Thursday, April 16, 2015

Like a box of chocolates?






Like a box of chocolates?

By Tom Wachunas
 

    EXHIBIT: April Assemblage, biennial show from the Canton Artists League, THROUGH MAY 10 at the Canton Museum of Art, 1001 Market Avenue N., Canton, Ohio  330.453.7666  www.cantonart.org   www.cal.cannet.com

    How many different ways are there, really, to say “mixed bag”? Hodgepodge? Gumbo? Mélange?  A box of chocolates?
   Unlike Forrest Gump’s glib acceptance of life’s unpredictability, I usually seem to know in advance exactly what I’m going to get from the biennial exhibit of the Canton Artists League (CAL). Weighing in on this latest incarnation is déjà vu all over again.
    The show is stylistically diverse in CAL’s ever-dominant, conventional 2D genres of painted landscape, floral, portrait, and still-life imagery. Not surprisingly, the levels of technical finesse and conceptual depth in these works ranges from genuinely marvelous to mediocre with, sad to say, nearly half leaning (some more so than others) toward the latter. The judges’ awards notwithstanding, what follows is a consideration of what I found to be especially savory, in no particular hierarchy of merit.
    In the tradition of the Old Masters oil technique, local mentor Frank Dale (his portrait, Coquette, stunningly lives up to its name) and some of his beneficiaries are well represented. Those include Kristine Wyler and her diminutive, haunting portrait, The Dancer, and Michele Tokos’ poetic A Foggy Day. So much powerful lyricism on such tiny picture planes!
   There are occasional forays into varying degrees of 2D abstraction, though none as wholly nonobjective or challenging as Joan Willms’ small acrylic Mood Indigo. There’s a strange tension between its tentative, enigmatic waves of patterned, scratchy linearity and its slick silver (though arguably too bulky) frame.
   Among a total of 69 wall pieces, there are a few mixed media works, including a delightful assemblage by Cheryl Eul, Camofish, reminiscent of ritualistic tribal art.  It’s disappointing that there are only two printmaking entries in the mix, both of them intriguing metal plate works by Anna Rather. Her Crushing and Receding is a fantastical rendering of what might be a nature sprite caught up in a swirl of watery creatures and organic textures. Also disappointing is the relative scarcity of sculpture.
    For sheer mastery of craft, there are several exquisitely finessed entries. They include a colored pencil work by Sharon Frank Mazgaj, Shiny Things (First Place in “Other Media”); Emma, a quilt by Irene Tobias Rodriguez (Second Place); The Road Home, an oil landscape by Pat Ripple; Waiting For Incoming Tide, a watercolor by Wanda Frease (First Place in Water Media); and a small stoneware sculpture that looks remarkably like cast bronze, Balancing Snow Boy by Laura Donnelly.
    Equally exquisite are Girl From Ipanema, a figural watercolor by Nancy Stewart-Matin, and an acrylic botanical painting by Judi Krew, King of the Hill. Both employ a robust color and compositional dynamic. Stewart-Matin’s mark making is at once delicate and sure in its clarity and fluidity, with some passages recalling the contemplative elegance of Asian brush painting. Krew achieves an almost crystalline effect with her vibrant planes and wedges of color, suggestive of a stained glass window.
    So, without belaboring too mush much the negative, and to continue the Gump (grump?) analogy, while many confections can be, say, too sweet, sour, hard, or soft, the aforementioned delicacies are…just right.

