there pass more lines than one that do not intersect a given line in the plane.”  Everyone got that? And just for good measure, let me add that (according to my less than exhaustive online research) hyperbolic surface theory addresses, among other things, the geometry of “saddle surfaces” (i.e., surfaces/planes curved or bent into saddle-like shapes) with a “constant negative Gaussian curvature.”  Well now, that explains everything, right?
    Perhaps knot. But the overarching point here is that this intriguing exhibit, while not an official "satellite reef" of the Crochet Reef Project, can nontheless be seen in solidarity with a growing world-wide movement that effectively merges science, mathematics and aesthetics to illuminate the ongoing threats to such precious and spectacular locales as the Great Barrier Reef. By extension, consider it in the context of a colorful global call to elevated planetary stewardship.
    The installation at the McFadden Gallery is comprised of several discrete works mounted on pedestals (with one wall-mounted piece suggesting fish trapped in floating plastic detritus), representing clusters of “reef citizens” (corals, fish, plants, etc). While some of the individual components of these pieces are clearly more sophisticated in their construction than others (these aren’t, after all, your grandma’s scarves, hats, or afghans), each of the crocheted communities exudes a naturalistic cohesiveness.
    For this project, Malone’s Li Hertzi required a short paper from her 3D Design students. One of the optional topics she proposed was to discuss how “…the social impact of yarn bombing and performance art…can change people’s thinking.” “Yarn bombing”?  Sometimes called “guerilla knitting,” it’s a growing form of street art that began appearing in various urban settings roughly around 2003. Think of it as impermanent graffiti. And proposing a kinship with performance art isn’t such a conceptual stretch, either. Can we think of crocheting as a metaphor for exploring potentiality, or possibility? In this context, while the act of knotting and stitching entailed repeated, meticulous motions in real time, the resultant forms evoke something well beyond themselves as representational static objects, and something outside the present moment of seeing. I think that they speak eloquently of something yet to be thought about, something yet to be done, something yet to be performed.
    So in as much as this project asks us to be proactive performers in protecting what we find so ineffably beautiful about our natural environs, it’s also a potent reminder that all of us are indeed… reef citizens.  

Thursday, June 11, 2015

At 64, Still A-Mused

At 64, Still A-Mused

By Tom Wachunas

“O! for a muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention.” - William Shakespeare

    Pictured here is Blue Pas de Deux, a recent work of mine that was accepted into the annual May Show at the Little Art Gallery. Juried shows such as that one, along with the annual Stark County Artists Exhibition at Massillon Museum, are welcomed seasonal lubricators of my creative process. Not being what most folks would consider a highly prolific art maker (beyond writing this blog, perhaps), I nonetheless enjoy throwing the occasional new hat in the ring, so to speak.
   For weeks prior to making the piece, I was a paralyzed captive of my own doubt and anxiety about the direction of my work as a visual artist. I had been seriously questioning my motives, desires, intentions, indeed the very purpose of making art at all. I thought that my muse, who for me, you should know, is Christ, was being evasive if not silent.
   A crossroads? Surely. But as it turns out, it was also an epiphany. One morning I was given a flash of insight from reading in Jeremiah, “…You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.”  The words compelled my surrender to, and renewed gratitude for…my muse. And so the piece speaks of a dance. It’s a lyrical symbol of my faith in an intimate bonding or duet with an eternally loving partner.
   Sadly, I’ve been known to often abandon trust in my Lord’s – my muse’s – words  (to be out of step, as it were) and exile myself for a while to the aforementioned captivity. On this, the occasion of my 64th birthday, and not to be too flippant about my lapses in faith, I offer my re-writing of a few verses from The Beatles’ “When I’m 64.” Dedicated to my muse, here we go. A one, a two, a three, a four:

    I’ve gotten older, still losing hair,… how the years have flown.
Will you still be sending me your valentines, inspirations, just like old times?
If I refuse your well-meaning cues, please don’t be too sore.
Will you still need me, will you still feed me, after I'm sixty-four?

   You'll be older too.
And, if you say the word, I will dance with you.

   …Be in my dreams, give me a sign, stating point of view.
Indicate precisely what you mean to say, yours sincerely, I’m here to stay.
Give me your answer, in legible form, mine forever more…
Will you still need me, will you still feed me, after I'm sixty-four?

    Today I know most certainly that he will. May it be so always.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

A Novel Approach

A Novel Approach

    “To come to the end of a time of anxiety and fear! To feel the cloud that hung over us lift and disperse—the cloud that dulled the heart and made happiness no more than a memory! This at least is one joy that must have been known by almost every living creature.”

