Monday, November 16, 2020

Virtual Rebelrousing

 

Virtual Rebelrousing


Julia Wiseman (Narrator)

Emma Wiseman (Clover / The Cat)

Alaina Smith (Mollie/ Muriel)

Christian Sanko (center) / (Boxer/Pilkington)

Josof Ruttig (Squealer / Moses)

Tyler Kirker (Snowball / Benjamin)

Keon Dalziel (center) / (Major / Napoleon)

By Tom Wachunas

 

   “…Is it not crystal clear, then, comrades, that all the evils of this life of ours spring from the tyranny of human beings?...Man serves the interests of no creature except himself…”   - from the pig named Major, in his speech to the animals from Chapter 1 of Animal Farm, by George Orwell 

  PERFORMANCE: Theatre At Malone University, and Malone University Department of Communication, Visual, and Performing Arts, present ANIMAL FARM: A Fable in Two Acts, adapted by Nelson Bond from George Orwell's classic novel, and directed by Craig Joseph.

   The production features Malone University students Keon Dalziel, Tyler Kirker, Julia Robinson, Josof Ruttig, Christian Sanko, Alaina Smith, and Emma Wiseman, all playing multiple roles. ANIMAL FARM is a readers' theatre piece, adapted for the film medium during the COVID-19 pandemic. The students' performances are supplemented by music, sound effects, video clips, and original artwork by artists from around the country (featured in the exhibit currently on view at Stark Library Main Branch until December 5) to create an "illustrated radio play" of sorts, designed for online viewing.

    Remaining performance dates are Friday and Saturday, November 20th-21st. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased at

https://AnimalFarmMalone.eventbrite.com

 Once your ticket is purchased, on the day of your selected performance, you'll receive a link at your e-mail address at 12:01 AM; this link will enable you to watch the production at any point during that 24-hour period.

 

   One viral casualty of this protracted time of social distancing is the art of live theatre. With local playhouses empty and their stages dark, where can an ardent theatre enthusiast go? Why, to digital technology, of course – that ubiquitous deliverer of virtual (though not always virtuous) life. Zoom is in the room, effectively making my desktop monitor a compact stage in itself, even if it is only a flattened, albeit inventive facsimile of 3D theatrical reality. An illusion of an illusion, if you will.

   Still, this project nevertheless delivers a skillfully crafted portrait and an otherwise deeply probing manifestation of the characters and their circumstances. So for the moment, you might consider putting aside any expectations you may have of seeing a conventional-looking stage production.

   There aren’t the traditional stage accoutrements here such as the elaborate artifice of costumes, variable lighting, or constructed sets. That said, and with thanks to the excellent camera work and editing by Josh Branch Productions, the incorporation of 46 artworks by various artists in the concurrent Animal Farm exhibit at Stark Library - like so many quotation marks or exclamation points - greatly enhances the dimensionality of the on-camera oral narrative. The proceedings unfold in a found environment, an actual farm, bathed throughout in natural light. It’s a bright, sunny day for a dark, satirical allegory.

    The seven student actors, directed by Craig Joseph, deliver this unusual presentation with an intense, emotive clarity that is truly riveting from beginning to end. They’re not simply reading Orwell’s words back to us, vivid as those words certainly are. Often looking directly into the camera, they perform the words with earnest credibility, actualizing them in the same way eyewitnesses to a revolution might look us in the eye as they report what they have experienced. And interestingly enough, beyond the specific events being described in Orwell’s narrative, the most compelling, tangible actions in this entire production are to be found in the sharply honed authenticity of facial expressions and mesmerizing vocal inflections from each these gifted performers as they confidently trot, canter, and gallop through the story.  

   Here’s hoping that in the not- too- distant future, we’ll see them again, electrifying our local stages.         

