Friday, May 28, 2010

The United State of McMerica

The United State of McMerica

By Tom Wachunas

Today all is right in my very little world. The weather is warm, soothing. God’s smile was evident long before his gloriously painted sunrise. After finishing a very early morning janitorial job, I drove to a nursery to buy things for my garden with money I earned from writing. Or was it money from last week’s janitorial job? No matter. I am rich beyond measure despite my paltry income. And now I get to sit and write my thoughts in the midst of gratitude for my wife, my dog, my job(s), my car, my garden, my computer, my house. My, my, is this a great country or what?

Or…what? As Memorial Day approaches with all its attendant opportunities to reflect on the astounding freedoms we have here, and those who sacrificed so much to secure them, my spirit is nonetheless troubled. I will not here articulate a litany of specific complaints or objections, but rather offer an overarching observation. And while I’ve never claimed to be, nor want to be, an authoritative pundit on things political or social, I will allow myself a liberty we Americans hold so dear: to speak my mind - make that heart - on such things.

America is trapped in a malaise that has at its core an ever- burgeoning moral turpitude. We’re flying upside down in a fog of priorities and affections both misplaced and abandoned. I say this not out of knee-jerk cynicism, but out of a very deep hope and abiding concern for the fragile, damaged state of our entire culture. My fervent prayer is that God will NOT relax his fatherly hold on our intentions and loyalties to the point that he completely releases us to our own insidious devices.

And so it is that the image that accompanies this post is an oil painting I recently made. What follows are my thoughts about the painting.

A collision of culturally ubiquitous icons. A clash of meanings. Two symbols undermine each other with equal intensity. Both are rendered impotent, meaningless, each an absurdity in the context of the other. Executed on an ordinary paper bag, a disposable container for goods and garbage. The golden arches should not be regarded merely as an indictment of a name-brand junk food, but rather as gateways to the material and ideological junk we pursue and consume in the name of freedom. We are a people united only by our constant and divisive re-defining of what we stood for once and stand for now. The pure white of steadfast idealism now sullied with the imprinted gibberish that is the feeble echo of real nobility. Weth epeo pleof theuni tedsta tes inor dertof ormamo reper fectun ion. Yet through it all, one thing remains intact, for good or ill: the blood shed. Always, the blood shed.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Roads Less Taken

Roads Less Taken

By Tom Wachunas

Since writing about leaving the Canton Artists League (CAL) a while back, I’ve noticed a distinct chill in the air when I encounter some CAL members. Our exchanges are still cordial, but in a noticeably restrained way. Additionally I’ve had several conversations, and read a commentary or two along the way, that have at their heart- either directly spoken or clearly implied - a sense of righteous defensiveness over what some (not sure exactly how many) consider to be my (and others’) unfair, unbalanced, insensitive, or overly critical assessments of CAL.

Such exchanges have essentially questioned the validity or usefulness of what I (and others) have had to say (and the standards applied) to not just CAL, but other areas of local artistic activity, including my (and others’) dim view of what passes as “public art” in this town. I hear a lot of generalizations like, “Well, that’s just your opinion.” Some – maybe many - have even said that they really don’t or shouldn’t care what “others” think about their art anyway, taking great pride in the pure sincerity of their creative efforts.

I respectfully submit that if artists don’t care what “others” think of their work, then showing that work to others is an empty if not absurd exercise. What artists wouldn’t want their work to elicit some sort of positive response and encouragement, or communicate something meaningful (perhaps even life-changing) to a viewer, or generate a sale? Any such outcome would be the result of the viewer’s opinion. And lest we forget, artistic pride is most valuable when it is wounded enough to instill humility and thence growth. Otherwise it can be merely a vehicle for the persistence of mediocrity, or at best, competence.

