Saturday, November 21, 2009

Diamonds among the Rhinestones

Diamonds among the Rhinestones

By Tom Wachunas

Mark Twain once wrote, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” His observation rattled around in my memory as I looked at the exhibit of works by 33 members of the Canton Artists League (CAL) currently on view at the Stark State College of Technology Student Center. Twain’s poetic assessment of the difference between competent and genuinely excellent literature can, I think, be applied to all the arts.

This group show is fairly typical fare for CAL – a crowded, mixed bag of largely representational works (heavy on landscape and floral themes, several animal and figurative works), with a smattering of abstract pieces. Viewing it is like sorting through a jewelry box, overflowing with costume baubles that look almost like authentic precious stones, before chancing upon true gems. In that respect, five of the works her resonate with particularly unmistakable allure.

Judi Krew is largely known for her paintings about the human situational and behavioral quirks and foibles that can make us laugh, or wince. While wildly popular with a considerable number of viewers, I confess to simply not getting their point, and for the most part, regarded those garish cartoons as sophomoric fluff, and badly painted fluff at that. So it is that I am elated to report that in this exhibition, Krew’s pastel portrait, “Robert in a Blue Robe,” shows clearly that she is a marvelously facile and sensitive master of pure drawing. Wispy blue highlights - quietly intense, like neon - illuminate and charge an intricate collection of gestural marks set down with truly remarkable authority.

“Terra di Vino” is a tantalizing watercolor by Lynn Weinstein. Her landscape is somewhat Cezannesque with its fragmentation of the picture plane. Here, those fragments seem to dance across the liquid pastures, shimmering like the facets of a diamond reflecting an eerily warm, wine-colored sky. The hills are indeed alive with drunken iridescence.

Equally tantalizing is “Terra Magica,” a watercolor collage by Meize Riedel. Her colors aren’t about intense, vibrating luminosity. Yet, beneath the muted hues of this picture there is intrigue, springing from its elegant, perfectly balanced arrangement of forms and textures, all harmonized with very subtle transitions of saturated hues into more transparent, earthy passages. The diagonally placed, crack-like slivers of unpainted white space (the exposed ground of the watercolor paper) bring an exciting dynamic, seeming like canyons or riverbeds that play up the depth of this magical, gently churning land.

Dr. Fredlee Votaw’s “Fisher of Men” is another stellar example of the inventive combination of various raw materials and exquisite drawing technique that he employs to create uniquely stunning visions. Here, 12 fish hooks are inserted into the peripheries of an aged square of cloth. Above, a circle cut into the matting encloses a delicately drawn portrait. Honesty compels me to tell you that I was moved to ask Votaw if indeed this was a portrait of Jesus, and he kindly confirmed as much. It is a thoroughly contemporary visage, and a far cry from the traditionally sappy representations of the blue-eyed, bearded Christ with long flowing tresses and gentle smile. This hairless Jesus gazes away from us, unsmiling, his eyes utterly mesmerizing as they exude a spirit that is something between tired sadness and searing concentration. He is considering (and Votaw confirmed this, too) the state of troubled and failed humanity in light of his seminal, history-changing teachings, implied by the alphabet and numerals printed on the cloth. This is, quite simply, achingly beautiful art – timeless, serene, haunting.

And finally, there is “Beacon of Light,” a watercolor night scene by Nick Lanzalotta. From an all-white lighthouse nestled among the pine trees on a rocky bluff, a beam of yellow light seems frozen in air, right at the moment it is about to travel far into the deep blue night that is settling upon the bay. Relative to most of the other watercolors in this show (a fairly dominant CAL medium, to be sure), this is a comparatively opaque handling of the material, possessing a gouache-like density. Additionally, Lanzalotta’s drawing technique is more workman-like than academically fluid, giving the work an enchanting folk-art flavor. Yet, for all of its child-like simplicity of execution, this dream-like piece is startlingly muscular, executed with saturated colors that speak…make that SHOUT ...its message of safe, even joyful haven. It is a message conveyed in “words” that are not almost, but completely…right.

Photo: “Beacon of Light,” watercolor by Nick Lanzalotta, currently on view through December 26 in “A League of Its Own,” works by members of the Canton Artists League, on the second floor mezzanine of the Student Center at Stark State College of Technology. Viewing hours: Monday-Thursday 8am to 8pm / Friday 8am to 4pm /Saturday 8am to noon

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