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

2020 Hindsight: An Old Story Still Unfolding

 2020 Hindsight: An Old Story Still Unfolding 


Pigs Drink Whiskey, by Bobby Rosenstock

Indoctrination: The Leash of Loyalty, by Michele Waalkes

Jones and Farmers Drink, Gossip, by Aimee Lambes

Squealer Spins, by Shane and Kelly Roach

Men are Pigs and Pigs are Men, by BZTAT

Napoleon Takes Power, by Patrick Buckhor

The Evening Speech, by Erin Mulligan

By Tom Wachunas

 

EXHIBIT: ANIMAL FARM: A 75th ANNIVERSARY APPRECIATION / curated by Craig Joseph / On view at Stark Library, Main Branch, 715 Market Avenue North, Canton, Ohio / on view Through Sat. Dec 5, 2020 during regular library hours.

   “It's with great excitement that I invite you all to ANIMAL FARM: A 75th Anniversary Appreciation… I've revived the Translations Art Gallery brand and partnered with Stark Library to host an exhibit of 52 scenes from the book, created by artists from Stark County, Ohio, and around the nation. These are people whose work I treasure and admire and I'm so honored to have them all creating and exhibiting under one roof.”   - Craig Joseph, curator

Click on this link for digital catalog of entire exhibit, and purchase information:

http://www.animalfarm2020.com/pdf/digital_animal_farm_exhibit.pdf

 Sign up here to attend a Zoom Panel Discussion with several of the participating artists on Thursday, Nov. 12, 7 to 8 p.m.:  https://events.starklibrary.org/event/4656967

 

    First, let me repeat what I wrote here in my post from Oct 19. “I’m thrilled and grateful that Craig invited me to exhibit a new work for this show. In my re-reading of George Orwell’s classic tale about a rebellion of farm animals against their human keepers, I was startled at how the vivid narrative seemed to literally pop off the pages and invade my consciousness, my sense of place in time. While Orwell’s novel was a bitterly satirical allegory of the Russian Revolution and its tumultuous aftermath, I felt the story explode beyond the confines of its time. An ignoble ethos of tyranny and corrupted ideals, the story still lives today, outside the book. A then has become a now.”

   The exhibit is among the most riveting thematic group shows I’ve ever seen in Canton. With 54 works by 53 artists, it’s a megadose of remarkable creativity and an otherwise a spectacular panoply of aesthetic styles and media.

   Craig Joseph’s curatorial prowess is in full force here, reminding me that superb curating is a performative act in itself. He mounted the individual artworks as numbered episodes, each with an accompanying brief synopsis, retracing the order of the story’s events as they unfolded in the novel. So even if you’ve never read the book, or forgotten it, you can still follow the narrative. He has also provided a complete digital catalog of the artworks (click on the hyperlink above). For the duration of the show, his vigilance goes further still with his very astute comments via live Facebook posts wherein he provides a closer look at two pieces every day (except Sundays).

 https://www.facebook.com/craig.joseph.18

   Much more than a collection of storybook “illustrations” in the conventional graphics sense, the artworks here form an altogether stunning, multi-dimensional translation of Orwell’s novel. Maybe you could think of this gathering of artists as a singular entity on task to not simply retell an old story, but to illuminate, enhance, and intensify it with a new sense of immediacy – even urgency. Many of these fervent creators have articulated uncanny parallels between Orwell’s descriptions of sociopolitical chaos and depravity, and the distressing conditions of our own time. A wild journey, to be sure, and one that yields truly compelling art.

One more note: be sure to check out ANIMAL FARM: A FABLE IN TWO ACTS, an online theatrical production by Malone University Theatre, adapted by Nelson Bond and directed by Craig Joseph,

Fridays and Saturdays, November 13th and 14th / November 20th and 21st

Tickets $5.00 at  www.animalfarm2020.com

Friday, November 6, 2020

Description and De-scription

 

Description and De-scription






By Tom Wachunas

 

“…Cursive, after all, remains for me the most urgent if not earnest form of drawing.”  -from my Oct. 19 ARTWACH post

 

    My hypergraphia is acting up again, prompting yet another response to this protracted season of national trauma. These are turgid times. Caught up in a torturous maelstrom of manic anxiety and sociopolitical tensions, we writhe, blurting our pledges and prayers through gritted teeth, desperate for deliverance from our disease and dissension.

