Tuesday, October 16, 2018

In a New York State of Mind, Part 2

Sauntering, by Randi Reiss-McCormack

Bush with Sky, by Robert Solomon

RED HERRING, by Gerri Rachins

Domain, by Thomas Berding

A Darlington Square, by Anthony Cuneo

Recollection No. 94 (Los Angeles)
In a New York State of Mind (Part 2)

By Tom Wachunas

   "Quite simply, I was in love with New York. I do not mean 'love' in any colloquial way, I mean that I was in love with the city, the way you love the first person who ever touches you and you never love anyone quite that way again.” — Joan Didion

   EXHIBIT: Mutual Aid – a group exhibition at The Lemmon Gallery, Located inside the Kent Stark Fine Arts Building, 6000 Frank Avenue, North Canton, Ohio / THROUGH OCTOBER 26, 2018 / Gallery viewing hours are Monday – Thursday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m, and Friday 11 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  RECEPTION on Thursday Oct. 18, 5 – 7 p.m. /  Contact: Professor Jack McWhorter,
jmcwhort@kent.edu   / Office: 330 244-3356

   Since resettling in Stark County in 1992 with a vague hope of connecting with a thriving contemporary painting and gallery milieu, I still often miss breathing in the crackling atmosphere of painters regularly engaged in bold experimentation, and experiencing the scope and depth of their probative visions that made my life in New York for 14 years so inspiring and enlivening.  In these parts, while there is certainly a noteworthy contingent of such adventurous painters, they’re a relative minority. A majority of local artists exhibit a comparatively constricted aesthetic identity, with a propensity for the pretty, the already tried and true, the tepid and the quiet,…stuff safely ensconced in the more predictable, quotidian conventionalities of traditional artmaking.

   With this visitation from city that never sleeps, Mutual Aid is another gratifying example of how the gallery exhibitions at Kent Stark are so consistently compelling in drawing a bead on the rich and sprawling vista of contemporary art beyond our immediate region. If you’ve not yet read the background / thematic statement for this show, posted here on October 3 (Part 1), I think it important you do so. Here’s a link:

    Also, another key to appreciating the artists’ motivations here can be found by reading their statements in the exhibition’s excellent digital catalogue, so here’s that link:

   In appreciating the thematic parameters for this show as laid out in the exhibition statement, I found one application of the ‘mutual aid’ concept to be particularly resonant when appreciating the sheer diversity of the artists’ approaches. It’s the idea that mutual aid “…is an acknowledgement that paintings create a relationship between two things or situations that suggest ‘multi-directional conversations.’”

   Think of conversation here as a call-and-response dynamic. Painters can be great conversationalists, which is to say they’re initiators of, as well as respondents to not only ideas, feelings, chosen models, or memories, but also the process itself of manipulating paint. A mark, a brushstroke, a shape, or a color can activate, or ‘call’ another into being, and another, and another, and so forth. The painting itself becomes a codified map or journal of protracted thinking, actions, and reactions through time. The entire exhibit is a wholly engaging dialectic on the often complicated relationships between intuition and intention, conscious design and chance occurrence, harmony and dissonance, mimesis and deconstruction.

   Here’s just some of the many works I found especially arresting: The frenetic flirtation with intricacy and chaos in Randi Reiss-McCormack’s Sauntering; the runic simplicity and indeterminate space of Robert Solomon’s Bush with Sky; the enigmatic playfulness of Gerri Rachins’ RED HERRING; the sumptuous textures and motion in Thomas Berding’s Domain; the ghosts under the geometry in Anthony Cuneo’s A Darlington Square; the reductive, monolithic flatness of that looming black shape in Barbara Marks’  Reflection No. 94 (Los Angeles). What is that thing anyway? A tree? An alien vessel landing? A tornado touching down? Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Canton anymore.

   Levity aside, it’s in that challenging place of not always knowing precisely what we’re looking at - of allowing for the intrigue of unanswered (or unanswerable) questions - where much of the allure of this show is to be found. There’s meaning in the mysteries if we can grasp that paintings, and the processes of making them, are essentially metaphors for not just the celebration of the familiar and the understood, but for navigating all manner of existential conditions, including life’s most vexing conundrums.

