Monday, July 28, 2014

Elegant Ephemera




Elegant Ephemera

By Tom Wachunas

    “…Thus there exists an essential truth that must be disengaged from the outward appearance of the objects to be represented. This is the only truth that matters…Exactitude is not the truth.”

-Henri Matisse, 1947


    EXHIBIT: The Art of Living – art by Lisa Vincenzo at The Little Art Gallery, located in the North Canton Public Library, 185 North Main Street, North Canton, THROUGH AUGUST 23 / 330.499.4712 ext. 312  www.ncantonlibrary.com

    Read Lisa Vincenzo’s statement for this, her first-ever solo show, and it should become clear that for her, drawing isn’t limited to being only a preparation, a step in realizing a future “finished” work. “Drawings are my diary,” she writes, “and I simply draw from life.” Her desire is for us to see her pieces as windows on her “…deep empathy and love for all living things.” Her drawings, then, aren’t merely academic exercises in recording the precise look of her subjects so much as her response and relationship to their essences.
    And what a vigorous, captivating response it is! Beneath the drawings’ sketchy appearance is a confident, visceral spontaneity - rendered in a variety of deftly handled media including watercolor, ink, pencil, charcoal, lithography and even IPad. Whether bold or delicate, the visual choreography of her mark-making is imbued with purposeful energy without being fussy or extraneous.
    This is to say that even at their most abstracted, the drawings indicate an intuitive grasp of communicative gestural dynamics. Without dependence on “realistic” detail, pieces such as Midas Breaks Free (India ink) and Spirit Horse (watercolor), for example, still effectively convey the horses’ mass in motion. Her watercolor, Women with Strings, for all of the paint’s muscular blackness, flows nonetheless with lyrical expressivity. Vincenzo understands how variations in the breadth and character of lines, the saturation of tones and relative sizes and qualities of shapes can set up engaging visual rhythms that guide our eyes around the picture plane.
   A particularly exciting component of the exhibit is the inclusion of 13 IPad color pieces (Kitten, shown above, is an example). While intimate in scale, they fairly burst with a celebratory radiance. Rather than opting to wow us with any number of the dazzling special effects available through digital technology, Vincenzo offers disarmingly simple compositions that have a painterly air. Several of them, in their refined, elegant design, lusciously saturated color and simplified shapes remind me of the arresting balance of Matisse’s late-career paper cut-outs.
   With these digitally-generated images, I think Vincenzo successfully presents unassailable proof that efficacious drawing need not be constrained to historically traditional tools and techniques – techniques in which she is clearly adept. In a broader sense, her works remind me that at its core drawing is, after all, pure configuration. It is a way of seeing, then organizing spatial relationships, in two or three dimensions, between various formal elements including line, shape/form, texture and tonality/color.
    Vincenzo’s art is a passionate commitment to being in the moment, to  skillfully observing the ephemeral, and making palpable the spirit of life itself.  

    PHOTOS (from top): Kitten (IPad); Airport (India Ink); Woman with the Red Umbrella (Pencil); I Dream of Jungles and Stars (Charcoal and India Ink) 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Where Hand Meets Heart





Where Hand Meets Heart

By Tom Wachunas


    …Forms seem to rise and fall like so many gaseous clouds and liquid streams, conjuring perhaps, ghosts of a volatile, primordial soup.” From ARTWACH, January 22, 2010

    EXHIBIT: Gene Barber at Journey Art Gallery, 431 4th Street NW, downtown Canton, THROUGH AUGUST 13, (330) 546-7061  www.journeyartgallery.com