   My most recent artwork (which I have tentatively titled Politics and Religion) was sparked by watching a TV news report on the presidential election as I simultaneously flipped through one of my art history books. Something ignited in me when I saw a photograph of Lacoön and His Sons. It’s a magnificent, life-sized Greek marble sculpture from the 1st century BCE. The sculpture illustrates a moment from the Trojan war when the priest Lacoön warned Troy not to let the giant wooden horse, “gifted” by the Greeks, inside the city walls. The gods were angered, and sent serpents from the sea to kill the priest and his two sons.

   My graphite rendering (along with some altered photo-transfers) of the statue is not, however, intended as a remembrance of the mythological narrative per se. Nor is it necessarily a commentary on divine wrath. It’s more a metaphorical springboard into my concerns about the current spiritual state of our country - the gripping drama of a society in the painful throes of a tragic identity crisis.

   And so it is that my piece does include a written (in cursive) narrative of sorts. It’s drawn from a phrase in the American pledge of allegiance: “…one nation, under God, indivisible…” My written script is a series of repeated re-arrangements of the phrase’s original word order. Call it a serpentine, run-on scrawl, creating other meanings, questions, and emphases suggesting a troubled society adrift in its dividedness. InoneGodundernationdivisible.underonegodgodnationonedivisiblenationingodunderinonegoddivisiblenationinonenationunderdivisiblegodinonedivisiblegodundernationonenationgodindivisibleunder Etc., etc.

   One nation? Under God? Indivisible? Really? What have we wrought?  

Monday, October 19, 2020

A Timely Revival

 

A Timely Revival







By Tom Wachunas

 

EXHIBIT: ANIMAL FARM: A 75th ANNIVERSARY APPRECIATION / On view at Stark Library, Main Branch, 715 Market Avenue North, Canton, Ohio / Sat. November 7 through Sat. Dec 5 during regular library hours / For those wishing to attend a socially distanced  PRIVATE OPENING (masks required) on Friday November 6 from 5 to 8p.m.,  sign up for a slot at

https://www.signupgenius.com/go/10c0d4fafa92ea3fac70-animal2  

 

 First, please read this announcement from Craig Joseph:

“Though a more relaxed schedule has been a blessing, one of the things I've missed during the pandemic is having the opportunity to shape and champion the work of other artists - both on stage and through visual art.

So it's with great excitement that I invite you all to ANIMAL FARM: A 75th Anniversary Appreciation. In celebration of this classic novel, I've revived the Translations Art Gallery brand and partnered with Stark Library to host an exhibit of 52 scenes from the book, created by artists from Stark County, Ohio, and around the nation. These are people whose work I treasure and admire and I'm so honored to have them all creating and exhibiting under one roof.

Additionally, I've cherished my opportunity to work with students at Malone University and specifically through Theatre At Malone University, where we'll be presenting an online production of ANIMAL FARM: A Fable in Two Acts, by Nelson Bond. These students have worked incredibly hard to create a "visual radio play" of sorts that you can view online, and I think you'll be impressed by their creativity and skill in still making theatre happen during a pandemic.

Details about all of these events - along with a few more - can be found at

www.animalfarm2020.com

 I hope you'll take the opportunity during the month of November to engage with the arts and support the work of these talented folks.”

 

   I’m thrilled and grateful that Craig invited me to exhibit a new work for this show. In my re-reading of George Orwell’s classic tale about a rebellion of farm animals against their human keepers, I was startled at how the vivid narrative seemed to literally pop off the pages and invade my consciousness, my sense of place in time. While Orwell’s novel was a bitterly satirical allegory of the Russian Revolution and its tumultuous aftermath, I felt the story explode beyond the confines of its time. An ignoble ethos of tyranny and corrupted ideals, the story still lives today, outside the book. A then has become a now.