On a recent television show I heard David Foster, the internationally acclaimed music producer, composer, arranger and pianist, speaking about quality in art. He said, “Good is the enemy of great.” If our artistic Muse is worth the time and effort we give to dressing and displaying her, then we should at least seriously consider the challenge implicit in Foster’s observation. And while it’s certainly unreasonable to think all of our local artists could consistently produce truly great works of art (a reasonable standard of measure being any good art history book), their rigorous aspiring to do so could surely make for some increasingly electrifying exhibitions.

Having said all that, I saw two exhibits recently, both off the normally advertised beaten path of local venues. Not so electrifying is a modestly-sized CAL group show at Malone University’s Johnson Center (McFadden Gallery, lower level). But the show does have its remarkable moments of alternately charming, startlingly dramatic, and otherwise visually engaging content. In the charming (and impeccably crafted) column there is, among others, Michelle Mulligan’s small oil, “Tired of Winter,” wherein two cats are perched atop a planter shelf, basking in the gentle sunlight. One of the cats looks toward us with a marvelously rendered gaze of what might be disgust at being indoors. For high drama there’s Dr. Fredlee Votaw’s “Leave None To Tell The Story.” It’s a visceral and somber oil portrait that calls up the horrors of life in places where unspeakable crimes against children are commonplace. And Carol Mendenhall’s acrylic “Coral Reef” is a beautifully accomplished manipulation of colors and dense textures that powerfully describe a lush marine world.

Another work by Mendenhall is also on view directly across the street (Cleveland Avenue) at Cyrus Custom Framing and Art Gallery. It’s a large and stunning mixed media abstraction called “Grab the Gold Ring,” and is a treasure indeed. In fact, just about everything currently at Cyrus is golden in one way or another, including a mini-retrospective of 19 pieces by the inimitable magical surrealist, Erin Mulligan.

A very recent addition to the walls here are six works by Martin Bertman, each one a jewel in its own right. While it’s always been apparent that a number of historical influences are threaded throughout the Bertman ouvre, none is overwhelming to the point of mere imitation. Like no other local painter I know, he has managed to deftly internalize those influences and reorganize them into a fluid, enthralling visual vocabulary. His is a sublimely deep and poetic language, and one greatly imbued with potent mystique. Great work.

But that’s just my opinion.

The CAL show will be up until August 4, at Malone University’s Johnson Center, 2600 Cleveland Avenue NW, Canton, Monday-Friday 9a.m. to 5p.m.

Current works at Cyrus Custom Framing & Art Gallery will be on view through most of the Summer, 2645 Cleveland Avenue NW, Monday – Friday 10ish – 6p.m., Saturday 11a.m. – 3p.m. (330) 452- 9787

Photo: “Esther and the Bringing of Haman,” acrylic by Martin Bertman.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Orphans Extraordinaire

Orphans Extraordinaire

By Tom Wachunas

During a scene in Act I of the Players Guild Theatre production of “Annie,” Oliver (“Daddy”) Warbucks escorts Annie, along with his secretary, Grace, on a walk through Manhattan to see a movie. Praising the glitz and glamour of the city, he says to his companions - matter-of-factly, but with just a hint of mischief in his eyes, “After New York, everywhere else is just…Akron.” The line elicited a hearty guffaw from the audience - grateful, maybe, that he didn’t say Canton.

Why? Because for the sheer thrill of experiencing theatrical magic of the highest caliber, the Players Guild Theatre has once again demonstrated that Broadway got nothin’ on Canton. Here, director Jonathan Tisevich has assembled a cast of power hitters that collectively swing for the fences and deliver a grand slam to end what has already been a marvelous season.

Christopher Gales is charming and commanding in his role of the billionaire Oliver Warbucks. His singing in both “Why Should I Change A Thing” and “Something Was Missing” is a masterful, nuanced reading of his character’s authority, vulnerability and tenderness. In the role of his secretary, Grace, Amanda Medley offers a sturdy performance in a voice full with sweet, palpable warmth.

