Friday, February 12, 2016

Event Horizons

Event Horizons

By Tom Wachunas

EXHIBIT: Composing Identities, paintings by Melissa Markwald, THROUGH FEBRUARY 21, 2016, at Studio M in the Massillon Museum, 121 Lincoln Way East, Massillon, Ohio   330.833.4061

    “Faces are the most interesting things we see; other people fascinate me, and the most interesting aspects of other people – the point where we go inside them – is the face. It tells all.”       - David Hockney

    “It’s really absurd to make…a human image with paint, today, when you think about it…But then all of a sudden, it was even more absurd not to do it.”  - Willem de Kooning

   “Painting is the most magical of mediums. The transcendence is truly amazing to me every time I go to a museum and I see how somebody figured another way to rub colored dirt on a flat surface and make space where there is no space or make you think of a life experience.” - Chuck Close

    Featuring 10 very large oil portraits (each 6’ x 7 1/2’, with nine in Studio M, and one hanging in the lobby), this is Melissa Markwald’s BFA Senior Exhibition. She’s set to graduate from the Myers School of Art at the University of Akron in May 2016. In assessing the specifics of Markwald’s youthful vision, you can’t avoid admiring her hutzpah in tackling a prickly representational genre – one that has historically come into and out of art world favor with all the regularity of ocean tides – on such an imposing scale.

    Massillon Museum’s Studio M, despite its somewhat sterile overhead lighting and low ceilings, is an intimate and effective enough venue for looking at paintings within certain scale and spacing parameters. Here, though, the experience of standing before such oversized faces can be at once somewhat stifling and delightfully surreal. As viewers, we might feel like citizens of Lilliput, simultaneously cautious and curious in the presence of so many Gullivers.

    Still, in transcending human anatomical dimensions to the extent we see here, these works are pleasantly intrusive invitations to consider portraiture beyond the merely cosmetic incidentals of “individuality.” Instead, you might consider seeing them as allegories of a society far too fond of enlarging itself, of building and celebrating the predictable and superficial (think about all the megalomaniacal clutter on Facebook) in the name of declaring – almost desperately so – a uniquely meaningful identity. In her statement for the exhibit, Markwald tells us, “…These passages of paint allow me to construct identities rather than just capture them.”

    These constructions are a hybridization of some notable Modernist influences. There is a nod in the direction of Abstract Expressionism’s ideology of painting as a larger-than-life documentation of the painter’s decisions and actions, as well as a tentative kinship with Warholian idol-making. And while generated from photographs, Markwald’s canvases  eschew the intense  hyper-detailing and impersonal surfaces of Chuck Close’s monumental portraits of friends and family (which tended to have the detached look of police mug shots), in favor of something more overtly warm and lyrical. 

   While the visible traces of Markwald’s brushwork are subtle and relatively homogenized when compared to, say, the startling paroxysms of gestural activity in Willem de Kooning’s notorious Woman portraits, her paintings  nonetheless lend themselves to viewing in the abstract. Think of them as soft landscapes of a kind. Nowhere is that aspect more possible to embrace than in two portraits, side-by-side and head-to-head, that present sidelong views of the face. One is Markwald’s self-portrait, the other of her friend, Alyssa Williams. To “read” the individual features and expressions, we instinctively tilt our heads to orient ourselves for a more “personal” contact. Such images prompt us to alter our movement and/or position in the same way we might walk through and examine a vast natural setting. The act of looking ceases to be a strictly psychological encounter with a static figure in a neutral, compressed space. Like the act of painting, looking can become a physically kinetic event in real time.

   For sheer potential, I think Markwald’s aesthetic is fertile territory for even more intriguing developments, having already laid a solid enough foundation on which to build. Hopefully she will continue probing that potential as she faces, so to speak, the horizon of a promising future in painting.