Richard Adams, from Watership Down

   “…I like to think that, along with my synopses of the story, this collaboration is not unlike a bunch of rabbits using their skills to find a new home.”  -Craig Joseph, from his curator statement

    EXHIBIT: Watership Down – new work by Joseph Close, and themed jewelry by Jess Kinsinger of Sassyfrass, at Cyrus Custom Framing, 2645 Cleveland Avenue NW, Canton, THROUGH AUGUST 1, 2015   (330)452-9787

    I really can’t recall a local gallery exhibit that has engaged me more, on multiple levels, than this one. In that respect I’ve seen comparable shows and most of those, interestingly enough, were at Translations Gallery, formerly located on Cleveland Avenue in the arts district. So it’s not surprising to see the continued curatorial role of Translations director Craig Joseph in this collection of new pieces (2D and 3D) by Joseph Close.
    This time around, Close presents some 50 works (and an additional 17 preparatory drawings) inspired by English author Richard Adams’ 1972 novel, Watership Down. It’s the allegorical tale of a group of rabbits fleeing the imminent destruction of their warren and their tempestuous adventures in establishing a new home. Their world has an elaborate culture, language and mythology all its own, and the book often brings to mind the epic quest themes we encounter in the classical writings of Homer and Virgil.
    The act of “illustrating” a written story can be a daunting and certainly subjective business, calling for an artist to generate imagery that hopefully harmonizes with the narrative zeitgeist. The challenge is in how best to  “bring the words to life” - to support and, ideally, enhance their credibility. Curiously enough, one example of an unsatisfying outcome is the 1978 animated film version of Watership Down, written and directed by Martin Rose, and wisely provided for viewing in this exhibit. You’ll notice that the renderings of the rabbit characters have all the cartoony punch of vintage movies like Bambi, which I find to be strangely disconnected from the edgy nature of this particular story. That said, it’s worth noting that that nature is effectively present in the stylized moodiness of the film’s static background shapes and colors.
    Mr. Close’s 2D interpretations might have taken a few cues from those backgrounds in terms of his extensive employment of brooding analogous colors, as if misted twilight or darker night has befallen most of the scenes he depicts. I can understand how some viewers, initially unfamiliar with the story while imagining fluffy rabbits romping through lush green meadows and sun-dappled woodlands, might find his treatments a bit on the dark side.
   Yet for all of that, Close’s fluid and expressive drawing style (bolstered by a dazzling variety of mark-making techniques), his observational acumen, and his eye for activating a picture plane with well-placed accents of light and texture, all combine to imbue these visions with dramatic depth. Eschewing the formulaic, Disneyesque pleasantries of anthropomorphized animals, Close’s creatures are efficacious renderings of palpable vivacity and real volatility, whether as pictures or sculptures, as in “Attempted Truce.” It’s an imposing, even startling totem, comprised of found objects and materials (including an ornate head covering that suggests a kind of armor), representing a rabbit fiercely standing his ground.
    Two other elements of this exhibit contribute significantly to appreciating its collaborative aspects. Curator Craig Joseph has written a sequenced synopsis, his astute texts mounted on numbered (1 through 49) placards that accompany each piece. Viewers who haven’t read the book can easily grasp the gist of the story. And then there’s the matter of overall presentation. The framed works under glass take on a spectacular, elegant dimensionality thanks to the brilliant design sensibilities of Cyrus Framing owner Christian Harwell. His unusually contoured (“carved,” in a way) matting treatments give the pieces a sculpted feel, angling the pictures within their frames to heighten their sense of energy and motion. Clearly an art in itself. 
    Watership Down has an uplifting finale. The last two works in the sequence leave us on an optimistic note of both tenderness and apotheosis. One is a soft portrait of the farm girl, Lucy, cradling the heroic Hazel after saving him from being killed by a cat. The end piece, “The Black Rabbit Comes for Hazel,” is a free-standing, wide arch of curved metal pieces – thin and sleek despite their rusty patina, as if soaring through the air. It’s a wonderfully distilled abstraction symbolizing Hazel leaving his tired body to be welcomed into the spirit realm.
    Of all the shows by Joseph Close that I’ve seen through the years, this one is quite simply the most compelling to date. And you don’t need to have first read the novel that prompted his marvelous interpretations to savor the sheer thrill of looking at them.

    PHOTOS (from top) courtesy Craig Joseph: Fiver’s Vision at the Sign Post (#1 in the synopsis); Holly Arrives in the Night (#2); Bigwig Reports to Kehaar (#34); El-Ahrairah and Rowsby Woof (#40); Attempted Truce (#42)