   So if a painter can let a painting emerge and simply be on its own terms,  we as viewers, in the spirit of mutual aid, can often return the favor by not overthinking it. Then maybe Descartes’ classic philosophical tenet of Cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am) could give way to the much more scintillating Miror, ergo vivo -  I wonder, therefore I live.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

An Electrifying Bernstein Tribute from the Canton Symphony Orchestra

An Electrifying Bernstein Tribute from the Canton Symphony Orchestra

By Tom Wachunas

    I was all of ten years old when I read Leonard Bernstein’s The Joy of Music for the first time. It was a cathartic experience, igniting in me a profoundly passionate appreciation of classical music. That inspiring book also fueled my regular viewing of Bernstein’s beloved Young Peoples Concerts on television for the next several years.

    A particularly memorable highlight in one of those concerts was watching the composer conduct excerpts from his own Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. I was bitten by the Bernstein bug, benevolently infected by all those mad rhythms coming at me like so many punches amid a torrent of luscious orchestral colors. Now, more than 50 years later, that watershed moment of musical enthrallment returned a hundredfold on October 6 during the Canton Symphony Orchestra’s (CSO) electrifying observance of the centenary of Leonard Bernstein.

   The evening commenced with his rarely performed Trouble in Tahiti, a one-act, two-character opera which Bernstein completed in 1951 while on his honeymoon with Chilean actress Felicia Cohn Montealegre. The timing was quite ironic if only because on one level the work is a cynical commentary on marriage. Additionally, Bernstein was acutely sensitive to America’s post-war euphoria in an increasingly affluent middle-class looking for an idyllic life in suburbia. His libretto for Trouble in Tahiti is a biting critique of materialism and a dour questioning of the American Dream itself.

    Bernstein’s score is an ingenious melding of contrasting jazz and pop idioms of the day, rendered here by a pared-down ensemble that played nonetheless in a very large way, crisply embracing the story’s emotional and psychological tensions. It is the story, superbly directed here by Craig Joseph, of one day in the life of Sam, played by baritone Dan Boye, and Dinah, played by mezzo soprano Ellie Jarrett Shattles - a disillusioned, constantly arguing husband and wife. Beneath their veneer of carefree consumerism lies a bitter yearning to reclaim marital intimacy. Boye’s throaty vocals were well suited to his character’s chilling haughtiness tempered with moments of vulnerability. Shattles was riveting as the sassy, nagging wife given to episodes of tender self-examination and confession.  In one scene, as she was alone watching a South Sea romance film called “Trouble in Tahiti,” she brought down the house with a hilarious aria that was both a tirade against the film’s silliness and a longing to escape into its magic. Meanwhile, a constant presence was the crackling jazz trio of Hilerie Klein Rensi, Scott Esposito, and George Milosh. Crooning in tight harmonies, and often sounding like goofy radio jingles about blissful family living, they were the equivalent of a mischievous Greek chorus relentlessly intoning sardonic comments.  

   The second half of the evening began with the full ensemble performing composer Eric Benjamin’s To LB: A Thank You Note. CSO Music Director Gerhardt Zimmermann has commissioned several works from Benjamin in the past – each noteworthy, to be sure – but I found this one to be the most beautiful to date. It’s an intensely personal and savory homage, inspired by Benjamin’s time spent with Bernstein in a master class at Tanglewood in 1989. Especially gratifying is how Benjamin has given us a moving remembrance of Bernstein’s spirit – the arc of his musical attitude, his religiosity – without falling into gratuitous stylistic imitation. Much of the music possesses an arresting sense of jaunty optimism and ever-emerging, triumphal adventure that at one point gives way to a sweetly contemplative melody, initiated by the piano, and blooming into a lushly romantic interlude before the breathtaking crescendo of the finale. 