   PHOTOS, from top: Self; Alyssa Williams; Matt; Alyssa

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Signals that Gather

Signals that Gather

By Tom Wachunas

    EXHIBIT: Signals that Gather, abstract paintings by Jack McWhorter, Bridget O’Donnell, George Schroeder, and Nancy Seibert, at The Painting Center, 547 West 27th Street, New York, New York  (212) 343-1060  THROUGH FEB. 27, 2016

    [Note to ARTWACH readers: I have written about all of the artists here in the past as they have exhibited locally, including shows at Main Hall Gallery on the campus of Kent State University at Stark. I felt honored when Jack McWhorter asked me to write the essay for this New York City show’s digital catalog, and so here I offer it for your reading pleasure. The exhibit opened in New York on Feb. 4.]
    According to the Roman author Pliny the Elder, the ancient Greek painter Zeuxis once competed against fellow artist Parrhasius to see who could make the most realistic image.  Zeuxis painted a bunch of grapes so convincingly that birds attempted to eat them. But when he tried to remove the disheveled curtain he thought was covering his rival’s work, he discovered that the curtain was in fact a painting, thus assuring Parrhasius the victory.

    In many ways this legend from the 5th century BCE encapsulates the raison d’etre behind Western painting that would hold court for roughly the next two millennia: the idealized imitation of the visible world. Painters were expected to be prestidigitators – master illusionists who fabricated beautiful windows on physical reality. Call it an intellectual slavery to the apparent.
    Fast forward to Modernism’s insistence on the flatness of the picture plane as a discrete object in itself, and then further into the pluralistic explorations of concepts and materiality commonly referred to as “Postmodernism.” It is a pesky term at best. Suffice to say that when we strip away the often arcane, sometimes silly philosophical rhetoric that surrounds it, we’re still left with the realization that the essential focus of Postmodernism is, arguably…Modernism. More precisely, it’s an ongoing commentary on, and re-assessment of, Modernist ideologies.  

    That said, the four artists exhibited here – George Schroeder, Nancy Seibert, Bridget O’Donnell, and Jack McWhorter – represent three generations of combined experience in examining the legacy of Modern/Postmodern abstraction. Each has developed a distinctive visual language - a codified system of interrelated markings, shapes, colors and planes that can simultaneously appear to congeal and disperse along the image surface. The painters’ manipulations of these signs, or signals, along with their respective palettes, may refer to “real world” sources, but only in a peripheral or idiosyncratic way.  And even as these painters have developed effective means by which to imply elements such as motion, rhythm, or tension, they do so without delineating  specific narratives or subjects.

    While the apparent structural rigidity and high contrasts of dark and light hues in George Schroeder’s paintings might suggest a kinship to Minimalist aesthetics, it is their quietly regulated surfaces that imbue them with a palpable sense of intuitive expressivity. Schroeder’s paint application allows for delightfully integrated passages wherein the top skin of color has been uniformly scraped away to reveal the grainy tactility of the canvas, tinted earlier in the painting process with shadows of underlying color
   Amid the precision of flat, hard-edged geometric design there is also a playful spatial dynamic – a gentle fluctuation between positive and negative planes that in turn balances rhythmic movement with stillness. What finally emerges from these works is a lyrical architecture of sorts, heraldic in its simplicity, and exquisitely engineered to generate moments of sublime equilibrium.

    Nancy Seibert has drawn her pictorial inspiration from nature in what she calls “…a synergy of paint and energy produced in brushstrokes…” Her recent mixed media works are highly tactile, atmospheric visions that can suggest the volatile movement of wind, water, or perhaps foggy mists across earthen tracts. Indeed, her recent canvases look as if pigments and particulate matter, once deposited on the surface, are in the process of being swept away, leaving in their wake vast white voids. Or perhaps the reverse is true – materials are in the process of arriving to fill empty space.

   In any case, the figure-ground shifts are intriguing. Seibert’s technique is spontaneous enough to allow her to frame essences, imbuing her surfaces with a sense of transient physicality. These are translations of, or meditations on, changeabilty. And you can almost hear the energetic motion of mark-making. Loud silence, or silent noise?

   A related spirit of flux and ambiguity is clearly at work in the mixed media works on paper by Bridget O’Donnell. Her pieces, however, are more autobiographical than ostensibly “natural.” Sourced in maps of places where she has lived, you might consider her visions collectively as an abstract journal of sorts, describing not just the rhythmic patterns of street layouts, but moving or “writing” through them in variable states of mind and heart.