   My wall piece is an assemblage of found objects (a hardcover book, stones, and plastic toy farm animals). Call it a 3D drawing which I’ve titled, “The fruit of all their struggles.” It addresses the episode in chapter 6 wherein the windmill being constructed by the animals was destroyed. The ferocious leader of the animal community, a boar named Napoleon, blames another banished pig, Snowball, for this treacherous act.

   Here are Orwell’s words describing the scene: 

    “…A terrible sight had met their eyes. The windmill was in ruins.

    With one accord they rushed down to the spot. Napoleon, who seldom moved out of a walk, raced ahead of them all. Yes, there it lay, the fruit of all their struggles, levelled to its foundations, the stones they had broken and carried so laboriously scattered all around. Unable at first to speak, they stood gazing mournfully at the litter of fallen stone. Napoleon paced to and fro in silence, occasionally snuffing at the ground. His tail had grown rigid and twitched sharply from side to side, a sign in him of intense mental activit. Suddenly he halted as though his mind were made up.

’Comrades,’ he said quietly, ‘do you know who is responsible for this? Do you know the enemy who has come in the night and overthrown our windmill? SNOWBALL!’ he suddenly roared in a voice of thunder, ‘Snowball has done this thing!...”

   And so it is that I excerpted some words from this passage for my piece. I wrote them in cursive, quickly. As if writing on a page in a journal, or like a student taking notes. Cursive, after all, remains for me the most urgent if not earnest form of drawing.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

A Reverent Replay

 

A Reverent Replay



By Tom Wachunas

   Another major casualty in this distressed time of Covidemic distancing are the always marvelous live concerts by the Canton Symphony Orchestra (CSO). I will always remember 2020 as the MasterWorks  season that wasn’t.

   Yet I’m happy to report that the CSO has been active in other contexts, including its ConverZations, a free monthly (now virtual) series of lectures. I’m happier still to invite you to attend a particularly special session on Monday, October 12 at noon, on Zoom, featuring CSO Music Director/Conductor Gerhardt Zimmermann on the 40th anniversary of his very first concert in Canton. You’ll hear what being a conductor means to Gerhardt and get the chance to ask him questions.

 Register to attend at

https://www.cantonsymphony.org/converzations/  or


https://ci.ovationtix.com/35381/production/1032045

   MEANWHILE, in honor of the man and the anniversary, I thought it apropos to revisit and share again with you what I wrote here ten years ago. Beyond the many pleasures of watching him through the years make magic from the podium, my lunch with Gerhardt remains among my most thrilling memories. ENJOY.

 

Right Times, Right Places (ARTWACH post from October 11, 2010)

   In the Canton Symphony Orchestra’s 2010 – 2011 Season brochure, Gerhardt Zimmermann is quoted, “This piece literally saved my life…” He was referring to his passion for Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, one of the program selections that opens the season celebrating his 30 years with the orchestra. During a conversation over a leisurely lunch in downtown Canton last April, I asked him to elaborate.

  He explained that prior to his studies at Bowling Green State University (begun in the fall of 1963, and where he earned a Bachelor of Music Education degree), he saw himself simply as a band conductor, had never listened to classical music per se, and didn’t even own a record player. “The music department chairman said that would be a nice Christmas present,” he recalled, “and so my parents went into a furniture store and bought me this little baby-blue Voice of America record player, and along with it came five free records.”

   One of the recordings, which Zimmermann still owns, was of Toscanini conducting Beethoven’s seventh symphony. Zimmermann was clearly moved by the memory as he spoke in slow, measured words, “And I took that sucker to bed with me every night for a month and played it. It was, ahhh… I mean the rhythm and the intensity and everything.” With an infectious, hearty laugh he added, “So when I sat in an orchestra after that I was primed and ready to bite the bullet, so to speak.”