    PHOTOS, from top: King of the Hill by Judi Krew; Shiny Things by Sharon Frank Mazgaj; The Road Home by Pat Ripple; Camofish by Cheryl Eul; Girl From Ipanema by Nancy Stewart-Matin

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Jonah Jacobs' Tactile Microcosms





Jonah Jacobs’ Tactile Microcosms

By Tom Wachunas


    EXHIBIT: Post Human Biomes, work by Jonah Jacobs, THROUGH MAY 13 at Journey Art Gallery, 431 4th Street NW, downtown Canton / Gallery hours are Tuesday – Saturday Noon to 6 PM / or by appointment  330.546.7061  www.journeyartgallery.com  

    biome: a major ecological community type, e.g. a tropical rain forest, grassland, or desert  (Merriam-Webster)


    At first blush, the title of the Jonah Jacobs exhibit at Journey Art Gallery bodes vaguely apocalyptic. While “Post Human Biomes” might initially smack of scarred environs or ecosystems surviving some sort of Malthusian catastrophe, this is decidedly not the message conveyed by Mr. Jacobs’ intriguing visual explorations.
   These are tactile clusters of upcycled materials that are, in a way, three-dimensional documents of the artist’s intensely meticulous manual labors. In a larger sense, those repetitive labors have yielded mesmerizing forms that hover invitingly somewhere between familiar surfaces and mysterious, inflated 3D molecular maps. You might call these structures, at once simple and complex, discrete metaphorical ecologies wherein the changeable climate is color itself – vibrant, even joyous.
    The substances that comprise these mixed media sculptural works are common if not somewhat unconventional. A good example is the large wall piece, a half-dome configuration called Peridium I (referring to the outer, spore-bearing coat of fungi such as mushrooms): egg cartons, oatmeal, salt, sand, plaster and model railroad gravel. Materials in other works include cotton swabs and finely shredded fabrics and papers. Don’t be denied a surprise by looking too quickly at the modestly-scaled The Living Word. The uniformly miniscule pieces of green-dyed paper (hint: it’s newsprint) make it appear to be a simple swatch of artificial turf. But as is the case with all the pieces here, really close scrutiny is its own reward.
    Another admirable enticement here is the inclusion of many smaller-scaled (roughly hand-sized), affordably priced modules. Each is an elegant unit in itself, yet made so that buyers could design and assemble multi-part, in-home pieces of their own.
   There is a sensual, spectacular density in Jacobs’ motifs of repeated small forms congealing to make larger systems or symbiotic “communities.” Often seething with opulent, bristling textures, they can alternately suggest animal, foliate, or mineral microcosms, not unlike coral reefs, lush gardens, or exotic geodes. These constructions are wholly beguiling transformations of ordinary ingredients into extraordinary evocations of nature’s intricate and fecund architectures.

    PHOTOS, from top (first three courtesy Judi Krew/ SnarkyArt Studio, bottom photo from Jonah Jacobs Facebook page): Installation view, Acretion (36” diameter) in foreground; Blue and Violet Polyp I; The Lines Begin to Blur; Peridium I (28” diameter)

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Along THE WAY






Along THE WAY

By Tom Wachunas
 

    “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”  - Jesus, from John 12: 31-32 

    EXHIBIT: Stations of The Cross: Visual and Written Reflections on Christ’s Final Week – 13 writers, 14 visual artists –  Organized by Translations (mobile) Art Gallery, presented at Cyrus Custom Framing & Art Gallery, 2645 Cleveland Avenue NW, Canton, Ohio, THROUGH MAY 29
Viewing hours: Mon.-Fri. 10a.m.ish to 6p.m./ Sat. 11a.m. to 3p.m. / closed first Saturday of the month

    Participating writers: Tim Barlow, Judi Christy, Dave Dettmann, Gennae Falconer, Paula Guiler, Jenny Hardacre, Beverly Joseph, Joe McDonald, Christina Schnyders, Tony Schnyders, Melody Scott, Tom Wachunas, Harry Winters
    Participating visual artists: Clare Murray Adams, Paul Berlanga, William Bogdan, Katherine Cox, Lynn Digby, Laura Donnelly, Ted Lawson, David McDowell, Micah Miller, Tina Myers, Pam Neff, Christopher Triner, Artie Vanderpool, Ashley Villers