   There is a tangible sense of urgency, mystery, and maybe even madness in her passages of scribbles, doodles, and amorphous clouds of pigment interspersed and synthesized with the grid configurations. It’s as if she wanted  to quickly record memories or sensations before they disappear into the ghostly backgrounds and disintegrate completely. Fragments float, are retrieved, or slip away, in a frenetic and dramatically engaging simultaneity of construction and disruption.

    Jack McWhorter is a painter’s painter. He’s a masterful colorist who revels in the materiality of oil paint, the physicality of the brushed mark or shape, the gestural fluidity of line. “I am drawn to organisms found in nature,” he recently stated, “and respond to their power as factual beginnings in making paintings, in the same way that a landscape painter might use the landscape as a factual beginning.”

    But only the beginning. In exploring the confluence of art and nature, or science, McWhorter formalizes his intuition in these current works via a continued focus on hybridization and what he calls morphology -  “…shapes and forms indicating states of growth or becoming…” His compelling visual syntax is rigorously grounded in the push-pull dynamic between organic/ geometric shapes, spectacular chromatic relationships, and spatial anomolies that might incidentally evoke natural objects or phenomena, yet effectively transcend literal illustration. In their interactions of rhythm, pattern and motion, these paintings pulse and crackle with a jubilant energy, describing structures or processes at once matured and nascent, static and changing.

    McWhorter’s invigorating offerings, and for that matter those of the other artists he has gathered here, take me back, oddly enough, to Zeuxis and Parrhasius. They embodied a painting tradition that never outgrew  meticulous narrating of the visible world. I’m reminded that one difference between representational and abstract painting is the difference between prose and poetry. 

    The stylistic variances among the works in this exhibit notwithstanding, each artist demonstrates a unique fluency in some dialect of abstraction. It is a poetic language to be sure, and one that can be admittedly complex, even confounding. But it remains ever true to its purpose of embracing that which is most ephemeral and ineffable about not just making art, but I dare say being alive.

   PHOTOS, from top: Sketch, acrylic on linen, by George Schroeder; Shore Dreams II, mixed media by Nancy Siebert; Akron, mixed media by Bridget O’Donnell; Slow Formation, oil on canvas by Jack McWhorter

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Metamatters and Matterfors

Metamatters and Matterphors

By Tom Wachunas

   EXHIBIT: Mythography 2.0, artworks by Scott Alan Evans, at Merging Hearts Holistic Center, 3751 Burrshire Drive NW, Canton, THROUGH FEB. 28, viewing hours variable – CALL 330.451.6214, or email inquiries to
Exhibit background and artist statement:

   Aegolius had worked himself into one of his famously flustered states. This was always the case whenever he visited an exhibit of what he called ‘postwhatsit’ art. “Well, I’ve never seen anything quite this…,” he blurted, “…and, well, I mean anything I could call…” His whiny voice trailed off into indecipherable muttering.
   Nyctea stroked his back gently and cooed, “Relax. It’ll come to you.”
   After a few more minutes of nervous pacing around and squinting at the strange works, wide-eyed Aegolius finally screeched, “Metamatters and matterphors!”
   And just as she had done countless times before, Nyctea nodded her approval. “Perfect,” she said.
 - From “Mournings of the Grebes” by June Godwit –

    Of this collection of mixed-media works sourced in folktales, fantasy literature, and mythology, Scott Alan Evans says in his statement (see link above), “…To me this is a form of alchemy. The goal is that the art becomes magic and (if done well) the artist becomes shaman and story teller.”

   All true artists are modern-day shamans to one degree or another - conjurers, intercessors, interpreters.  More to the point here, their works can be bridges to other, more “mystical” dimensions of our consciousness and how we process them.

     The articulation of the mystical or fantastic has given rise in recent decades to an increasingly popular visual genre usually referred to as “fantasy art,” or “fantasy illustration.” And I admit to expecting as much when I went to view this exhibit, if for no other reason than its title. But these works by Scott Alan Evans don’t fit the stylistic mold commonly associated with the genre – an aesthetic brand, actually, characterized by a practically obsessive attention to elaborately detailed illusionism. I’m thinking of the kind of specialty art featured, for example, at Ikon Images gallery in downtown Canton (ARTWACH archive, Nov. 1, 2015). It’s interesting and even somewhat counterintuitive that hyper-realistic iconography of this sort can often leave little to the imagination of the viewer.

