Thursday, July 12, 2018

A Piquant Sojourn

A Piquant Sojourn

By Tom Wachunas

   “A picture is a secret about a secret, the more it tells you the less you know.” ― Diane Arbus 

   “All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.”  ― Susan Sontag

   EXHIBIT: Afterwards - New Photos by Aimee Lambes / curated by Craig Joseph, at The Joseph Saxton Gallery of Photography, 520 Cleveland Ave NW, in downtown Canton / THROUGH SEPTEMBER 1, 2018


   The remarkable photographs made by Aimee Lambes while in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland are not the kind of contrived, touristy scenarios you’d find in a promotional travel brochure. Nor are they likely to lure you into adding the specific locales that are depicted here to your bucket list of must-see vacation spots.

   These particular places feel old, far-flung, not especially verdant, and a bit lonely. Residents might ward off decrepitude with a coat of bright yellow or turquoise paint on the weather-beaten facades of their ramshackle houses and sheds. Otherwise it’s a raw place, with unattended docks and boats piled with the tangled accessories of rough maritime livelihoods. In short, it feels simply too strange to visit, and you wouldn’t want to live here.

   Then again, I could be mistaken…different strokes…whatever floats your lobster trap… all that stuff. That said, Lambes’ pictures are compelling – perhaps even oddly charming - in a number of ways, not the least of which being in how they pose more questions than people. In fact, there isn’t a soul to be found anywhere in these scenes – not one in the guise of a human body, anyway. Where is everyone? Is it nap time on a Sunday afternoon? Has everybody gone fishing? Are all the people here photophobic? Are they on vacation in more amiable, exotic environs?  Has there been a mass exodus, apocalyptic or otherwise? 

   This is not to say that the photos themselves don’t have soulful presence. There’s real eloquence in these visions - a poetical attitude, a lyrical perspective. On a purely formal level, Lambes has a finely honed skill for engaging us with intriguing rhythmic contrasts of colors, shapes, patterns, and textures that can seem to sing or dance across the picture plane. If these images were songs, they’d be bittersweet ballads. 

   Beyond such arresting compositional elements, however, is something more subtle and ineffable – a quality or character that you either sense when you see it or you don’t. If it’s there, it will show itself, but only after honest, intentional seeing.  

   Look slowly. Take a walk on the quiet side. I’ve always thought that photography (and for that matter, any art form regardless of the medium or apparent content) is at its most impactfull when it points to something outside its immediate materiality. Even better, when it makes us feel something of or for the artist’s life. Lambes has written of these photographs that they’re a record of the last road trip she took with her son before he went off to college. That mood of isolation and abandonment prevalent in so many of her photos is, then, a mirror of her own struggles to come to terms with the inevitability of distance, separation, longing. It’s that bittersweet ballad again. We can hear it with our eyes.
   It’s also interesting if not downright mystifying that Aimee Lambes calls herself “an introverted misanthrope.” Methinks she protests too much. She’s released her pictures, beautiful to be sure, into our embrace, indeed our lives. That’s not the act of a misanthrope, but of a generous soul.

   PHOTOS, in order from top down: 1. Lenny Hanlon / 2. Bay of Fundy / 3. Yellow House / 4. Dinghies / 5. St. John / 6. Lobster Traps / 7. Lobster Floats

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Foretelling the Past, PART II

Foretelling the Past, Part II

By Tom Wachunas

    “All paintings start out of a mood, out of a relationship with things or people, out of a complete visual impression. To call this expression abstract seems to me often to confuse the issue. Abstract means literally to draw from or separate. In this sense every artist is abstract . . . a realistic or non-objective approach makes no difference. The result is what counts.”  - Richard Diebenkorn

UPCOMING EXHIBIT – SAVE THE DATE PLEASE !! – Altared States, a solo exhibit of my work at The Little Art Gallery, on view July 19 – August 19, 2018 / located in the North Canton Public Library, 185 North Main Street, North Canton, Ohio / Opening reception on Thursday, July 19, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

   Poet W.H.Auden once said, “We were put on this earth to make things.” Make of that what you will. As for me, today I made a fire.

   I burned six failed experiments from around 10 years ago. They were to me wholly forgettable artworks, mute distractions gathering cobwebs in the cellar, ugly things, really. Not that everything else I’ve saved over the years is in some way beautiful, certainly, but these particular aberrations merited immediate extinction. A necessary purging. I can’t remember what I was attempting to do or say when I made them. So I decided to spare any fellow humans the discomfort of looking at them, or the unenviable and otherwise lugubrious task of answering me if I were to pursue the old wha–da-ya think? gambit. Careful what you wish for, eh?