    After several years’ absence from the local exhibition circuit (due to health concerns), I’m pleased to remind you that Gene Barber is back, with a strong showing of 15 pieces at Journey Art Gallery. Along with a group of very recent acrylic paintings on canvas, there are four exquisite older drawings. Untitled and Warrior Princess (pictured above), for example, are mesmerizing organic abstractions – superbly designed and composed, and  featuring Barber’s linear precision along with his pointillist ink technique.
    His recent acrylic paintings still possess the sinuous, raw physicality and luminosity of his older abstract canvases, perhaps even more so. But with these pieces, I sensed a shift in Barber’s overall design of the picture plane. Older works were configured such that his palette within a single painting was generously varied, with lots of push-pull between warm and cool hues. Further, the arc of his organic shapes and directional linearities were distributed more widely across the plane, usually edge to edge.
    These newer paintings, however, comprised largely of a dominant hue with analogous variations (sometimes including sublime whispers of  contrasting hues), are subtly tighter, more compressed. I included the quote at the top of this post because the overall spirit it describes in Barber’s paintings from four or five years ago still holds true now. And he continues to paint with his fingers. He literally lets his hands, his flesh, manipulate the ephemeral, indeed primal energy seeming to seethe below all that gestural surface expressivity.
    And from that energy below, that heart if you will, something specific emerges in each canvas. These new paintings have concentrated focal points that hover in the center of the plane, or nearly so. They’re distinct pictorial events - visual to be sure, but I suspect metaphorical as well.
    Call them what you will – announcements, discoveries, revelations, personal epiphanies. In any event, welcome back, Mr. Barber.

    PHOTOS, courtesy Su Nimon (from top): Cosmic Birth; Bird Feeding; Warrior Princess; Untitled

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Bjorn To The Task






Bjorn To The Task

By Tom Wachunas
 

     “Frankly, this culture of unbridled narcissism and oversharing has become like a metastasizing cancer that is eroding all traditional notions of personal discretion and public decency.” – Anthony L. Hall

   “I strongly urge you to study portrait painting, do as many portraits as you can and don't flag. We must win the public over later on by means of the portrait; in my opinion it is the thing of the future.” –Vincent van Gogh, from a letter written to painter Émile Bernard

   “…I hope that this project inspires people to look inside of themselves and ask, "What inspirations have I been ignoring and how can I begin to set them free?"  We are all worthy of it.  We are all artists.”   -Bjorn Bolinder

    EXHIBIT: The One-A-Day Project: Re-imaging the Selfie with Bjorn Bolinder, at Translations Art Gallery THROUGH JULY 26, 331 Cleveland Avenue NW, downtown Canton / viewing hours Wed.-Sat., Noon to 5 p.m.