   Evans’ images, on the other hand, in traversing much of the same conceptual territory as fantasy art, are decidedly less precious in formal execution. Still, they’re fascinating enough invitations for us to fill in the blanks. Their impact lies not in meticulously depicting the physical illusion of specific alternate realities, but rather in how they suggest a materiality of mood, or the penumbral atmosphere of strange locales and phenomena.

   While the painting technique evident in some of these images is not what one might readily label as classically refined, it is nonetheless appropriate to their content in its sheer expressivity. And here’s where things get really intriguing. Evans’ strongest pieces are hybrid images, wherein paint is not a tactile presence (as it is in the visceral impasto acrylic work, “Archipelago,” for example), but rather incorporated and re-presented as areas of color and texture within the picture plane of digital photographs. In works such as “The Phoenix Rises” and “Siren Song,” what looks like thick paint isn’t paint, but a picture of paint – an embedded memory, or a document of a past action in real time.

   We could, then, call Evans a contemporary shaman. Beyond turning paint into ice or fire or a churning sea, his digitalized methodology has conjured arresting metaphors for both the making of myths and the creative process itself. Casting aside the incidentals of vengeful gods, demonic spirits, or malevolent beasts, myths have always been essentially stories of the human condition, constructed and embedded in our history to engage timeless questions about our very existence. Evans’ work is a compelling reminder that we remember our myths only because art, in all its forms, can give them their voice.

   PHOTOS, from top: Leviathan, acrylic; King of the Frost Giants, digital; Archipelago, acrylic; The Phoenix Rises, acrylic; Siren Song, digital

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Inspiring Mendelssohn, Transcendent Strauss from the Canton Symphony Orchestra

Inspiring Mendelssohn, Transcendent Strauss from the Canton Symphony Orchestra

By Tom Wachunas

    Among the many combined ingredients that make the Canton Symphony Orchestra (CSO) the excellent ensemble that it is, arguably none is more vital than the relationship between conductor, Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann, and his orchestra musicians. In the past, I have often regarded Zimmermann’s readings of a given work as impassioned embodiments of his uncanny ability to draw out a particularly radiant sonority from his players. Call it the pursuit of unified intent, a one-for-all and all-for-one process. Whatever else you choose to call it (spiritual alchemy, or outright magic comes to mind), this ability to morph musical notations on paper into a very real, emotional experience of illumination for the listener was in especially fine form on January 23. Light can surely have a sound, and here it was glowing yet again at Umstattd Performing Arts Hall.

    The evening commenced with Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 5, the “Reformation Symphony.” My sense is that this symphony remains relatively under-appreciated when compared to the composer’s more “mature” works (the numerical assignation of No. 5 is chronologically misleading due to publication dates) such as No.4, the (“Italian”) or No.3, (“Scottish”). Critics of the day considered it too programmatic and melodically unsatisfying, and Mendelssohn himself seemed scornful when he commented, “I sometimes wonder that I did not make a better job of it.”

    But the CSO breathed an invigorating, new energy into the work, treating it with a palpable, deserved reverence for its stirring ethereality. Threaded through the entire performance was an astonishing, detailed attention to the layers of tonality unfolding in the strings as they navigated dramatic shifts in color and texture. Melodically unsatisfying? Hardly. By the time the entire wind section and lower strings were proudly singing Martin Luther’s majestic hymn, “Ein feste Burg (A Mighty Fortress)” in the triumphal fourth movement, I felt immersed in something wholly, indeed holy, sublime. 

    After intermission, the program literally shifted to overdrive with John Adams’ Short Drive in a Fast Machine. Here, the orchestra’s exhilarating articulation of wildly diverse tones and textures was propelled by the steady quarter-note tapping of the woodblock. Like an incessant piston, it drove the music’s polyrhythmic exclamations, pulsing with wickedly accelerating excitement through winds, strings and brass.

   Enhancing the sonic exuberance of the orchestra was the accompanying presentation of The Earth – An HD Odyssey, featuring stunning, high-definition videos and images of Earth - compiled from NASA’s shuttle missions, the International Space Station, and orbiting satellites – projected on a large screen behind and above the orchestra. This visual component, commissioned in 2012 by the Houston Symphony, is the sequel to The Planets – an HD Odyssey, which the CSO performed to considerable acclaim in 2014, and was developed in collaboration with the celebrated documentary filmmaker, Duncan Copp.