     At about 6:00 pm this past Friday evening, I cut my customary early rounds of First Friday gallery visits short, in mid-stride toward Journey Art Gallery, interestingly enough. This was not so much because of the forbidding weather as it was a persistent, inner prompting - a nagging voice to the point of distraction, really. A voice separate from mine, a voice I too often ignore in favor of seeking my own. Mea maxima culpa. “Come back to reality,” He kept saying, “you need to be thinking about something else now. Think about what you saw and felt an hour ago.”
    Long story short, at around 4:30 pm I had been at Cyrus Gallery. What I experienced there stayed with me through every ensuing moment and footstep for the remainder of my evening, regardless of whatever else I was viewing farther downtown. I was indeed being drawn back to reality. To HIM. The uncanny irony of it all is that on this First Friday evening, this GOOD FIDAY, it was art that was calling me to not look at art. More precisely, the subject of the art in Stations of the Cross superseded the aesthetic forms through which it (HE, actually) was being expressed.
    Yes, the words of the writers, provided for visitors in meditation booklets, are inspiring, personal, relevant, well-crafted. Read them as you take in the powerfully resonant images – some modern, some traditional. All remarkable in their way. That said, this is not to “review” the “show” in my normal manner, but simply to thank the participants, and Translations curator Craig Joseph, for giving honest form to their courageous, soulful visions. Visions meant for all of us to embrace.
    For those of you who have yet to find true faith in the reality addressed in this exhibit, by all means please come to savor the art. Even after Easter. The message isn’t seasonal, it’s eternal. And it’s nevertheless my prayer that maybe, just maybe, it ceases to be only a temporal art experience for you and draws you to His persistent voice.

   It’s the same voice that inspired my own contribution to the exhibit.

    STATION SIX :: Jesus is scourged and crowned with thorns
    Passage :: Luke 22: 63-65 / John 19: 2-3
    Meditation :: It’s difficult to conceive a bloodier form of physical punishment  than the ancient Roman scourge – a whip made of leather ropes knotted with metal barbs designed to rip away flesh with every strike. Giving harrowing new depth to “adding insult to injury,” the jeering soldiers relentlessly taunted Jesus. Irreversibly caught up in their frenzy of blinding bloodlust, they inflict a final indignity by wedging a crown of thorns on to his head. No doubt they were pleased to think it the ultimate mockery of his kingship, which they did not comprehend. “Father forgive them,” Jesus would pray from his cross three hours later, “for they know not what they do.”  
    To Reflect Upon ::  The question is, do we know the true kingship of Jesus? Do we comprehend the indignity, insult, and unspeakable pain we inflict on ourselves and each other by denying or mocking his centrality in our lives?  Consider: Who but God Incarnate, in an act of perfect redemptive love, could submit to the horrific physical and spiritual torment we read about in the Gospels without raising a resistant hand or uttering a withering curse? Oh, the divine irony of it! That curse had been declared millennia beforehand in Genesis 3, the crown of thorns already laid upon our heads. “Cursed is the ground because of you,” God said to Adam, “…It will produce thorns and thistles for you…” The consequence of Adam’s arrogance, pride and disobedience left the legacy of a severed relationship with God and in its wake a corrupted creation. A crown of thorns for all humankind, and the promise of death. It would have been our hopeless inheritance through eternity had it not been for God’s plan to have Jesus Christ take such a crown upon himself for our sakes. As Isaiah reminds us, Jesus was crowned with our iniquity that we might stand forgiven, free and righteous in his Father’s presence.
    Prayer :: Oh my Lord, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, thank you for loving the world so much that you gave your son Jesus so that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life. Thank you for offering us the crown of eternal life in him. Grant us the daily courage and faith to accept it with humility, and the willingness to submit to your plans for us. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.
    What Next? :: Please continue praying for this thorny, arrogant world to cease mocking the amazing grace and love of Jesus. Pray that we honor and glorify his kingship by surrendering our self-seeking desires, priorities and motivations to him. Savor God’s plan for every knee to bow and every tongue to confess that Jesus is Lord. It’s a matter of life or death. 

