Sunday, January 15, 2017

A Delectable Dialect

A Delectable Dialect  

By Tom Wachunas

   “We must remember that a photograph can hold just as much as we put into it, and no one has ever approached the full possibilities of the medium.”  - Ansel Adams

   “I look to highlight those special things that add the flavor and interest to the world we see…”  - Carolyn Jacob                          

   EXHIBIT: Painting With Light – images by Carolyn Jacob / at Stark State College Gallery, second floor in the Student Center, 6200 Frank Ave. NW, North Canton / THROUGH JANUARY 26, 2017 / Viewing hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, and 8 a.m. to noon Saturday. For additional information about the show, call 330-494-6170, ext. 4733 / For more information about Jacob’s work, visit   or email

The public is invited to an artists’ RECEPTION on WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 18 from 6:00-7:30 pm. in Room S201 of the Student Center at Stark State College

   In approaching “the full possibilities of the medium” mentioned in the above quote, one of Ansel Adams’ most significant contributions to the art of photography was the Zone System he and Fred Archer developed in 1939-1940. It was a method for realizing the desired look of a finished photograph by selectively adjusting particular aspects of the picture– in and out of the darkroom - such as, among many other technical and formal elements, value contrasts and tonal variations. Consequently, Adams was able to leave us a substantial body of work that advanced the art of black and white landscape photography to extraordinary levels of expressivity. 

   In so doing, he further expanded the parameters of the medium beyond “straight” or strictly objective replication of the physical world. “Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas,” he once observed, adding, “It is a creative art…You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”

   Adams may or may not have foreseen the coming of our electronic age and all the astonishing possibilities it affords for making compelling pictures. Far beyond his Zone System, we’ve seen the emergence of an entirely new digital language and methodology for enhancing the photographic image. Nevertheless, he knew in his day – as do like-minded artists of today - that elevating photography to the status of true fine art was always a matter of harnessing the mechanical limitations of the camera’s eye to that of the artist’s larger field of experiential vision. A matter of marrying the tangible to the ineffable.  Real artistry in photography demands an intuitive seeing beyond the obvious to deliver a timeless essence. 

   In her own laudable efforts to transcend everyday visions of physical reality, Carolyn Jacob boarded the digital photo-effects train some years ago. Think of her perhaps as a well-traveled tourist, avidly looking to see what she has called the “picture in the picture.” An essence.  Accordingly, she has created a thoroughly refreshing travelogue, so to speak, of otherwise conventional art destinations including, among others, architectural, floral, and still-life subjects. 

   In this very crowded exhibit, her images printed on canvas are especially arresting. With these elegant compositions, we can better appreciate the exhibit title, “Painting With Light.”  In their fluidity of line, shimmering and subtly blended colors, the suggestion of rich textures, and intriguing  tendencies towards eloquent abstraction, there is often the distinct sense, albeit illusory, of a facile painter’s brush at work.

   Like any painting, a photograph is a visual language. And like any given spoken language, a visual language can have many vernacular variances.  If we consider it a matter of dialect, then Carol Jacob speaks a particularly delectable one.

   PHOTOS, from top: Pears in a Bowl / Dreaming in Green / White Tulip Fantasy / Impression of a Rose in Blue / Breath of Spring

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Imagine That

Imagine That

By Tom Wachunas

      “In any art, you don’t know in advance what you want to say – it’s revealed to you as you say it. That’s the difference between art and illustration.”  -Aaron Siskind

    “But, after all, the aim of art is to create space – space that is not compromised by decoration or illustration, space within which the subjects of painting can live.”  - Frank Stella

   “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”  - Lewis Carroll

    EXHIBIT: Dream Worlds: The Art of Imaginative Realism, at the Canton Museum of Art / THROUGH MARCH 12, 2017 / Curated by Chris Seaman / 1001 Market Avenue North, Canton, Ohio / 330-453-7666 /

   Once upon a time, a genre named Fantasy Art was born. When it was young, it was relegated to the covers or the pages of sci-fi and fairytale books, or sometimes movies. But it could find neither a validating assessment from the intellectual art world elite, nor a substantial place in world-class art museums, where contentious purists too often looked down their noses, crinkled their high brows, and sniffed, “Why, that’s not really fine art, it’s just illustration.” Harrrumph. 

   It’s no secret that by the second half of the 20th century, many purveyors of Modernist and Postmodernist aesthetics theory, particularly in the context of  abstract painting, viewed Fantasy Art (or Imaginative Realism, if you will)  pejoratively as some sort of cultural pariah. In dismissing it as the commercialized craft of eccentric illusionism, they effectively marginalized historic precedents for rendering dream-like, mythological, or otherworldly realities. Many Western-culture artists and styles come to mind in this regard, among them Hieronymous Bosch, the Mannerists, Fransisco Goya, William Blake, the Symbolists, and the Surrealists.  