    The meticulous synchronicity of spectacular visuals with the music had a particularly mesmerizing effect during the evening’s final selection, Richard Strauss’s epic tone poem, Also Sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spoke Zarathustra). Strauss named his work after the monumental 1895 prose poem by philosopher Friedrich Nietzche, who found inspiration in the mystical teachings of the ancient Persian religious leader, Zoroaster. Of course many are familiar with the dramatic, brassy opening of Strauss’s piece, thanks to the 1968 classic sci-fi film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, though perhaps less so with its episodic interpretation of Nietzche’s vision for the evolution of a godless Ubermensch (Superman).

    I don’t recall an occasion when the CSO was more powerful or finessed in balancing the challenging intricacies of conflicting tonalities and mood changes that characterize this complicated work, from brooding drama to gentler lyricism. And that same attention to aural detail that was evident in the Mendelssohn was even more pronounced here.

    So much so that something quite ironic emerged from all the Sturm und Dräng. This performance of Richard Strauss’s music was hypnotic and compelling to the point of transcending its contextual origins. Never mind Nietzche’s blustery atheism and convoluted philosophizing. In the end, what resonated most was not what Strauss called “…homage to Nietzche’s genius,” but rather something profoundly divine. The wondrous sound of the CSO can do that. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Proletarian Pieta

Proletarian Pietà

By Tom Wachunas

    EXHIBIT: Blue Collar: Ceramic Sculpture by Kyle and Kelly Phelps, at the Canton Museum of Art, 1001Market Avenue N., THROUGH MARCH 6, 2016 / 330.453.7666

   “…A working class hero is something to be…”  - John Lennon

   BACKGROUND, excerpted from the Canton Museum of Art web site:
   “Identical twin brothers, Kelly and Kyle Phelps, present Blue Collar, an exhibition of expressive ceramic sculptures. Much of the twins' work is about the working-class and the everyday struggles of the common man and woman. The twins grew up in a blue collar environment in Indiana where they were inspired by family members and friends who worked in various manufacturing plants, steel mills, and foundries. These everyday people became working class heroes that have inspired over a decade of working class art…”

    Here is a gathering of stunning collaborative works that have cut into my consciousness with an especially spiritual intensity. They conjure an often discomfiting simultaneity of emotions, at once reverential and mournful. 

   With masterful craftsmanship, the Phelps brothers bring a gritty elegance to the expressive realism of their painted figures (clay/resin casts). Their high-relief sculptures are riveting (pun intended) conveyances of dignity and degradation, ascent and descent, heroism and haplessness, in the working-class culture. It’s a culture now too often distilled in our memories into impotent visions of vast Midwestern tracts littered with abandoned mills, factories and foundries. The artists have also effectively enhanced the context of their dramatic figures by incorporating found industrial remnants such as gears, tools, and corrugated metal.

    The recurring iconographic references to Christ’s passion and death raise some intriguing questions, both socioeconomic/political and theological in nature, as if to equate the depicted laborers and their plights with, understandably enough, martyrdom. Real, searing pathos comes through loud and clear in “Blue Collar Crucifix” – an industrial-age Pietà to be sure.

    Yet where’s the promise of ultimate renewal? In the piece called “After The Dream,” for example, against the backdrop of a grease-stained American flag, a janitor is sweeping up a pile of Obama campaign handbills emblazoned with the words ‘Hope’ and ‘Change,’ while in the trash barrel next to him we see a crumpled picture of Jesus. And in the piece called “The Communion,” the woeful figure clutching a bottle of Bud is clearly communing with the wrong remedy.

   Is there a remedy, then? The overall design of the sculptures is consistently suggestive of religious votive shrines, and rightly so, it seems to me. But these shrines require no ritualized lighting of actual candles, for it’s a powerful, ideological fire that illuminates their heart and our consciousness. In that, you might consider this exhibit as a prayerful plea for reclamation and redemption. And in their commendable labors to remember and pay homage to the blue collar milieu with such compelling renderings as these, the Phelps brothers have accomplished something urgently relevant and heroic in its own right.

