Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Convivial Confluence

A Convivial Confluence
By Tom Wachunas

Maybe having just one juror of awards for the Canton Artists League Spring Show at the Canton Museum of Art wasn’t the wisest of decisions. After all, the task of evaluating 89 pieces of art and designating four “winners” (along with a maddeningly sparse number of honorable mentions) seems too daunting for a single individual, and thus intrinsically limited in scope. In shrinking the already problematic jurying process, some artists may, no doubt, be denied a well-deserved award. In the end, nationally prominent watercolorist and instructor Jerry Zelinskas chose some works that - while certainly pleasing to the eye and of impeccable technical quality (with one glaring exception) - would not have made it on to my tally card at all had I been in his shoes. C’est la vie.

To be fair, it should be noted that this is not a juried show in the traditional sense. The entries weren’t pre-filtered to qualify for exhibition. So in that sense this is a substantially democratic cross section of local artists in varying stages of development. In this democracy, however, not all works of art are created equal. Consequently, pieces by very accomplished artists are mounted right alongside those of passionate practitioners still learning the rudiments and subtleties of their respective mediums. Here the raw rub elbows with the refined, and the wonder of it all is that such a mingling could be presented with any with real fluidity. That’s a testament to the skill and sensitivity of Canton Museum curator Lynnda Arrasmith. The benefit to viewers is a fairly comprehensive look at the sheer creative energy that abounds in the greater Canton area. And the benefit to participating artists is an opportunity to see how well their works hold up in a formal museum setting. A win-win, to be sure.

On a more personal note, in viewing this exhibit I felt gently pulled along, as if on a river journey, stopping many times to come ashore and more closely savor some particular islands of interest. There are the elegant and mysterious, lyrical entries by Dr. Fredlee Votaw; the technical watercolor mastery of Ted Lawson; the intricate, boldy composed abstraction of Bette Elliott; the equally bold (though distinctly less cerebral than Elliott’s), tactile and muscular abstraction of Isabel Zaldivar. Then there’s “Venice Shop Window,” a small oil by Pam LaRocco. It’s a gem of fluid brushwork- a haunting visual poem about the exotica she depicts with rich, earthy hues. Gem-like, too, are the two small watercolor night scenes by Nick Lanzalotta, each composed around a strongly-placed diagonal shoreline. For all of their almost folk-art approach in design and execution, they possess a sophisticated and inviting sense of drama.

But nowhere was my journey more arresting than along the rear wall of the gallery. From clear across the room, “Grand Finale,” a sizeable oil by Kristine Wyler, beckons like a window on a mythic sunset, recalling the heroic paintings of the Hudson River School. Draw closer, the paint itself seems to be on fire. Closer still, the liquidity of the rippled clouds is all but upstaged by the delicate handling of the wispy, dark treetops. Linger too long here, though, and you might miss the even more engaging and spectacular subtleties of Wyler’s smaller sunset masterpiece next to it, “Captiva Sunset.” With its many passages of enthralling brushwork, and its classically pristine surface, the painting speaks eloquently to the ineffable power of art to transport both heart and mind. And like much of this show, it spreads an illuminating joy.

The 2009 Canton Artists League Spring Show at the Canton Museum of Art/ 1001 Market Ave. North, Canton / through June 21 / (330) 453 -7666. For more information about Canton Artists League (CAL) projects, or membership, please visit the CAL web site at

Photo: “Captiva Sunset” by Kristine Wyler, oil, 18’’ x 24”

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