   Benjamin’s marvelous piece was certainly a well-placed lead-in to the last work on the program, Bernstein’s groundbreaking Symphonic Dances from Westside Story.  These collide-o-scopic dances comprise a veritable rollercoaster of gripping rhythms, textures, and moods – at once raw and refined, punchy and poetic, and by the end, achingly poignant. The orchestra’s performance was yet another spellbinding exposition of what makes the CSO such a compelling musical entity – a treasure-trove of rapturous aural power and clarity consistently balanced with genuinely alluring lyrical grace. 
   In this work, and for that matter throughout the entire evening, Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann conducted with genuinely emotive authority. It was not an authority born of any autonomous bravado, but one clearly rooted in an understanding of what Bernstein once wrote about conducting: “Perhaps the chief requirement of [the conductor] is that he be humble before the composer; that he never interpose himself between the music and the audience; that all his efforts, however strenuous or glamorous, be made in the service of the composer's meaning - the music itself, which, after all, is the whole reason for the conductor's existence.”

   Following the ebullient standing ovation for Symphonic Dances, Zimmermann, with a conspiratorial smile, asked the house, “How about one more?” whereupon he and his magnificent ensemble lit up the place again by launching another dazzling musical rocket in the form of Bernstein’s Overture to Candide. 

   As the enchanted audience exited Umstattd Performing Arts Hall, the air was palpably buzzing with folks exclaiming their delight and happily humming the infectious melodies they’d just heard. We had been summarily transported to…somewhere. That’s the joy of music.

   By the way, here's a link to another review - wonderfully written - of the same concert:


Saturday, October 6, 2018

Saturday Mourning News

 Saturday Mourning News

By Tom Wachunas 

   I was really saddened to receive an email this morning announcing the closing of Ikon Images – The Illustration Gallery, at 221 Fifth Street NW. The Canton downtown arts district will be significantly diminished by this loss of a uniquely elegant exhibition venue and the consistently superb art it brought to Canton viewers. Here’s what Ikon owner, Rhonda Seaman, wrote:

   It is with much regret I must announce the closing of IKON IMAGES | The Illustration Gallery in the Canton Arts district. The last 3 and 1/2 years of working with artists, patrons, and the greater art community across the nation and beyond has been a joy and a wonderful experience, I shall soon not forget. But unfortunately, as most business owners are painfully aware, revenue must exceed costs or life becomes difficult at best.

     So after much consideration it has been determined to close up shop.

FINAL  gallery hours are as follows:

Today Saturday-      Oct. 6th 10am-4pm
Wednesday-             Oct. 10th 12-6pm
Thursday-                 Oct. 11th 12-6pm
Friday-                      Oct. 12th 12-6pm
Saturday-                 Oct. 13th 10-4pm

Or by appt. 330-904-1377

Our final day of operation will be Sat. Oct. 13th at 4pm.

I hope you'll always remember "Work is the bread of life, but Art... is the wine of life"

My best to you and happy collecting,
Rhonda Seaman :)

   So THANK YOU, Rhonda, and all the artists who joined your remarkable vision and dedication to engaging and entertaining Canton for the past 3 ½ years.  I include here several web links for anyone wishing to join me in a spirit of celebration and fond remembrance. The first is to the inaugural 2015 article by Dan Kane in the Canton Repository. The others are to reviews I had the privilege to write here on ARTWACH. Happy Trails.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

In a New York State of Mind (Part I)

In a New York State of Mind (Part I)

   EXHIBIT: Mutual Aid – a group exhibition at The Lemmon Gallery, Located inside the Kent Stark Fine Arts Building, 6000 Frank Avenue, North Canton, Ohio / THROUGH OCTOBER 26, 2018 /  Gallery viewing hours are Monday – Thursday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m, and Friday 11 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  RECEPTION on Thursday Oct. 18, 5 – 7 p.m. /  Contact: Professor Jack McWhorter, jmcwhort@kent.edu  / Office: 330 244-3356

    I’m doing something that for me is unprecedented as a blogger and turning this post over to words from another artist. What follows is a wonderfully articulate exhibition statement from Jack McWhorter, a highly accomplished painter himself, and Professor of Painting and Coordinator of the Kent Stark Art Department. He, along with painters Patricia Spergel and Katharine Dufault, curated this exhibit. My own take on the show will be coming in the very near future. Meanwhile, Jack’s statement merits careful attention to fully appreciate the remarkably wide, deep, and spectacular scope of these works from members of the Painting Center in New York City.