    PHOTOS (from top – click on pictures for enlarged slideshow): Station One – Jesus on the Mount of Olives, by Lynn Digby; Station Seven – Jesus Takes Up His Cross, by Micah Miller; Station Eight – Simon the Cyrene Helps Jesus Carry His Cross, by William Bogdan; Station Nine – Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem, by Clare Murray Adams; Station Ten – Jesus is Crucified, by Pam Neff

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Watts Up at the Beethoven Festival



Canton Symphony and André Watts: Serving Up A Sumptuous Beethoven Feast

By Tom Wachunas
 

    I’m fairly sure that from its inception, the Canton Symphony Orchestra’s  much-anticipated Beethoven Festival that commenced on March 28/29  posed some challenging program questions. Which works could best celebrate the composer’s genius while sating the appetites of his most ardent aficionados? Should the festival, spread across four concerts, be built upon only the symphonies?
    As it is, each program can be appreciated as an edifying, forward-looking mini-survey of Beethoven’s progressive climb toward the monumental achievement  of his Ninth Symphony, which will close the festival on April 26. Specifically, the festival programs center around Beethoven’s five piano concertos as they represent a steady, thoughtful journey into the composer’s ever maturing explorations of pathos and joy. And who better to lead us on that journey than Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann’s colleague and long-time friend, pianist André Watts?
   The March 28 concert opened with Coriolan Overture, an intensely stormy and compact work from 1807 in sonata form.  In many ways it presages the Sturm und Drang aspects of Beethoven’s iconic Fifth Symphony, completed in the following year. Here, the string section rose to the occasion with brilliant solidity and finesse, flawlessly articulating the work’s constant tension between two thematic developments – one agitated and bellicose, the other gentle and contemplative.
    The orchestra was wholly enchanting in the evening’s third selection - the overture and selections from an 1801 ballet called Die Geschöpfe Des Prometheus (The Creatures of Prometheus). Particularly remarkable were the solo passages from Erica Snowden (principal cello) and Randy Klein (principal clarinet) in the Adagio following the overture, at once lilting and poignant.
    Set between these two works, the second program selection was a step back into Beethoven’s youth. He was only 25 when he completed his Piano Concerto No.2 in 1795 (the first of his piano works, though not published until after No.1). While not as musically ambitious as his later works in the form, this shortest of his piano concertos nonetheless points to the emergence of a fresh and compelling lyricism. This was especially apparent in the slow movement.  Watts navigated its torrent and tenderness with inspired – and inspiring - vigor and clarity.
   The following evening’s concert began with the orchestra’s memorably crisp, sparkling rendition of selections from Contradances, composed in 1802. For all of its unpretentious charm, the collection is most significant for dance No. 7, which contains a theme first encountered in The Creatures of Prometheus, and more notably the finale of the magnificent third symphony, Eroica.
   Then, the same inspired energy that sustained André Watts’ astonishing virtuosity of the previous evening remained undiminished, and in fact was substantially augmented, in his performances of Piano Concerto No. 1 (1798) and No.3 (1803). The slow movement in No.1 was utterly breathtaking in its searing emotionality, likewise the third movement in its unrestrained joy. It is in Concerto No.3, however, where a newer lyrical substance and interplay with the orchestra came to fruition for Beethoven in a significant separation from the influences of Mozart and Haydn.
    Interestingly enough, the only jarring moment of the evening came at the end of the slow movement, an emotionally transcendent study in ethereal solemnity. It was followed immediately by the third movement. No pause between the two. No chance to breathe out, to savor even briefly the ineffable beauty of the music that had just unfolded. Still, Watts dutifully brought us back to earth, as it were, with the furious joviality of the finale. As in all of his performances, watching him play here was to see an artist physically pour himself into his instrument to draw out what can rightly be called the Beethovian Zeitgeist.
   Clearly spent yet exuberant at the end, Watts and Maestro Zimmermann quickly engaged in a triumphal hug. This spontaneous gesture of mutual adulation between conductor and soloist immediately prompted me to think that all of us in the auditorium, standing now in our boisterous ovation, had been spoken to and embraced by the spirit of Beethoven himself.