   What preceded – and certainly followed - such an inspiring epiphany is, on the face of it, a study in serendipity. Born and raised in Van Wert, Ohio, Zimmermann’s earliest aspirations were anything but musical. “My dream was always to be second baseman for the Cincinnati Reds, because I loved Johnny Temple,” he recalled. “I had Polio when I was seven, but I thought I could get over it all the way until I was in junior high school. I was stubborn about it, even though the doctors said I would never walk again.”

   In the fourth grade, after satisfactorily learning to play the Tonette (at that time a requirement for all elementary school students), he was asked if he’d like to be in band. He was discouraged from taking up his first choice - drums. “You know, you should really take a real instrument first,” he remembered the band director telling him. And here came that infectious laugh again, with just a bit of mischief, as Zimmermann shared an afterthought, “Now, I use that against my percussionists when I need it.”

   As it was, he chose the trumpet, and envisioned himself becoming a band director someday. Fast forward to his audition on second trumpet during a rehearsal with the Bowling Green orchestra. He had never previously heard an orchestra in a live setting – only a handful of recordings. “After that rehearsal, that did it,” he said. “All the colors that you hear with the strings and the winds. That was it. I didn’t want to be a band director anymore. I just fell in love with the string sound.”

   From this point onward, the interview became something of an autobiographical marathon as Zimmermann recalled, with astonishing detail, all the faces and places (too numerous to list completely here) along the winding road that ultimately brought him to Canton. “I guess the reason I say all this,” he explained, “is that I tell my students that finding a conducting job is 90 percent luck. You need to be in the right place at the right time. Once you find that break, then you’d better have that extra ten percent to prove yourself.”

   His college days were peppered with various teaching jobs in elementary and junior high school music programs. In one bewildering and unusual situation (student teaching), he was required to teach elementary school violin while learning it at the same time. “I had to sit on those silly little chairs that the fifth graders sit on. Well, you learn by fire.”

   Zimmermann earned his MFA in Orchestral Conducting at the University of Iowa in May of 1972. Several months later he began teaching at Western Illinois University. In his first year there he tied for second place in a conductor competition in Chicago, overseen by Georg Solti of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He remembers Solti saying, “It is unfortunate that you are a conductor. You will not be able to get enough power out of the orchestra.” A year later, Zimmermann learned that Solti’s comment was meant to convey that his (Zimmermann’s) physical condition would undermine his ability to withstand the rigors of the conductor’s life. One need only peruse his bio on the Canton Symphony website to see vigorous evidence to the contrary. Reflecting on Solti’s assessment, Zimmermann said, “That’s when you learn about prejudices. Not skin-color prejudices, but other kinds of assumptions.”

   During the summer after his first year at Western Illinois he actually turned down an offer to be assistant conductor of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. “I didn’t have the guts to go into the head of the music department at Western and say I’m resigning, since I was the fourth conductor in four years, and the school year would begin in six weeks” he mused. But several months later he was persuaded to reconsider. He went to St. Louis to hear a concert and discuss the job, accompanied by his fiancée, Sharon. The story prompted another observation about his life journey. “She’s still my wife, which is another unusual thing for a conductor,” he said proudly. “I’ve been married for 36 years to the same woman.”

   Zimmerman’s eight-year tenure as assistant conductor of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra began in the summer season of 1974 and was comprised of one year under Walter Susskind, three years under Jerzy Semkow, and four years as associate conductor under Leonard Slatkin. During his seventh year, 1979, his manager found out that Canton was looking for a conductor and was interested in hiring Zimmermann. Reluctant at first, Zimmermann came here to hear the orchestra. After the concert he went out with Linda Morehouse and Bill Blair (who had gone to St. Louis to hear a concert that Zimmermann conducted), talked until 2 a.m., and accepted the job.

