Monday, December 5, 2016

Biocosms: Reaching for the Big Bang

Biocosms: Reaching for the Big Bang

By Tom Wachunas

   “Ultimately based on the promise of circles of life, of night and day, of birth and death, changing of the seasons, resurrection and renewal, my spirit seeks for simplicity. I go back in time and reach for the big bang of all the creation.  I seek to touch the origins, the sources, and perhaps even catch a glimpse of the elusive spark, that essence of creation that is ever evasive, yet forever wondrous.” 
- Isin Sezer

    EXHIBIT: Paintings by Isin Sezer, at Studio M in the Massillon Museum, THROUGH DECEMBER 31, 2016 / 121 Lincoln Way East, downtown Massillon / 330-833-4061 /

    Among the most vexing things I’ve ever been called upon to write is the so-called Artist Statement. For as much as I truly savor words well written, the very idea of explaining my visual art – as a matter of philosophy, process and/or product – has always felt, ironically and exasperatingly enough, antithetical to the purpose of making the artwork in the first place. The art world is rich with writings that can leave readers/viewers perplexed by arcane artspeak or otherwise codified nonsense. Shouldn’t the point of an artist’s statement be to open, rather than numb, the imagination of the beholder?

   Isin Sezer’s statement, excerpted at the top of this post, is anything but numbing. It offers some fascinating inroads to interpreting the visual language of her paintings, to appreciating the potentiality of words to affect our curiosity. 

   Sezer’s iconographic content indicates a reverence for biology. The imagery is mimetic of living things or processes on a minute, cellular plane. These painterly acrylic renderings are deftly choreographed so that amorphous shapes and membranous structures appear to both quietly levitate and actively dance to the music, as it were, of a rhythmic, often electrifying color dynamic. The delicate layers of glazed underpainting delineate ghostly recapitulations of the foreground components, effectively adding a palpable depth, and with it a sense of mystery.

   And in as much as Sezer’s beautiful paintings tend to articulate (and in some cases perhaps literally illustrate) scientific particularities, it seems to me that those particularities nonetheless harmonize with the overall spirituality suggested by the words of her statement. Her paintings, though modest in physical scale, are transportive to the extent that they’re metaphors for much larger, even infinite things - things like the Big Bang, and the ensuing expansion of the complex universe, at once hypnotically luminous and dark. 

   In one way, Sezer’s aesthetic brings me back to a painting teacher from my college days. On the first day of class, he wondered out loud why any marginally intelligent person would want to enter a life of painting, which he considered to be an “unreasonable” pursuit. I took his words to be a challenge, not an insult. At that moment I understood once and for all that the best painters are in fact pursuers of reasoned unreasonableness, purveyors of timeless mysteries.

   In another way, Sezer’s paintings bring me back to Genesis: “In the beginning…,” and “Let there be…” They remind me that, like life itself, every painting has a beginning - a singular mark willed into existence, an initial gesture made across an empty expanse. Nothing becomes something. The arrival of light, of an idea,…the painter’s big bang. After that, it’s always a matter of expansion. 

   In her pursuit of “the elusive spark, that essence of creation,” Isin Sezer has indeed engaged a gloriously unreasonable desire to make that spark tangible. In the process, she offers us enthralling echoes.

   PHOTOS, from top: Duodenum villi / Untitled / Untitled / Suspended / Xanthoria parientina / Immune (l. to r., 1, 2, 3)

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Deliciously-Seasoned Vivaldi and Piazzolla from the Canton Symphony Orchestra

Deliciously Seasoned Vivaldi and Piazzolla from the Canton Symphony Orchestra

By Tom Wachunas

     At one early point on the blustery evening of November 19, the opening lines of the holiday classic, Let It Snow, crossed my mind a few times while driving: “Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful…” We did indeed have a place to go – Umstattd Hall – and a fire to gather ‘round, provided by the Canton Symphony Orchestra (CSO).

    One of the many facets that make the CSO so consistently exciting, and one that was abundantly evident on this evening, is the palpable warmth and expressivity that the string section is able to generate. Here the ensemble, conducted by Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann and featuring four soloists with a CSO history, injected the often stale familiarity of Vivaldi’s violin concertos, The Four Seasons, with remarkably fresh, exhilarating color. 