    www.cantonsymphony.org     

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Writes Of Passage




Writes of Passage

By Tom Wachunas
 

    “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”  -Thomas Merton

    “As my artist’s statement explains, my work is utterly incomprehensible and is therefore full of deep significance.” –Calvin


    And now for something completely different – a man with three buttocks. Er, umm…, thanks anyway, Monty Python. Let’s start again.
    And now for something completely different – the “critic” bares (bears?) his soul about his art. This I assure you is a loaded gun proposition.
    I can’t remember anymore how many times fellow artists have asked me, “Are you making any new stuff lately?” To which I’ve often shot back, “Read my blog lately?” While I can certainly appreciate how such a quip could be taken as flippant or arrogant, it is generally and sincerely meant to be an invitation.
    Throughout the past several years, I’ve come to embrace the act of writing well about art (or the arts) as essentially an extension of making an art object. I mean this in the sense that any work of art is at its core a formal externalization of the human spirit and all it might connote – mind, heart, soul. In giving form to ideas and/or emotions through words, my processes and methods of constructing a critique or commentary are no different than those I engage in constructing my mixed media works.
    It all comes down to configuration – the overall intentional structuring or arrangement of a given set of components (elements) to achieve a desired end (whole). This end could be one or a combination of the following: to instruct, impart a personal message, provoke inquiry, evince a truth, evoke an experience, or simply “entertain.” Determining and manipulating the material medium and formal vocabulary (i.e. line, shape, form, texture, color, etc.) that best serves my intentions as a visual artist is an often enough daunting process, and one nonetheless parallel to choosing and composing the most efficacious words for my essays. In as much as I consider this blog site to be a “gallery” of other artists’ works and a platform for offering insight as to their meaning, it is also a venue for my own.
    Over the past few years, my visual work has evolved into sculptural drawings in high relief - configurations - often incorporating found objects and “pedestrian” materials. These mixed media assemblages are tactile metaphors for contemplating the tensions between various dichotomies I see working in my daily life as I discern its meaning and purpose: hiding and uncovering, illusion and reality, spirit and natural substance, seeking and discovery. Conceptually, for me these works address physical, emotional, and cerebral processes of making and interpreting art. You could call it three-dimensional writing.
    The pieces pictured above (on view for a few more weeks at Gallery 6000, after the current Spring Break at Kent Stark – see my post here from Feb. 9) represent a reworking of older pieces to symbolize the vague (and often nagging) sense of immanent change I’ve been feeling lately as to the trajectory of new work. Word play has always figured highly in many of my titles, intended to imply a multiplicity or layering of meaning. Knot What It Used To Be and Gauze For Concern, for example, remain consistent with my abiding fascination with the ephemeral, ambiguous nature of signs and symbols within our materialistic culture. Yet they also signify a personal desire to recognize and heal spiritual wounds.
    What all this might mean for future artworks remains uncertain. If I think about it too much, I get all tied up in nots knots.

    PHOTOS, from top (click on pictures for enlarged slide show): Knot What It Used To Be; Gauze For Concern; Tiechotomies  

Friday, March 13, 2015

Toward Dismantling Patriarchy





Toward Dismantling Patriarchy

By Tom Wachunas


    “…THIS IS THE POTENTIALITY OF / THE HUMAN RACE BORN AGAIN…”  - from This Is For You, by Sara Benton

    “…Do not fear your experiences, as we do not fear ours, only ask if your experiences have the oxygen to be remembered; recorded.”
- from A Moving Manifesto by Peggy Corlew

EXHIBIT: POINT OF REFERENCE, through April 6 at Main Hall Art Gallery, Kent State University At Stark, 6000 Frank Avenue NW, North Canton. Gallery hours are Monday-Friday 11 AM to 5 PM, Saturday 10 AM to NOON. (Gallery closed March 23-28 during Spring Break)