   Looking back at that time, Zimmermann observed, “I needed to make the next step from being an associate. I needed to have an orchestra of my own. They wanted the best orchestra they could have and I felt there wasn’t any of the board politics that can muddy up the works. It was a good fit. I think this orchestra, like the North Carolina orchestra when I went there in 1982 (where, concurrent with his position in Canton, he was Music Director and Conductor for 21 years), was hungry. They were hungry to play well and they wanted someone to demand that they play well.”

   Is there a philosophy behind the chemistry between conductor and orchestra? Zimmermann has told every orchestra he’s ever worked with, “The better you get, the more I’m going to demand from you. There’s only one sound I have in mind, and that’s the sound of the Cleveland Orchestra, the sound of the Vienna Philharmonic… I don’t care whether you’re students or not. That’s the ideal you should always work toward.”

   The Maestro acknowledges that in pure technique, there are orchestras that give “cleaner performances” than he might offer. But he’s not willing to settle for technical excellence alone. “I would hope my performances at least bring some excitement to the table,” he said. “So most of the time in rehearsal, I work a lot on musical ideas – the sound. I have found that if you start there, fifty percent of the technical problems will take care of themselves, instead of wasting too much of your time on just that (technique), and then you don’t bring it up to that higher level.”

   He added that beyond the remarkably disciplined and gifted individuals who actually perform the music, there is another vital component to the healthy working atmosphere of the Canton Symphony Orchestra. “It’s amazing how much an orchestra depends not only on who’s sitting in those chairs, but the leadership from the board and the management.”

   So, really, how is it that a boy with Polio goes from dreaming of playing professional baseball in Cincinnati to showering Canton with the glorious music of the masters for 30 years? Only serendipity? Just the random vagaries of luck? Or something of a higher order? Late in our talk, Zimmermann at one point paused and, with a look of genuine wonderment, said, “My career has been very unorthodox. Someone somewhere helped me, was taking care of me.” And for all of that, we’re blessed that he had his extra ten percent well in hand, proved and multiplied now beyond measure, as he continues to regale us with the rhythm and the intensity and…everything.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Grateful Again to be Included

 

Grateful Again to be Included 





By Tom Wachunas

 

   I’m thrilled and grateful that one of the fruits of my Covidian labors will soon be available for your in-person tasting. Writes of Passage, a mixed-media assemblage/collage I completed in May, was accepted into the upcoming annual Stark County Artists Exhibition. I originally wrote about this piece in an early June post at

http://artwach.blogspot.com/2020/06/writes-of-passage.html

 

    Here’s the shorter statement I submitted with my entry:

I’m feeling battered by media images of urban crowds on the march, waving protest signs scrawled across chunks of corrugated cardboard, brandishing angry words like so many swords raised high.

   Amidst such verbal chaos, I savor the transfixing experience of reading the Bible. The book of all books, God’s words. Books are codified rites of passage through time - accumulations of 2D planes imprinted with symbols of the writer’s intentions, desires, perceptions.

    In Writes of Passage, my appropriation of four of Michelangelo’s Sibyls  – females  from the Classical world who were thought to prophesy the coming of Christ – presents the figures in varying states of clarity. My incorporation of Biblical texts (in English and Greek) is a meditation on the  immutability of Scripture, and a consideration of Jesus’ words spoken in the book of Matthew, “Heaven and Earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”

 

   And here’s the info (submitted by Massillon Museum) about the exhibit:

The Massillon Museum, 121 Lincoln Way E, will display the Stark County Artists Exhibition from Sept. 26, 2020, through Jan. 17, 2021, in the Aultman Health Foundation Gallery.

The exhibition will be displayed during regular museum hours from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and from 2 to 5 p.m. Sundays.