By Jack McWhorter

   The William J. and Pearl F. Lemmon Gallery is pleased to present Mutual Aid, a group exhibition of paintings by members of The Painting Center, NY. Eighteen artists were invited to exhibit up to three works that make reference to the exhibition theme: “mutual aid”. In organization theory, “mutual aid” is a voluntary reciprocal exchange of resources and services. For example, American Abstract Artists, Rubber City Prints and The Painting Center were all founded by artists to organize exhibitions of their individual works and to foster public appreciation and a forum for further discussion and investigation of matters of communal interest. In computing, we create hyperlinks to link web pages or hypertext documents. “Mutual aid” as a sharing, pattern-forming process is basic in animal life; think migration of birds and animals…”mutual aid” to hold small groups together.

   In studio practice, reciprocally generative relationships between mediums of drawing, collage, photography, painting, and printmaking are widely acknowledged and celebrated. In this instance, mutual aid is not so much a theme as it is an acknowledgement that paintings create a relationship between two things or situations that suggest “multi-directional conversations.”

   Each exhibiting artist embodies concrete ideas about mutual connections in their individual studio practice that reflect various organizing principles. For example: How does one work connect two or more things in visual problem solving? How do visual continuities between one work relate to another over time? What relationships are explored between memory, photographs, prints, collages and sketches? What is the relationship between model and artist?

   Mutual Aid encompasses work across various painting mediums including oil, acrylic, flashe, encaustic, alkyd-modified oil and black tourmaline crystals. Painting subjects come from the built environment, connections to nature, the figure, observations from multiple angles to comprehend complex structures, memories, and formal processes.

   The Painting Center is a non-profit organization dedicated to the exploration of painting in all its possibilities. It does not champion one school or tradition, but welcomes and encourages diverse viewpoints regardless of their market appeal. The Painting Center is a gathering place for painters and those who love painting. It is a democratic arena that fosters dialogue, experimentation, and community among artists.

Monday, September 24, 2018

A Delicious Seizing of the Day

(l. to r.) Joe Brenkle, Sean Fleming, Joey Anderson, Kyle Burnette

(l. to r.) Logan Peters, Benjamin Mudrak, Joe Brenkle, Sean Fleming, Kyle Burnette

Sean Fleming
A Delicious Seizing of the Day

By Tom Wachunas

   “... these incredible young men have found their OWN voice, found what’s worth fighting for, and found the courage to tear down the walls of rejection, fear, and failure. This story is for every kid, every adult, who has ever been marginalized, picked last, counted out, underserved, and underrepresented…”  – Jonathan Tisevich, director of the Players Guild’s production of Newsies

   You might think that with the Disney name attached to a big musical production like Newsies (Disney film from 1992; Broadway debut in 2012, with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman, book by Harvey Fierstein), you’re in for a tasty treat of warm-n-fuzzy storytelling. Heavy on sugar, light on protein. Maybe. Rest assured that for this Players Guild production, director Jonathan Tisevich certainly respects and preserves the built-in, sheer fun of the proceedings. That’s the exciting entertainment part. But he’s also acutely adept at mining the real potency within the emotional and spiritual ingredients of the narrative. That’s the equally exciting art part, and he’s served it up in powerful manner with an astonishingly talented cast of 35.

   In every way, Newsies is a delicious and nourishing theatrical feast, accompanied by the bright, briskly-paced music from the live orchestra conducted by Steve Parsons.  The towering architecture of the set, designed by Joshua Erichsen, is comprised of stacked scaffolds and ramps that suggest ramshackle tenements, and are often enchantingly back-lit (lighting by Scott Sutton) to show colored silhouettes of the urban skyline.  
   Set during the Newsboys Strike of 1899 in New York City, Newsies is the story of Jack Kelly, a 17-year-old newspaper boy (“newsie”) and talented painter living in and leading a community of fellow newsies, most of them orphaned and/or homeless teenagers.  Included in this scruffy band – or family, as Jack lovingly insists on calling his cohorts - are disabled friend Crutchie, Davey, and Davey’s younger brother Les, who both joined the ragtag clan after their father became unemployed. When the publisher of the daily World newspaper, Joseph Pulitzer, raised the cost of the newspapers (“papes”) to the boys by a dime, it’s a hardship too great to ignore, sending Jack and his troupe into vociferous conniptions of protest, culminating in a city-wide strike.  Meanwhile, Katherine Plumber is a crusading newspaper writer who sees Jack as a modern-day David standing up to Pulitzer’s Goliath. She’s intent on reporting the truth, much to the dismay of Pulitzer, who seeks to silence her.