    I admit to having an ambivalent attitude toward the social media onslaught of “selfies.” On the one hand, they constitute a viral phenomenon that earned dubious legitimacy when “selfie” was declared “word of the year” in 2013 by the Oxford English Dictionary. Essentially, selfies are a trend that further illustrates our societal lust to overcome anonymity. Call it an apotheosis of cultural self-absorption. And ironically enough, I think that after a point, this pictorial plethora has succeeded in rendering a homogenized, rather silly sameness to the countless individuals who indulge their desires to be quickly “known” and otherwise friended, flattered or envied. Fifteen minutes of fame, anyone?
    On the other hand, if we consider the selfie trend in the larger context of self-portraiture as a human practice, there’s nothing new about it at all – just the mechanism and, to a considerable extent, the “aesthetics.” I still recall all those goofy images generated during the last century of faces and bare butts squished on to the glass plates of Xerox machines. (You could call them yesteryear’s analogs to today’s digital dross.) But I’m speaking here of self-portraiture as a viable artistic pursuit. And from that perspective, a substantial number of artists have historically engaged the practice and left a distinguished legacy of compelling works – Dürer, Rembrandt, van Gogh and Frida Kahlo, to name only some.
    This is where things get a bit dicey. Are selfies an art form simply by virtue of their being photographs?  It’s an arguable point, and I tend to regard them as a kind of pop art subset – a highly accessible if not “lowbrow” democratization of the photographic medium. Even as many online exhibitors might employ photo shop editing, their motivation seems more about vanity and superficial “special effects” than genuine creativity.
    The photographs by New York City-based artist Bjorn Bolinder are at once a commentary on the whole notion of selfies and a transcending of their usually generic, mundane or cutesy content. I’ll not be recapping here what initially prompted this collection (for that, please click on the above links to Translations Gallery and Bolinder’s web sight for the expanded statement and examples of his work) except to say, with great admiration, that Bolinder is clearly passionate about and committed to the sheer discipline of daily prioritizing his creative process.
    So yes, on the surface, the subject matter is Bjorn times Bjorn times Bjorn, day after day, spanning more than 100 consecutive days…But collectively, these images are a scintillating diary of sorts -  an intriguing visual autobiography of ideas, inspirations, possibilities to be realized and challenges to be met both technically and aesthetically. More than monotonous or ordinary repetitions of his face, these superbly crafted images embody the soul of a storyteller, alive with a sense of theatricality, played out in various settings and atmospheres. They’re alternately whimsical and haunting, playful and contemplative, dramatic and fantastical.
    The photographs aren’t framed or mounted in the conventional manner but rather suspended in air, hung with clothes pins on lines that stretch wall-to-wall across the gallery. Viewing them is literally a moving experience, requiring us to walk through the rows, all the while reading the hand-written notes interspersed among the photos explaining the progression of particular concepts or goals. Indeed, motion itself is a recurring thematic aspect in many of the images, and not so surprising when considering Bolinder’s background as a dancer.
   This collection, then, is a record of making each day a realized, tangible product – an intentional step in an ongoing dance, so to speak. As such, the exhibit presents the wondrously designed choreography of a rich imagination.


    PHOTOS, ©Bjorn Bolinder 2014, from top: Air Slumber, Cell Jump, Fangtastic, Jump/Catch, Typical Saturday Night

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Shifting Perspectives






Shifting Perspectives

By Tom Wachunas
 

    “Painting from nature is not copying the object; it is realizing sensations.”
    -Paul Cezanne

    “I don’t paint things. I only paint the difference between things.”
    -Henri Matisse
 
    EXHIBIT: Organic Medley- art by Irene Tobias Rodriguez, at the Little Art Gallery, located in the North Canton Public Library THROUGH JULY 12, 185 North Main Street, North Canton/ 330-499-4712,  Ext. 312

    This one almost got away from me, and I apologize for the late posting. But if you haven’t seen it yet, there’s just six days left (gallery closed on Sundays in summer) to see a generous sampling of work from one of this area’s more versatile and prolific artists.
    The creative sensibilities of Irene Tobias Rodriguez are so eclectic that were she a songwriter, her tunes might be variously categorized as easy listening (light classical), folk, pop, even jazz. As it is, the award-winning, robust diversity on view here takes the form of mixed media sculpture (including painted gourds), quilts, woven baskets, jewelry, drawings, digital art (mixed media) and acrylic painting.
    In the realm of painting, her well-crafted style is representational and hovers somewhere between the fluid, painterly surfaces of Impressionism and the more exacting details and textures of Realism. Genres range from maritime and landscape (urban and natural) to still life, floral and animal.
   I was particularly drawn to two aspects of the paintings, the first being what Rodriguez calls her Puzzle Paintings. Seven of them are on view here. These scenes are executed on separately cut pieces of board and assembled into a whole, like a puzzle.
    Each piece is a “mini” painting in itself, and their junctures create a linear element threaded throughout the picture plane. It’s a playful technique, to be sure. Yet rather than crudely fragment or intrude upon the overall unity of the image, this method intensifies the experience of pictorial depth in a fresh way, not too unlike Paul Cezanne’s explorations of binocular vision, rendering simultaneous viewpoints of a thing.
    In her exquisite Segments of an Apple Tree, for example, Rodriquez presents the apples convincingly enough as sumptuous, discrete orbs while introducing spatial distortions. Subtle shifts of details on the surfaces are such that our sense of nearness to, or distance from the fruit generates a pulsating effect. The ambiguities of depth and light that this method allows are even more amplified in the equally intricate Lone Feather, wherein a few of the puzzle segments are sunk below the surface of the painting.
    As for the second aforementioned intriguing aspect, there are two works here that are of a distinctly different character than the rest of the acrylic paintings. Each manifests a Modernist ideation that, prior to seeing this show, I didn’t really think was a significant component in Rodriguez’s already impressive creative arsenal. The two men in the dramatic Ordinary Discussion are rendered with a fluidity of line and intensity of palette that evokes the brooding lyricism of European Expressionists such as Munch, Kirchner or Nolde.  And the somewhat abstract Rabbits Two exudes an ebullient color dynamic and elegant compositional balance that brings to mind Matisse, particularly when he observed that, “…in all the tones there must result a living harmony of colors, a harmony analogous to that of a musical composition.”
    So maybe in a metaphorical sense, Rodriguez is a songwriter, and a very facile one at that, capable of changing her tunes to best fit the idea at hand. You could count these two works, along with her Puzzle Paintings, among her greatest hits.