   That said, there are several much older pieces – specifically from my years in New York – that I thought still worthy of being seen in my upcoming exhibit. They’re chapters in a pictorial autobiography, or abstract analogs to the people, places, and events in my then everyday living. What startled me most when I re-discovered these small paintings was the vast difference in aura, or spirit, not to mention paint handling, between the gouache studies (pictured above, from top down: Open Invitation, In the Pink, Detour ) and the acrylic paintings on un-stretched scraps of linen (Apathy, What I Did To Her, and Omen), which were among the very last pieces I made before leaving New York at the close of 1991.

   The gouaches were made between 1981 and 1982, much of their imagery inspired by honeymoon camping in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. There’s optimism, a sense of promise, maybe even an air of mystery, but usually nothing too ominous. Even that red snake in the road of Detour seemed more whimsical than threatening to me. 

   But by 1990-91, my life had become a hopelessly tangled mess. Apathy is a self-portrait of a divorced, homeless drunk. What I Did To Her is also a portrait - a jarring meditation on the wreckage I caused in the life of the woman I married in 1981. Art as a form of confession.

   In retrospect, I see the auratic darkness of those end-of-New York paintings as harbingers of an equally if not more rueful period to follow. The 1990s were years as devoid of sane thinking as they were saturated with cheap vodka. In any case, I made no art again until 2000. 

   I neither regret my past, nor wish to completely shut the door on it. After all, it’s what got me here. Now. And at the moment, there’s no place I’d rather be. 

   There will be ample evidence of my Ohio output in Altared States, including several brand new pieces, which I’ll be addressing more at length here after the show opens. For now, suffice it to say that the Ohio stuff is also of a confessional nature. But these Ohio “altarations” are not the doleful rants of a broken soul. They are in fact declarations of an ongoing catharsis, a series of discoveries and transformations. Stay tuned.

   Now that the opening of the exhibit is only a few weeks off, I’m not ashamed to tell you that I’m thoroughly in the thrall of giddy anticipation, very much like the proverbial anxious kid on Christmas Eve. I can hardly wait to get your gift of…looking.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Foretelling the Past

Foretelling the Past

By Tom Wachunas

   “Picturing things, taking a view, is what makes us human; art is making sense and giving shape to that sense. It is like the religious search for God.” –Gerhardt Richter

   UPCOMING EXHIBIT – SAVE THE DATE PLEASE !! – Altared States, a solo exhibit of my work at The Little Art Gallery, on view July 19 – August 19, 2018 / located in the North Canton Public Library, 185 North Main Street, North Canton, Ohio / Opening reception on Thursday, July 19, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

   In May, I posted some thoughts about a recent 3D piece of mine that had made it into the annual May Show at The Little Art Gallery (LAG). Here’s the link in case you’d like to refresh your memory:

   That work, “Demise,” will be one of the five new pieces made this year (the other four have never been previously exhibited) which will be included in my upcoming LAG solo exhibit, opening on July 19. The show is also a retrospective, with art made in Canton over the past 18 years, and a selection of small works made when I lived in Miami (1975-1977) and New York City (1977-1991).

   Therein rests the reason for this post, and maybe a second as well. Here then is a sneak-peek at some Miami and New York stuff never previously shown in these parts. 

   I honestly can’t remember if these pieces were ever titled when I made them. This is curious if only because I’ve always believed that titles can be a vital cue to viewers in how to consider a work, as well as indicating the artist’s state of mind. A title can establish a context wherein the work can better breathe and speak. My experience of uncovering these modest experiments after their decades of being stored away out of sight (though not completely out mind) has certainly been an invigorating one.

     So for this exhibit, I gave each of these old pictures – in a way once lost and now found - a new name, hoping to somehow make a link, if only conceptually, between the past and present. Think of it as tracking genealogy to reveal a family lineage. While physical traits vary widely, works old and new in this exhibit share the same spiritual DNA.

   Pictured above, in order from top down (under the two Pickles cartoons by Brian Crane)), are acrylic paintings on corrugated cardboard panels: Corrugated Dreams # 2 (Miami) / Corrugated Dreams #4 (Miami) / Blocked Signals (New York) / and Signal Waves (New York).

   At the time these were made, I was working full-time in the pre-recorded music industry, at times a warehouseman, at times a wholesale buyer.  Vinyl discs reigned supreme in those days. Music albums were shipped in corrugated cardboard boxes, often stuffed with extra, pre-cut 12” x 12” corrugated panels used to fill any leftover space in the boxes. The sheer abundance and availability of this free material seemed perfectly suited to my aesthetic musings about altering the functionality of ordinary, found substances of workaday life to give them an intimate new purpose and presence… to literally live outside the box.  