   As Pulitzer, Jim Graysmith renders a credible portrait of the bullying corporate profiteer. In the song, “The Bottom Line,” he paces about with chilling pomp, his gristly voice intoning a callous unconcern for the welfare of those who hawk his papes. In stark contrast, Sarah Marie Young brings to her role of Katherine a singing voice that’s notably sweet and crystalline, yet never too sweet to convey urgency. It’s perfectly suited to her portrayal of genuine tenderness tempered by a steely determination to connect with the resilient newsies and tell their story.

   They in turn, as delightfully presented by this cast, are an inspired and inspiring bunch of distinct personalities at once eccentric, goofy, charming and impassioned. They include, among many others, Donathan Dillard, as the hapless, endearing Crutchie; Matt Rivera as the would-be ladies’ man, Romeo; Zachary Charlick as the impish, cigar-chomping Race; Joe Brenkle as the philosophical big brother Davey, whose impressionable and feisty little brother, Les, played by 10-year-old Zachary May, turns in some very funny one-liners and wise-cracks. In the big choral numbers such as “The World Will Know,” “Seize The Day,” “King Of New York,” and “Once And For All,” this motley crew can sound downright heroic if not angelic, soaring in tight, sumptuous harmonies.  

   Surely the charismatic center of the action is in the character of Jack, played by Sean Fleming. He’s a riveting presence, fraught with both vulnerability and streetwise swagger (his New Yoo-uck accent is poifect), caught between his persistent dream of moving away to Santa Fe, seeing his daunting fight against Pulitzer through to the end, and what turns out to be a predictable enough romance with Katherine, as so poignantly displayed in their second act duet, “Something To Believe In.” His singing voice is particularly mesmerizing in the way he judiciously incorporates his gently plaintive vibrato. Additionally, to his truly remarkable dancing skills he brings not just the required athletic prowess, but a balletic refinement as well.

    And that brings to mind another major “character” in this mix, which is indeed the intricate and often hilariously inventive choreography by Michael Lawrence Akers and assistant choreographer Molly Weidig. It may well be the most splendid and sprawling choreography I've ever seen on the Guild stage, implanting the entire production with an electrifying heartbeat.  The newsies were transformed into a well-oiled dancing machine (pure sweat can do that), strutting their stuff with dazzling aplomb. These fearless folks were clearly prepared not just for the occasional sprint, but for a full-out marathon that propelled them through several show-stopping numbers in an infectious spirit of indefatigable ebullience.

   In the end, you’ll find no fake news here. Only real, commanding art.

   NEWSIES, The Broadway Musical / THROUGH OCTOBER 7, 2018,  at Canton Players Guild Theatre Mainstage, Cultural Center for the Arts, 1001 Market Ave. N, Canton /  Shows at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday - an additional 8 p.m. show on Oct. 7.
TICKETS: $32 adults, $25 ages 17 and younger, $29 seniors. Order at

   Players Guild photos by Dominic Iudiciani

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Her nexus revisited...and then some

Her nexus revisited…and then some

By Tom Wachunas

“Originality is nothing but judicious imitation…” – Voltaire

   EXHIBIT:   Mixed Media Paintings By TINA MYERS . THROUGH OCTOBER 19, 2018 at The Malone Art Gallery (MAG) - inside the east entrance of the Johnson Center, located on Malone's campus at 2600 Cleveland Ave, N.W., in Canton, Ohio /  Gallery hours are Monday – Friday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., or by appointment. /
Sunset Gathering

November Sunset

Heads Together


42nd Street

NV (top) / Greeter

                                                         ARTIST STATEMENT
“Making time for art and creative expression has always been an essential part of my well-being. I find that many colors, shapes, and textures are soothing or fascinating to me, and I am thrilled when those elements work together to form something pleasing to the eye. I enjoy the freedom and sense of adventure that abstract art offers, and I generally like to create without a lot of conscious intention. Each piece will usually morph several times, as I test my own ability to create form and space. I love to see how spectators experience and interpret my finished work, and am especially impressed when a piece prompts someone’s imagination or speaks to them in a way I never would have considered or planned.”

