Thursday, April 22, 2010

Chattels Charming and Curious

Chattels Charming and Curious

By Tom Wachunas

The world of wooden domestic movables includes a vast array of objects designed to house a vast array of smaller domestic objects. The differentiating terminology for such household appointments is nearly as voluminous: consoles, highboys, breakfronts, bureaus, buffets, sideboards, dressers… to name just some. Cabinetry can get complicated.

And beautiful, as is amply evident in two companion exhibits running concurrently with the Contemporary Ohio Ceramics show at the Canton Museum of Art (see my post previous to this). “A Sculptural Perspective” and “Based on a True Story” present furniture pieces made by John Strauss and Kevin Anderson, respectively. Both are local artists who have done with wood what their Ohio counterparts featured in the main gallery exhibit have done with clay, pushing their mediums beyond traditional notions of craft and functionality into the arena of fine art.

John Strauss’s work is a bit of a throwback to the Art Deco era, which is no surprise if you read his statement. His pieces successfully embody that period’s taste for gleaming opulence achieved through lush finishes, exotic woods, and cool, elegant curves melded with very refined angularity. Further, as the title of his exhibit indicates, his pieces are thoughtfully constructed sculptures that just happen to be useful as furniture, while being considerably more organic and lyrical than most of the listless knock-offs that pass for ‘nouveau deco’ furnishings these days.

Strauss’s twin “Lorcia Pedestals” have a monolithic presence about them, along with a minimalist formality. But their Ash wood veneer is stunning in its sienna-colored dappling, giving these imposing shapes a sumptuous kind of animation. That same sensibility runs through other pieces here, as in “Savoy Console.” Its sleek Lacewood surface appears to almost breathe through the dark, intricate grain. The bulk of the form doesn’t so much stand on as rise from its gently carved, arched front legs.

So while Strauss offers a refreshing take on decorative, even nostalgic Modernism, Kevin Anderson’s musings in wood are less easily categorized, though certainly no less fascinating. While some of them have the look of salvaged, rustic antiques, others are curious hybrids of “influences” both airy and ponderous.

And some are downright funny, like “Elphaba’s Dresser,” with its drawer handles made from tufts of stiff brush bristles (a recurring motif in this collection), and resting on clunky-looking industrial casters. Still, Anderson’s unorthodox sense of detailing has a quirky charm that works to give his pieces real warmth and personality. For all of its odd, tapered angularity, “Books and Cheese” is indeed a bookshelf, even if it is topped with a wedge of “cheese” that protrudes in the cuckoo clock tradition.

On a more serious note there’s “Nola” (abbreviation for New Orleans, Louisiana), a low-sitting affair painted in dull browns. The three open drawers contain groupings of miniature houses in various stages of inundation by a creeping rusty mist. With its top bearing a painted Sacred Heart emblem, and its sides of coffered squares, the work brings to mind a mausoleum – a haunting “end” table remembrance of Katrina.

The appeal of Anderson’s work is in its subtle usurping of furniture’s function to hide the accumulated objects and evidence of everyday living - to store our stories, as it were. This is indeed furniture with tales to tell.

Photo: “NOLA” – painted wood, by Kevin Anderson. His work along with that of John Strauss, on view through July 25 at the Canton Museum of Art, located in the Cultural Center for the Arts, 1001 Market Avenue North, Canton. Museum hours: Thursdays and Fridays 10a.m. to 5p.m., to 3p.m. Saturdays / 1p.m to 5p.m Sundays/ 10a.m. to 8p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays / Admission: $6 adults, $4 seniors and students, free for children 12 and younger.

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