As the irascible, ebrious Miss Hannigan – the abusive orphanage supervisor – Melissa Brobeck is a wonder to behold. While there is an unmistakable echo of Carol Burnett in her performance, I can’t think of a better model on which to build this portrait – both caustic and amusing – of the besotted matron. Brobeck’s searing caricature is beyond mere imitation. Call it an eminently well-crafted homage. She’s a riveting presence throughout the evening, and no more so than in her singing of the bitterly sardonic “Little Girls.” In “Easy Street” she joins Jason Green and Elyssa Bosco, who are raucously funny in their roles of the conniving Rooster and his girlfriend, Lily. All three sing and dance the number with infectious, vaudevillian abandon.

Speaking of infectious abandon, then, there are the orphans. Natalie Welch plays the irrepressibly optimistic Annie with a credibility, skill, and confidence that is nothing short of astonishing. Her remarkably disciplined voice – poignant, soaring, crisp – cuts to the heart. Surely just as astonishing and heartrending is the performance by eight year-old Haley Jade Evans in her role of Molly. She’s a well-directed natural entertainer who revels in sassy panache, right down to her uproariously hilarious aping of the drunken Miss Hannigan. And for that matter, all twelve members of the orphan ensemble deliver one of the evening’s tightest, most memorable sequences in the endearing and thunderous “Hard Knock Life” – featuring radiant choreography by Michael Lawrence Akers, and the always sharp, ebullient sound of the eight-piece orchestra under the direction of Steve Parsons.

Spirited romps by impeccable casts have increasingly become the norm at the Players Guild, typically leaving audiences (and critics) abuzz with praise. But as director Tisevich noted in the program, his investment in these ambitious productions goes well beyond any given cast or show. Here he hopes that audience donations to the Christian Children’s Home of Ohio will make a real difference in the lives of real orphans. He writes, “It’s not just about a ‘good production’ anymore. It can’t be.”

And by God’s grace, it won’t be.

Photo by James Dreussi, courtesy Players Guild Theatre. “Annie” runs through June 13, with shows Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00p.m., Sundays at 2:30p.m. on the Players Guild Theatre Mainstage, Cultural Center for the Arts, 1001 Market Avenue North, Canton.
Tickets: $22 adults, $17 ages 17 and younger. Call (330) 453 – 7617 or visit

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Beyond the Stage

Beyond the Stage

By Tom Wachunas

What fuels my passion for live theatre is just that – it’s live. A story unfolding in real time, with real people pouring their hearts, minds, and bodies into an extended moment, all in the genuine hope that we as audience will in turn be carried into the moment with them. Live…but not life.

Life doesn’t unfold with pre-set lights illuminating only what we’re supposed to see, or with people costumed just so, telling us only what we’re supposed to hear from a memorized script. Life doesn’t happen on a raised proscenium stage at a safe, respectful distance from us. Life demands that we NOT sit quietly in place like so many witnesses predisposed to being “entertained” or otherwise waiting to get our money’s worth.

Art isn’t life. But I can’t imagine life without it. The best art inspires, informs, enhances life. It allows us to celebrate and praise what’s true, beautiful, and noble in our lives. Or to realize what’s not. More important, it allows us to praise God. Or to petition him.

And so it is that on this eve of the opening of “Annie” (on Friday, May 21) at the Players Guild Theatre, I want to share with you a self- explanatory press release. It refers to the Christian Children’s Home of Ohio. Their website is

It is a place where real people pour themselves not into extended moments, but into the very lives of children, all in the genuine desire for those children to be blessed with – and witnesses to – joy and hope. I will only add here my gratitude to all the folks at The Players Guild Theatre for their vision and courage, and for their blessing us by their asking.

What follows is the press release in its entirety.

May 17th, 2010 contact Joshua Erichsen 330 – 453 -7619 ext. 501


‘Orphans’ changing the lives of children on the margins, one performance at a time.