    PHOTOS, from top: Kelly and Kyle Phelps at work; The Workers Altar; Blue Collar Crucifix (detail); The Communion; After The Dream

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Conversations with Mystery

Conversations with Mystery

By Tom Wachunas

    EXHIBIT: Moving Toward the Light: Watercolors by Joseph Raffael, at the Canton Museum of Art, THROUGH MARCH 6, 2016 / 1001 Market Avenue North, Canton, Ohio / 330.453.7666  /

    “…It’s because the act of color and water joining together on a page can begin to enter the portal of nature’s enigmatic energy, its spiritual breadth and breath. The subject becomes spirit, and it is at oneness with all nature…My dialogue all this time, and now more consciously than ever, is between the seen and unseen. My painting is and has been a kind of conversation with mystery…”
    - Joseph Raffael, from a conversation with Betsy Dillard Stroud, in her exhibit catalogue essay, “Moving Toward the Light”

    First, I offer my joyous thanks to the Canton Museum of Art (CMA). Once again, in presenting an artist of Joseph Raffael’s stature, the CMA has asserted its place in our midst as a vital cultural entity of immeasurable worth.
    Joseph Raffael’s particularly compelling attachment to and relationship with nature (which is to say his perception and realization of the visible world) is not without historical precedent. In a 1921 article published in Mercure de France, the French painter Emile Bernard (1868-1941) recalled a marvelous conversation with Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) from 1904, who had at that time declared, “One must make an optic, one must see nature as no one has seen it before you…” Bernard then asked, “What do you mean by that word? Is it a case of our nature or nature itself?” Cezanne responded, “It is a case of both.” Bernard: “Therefore, you conceive of art as a union of the universe and the individual?” Cezanne: “I conceive it as a personal apperception. I situate this apperception in sensation, and I ask that the intelligence organize it into a work.” Bernard: “But of what sensations do you speak? Of those of your feelings, or of those of your retina?” Cezanne: “I think that there cannot be a separation between them; besides, being a painter I attach myself first of all to visual sensation.”
   What Cezanne called “personal apperception” is another way of saying that his “new optic” was a self-conscious pursuit of nature as a metaphysical experience, and something beyond concrete expression of retinal forms. Yet for all of that, he remained a concretizer, a manipulator of those forms, though an eminently innovative and influential one at that, seeking to delineate a specific pictorial rationale. In his correspondence with Bernard, he wrote at one point, “…one is more or less master of one’s model, and above all, of the means of expression.” Late in his life (1906), Cezanne offered this observation to his son, about the daunting challenges he faced in realizing his sensations: “…I cannot attain the intensity that is unfolded before my eyes. I have not the magnificent richness of coloring that animates nature. Here on the edge of the river, the motifs are very plentiful, the same subject seen from a different angle gives a subject for study of the highest interest and so varied that I think I could be occupied for months without changing my place, simply bending a little more to the right or left.”
    Enter contemporary American painter Joseph Raffael (b.1933).  This utterly stunning exhibit is indeed prodigious, dazzling proof of the unfolding intensity and “magnificent richness of coloring” in nature that Cezanne seemed to find both so alluring and elusive. To hear Raffael tell it (evident in the wonderful essays by Lanie Goodman, Betsy Dillard Stroud, and David Pagel contained in the gorgeous book/catalogue that accompanies this show), his view of himself as a painter - responding to nature in the South of France where he’s been living for the past 30 years - is infused with equal parts unfettered awe and disarming humility in the face of nature’s infinite mysteries.
     While it’s certainly right to consider him as indisputably accomplished in watercolor, he hasn’t achieved that status by intentionally manipulating it in the same manner that, say, many oil painters would be “masters” of their materials. He has come to terms with a notoriously difficult and unforgiving medium, stipulating control to its inherently unpredictable behavior. In allowing watercolor to have its way more often than not, you could call Raffael a wise enabler, or permissive supervisor of his medium’s capacity for delivering both surprises and accidents. He doesn’t “invent” or design the finished painting in a premeditated fashion (aside from his initial “mapping” based on his photographs of the subject at hand) so much as proactively witness its evolution. In fact, Raffael has said on more than one occasion that the subjects of his paintings aren’t fish, foliage, flowers or figures, but the very act of painting. Viewing the mesmerizing video of his process that accompanies this exhibit, you get the sense that for as much as he makes paintings, they make themselves known to him.
    The results of Raffael’s methodology of ardent witnessing – his situated apperceptions, if you will - are big (measuring up to 5’ x 8’), complex, and courageous declarations of light. But his isn’t a traditional application of light as a formal device for creating an illusion of sculpted dimensionality. This is, rather, light as a constantly expanding, labyrinthine essence, expressed in myriad impossible colors, yet here they are – luminous, puddled and pulsing, and so glowing they seem to illuminate infinity, or what Raffael has called “the vaporous depths of not knowing.” These monumental paintings are inspiring embodiments of an ethereal incandescence, celebrating the marriage of the physical to the spiritual. 
    As you stand before any one of Raffael’s unabashedly beautiful watercolors, then, don’t analyze or theorize or even recall art history too much. Instead, be willing, as he is, to be baptized, immersed, surrendered.  Be there, in the sheer liquid largeness of the moment of looking. Such moments, phenomena in their own right, absorbed the artist just as surely as his paper surfaces absorbed the pigmented water he so generously lavished upon them.
   So be absorbed. Joseph Raffael offers us the possibility of really seeing what is at once outside of us and present within our entire being. Not sensing it yet? Give it time. Or perhaps try bending a bit more to the right or left.