    Solomon Liang, CSO Principal Second Violinist, was the picture of spritely panache as he seemed to prance through “Spring,” replete with the trills of birdsong, the placid sounds of a flowing brook, or a brooding sky in an approaching storm. For “Summer,” first violinist Emily Cornelius deftly conjured the weight of heated air thick with sweetly cooing doves and chirping finches, and the swirling of fierce winds. CSO alumna Rachel Sandman’s rendering of “Autumn” was a swaggering romp through what Vivaldi described as the sleep of drunkards along with the stampeding of horses and barking hounds during a hunt. And finally, Vivek Jayaraman, the current CSO concertmaster, masterfully delivered a wintery scene that included evocations of chattering teeth, the stamping of cold feet, or the lilting patter of icy rain.

   Each of these eminently gifted artists surely met, indeed exceeded, the technical demands of their respective concertos. Additionally, beyond their impressive virtuosity, it was their uncanny ability to paint, as it were, the pictorial and emotional subtleties in Vivaldi’s landscapes that made this performance so impactful.

   Even more electrifying was the ensemble’s performance of Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, by Astor Piazzolla, creator of the “Nuevo Tango” musical style. Unlike the Vivaldi concertos, which assign three short movements to a season, each of Piazzolla’s seasons transpire in a single movement. While he was certainly nodding towards Vivaldi’s charming paean to Mediterranean weather changes, keep in mind that now we’ve been transported to the southern hemisphere, where meteorological differences between seasons aren’t so sharply delineated. Piazzolla’s focus wasn’t so much on pictorial description as it was mood-painting on a profoundly engaging level. 

   So it is that the ensemble’s emotive power was in full force as it became a gripping personification of tango sensuality. Violinist Jayaraman returned, and along with an equally impassioned CSO Principal cellist Brian Klickman, articulated ravishing melodies, alternately witty, sexy, and melancholy, that soared throughout the work amidst relentlessly rumbling bass lines and shifting tempos. 

   Talk about breaking a sweat at the onset of winter. We in the audience had in effect just become grateful partners in a torrid romance. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.  

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Burlap Ballads

Burlap Ballads

By Tom Wachunas

   My artistic practice began as a reaction to an alien environment. I was born in New Delhi, but was brought to the States for a better future. The essence of my work lies in my need to resolve the often- conflicting aspects of my hybrid identity. The way in which I navigate the social, cultural, and spiritual sphere of my life rely deeply on the need to both assert myself as an individual and as part of a community…My artistic explorations exist between two and three dimensions, and deconstruct abstraction by uncovering layers of uncertainty, may it be personal, compositional, or material.”
   - Kaveri Raina

   EXHIBIT: Will I Be Missed, recent works by Kaveri Raina, at MAIN HALL ART GALLERY, Kent State University at Stark, THROUGH NOVEMBER 30 (closed Nov. 24–27), 2016 / Viewing hours Monday – Friday 11 AM to 5 PM / 6000 Frank Avenue NW, North Canton, Ohio

   My apologies for this late posting, as there are only a few days left to view this exhibit. But it is yet more significant evidence for appreciating Kent Stark’s Main Hall Art Gallery. The exhibits here – very often by artists outside our immediate region - are simply in a class by themselves. And frankly, it’s the only gallery in all of Stark County that consistently makes me feel connected with the cosmopolitan energy, scope, and yes, challenges, of contemporary aesthetic visions one can regularly encounter in places where a more matured and embedded gallery culture can be found.

   Speaking of embedded, the paint, or dyes, in Kaveri Raina’s seven large, highly tactile abstract works don’t just sit atop a primed surface. They often  saturate, soak, and otherwise bleed through it. The pigments themselves seem to have become expressions of a spirituality - memories of, or desires for, connecting to a longed-for ground.

    Additionally, the raw materiality of burlap that Raina employs in these paintings is loaded with cultural associations: the modest stuff of a tough life, a sack cloth wardrobe, the crude luggage of the poor. With its woven structure at once solid and porous, it allows for both opaque and transparent forms (suggesting people, places, or things) to coexist on, and in, the same plane. Sometimes it seems that the paint we see is coming through from the back side of the surface. A duality, an inside-out dynamic. There’s a beautifully poetic tension between something hidden and something revealed, between something implied and something apparent . 

   With these thoroughly intriguing visions, Raina asks us, “Will I be missed?” Missed where, and by whom? Will her native heritage be acknowledged and  remembered as a discrete, valuable history? Will its unique flavor be completely lost, forever diluted in the multicultural soup called America? Indeed, as she puts it in the excerpted statement above, she’s seeking resolution of conflicting elements in her “hybrid identity.” 

    In the end, I found Raina’s question to be more alluring than foreboding. In her art, it is a question neither casually whispered nor even spoken, but rather boldly sung.