A collection of works by artists from the Watkins School of Art in Nashville, and Middle Tennessee State University: Caleb Adcock, Sara Benton, Burt Blackwood, Peggy Corlew, Ashley Doggett, Kelsey Goessman, Corina Joyner, Mika Millenkopf, Maxwell Parker, Jill Schumann, Sophia Stevenson, Johanna Torre, Laura Whitfield

    Certainly the most resonant aspect of this challenging exhibit’ aside from any particular work, is its intensely probative and courageous character. It is decidedly not intended as casual viewing entertainment, or passive observation of artist-made stuff. Call it an experiential installation, and a very provocative one at that.  While it is comprised of many individual works, they’re all components of a remarkable communal identity united under the still-too-often misconstrued aegis of Feminism.

     To best grasp the conceptual backdrop of this project, I think it vital to read Peggy Corlew’s A Moving Manifesto, provided by the gallery. The document is not a strident call to arms, but rather a declaration of attitude and philosophy. It clearly transcends the superficialities of gender specificity to embrace authentic human individuality as a foundation for creating and nurturing a culture of empathetic communal action and compassion. We are so tired of being small,” Corlew writes at the beginning, and continues, “we want to be expansive. Feminism is the name of our expansive living, breathing space.” A little later in, we read, “How can we abandon our shackles welded by systematic patriarchy?”

   How indeed. From the outset, beyond words such as Feminism, there’s plenty of loaded language here to contend with. Start with manifesto, a potent term that often carries the connotation of propaganda, which in turn has lost its original, purer meaning of ideological propagation to take on unsavory associations with deception or distortion. Those negative associations aren’t relevant here.  And then there’s patriarchy. On the face of it, governance by men is not an inherently bad principle. But in this contemporary context, I think it helpful, and to a large extent fair, to consider patriarchy as a privilege and ideology that has been rightly perceived by many (women AND men) as imploding over time into a societal malaise fraught with ethical – and moral – turpitude. 

    Do the works in this exhibit present any new or persuasive canon of ethics, or tangible paradigm, for escaping such turpitude? Not specifically. Instead, they allegorically and metaphorically embody a worldview that eschews pedantic browbeating in favor of an impassioned sharing of deeply personal circumstance, identity, memory, and desire. That said, the unflinching honesty in some of the most compelling pieces here may well provoke emotional and psychological mortification, if not uncomfortable perplexity, in some viewers, myself included to varying degrees.

    Holy 3, a haunting video triptych by Burt Blackwood, has an autobiographical feel. It had an uncanny power to hold me in its dark narrative thrall, replete with unsettling imagery, including unmistakable references to pedophilia.  

    Likewise, the searing video called TAKEWANT / WHATNEED, by Jill Schumann, is still freshly branded in my memory. It’s a recorded performance piece wherein Schumann’s steady gaze at us is at once deadpan and impassive and ever-so-subtly plaintive and glassy-eyed as she is slapped firmly and repeatedly on her left cheek by a disembodied hand. SLAP. “Take what you want,” she murmurs. SLAP again. “What do you need,” she says. Slap, take what you want. Slap, what do you need. And so on, over and over, the intervals between slaps varied in duration, her cheek getting progressively redder.

    Works such as these, seeming on one level to expose the tension between tacit submission and a desired release from external forces of manipulation, generated a sensation of being a reluctant, mesmerized voyeur, entering secret places of the mind and heart (my own and the artists’), all the while wondering… who or what is in control?

    And who or what once occupied the voids covered by the upright robes or shrouds (made of slip-cast fabric) that comprise Sophia Stevenson’s untitled sculpture? Does this clustering of vacant shapes on the floor signify a funeral procession, or a resurrection? Imprisonment or liberation?        
   Sara Benton’s This Is For You is a metaphorical moment that in many ways speaks to the ethos of the entire exhibit and the community that gave rise to it. Think of it as an alternative or expanded definition of artful creativity, just as the works in this exhibit point well beyond their own aesthetic or formal trappings. A chunk of white marble and tools for sculpting it are on a wooden work table. Read Benton’s accompanying inspired poem and have at it. Strike the stone. Release the form locked inside. Chip away at old history to create a new one. What do you need? Carving as catharsis.