   But as this exhibit, guest-curated by Canton native Chris Seaman, so abundantly demonstrates (with some 65 works from more than 20 arists, many of them significantly impacting the international realms of cinema, 3D animation, and gaming), these days the genre is something more than just a problematic aesthetic anachronism or peripheral creative pursuit. The simple fact of the matter is that the Imaginative Realism genre very often reveals an uncanny level of disciplined technical and formal finesse on the part of the artist. Understandably enough, such creative prowess can certainly tantalize and otherwise entertain viewers in a manner similar to that of master magicians who leave us awestruck with their elaborate prestidigitations. 

   While there are several remarkable 3D works here - including a thoroughly spooky, incredibly credible, life-sized tableau by Tom Kuebler called The Mythical Menagerie of Doctor Baltus Bagoon - the exhibit is predominantly paintings. In many of these, the caliber of hyper-realistic illusionism, combined with elegant naturalism, is nothing short of astounding. 

   Some of the thematic content is unabashedly whimsical or at times cartoonish, such as Jeff Miracola’s exceedingly goofy Kurious Kong. Other spectacular renderings, like Donato Giancola’s Wounded Hawk, or Rob Rey’s We are Made of Stars, recall Baroque and Romantic-era stylizations. And in an intriguing if not bizarre Neoclassical vein, few works here exude more arresting theatricality than the paintings by John Jude Palencar.  His compelling figures, such as in Pagan, are at once monstrous and tender, placed in lonely, compact spaces, rendered with an earthen tonality and muted light that brings to mind some of Andrew Wyeth’s more haunting scenes.  
    All the artworks in this exhibit tell or imply a story of one kind or another. So call them allegories. Cross-pollinated as they are with the powerful resonance of art history, keep in mind that wherever we go, even in our most far-fetched imaginings, there we still are. Whether celebrating the courage, hope, or love that brings nobility to our unpredictable, embattled lives, or portraying the terrifying demons in our midst, the so called worlds they describe aren’t really as impossible or alternative as they might seem at first blush. The realities they depict are actually more quotidian than completely new or otherworldly. 

   Consider, then, the impassioned intensity of technical execution that informs these works, with its meticulous attention to the mysterious and magical, the infinitesimal, the unknowable. Look closely, and you may rightly get the sense that this exhibit glows with the subtle aura of a benevolent madness. As fine art, Imaginative Realism is indeed a magnificent mania.      

   PHOTOS, from top: 1. Craig Maher (American). Tread, 2011. Oil on paper on board, 45 x 30 in. ©Craig Maher / 2. 1. Donato Giancola (American). Wounded Hawk, 2007. Oil on panel, 48 x 36 in. © Donato Giancola / 3. Jeff Miracola (American). Kurious Kong, 2016. Acrylic on Masonite, 24 x 18 in. ©Jeff Miracola / 4. Rob Rey (American). We Are Made of Stars, 2014. Oil on board, 30 x 24 in. © Rob Rey / 5. John Jude Palencar (American). Pagan, 2015. Acrylic on birch panel, 33 x 37 in. © John Jude Palencar / 6. The Mythical Menagerie of Doctor Baltus Bagoon, by Tom Kuebler, silicone and mixed media, 9’1” x 6’1” x 3’9”

Friday, December 30, 2016

Spare Changes - A Personal Remembrance

Spare Changes – A Personal Remembrance

By Tom Wachunas

    This time of year invariably brings some missives from friends or family chronicling their doings over the past year. And with the approach of 2017, that particular holiday practice has put me in a reflective  frame of mind. What I wish to share with you here is not a recap of the past year, however, but rather a few thoughts on something that recently startled me: January, 2017, will mark the 25th anniversary of my decision to resettle in Canton, where I was born, after living in New York City for 14 years. Twenty-five years back in Canton! Whaaat the…where’d the…who…how did…Huh?

   Not very long ago, I was surprised to get an email note sent by a New York friend from a lifetime ago. It included a YouTube link that plays back an original song I had recorded, titled “Happy the Man,” for an LP (yep, a full-length vinyl album) I made in Columbus, called “Spare Changes,” in 1975. It also included a those-were-the-days remembrance of how I often played the song during my brief stint as a singer (in the loosest sense of the word)-songwriter at various Manhattan folk music venues. The song was originally about a broken romance with a specific young woman. Yet in listening to it again, I thought of another broken romance altogether.

   The song now has the strange effect of bringing me to the moment when I   decided to leave New York for good. I had been staying with my oldest brother and his family for the holidays at their North Canton home. At that point, I was coming to grips with the unsavory details of my circumstances – taking an inventory, if you will – which included being recently divorced, jobless, and homeless. I had beaten a hasty retreat from the city that never sleeps to take a long, sobering look at my very un-sober life. New York, that beguiling playground of possibilities, had morphed into an ugly landscape of self-sabotaged dreams.