    PHOTOS, from top:  Maidan ; One Head Mukut; Elevated Profile; Seen Unseen   

Monday, November 14, 2016

His and Hers, Separate Together

His and Hers, Separate Together

By Tom Wachunas

   “…I don’t know whether this has threatened our marriage or saved it, but Karen and I don’t collaborate in our art…In a marriage of two, we are very much artistic ones.”   - from the catalogue statement by  Bill Bogdan

    EXHIBIT: Fabrical & Digital – The Art of Karen and Bill Bogdan, at Little Art Gallery, THROUGH DECEMBER 4, 2016 / located inside the North Canton Library, 185 North Main Street, North Canton, Ohio

   Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keefe. Picasso and Gilot. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock. These are just some of the husband-wife artist couples that have spiced up the feast that is Modern art history.

   And now, with their current show at The Little Art Gallery (LAG), we can feast our eyes on the art by Karen and Bill Bogdan.  [By the way, if you’ve not yet visited the Stark County Artists Exhibition at Massillon Museum, please do. Both Karen and Bill have excellent pieces there.] Meanwhile, the LAG exhibit, curated by Elizabeth Blakemore, was timed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their engagement. Not that I’m comparing their works or marriage in any way to the aforementioned couples, but seeing this handsome and thoughtfully  mounted collection nonetheless has given me pause to wonder about what life in their household has wrought. Do their respective muses mingle or commiserate with impassioned dialogue or debate? Is the energy harmonious and nurturing, or is it volatile and stormy? Bliss, or blisters? 

   In his catalogue statement, Bill dispels any notions that life under their roof might be a festering hotbed of arguments about process or product. They make their art in separate rooms, allowing for a working atmosphere that’s probably more civil than contentious. “We seldom discuss our respective projects,” Bill writes, except, he notes, when one of them is having trouble with a formal problem, or questioning whether or not a work is “any good.” For the most part, Karen cuts and sews together lavish textile visions of nature. As Bill puts it in the catalogue statement, she “engineers” her art. Whereas she “builds,” he’s a storyteller - a composer of autobiographical impressions “…relentlessly wanting voice.” But, based on his pieces displayed here, I’m not so sure he’s any less an engineer of pictorial experiences than his wife.

   Karen’s works here constitute something of a mini-retrospective, beginning with Carousel, a spectacular piece from 1995. Unabashedly decorative and ornamental, it’s nonetheless a lustrous and lovingly crafted remembrance so dazzling that you can practically hear the OOM-pah-pah beat of the merry-go-round music.  

   Indeed, it’s a spirit of celebration – and reverence, really – that informs all her tactile idylls, replete with a variety of foliate shapes amidst undulating skies or rolling hills, vibrant colors, a wealth of textures, and surfaces that often seem to emit their own exuberant light. Whether densely layered, or dimensional like bas-relief sculptures, or flatter, open-air scenes, all of them exude an unbridled charm.

   Up to this point in time, I’ve been most familiar with Bill’s black-and-white woodcut prints. So it’s an intriguing revelation to see that while his pieces in this show are, technically speaking, prints, they began as one-of-a-kind drawings in color, executed with oil pastel on canvas board.

   The originals have been reincarnated and reproduced via digital enhancement. While he may have tweaked and otherwise filtered the originals to alter hue and saturation levels (they do effectively hold their own when seen next to Karen’s much larger color explorations), his overall manipulation process, which he charted in a meticulous schematic diagram included in the catalogue, successfully preserved the visceral immediacy of his drawing style and surfaces. Look closely and you can even make out the texture of the canvas ground under his thickly applied colors. The spontaneous energy in these loose renderings of local places is reminiscent of Impressionist croquis – quick plein air or on-site sketches. Unlike the overall brightness and optimism apparent in Karen’s crisp palette, however, Bill’s colors, despite (or because of?) their intensity, and combined with the rawness of their application, often seem to invoke a psychological gravitas.

   In the end, I don’t see this show necessarily as some sort of statement about, or metaphor for married life as such. That said, I keep coming back to the idea of celebration - a celebration of discrete aesthetic pursuits presented in a beautifully balanced way. If marriage can be seen on one level as two wearing one garment, I commend Karen and Bill for skillfully embroidering theirs through and through with complementary visions - each compelling in its own right - of being alive.

   PHOTOS, from top: City Flowers, by Karen Bogdan; Autumn Trees, by Karen Bogdan; Inception 2, by Karen Bogdan; It’s Spring Poem, by Karen Bogdan; Storm Warnings Come to Dalbury St., by Bill Bogdan; Sunday Afternoon on Train Trail, by Bill Bogdan; Gervasi – Piazza Dining, by Bill Bogdan