    PHOTOS, courtesy Irene Tobias Rodriguez, from top: Lily Path; Segments of an Apple Tree;  Lone Feather; Ordinary Discussion; Rabbits Two  

Monday, June 30, 2014

Decisive Moments






Decisive Moments

By Tom Wachunas

   “Now to consult the rules of composition before making a picture is a little like consulting the law of gravitation before going for a walk…”
-Edward Weston

    EXHIBIT: Mark Pitocco: A Sense of Place, photographs of the Huston-Brumbaugh Nature Center at Mount Union, on view at Studio M in the Massillon Museum, THROUGH JULY 20, 121 Lincoln Way East in downtown Massillon, 330-833-4061,  www.massillonmuseum.org


    In his statement for this exhibit, photographer Mark Pitocco included the above quote from one of America’s preeminent masters of 20th century photography. At first blush, I took Weston’s words to mean some sort sardonic rejection of “rules of composition” altogether, and Pitocco’s solidarity with that stance. But after viewing Pitocco’s collection of exceptional digital photographs, and some further digging into Weston’s thinking about the medium, I have a broader appreciation of the big picture, pun intended.
    Interestingly enough, there was this sentence that immediately followed Weston’s statement cited above: “…Such rules and laws are deduced from the accomplished fact; they are products of reflection.”  At another point, Weston observed, “To compose a subject well means no more than to see and present it in the strongest manner possible.”  
   But what constitutes “the strongest manner possible?” Is it limited to the photographer’s conscious application of certain formal elements or principles that can enhance a picture’s impact (e.g., make it more “beautiful”) – manipulating its visual syntax?  Or is it also a matter of creative intuition? The artist, at one with his device that scans a panorama, assesses visual information in the viewfinder, identifies compelling content and – moment of truth - releases the shutter.
    The most special photographs from nature are those which demonstrate the photographer’s unique, even uncanny capacity for recognizing what Weston called “the quintessence of a thing” without forcing it, necessarily, into pre-determined formal parameters. Such practices can often generate pictorial clichés, which is decidedly not the case with this show.
    A walk through a forest can present an overwhelming number of optical complexities – indeed, a visual cacophony of changing light, variable hues, textures, and forms both solid and ephemeral. And yet nature itself is quite capable – without too much (if any) formulaic or artificial tweaking on our part - of birthing formal “compositions,” or moments, that both photographer and viewer could find emotionally and/or intellectually engaging.
    Thus, to the extent that the photographer can see and interact with such moments that resonate as unified compositions, nature can often “frame itself” in a strong and inviting manner. And I think this is precisely what Mark Pitocco has successfully revealed with this collection. His pictures are essentially intimate microcosms – isolated yet connected episodes on a reverential, contemplative journey through a forest. These visions are fresh and honest, alive with rich textures and quietly intriguing internal structuring. Call it, then, nature framing itself, made accessible by Pitocco’s discerning eye, and an altogether harmonious convergence of device and discovery.