   And so it is that on one January morning in 1992, after an ice storm in these parts, I was looking out of the picture window of my brother’s house, framing a pristine vision of Ohio winter. A decision was waiting, as if standing in the wings, poised to make its entrance on to the stage of my life, cluttered as it was with the debris of so many previously bad decisions. I stepped outside to breathe in the landscape. A persistent wind was whistling  through the ice-laden branches of the trees, causing a gentle cacophony of clicking noises as they flapped together. Back and forth, like so many crystalline hands etched into the sky. It sounded almost like…yes, that was it. Applause. The premiere of a new show. Adieu, New York.

    One  line in “Happy the Man” is particularly relevant in this context - “We cannot stay in one place long if staying means losing what we are.”  Indeed.

   For your entertainment, I include here a link to the YouTube entry    ,as well as a link to info about the album, 

   which includes this short and… uhm, flattering review:  
“among the Top Shelf Singer-Songwriter albums ever! ...imagine Neil Young in some carribean lagoon crackin' up shells for new songs and you get an idea for Tom's voice! 6- and 12-string guitars w/accordion, e-piano, vibes, bass 'n drums and Bruce Roberts (of ONE ST. STEPHEN-FAME!!) cranks some lead-guit-licks that shimmer w/the icy-intense-sparse ("happy the man") ...I guess Acid-Folk is the term! an utterly relaxed performance with THAT introspective, poetic fade-glow that borders to the ethereal shiver (Joni M. would love this...) ...10 songs like delicious fruit in the bowl or shootin' smooth arrows outta ever-full quiver (at the owl) recorded in Columbus, Ohio in the summer of '75 .”

  And speaking of happy, my wish for all of you readers is that your New Year is just that. See you then.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Enthralling Eggsactitudes

Enthralling Eggsactitudes

By Tom Wachunas

   “…Working in all artistic media from oil, acrylic and watercolor paints to encaustic, fiber, and ceramics, from printmaking, photography, and pen & ink, to sculpture, light works and sculpture, the artists transform ostrich eggs into works of great beauty that refer to traditions in high art—the Imperial Easter eggs crafted by Peter Carl FabergĂ©—and to folk traditions as well—beeswax-decorated Ukrainian pysanaky eggs….”

   Full background, photos, and curator’s statement at:

   EXHIBIT:  Art 360°: Contemporary Art Hatching Across Ohio, Curated by Charles Bluestone/ at Massillon Museum, Second Floor Gallery/ THROUGH  FEBRUARY 12, 2017 / 121 Lincoln Way East, downtown Massillon / 330-833-4061 /   44 contemporary artists from across Ohio have embraced the challenge of embellishing ostrich eggs; they have come together in a wide variety of forms to demonstrate the creativity of the arts community.

   “The world is full of hopeful analogies and handsome, dubious eggs, called possibilities.”  - George Eliot

   Entering this beautifully mounted exhibit on the second floor of Massillon Museum is to enter a world of ovoid oddities, a world of curiouser and curiouser orbs. Eggs, to be exact. Ostrich eggs, to be exacter.

   These alluring objects are a universe apart from, say, typical decorated Easter eggs, which are essentially a Christian adaptation of much more ancient craft traditions – from diverse cultures - associating eggs with fertility and the renewal of life.  

    Generally we think of an egg as a vessel containing the essential stuff allowing for a particular life form to eventually emerge from the protective, nurturing shell.  And indeed, forms do emerge from the eggs in this exhibit, though certainly not in the same way that we predict and expect a specific bird’s egg to produce a specific bird. I’m reminded that long before the idea of biological evolution became part of our world view, ancient philosophers such as Aristotle posed a causality dilemma when they mused, “which came first, the bird or the egg?” So let’s just suppose for a moment that in this context, the finished artworks are the birds, so to speak. One could then perhaps view this exhibit as a delightfully playful metaphor for creativity itself, whimsically resolving the aforementioned dilemma. So which came first? Why, the egg of course - that ovoid vessel with the essential stuff to birth a finished form.

   For each artist in this exhibit, surely it was the physical form of the egg - a pre-existing “found object” of sorts - that initially nurtured (inspired) a creative process giving rise to, or hatching, the birds we now behold. And unlike real ostriches, these birds really do fly into all manner of realms. Some are familiar and friendly, some strange, magical, or mystifying, but all of them are enthralling. 
   Collectively, these beguiling sculptures are a dazzling display of remarkably fecund imaginations, realized with unimpeachable artisanship. And as objets d’dart, they’re no less treasurable than jeweled FabergĂ©s.

   PHOTOS, from top: All photos   ©Feinknopf Photography, 2016.
1.   The Leap of Life, digital sculpting, 3-D printing, acrylic paint, by Josh Sutton / 2. Day and Night, inks, lacquer, clay, by Cathie Bleck / 3. Acqua Alta (Venice), oil paint and silver, by Marianna Smith / 4. Get Your Head Out of the Sand, spray paint and found objects, by Rondle West / 5. Living Off the Land, encaustic, by Christopher Rankin / 6. Marko Pollo, acrylic paint, silver foil, glitter, by Amy Kollar  Anderson