   PHOTOS, from top, courtesy Nancy Hoffman Galleries and CMA: Crescendo, 2013; Flower Dream, 2013; La Rose D’Ariane, 2014; Solstice Light, 2013

Saturday, January 9, 2016

"To Everything There Is A Season..."

“To Everything There Is A Season…”

By Tom Wachunas

    File this one under ‘Thank You.’ One thing I didn’t mention in my last post was that the Doreen St. John show at Cyrus Custom Framing and Art Gallery (you still have until Jan. 30 to see it) is the final exhibit we’ll see under the name “Translations,” – originally a brick-and-mortar gallery in the heart of Canton’s Arts District before it went mobile. TRANSLATIONS was Craig Joseph’s remarkably vital contribution to the Canton cultural ethos of the past several years (that’s him pictured above in a portrait by Heather Bullach).
    I don’t think he’d mind my sharing with you the following communication (which I’ve edited only slightly) that he released on November 2, 2015:
    “… It has been a wonderful 6 years - both in the space downtown and in the last year of pop-up exhibits all over Stark County. I have enjoyed what I've had the opportunity to do, the people with whom I've been able to collaborate, and the art we've produced…
   BUT ... after 7 plays and 15 exhibits in just a year's time, I need a break, and the easiest way to lessen the grind is to remove the "one exhibit (or more) a month" tenet from my life. That's what TRANSLATIONS has been about since January 2010, and so it’s time to put TRANSLATIONS to bed.
   Will I still direct theatre? Will I still curate exhibits? Absolutely. But it'll just take a different form from here on out. And it'll just happen without the TRANSLATIONS' name and tradition attached to it.  After I take some time to lay on the couch, read, travel, refresh, have a social life, and come up with some new visions. Which I hope you'll check out when they occur.
   Until then,… my inarticulatable gratitude for what all of you - artists and patrons alike - have given me the privilege of doing over the last six years. I look forward to the next adventure together.”
    Craig’s breadth of vision and curatorial acumen never ceased to astonish and inspire me, and I’ll truly miss the uniquely engaging concepts and excellent content that TRANSLATIONS so consistently gifted to us -  provocative and entertaining in the deepest sense of those words. My bittersweet sentiments are those of a hooked reader, at once saddened by finishing an enthralling book, wishing the adventure wouldn’t end, yet anxiously anticipating the next one.
    So if I’m glum, it’s only because I long for more “authors” like Craig Joseph to continue nourishing the Canton arts milieu. No doubt he will in his way and his time.  In that, I offer both my thanks for past adventures and ardent prayers for the success of his future journeys.
   Meanwhile, maybe this isn’t the end of a marvelous story after all. Hopefully, it’s simply the closing of one chapter in a story still being written.