    PHOTOS, courtesy Mark Pitocco (from top):  Above the Valley; Blue Ice with Branches; Five Stones; Heavy Spring Rain at Pond; Blue Ice at Pond’s Edge     

Monday, June 23, 2014

Howdaydoodat?



Howdaydoodat?

By Tom Wachunas
 

    “Magicians have done controlled testing in human perception for thousands of years.” –Teller


   I still remember the morning when I graduated from being a wavering believer in Santa Claus (around 2nd grade, I think) to the sadly disillusioned child who knew better once and for all. Before going to bed one Christmas Eve, I had written a plaintive letter to the jolly elf (asking for his autograph, among other things), sealed it in an envelope addressed with big crayon letters, and clandestinely taped it to the inside of our chimney in a place he couldn’t possibly miss. And there it still was in the morning, untouched. I had a blue Christmas without him. So much for magic.
    Fast forward some 30 years to an eight-week course I took in learning how to do magic. Most of the curriculum focused on sleight of hand card tricks and making small objects disappear. I was a fairly poor performer at best, and once again I emerged from the experience sure that there really wasn’t any magic in magic. I did however acquire a deeper appreciation of the demanding discipline needed to smoothly manage not only my own hands, but audience perceptions – the art of misdirection - as well.
    These memories kept resurfacing as I watched the Theatre of Magic show unfold on the Players Guild Theatre mainstage. The stars of the evening are Joshua Erichsen, Producing Artistic Director of the Players Guild Theatre, and internationally renowned mentalist Angela Funovits, slated to star in the SYFY Channel competition series, “Wizard Wars,” alongside the legendary Penn and Teller, and scheduled to premiere on August 19.
    Erichsen’s illusions are of a more intimate scale than say, David Copperfield’s vanishing of the Statue of Liberty, though no less convincing, including one wherein he apparently amputates his forearm in an act of what he calls “bloodless surgery.” And there is the occasional sense of “standard fare” about the show, as in his Houdini-esque escape from a straightjacket while suspended upside down on a burning rope. Yet the spectacle’s hold-your-breath tension is still thrilling to experience.
    Erichsen’s impressivel “bag of tricks” is also woven with plenty of humor and sight gags. At one hilarious juncture, he takes on the role of the student of magic, learning to execute an illusion by listening to step-by-step instructions dictated by the virtual assistant web app, Siri. As she tells him how to fold a bandana, a perplexed-looking Erichsen has apparently heard banana. Undaunted, he proceeds with fruit in hand and…Well, you’ll just have to come and see for yourself.
    It’s interesting to note that Angela Funovits is also a medical doctor. So it’s not so surprising to hear her tell the audience that as a mentalist, she regards her feats as a kind of scientific probing, dismissing the notion of “psychic” or cosmic powers at work. In any event, her stage-side manner, as it were, is amiable, fetching and magnetic as she sets up the parameters of her brain-confounding experiments with audience volunteers, often prefacing her instructions with, “This may sound strange, but…” Strange indeed, and call it what you will – mindreading, fortunetelling, old fashioned sorcery - the outcomes are invariably astonishing.   
    So while I may have attended the show as a cynic, looking for chinks in the armor of staged illusion and so-called psychic phenomena, I left delightedly spellbound and otherwise duly mystified. Theatre of magic, to be sure. Lavish legerdemain, perfected prestidigitation, oh what a wondrous web we weave when first we practice…   Where else can we go to have our trusted senses of reality so wildly manipulated and challenged… and genuinely enjoy it? There’s the magic.