   Or outside the book. Maybe someday I will make a novel, given my ardor for the written word. Meanwhile, you could still consider my upcoming exhibit as chapters if not characters in an ongoing story.

Monday, June 18, 2018

X Marks the Spot

X Marks the Spot
By Tom Wachunas

   “Art must make you laugh a little and make you a little afraid. Anything as long as it doesn’t bore.”  - Jean Dubuffet

   “…Every generation must feel some version of wanting to correct the story, and to extricate painting from the narrows and constrictions of theory…” – David Salle, from “How To See” 

    If we shadows have offended / Think but this, and all is mended: / That you have but slumbered here / While these visions did appear.  – Puck’s epilogue from Shakespeare’s play, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

EXHIBIT: My Ex Suite and Other Explorations – recent mixed-media works by Patricia Zinsmeister Parker, in the second floor gallery at John Strauss Furniture, THROUGH JULY 30, 2018 / 236 Walnut Ave. NE in downtown Canton / hours:  Monday-Friday 9 – 5, Sat. 10 – 4

    Patricia Zinsmeister Parker continues to be a prolific mischief-maker.  The unmitigated quirkiness of her current show at John Strauss Furniture has a mesmerizing, childlike abandon about it. It must have cast some sort of a spell on me, because it induced a curious thought. It’s this: Parker may be a modern-day Puck (a.k.a. Robin Goodfellow). He was that unforgettable imp from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream – shrewd sprite, wandering jester, wise knave. If Puck could paint, he’d likely make pictures like Parker’s.

  There are several series – or, as Parker calls them, ‘suites’ - of works represented here. One is an arresting group of portraits, “Women Who Have Inspired Me Suite.” Their contemplative countenances and sketchy bodies are quickly captured apparitions, hovering in a painterly ether of gestural marks and luminous colors that vibrate between solidity and transparency.

   “My Ex Suite” is a particularly beguiling and boisterous collection of small (12” x 12”) mixed-media works, many clearly configured around an ‘X’. Ex what? Of course the notion of ex-spouse or boyfriend comes to mind, and all its implications. Is Parker recalling with fondness, or regretting? Is she relieved, rejoicing, or rueful? Maybe all of the above, maybe not. Half the fun here is in formulating your own subjective connections. 

   Meanwhile, consider some larger associations with X, such as, say, a mark on a map, a target, a goal. Or a blotting out, a deletion, a denial. These pieces are blocked together into a grid-like formation on the wall, suggesting perhaps a puzzle. Together they constitute a veritable treasure trove of intriguing symbols, codified messages, and/or personal remembrances. Many of the surfaces bristle with various textures, including adhered objects such as little figurines or game pieces. Some paintings are generously sprinkled with glitter. Others are lathered with so much paint (and whatever other thickening agents Parker uses) that they look like cakes piled high with icing, or sparkling holiday cookies. Whatever gravitas may be lurking here, it’s often garishly colored and sugar-coated. 

   Some of Parker’s “Other Explorations” include heady juxtapositions of text and imagery embedded in frenetically brushed, rough-edged color fields. Commentaries on cultural memes? Who’s behind those miniature masks in Artificial Intelligence, or Emoji ? What or who are they hiding? What’s more important – the disguise or the disguised? 

   I’m reminded of those surprising moments that can emerge when a child savagely rips the commercial giftwrap off the box holding a dearly desired, precious plaything made in a factory. Something unexpected happens. After the predictable squeals of delight have quieted down, the child’s imagination might wander in and take center stage. Suddenly the empty box itself seems more fascinating than what was in it, and somehow much more fun. It becomes the real object of attention. Forget playtime protocol. The possibilities are endless. The contained has been upstaged by the container, now made anew. Art can be like that.  

   This exhibit is bountiful evidence of the painter at play. Here she is, a flippant deconstructor, articulating the instantly familiar side-by-side with the enigmatic. Parker’s exquisitely refined unrefinement can invade our aesthetic comfort zones and rattle our predisposition for more conventional painting practices. 

   Back to Puck for a moment.  In Shakespeare’s fantasy play, he’s neither all darkness nor all light. Imagine him as an artist happily straddling both worlds. He’s equal parts dream weaver and reality shaper. The art of Patricia Zinsmeister Parker does as much, and in a similarly delightful spirit of naughty glee.  

PHOTOS, from top: 1. Frieda / 2. 2017 Was a Good Year / 3. My Mom Was Crazy Irish / 4. My Ex / 5. Unrequited Love / 6. Artificial Intelligence / 7. Emoji