   Déjà vu all over again? Yes and no. I’ve commented in a positive way on the work of prolific painter Tina Meyers more than a few times here over the past several years, and her current exhibit at MAG does nothing to diminish my favorable disposition towards her work. That said, this show does in fact bring up a few thoughts and questions about the overall direction of her aesthetic. In presenting them, though, I think it could first be useful – necessary, actually - for to you to read (or re-read as the case may be) my review of her 2016 solo exhibit at The Little Art Gallery. This way, I’m hoping you’ll appreciate what I consider to be foundational in assessing Meyer’s work. Your mission, should you decide to accept it (surely not an impossible one) is to click on this the link to the 2016 review:

   What I wrote in 2016 remains appropriate and relevant to what is now on view at Malone. This isn’t in itself a bad thing, though it might suggest that in the last two years, Meyers has remained steadfast in her pictorial comfort zones. Again, this certainly isn’t a bad thing. Still, I don’t think I’m alone in wondering about painters who appear to have settled into a routine formula for replicating predictable variations on the same themes. After all, if it ain’t busted, why fix it, right? This is the sense I initially had here when viewing her portraits and cityscapes – more of those quirky riffs on Cubist and Expressionist modalities. Robust as they are, it seemed to me that she’s continuing to simply operate comfortably in her long-established signature style.

   Maybe it’s my personal journey as an artist that’s really at the core of these considerations, having recently navigated a daunting crossroads in my own work, prompted by a nagging desire to venture beyond the material niche I had created for myself. Making art had become a repetitious mechanical task, a set of all-too-familiar procedures. Each new piece was becoming essentially an imitation of the previous one -  a rote packaging of the same ideas, over and over again. I had boxed myself in and it was time to find a way out. But I digress. Back to Tina Meyers.

   It was only after a more intentional, concentrated look at her 32 pieces in this exhibit that I noticed an evolution of sorts, beginning with one of the largest acrylic paintings, “Sunset Gathering.”  It’s a delightfully festive, even frantic work with a strongly tactile incorporation of various collage materials. Similarly, it’s the collaged textures in “42nd Street” that provide a jocular if not surreal spirit to a cityscape traversed by pedestrians who look like they’re visitors from a classic Saul Steinberg cartoon.

   Additionally, there are nine paintings executed on small corrugated cardboard cartons, among those “NV” and “Greeter,” both incorporating paper and cardboard collage elements. The charged surfaces of these works, protruding from the wall somewhat like relief sculptures, bring a refreshingly playful dynamic to Meyers’ oeuvre.  

   While there’s no telling yet how far she might pursue the possibilities of such expanded dimensionality, here’s to her aesthetic thinking outside the box.

Friday, September 14, 2018

A Curious and Bounteous Harvest

"Father Neophytes, Sinai" by Micha Bar-Am

"After Micha Bar-Am" by Marti Jones Dixon

"The Wooden Shoemaker" by Brenda James

"Elevated" by Heather Bullach

"Kaiyukan Aquarium" by Len Jenshel

"The Emperor" by Bobby Rosenstock

From Waterline Portfolio, by Arno Rafael

"The Dichotomy of Creativity" by Erin Mulligan

Untitled, by Myron Davis

"Immersion" by Michele Waalkes

"Man Handing Chair Into Woman..." by Robert Doisneau

Untitled by Ashley Mary

"Audrey Hepburn, Wedding Day, 1954" by Ernst Haas

"Vestal Virgin" by Patricia Zinsmeister Parker
A Curious and Bounteous Harvest

By Tom Wachunas

   “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life's coming attractions.” ― Albert Einstein

   “Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.” ― Erich Fromm

   EXHIBIT:  Double Exposure, THROUGH OCT. 27, 2018, at The Joseph Saxton Gallery of Photography, 520 Cleveland Ave. NW, in downtown Canton / Gallery hours are noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Curated by Craig Joseph / Participating artists are: Tim Eakin, Kevin Anderson, Michele Waalkes, Margene May, Maria Hadjian, Beth Nash, Matthew Doubek, Annette Yoho Feltes, Erin Sweeney, Clare Murray Adams, Tim Carmany, Steve Ehret, Hugo Nadelbaum, Ashley Mary, Patricia Zinsmeister Parker, Bobby Rosenstock, Jesse Ewing, Kari Halker-Saathoff, Scot Phillips, Tom Wachunas, Marcy Axelband, Heather Bullach, Erin Mulligan, Sally Priscilla Lytle, Tina Myers, Kat Francis, Rich Pellegrino, Marti Jones Dixon, Jessica Bennett, and Christopher Triner.