   THEATRE OF MAGIC, at Canton Players Guild Theatre, 1001 Market Avenue N, with performances Friday June 27 at 8:00 pm and Saturday June 28 at 2:00 and 8:00 pm. Tickets for this Mainstage show are $20 for adults and $15 for those 17 and younger. Tickets for may be purchased online 24 hours a day at www.playersguildtheatre.com  or in person at the Players Guild Box Office, located in the Great Court of the Cultural Center for the Arts, 1001 Market Ave N. Tickets may also be purchased by phone: 330-453-7617.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Monochromed Invitations






Monochromed Invitations

By Tom Wachunas
 

    “The eye should learn to listen before it looks.” –Robert Frank

     “There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.” –Ansel Adams


    EXHIBIT: Fragile Waters: Photographs by Ansel Adams, Ernest H. Brooks II and Dorothy Kerper Monnelly, at Massillon Museum THROUGH SEPTEMBER 14, 121 Lincoln Way East, downtown Massillon http://www.massillonmuseum.org/fragilewaters  330-833-4061


    So the first thing you must do when entering the exhibit – surely one of, if not the most breathtaking I’ve ever seen at this museum -  is read. Don’t like reading stuff at an art show, you say? Kindly get over yourself, and be open to the possibility of listening to what the words are telling you. You’ll fare much better in hearing the 117 black and white pictures. And, wonder of wonders, how they do speak.
    In the curator’s statement posted at the entrance to the exhibit, Jeanne Falk Adams asks us to consider just what it is that makes the photographs by her father-in-law, the late Ansel Adams, so compelling. At one point she  quotes the late photographer, curator and historian, John Szarkowski. He  saw Ansel Adams as a champion in the Romantic tradition who effectively caused viewers to sense the great spaces of wilderness as he did -  a “metaphor for freedom and heroic aspirations.”
    Also located at the entrance to the exhibit is a tiny, ghostly photograph by Ansel Adams, Diamond Cascade, from Yosemite National Park and made in 1920 when Adams was just 18 years old. Posted with the photograph is the text of a letter he wrote to his father – a revelatory, passionately written document wherein the young artist explains the thinking behind his composition. “…I am more than ever convinced,” Adams wrote, “that the only possible way to interpret the scenes hereabout is through an impressionistic vision…Even in portraying the character and spirit of a little cascade one must rely solely upon line and tone…”
   Even at this early stage, he was seeing abstractly. In many ways the letter is an invaluable guide – an aesthetic template - for appreciating not only Adams’ works, but those of Ernest H. Brooks II and Dorothy Kerper Monnelly as well. What unites all three artists, beyond their unassailable technical mastery and clear love for the subjects they encountered, is something a bit more challenging to articulate. Yes, their images are compositionally resplendent  marvels of light, form and textures both serene and dramatic. And to translate such visually compelling moments from nature into black and white, like so many symphonies of lush tonality, is itself a stunning achievement.
    More significant, though, is an ineffable spirit, an intuitive perceiving on the part of the artists, which invariably determines the difference between truly great photographs such as theirs and ordinary, numbing snap-shots of pretty scenes. It’s the difference between “taking a picture” to be imprisoned in the frame as a static objet d’art, and making a picture to speak and to inspire outside itself. I think the motivation for making such pictures is far more than producing an imitation, however skilled, of what is directly seen. It is as well a form of empathy with the beholder who might similarly long to forever savor and protect the beheld – a heroic aspiration.
   In that sense this exhibit is much larger than the sum of its magnificent parts. More than a powerful homage to precious, live-giving and life-sustaining water, and more than a beautiful art collection, it’s an invitation to shared stewardship. Two people in every picture? Certainly. Then again, we’re all in this together.  

    PHOTOS, from top: Winged Wall by Ernest H. Brooks II; Otter Cliffs, Dawn by Dorothy Kerper Monnelly; Salt Hay, First Light by Dorothy Kerper Monnelly; Winged Angel by Ernest H. Brooks II; Snake River by Ansel Adams