Stark County residents whose artwork will be exhibited include Seth Adam, Rodney Atwood, Diane Belfiglio, Jess Bennett, Todd Bergert, William Bogdan, Chris Borello, Lindsey Bryan, Heather Bullach, Therese Cook, Ann Cranor, Frank Dale, David Dingwell, Laura Donnelly, Drew Dudek, Kathleen Gray Farthing, Gerald Fox, Sharon Frank Mazgaj, Pamela Freday, Rob Gallik, Charity Hockenberry, Bruce Humbert, Judi Krew, Timothy Londeree, Priscilla Sally Lytle, Nicole Malcolm, Tina Myers, Patricia Zinsmeister Parker, Mark Pitocco, Kathy Pugh, Sydney Richardson, Priscilla Roggenkamp, Sari Sponhour, Mischief Tish, Stephen Tornero, Christopher Triner, Tom Wachunas, Jo Westfall, Gail Wetherell-Sack and Dyanne Williams.

A VIRTUAL RECEPTION will be held at 7 p.m. Sept. 26 via Facebook Live. Exhibition award winners, including Best in Show, second place, third place and honorable mentions, will be announced during the event. The People’s Choice Award will be announced at the end of the exhibition.

Artwork submitted for consideration must have been created within the last two years. The panel of independent jurors selected 57 works by 40 artists from 164 works submitted by 66 artists.

The Stark County Artists Exhibition has been held at the museum since 1934.

For information: 330-833-4061

Monday, September 14, 2020

Mulligan's Curiouser Elsewhere

 

Mulligan’s Curiouser Elsewhere


Let Us Die Together


Intergalactic Creature Control


The Emperor


In the Skies Above Japan


Cumulus Ascension


Mother Nature

By Tom Wachunas

 

  “Fantasy, abandoned by reason, produces impossible monsters; united with it, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of marvels.”  - Francisco de Goya

 “Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory.”  - J. R. R. Tolkien

 “Everything you can imagine is real.” – Pablo Picasso

   “If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn't be. And what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

 

   EXHIBIT: Work by Erin Mulligan, at The Hub Art Factory, 336 Sixth Street NW, downtown Canton, THROUGH SEPTEMBER 22, 2020 / viewing hours on Tuesdays 7:30p.m. to 9:30p.m., or by appointment – contact email thehub@gmail.com / (330) 451-6823

   Erin Mulligan is an astonishing observer of… the world. She’s an ardent and prolific reporter on its animate and inanimate forces. The question is: What world is she reporting, and were exactly is it?  

   You could call her an ardent visual journalist, telling stories about places and circumstances where communing with heretofore preposterous creatures and circumstances is a way of life. In her hands, a paintbrush is practically a mythical tool - the proverbial sorcerer’s wand. With it, Mulligan doesn’t just render familiar realities, albeit with her remarkable command of Flemish technique. She calls the impossible into being. She deconstructs rational, common worldliness, and conjures spectral realities from the intoxicating ether of her robust imagination.

   Her paintings are often tiny windows with a view on large incongruities. In this place – call it Elsewhere - rabbits might have fangs, breathe fire, or morph into frogs. Cats might grow wings; fish swim in the air or parachute into fiery battles; humans could have spider legs, or birth alien parasites. Or they might even grow lichen on their faces in a symbiotic bonding with the natural world, as in Mulligan’s recent Mother Nature. The gently smiling woman cradles a cute brown bunny. Another eerie Elsewhere? Even the air itself in these locales can seem like equal parts sparkling fairy dust and smoky ash.

   And speaking of smoky, among the more recent pieces included in this compelling mix of old and new paintings are “pyrographs” – drawings on wood panels made with a heat pen, such as the lovely portrait, Let Us Die Together. The sheer manual skill required for carefully burning marks into the wood surface with such a device must be especially daunting. Mulligan’s remarkably sensitive handling of the tool produced exquisite, pastel-like subtleties of tone.  

   So now, let me dare to go down the rabbit hole of finding meaning and relevance. Is all the Baroque-ish, chimerical whimsicality in so many of the paintings here really a metaphor - an embrace of the dualities, the non-sequiturs, the absurdities (whether delightful or vexing) in our current world? In the end, Mulligan’s Elsewhere - even at its most uncanny - and our Here and Now, may well be one and the same. Curiouser and curiouser.