   Feminism. It’s not exclusively a woman thing (was it ever?), but a human one. Finally, a beginning of peace?

    PHOTOS (click on them for enlarged slideshow), from top: Untitled by Sophia Stevenson; Transgression by Caleb Adcock; Fantasma by Kelsey Goessman; installation statement

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Majesty in the Maelstrom




Majesty in the Maelstrom
By Tom Wachunas
 

    “The human body is a way to express our “soul’s experience.” There is an inner landscape within us that is often veiled, even from ourselves…It is complicated and simple…It is full of life, struggle, endurance and stubbornness.”  - Karen Laub-Novak
   “Laub-Novak was one of the vanguard of faithful Catholic artists from the Vatican II era who believed that modernist artistic expressions were not only compatible with the faith, but also were capable of opening up new insights into Church traditions.”
   - exhibit curator Gordon Fuglie                           

    EXHIBIT: Karen Laub-Novak: A Catholic Artist in the Age of Vatican II, THROUGH MARCH 15 at Walsh University Birk Center for the Arts, 2020 East Maple Street, North Canton, open daily from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.

    With only a week left to see this superb exhibit, I apologize for my late commentary. Nevertheless, if you’ve not seen it yet, I respectfully ask that you do so quickly. Featured are 36 drawings, prints and paintings by the late Washington, DC, artist, Karen Laub-Novak (1937-2009) that cover her career from the period of the early 1960s Vatican II reforms in the Catholic Church through 2000.
   The exhibit title notwithstanding, don’t expect a heady exposition of exclusively “Roman Catholic” symbols, dogma or practices. The works presented here are from various series that drew their inspiration from not only the books of Genesis and Revelation, but also the struggle to find faith and salvation described in T.S. Eliot’s “conversion poem,” Ash Wednesday, and the existential suffering embraced by Austrian poet Rainer Maria Wilke in his Duino Elegies.
   While much of the iconography is indeed Biblical in nature, Laub-Novak’s brand of Figurative Expressionism effectively transcends merely literal illustration. I think her imagery metaphorically addresses the human milieu  coming to terms with the ineffable fullness of Divine being – what in Christian Scripture and theological discourse is referred to as the pleroma.
   Many of the Biblically-sourced lithographs are loosely rendered figural situations  that appear to emerge from abstract murkiness into cathartic episodes, transpiring perhaps in maelstroms of holy desire and conscience, or rising out of eschatological darkness – Cain slaying Abel, or Apocalyptic Horsemen dispensing death, for example. In all, there’s a gripping sense of mystical convergence of flesh and spirit.
    That sense of convergence is particularly compelling in the oil paintings. The gestural intensity of Laub-Novak’s rhythmic brushwork infuses her surfaces with palpable, even electrified energy. And in their explosive chromatic splendor, there’s a frenetic majesty at work. Moses takes its visual cues from Exodus 19:4, wherein God tells Moses and his people, “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” We see the eagle’s talons firmly gripping the shoulders of God’s appointed leader. Capturer and captured are one. Likewise, in Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, rather than describing the throes of writhing struggle between the physical and supernatural, the painter presents two similar anatomies on the cusp of mutual embrace, floating and nearly fused together in a radiant vortex of color.
    The painting is beautifully emblematic of the exhibit’s provocative spirituality, articulating the potent drama of seeking and discovery, of calling out and being heard, of grasping and being grasped. Laub-Novak’s art is an arresting reminder that human history is most purely discerned as our desire to be integrated in the pleroma.

    PHOTOS, from top: Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse – Death, lithograph, 1963-4; Moses, oil on canvas, 1990-98; Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, oil on canvas, 1990-98