   Curator Craig Joseph assigned each of the 30 artists in this exhibit a rarely or never before exhibited photograph from the Saxton Gallery archives. He then asked simply that they respond to the photograph by making a work of art in a medium of their own choosing. There were no other restrictions. In assessing the outcome, he tells us in his statement for the show, “…Some of them have re-created; some have gone in a totally different direction. Some have devised narratives; some have abstracted the source. But all of them have started a dialogue that we hope you’ll be a part of.”

   All representational photographs (i.e., pictorial likenesses to actual persons, places, events, or things) are, by their very nature, contrived compressions, or extreme distillations, of three-dimensional “realities” on to a two-dimensional picture plane. Even at their most mimetic or illusory, photographs are in that sense essentially abstractions. So it’s fair to say that each invited artist here has constructed an abstraction of an abstraction, either physically, conceptually, or both. Think of Craig Joseph’s curatorial invitation as you would a sower casting seeds across a fertile field – artists’ minds. The seeds grow, nurtured by that enigmatic, metaphysical phenomenon we call creativity - a quickening of memory, intuition, and inspiration. So this exhibit is a reaping that yields a veritable cornucopia of formal genres and styles - a lavish feast to sate all manner of aesthetic appetites. 

   Most interesting to me is is how, for the most part, the pieces made for this show don’t depend solely upon their photographic prompts to be interpreted or appreciated as discrete, engaging works of art in their own right.  

   Some of them are compositionally faithful to their photographic sources while enhancing or emphasizing a particular emotional or psychological perspective. Marti Jones Dixon’s painterly “After Micha Bar-Am,” for example, significantly intensifies the spiritual drama of Micha Bar-Am’s black and white portrait, “Father Neophytes, Sinai.” 

   Other works have extracted and expanded upon a specific visual component of the photograph, such as in Heather Bullach’s “Elevated,” a hyper-realistic oil painting of a haute couture high heel shoe. It’s a slick, sleek and spectacular divergence from the photograph by Brenda James, “The Wooden Shoemaker.”  And in a delightful take on a photograph by Len Jenshel called “Kaiyukan Aquarium,” Bobby Rosenstock’s tantalizing color woodcut, “The Emperor,” focuses on a single penguin.

   The connections between call and response in this context can range widely between edgy whimsicality - as in Kevin Anderson’s wonderfully giggle-inducing interactive sculpture “Some Rules Are Meant To Be Broken…” -  and the tenuous if not arcane. In that regard, the photo by Arno Rafael Minkinnen, “From Waterline Portfolio,” is strange and dream-like enough on its own terms. Perhaps not surprisingly, Erin Mulligan’s “The Dichotomy of Creativity,” an oil painting rendered in her signature fantastical/surreal style, is stranger still, but certainly no less intriguing.

   Maybe you could call Michele Waalkes’ “Immersion” an example of Romantic Minimalism. It’s a highly reductive sculpture in translucent blue resin forms that suggest the ocean waves you see in the untitled Myron Davis photo of a couple kissing in the surf.  Reductive, too, is the untitled acrylic abstract painting by Ashley Mary, in response to Robert Doisneau’s black and white “Man Handing Chair Into Woman In Newstand.” Yet for all of the painting’s smallness of scale, those electrifying colors exude an uncanny largeness. 

    Patricia Zinsmeister Parker’s mixed media painting, “Vestal Virgin,” morphs the sophisticated, elegant film star, Audrey Hepburn - seen in the Ernst Haas photo, “Audrey Hepburn, Wedding Day, 1954” -  into a visceral, even lurid likeness of someone far less refined. Oh, the impudence! I could almost hear Parker’s lippy dame intoning, “The rine in spine falls minely in the pline.” Sassy.