CANTON, OH- The Players Guild Theatre’s production of “Annie” will benefit Annie’s modern day counterparts – children in foster care who need permanent, safe, and loving homes. The Players Guild Theatre has partnered with the Christian Children’s Home of Ohio to make a difference in the lives of the thousands of children, in our and the surrounding communities, longing for a new ‘family’. At each performance, the Players Guild Theatre will be accepting donations to assist the passionate endeavors at the Children’s Home. 100% of all money raised through these donations will be used to support new foster care initiatives. CCHO believes that every child is precious, has unique individual needs, and while there, each child will thrive in a loving environment with individual attention and care. For over 40 years, CCHO has been bringing healing to hurting children and families, in His name, since 1969. The Children’s Home is licensed by the State of Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, certified by the Ohio Department of Mental Health, and nationally accredited by the Council on Accreditation.

The Players Guild Theatre’s production of “ANNIE” is still a musical that is meant to stimulate and entertain. However, “ANNIE” has become a viable and powerful vehicle to invest into the lives of children and families outside the theatre walls. This production is poised to make a difference in the lives of those children who being an ‘orphan’ isn’t about singing and dancing and pillow fights. It’s their reality. As a one of the longest running community based organizations in Stark County, it is only fitting that the impact happening ‘on-stage’ radiates on a much larger scale ‘off-stage’.

The Players Guild Theatre, currently celebrating its 78th season, is a volunteer-based, professionally staffed theatre presenting staged productions which stimulate, enhance, and uplift the quality of life for both its audiences and volunteers. The Players Guild also exists to offer instruction in theatre arts through production experience, classes, workshops, special programming and outreach activities. At the Players Guild Theatre, volunteers work side by side with professionals in order to maintain the highest standards of production, encourage individual creativity, and enhance their understanding and appreciation of live theatre.

Photo: “Christ and the Children” by Carl Heinrich Bloch, oil, 19th century

Monday, May 17, 2010

Messages from the Heartland

Messages from the Heartland

By Tom Wachunas

When the 26 year-old Pablo Picasso unveiled his massive “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” in 1907, reaction from critics, friends, and the public at large was a nearly unanimous howl of vitriolic disapproval. Even life-long friend and co-founder of the color-crazed Fauves, Henri Matisse, called the painting “repulsive.” But there was a method to Picasso’s apparent madness (which spawned the birth of Cubism), and much of it sprang from a studied appreciation of the gauntlet thrown down years before by the postimpressionist genius, Paul Cezanne. In fact, Cezannes’s influence on Picasso (and Matisse) at this point was so ingrained that the Spaniard said of his French elder (who died in 1906), “Cezanne is my father. He was the father of us all.”

More than any other seminal artist of Modernism, it was Cezanne who pointed the way to the complete re-invention of picturemaking, right down to the rudiments of visual perception itself. His radical challenging of the conventions of academic or “beautiful” art impacted the early decades of the 20th century, when Europe would see the rise of the Fauves (“wild beasts”), Cubism, Expressionism, Dada, Surrealism, and pure Abstraction. In turn, America would see for itself the “shocking” evidence of some of these stylistic developments in the explosive 1913 Armory Show in New York City. For American artists who had as yet never been to Europe, it was literally a real eye-opener. The infamous Armory Show unlocked the floodgates, and the torrent of Modernism – its freedoms, its radicalism, its utter newness - had officially made its way to America, where it would take on increasingly distinct regional identities and manifestations.

One of those regions was the American heartland, and is the subject of a stunning new exhibition called “Against The Grain: Modernism In The Midwest,” at the Massillon Museum of Art. Curated by Massillon Museum Executive Director Christine Fowler, the show features approximately 65 paintings by 40 artists that chronicle (1900-1950) modernist styles by artists native to or working in Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin. While the show is certainly not an exhaustive study (and it was not intended to be) of modernist art from these states, it is an effectively probing look at important developments in centers of artistic activity – Cleveland, Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and St. Louis- by significant as well as lesser-known artists. As such, this is a delightful, even required viewing experience for anyone either casually or seriously interested in the roots of the visual languages still very much spoken today – some, of course, more “popular” or common than others.

While the sheer diversity of painting techniques and media here could warrant more lengthy discussions of specific works and their significance, what resonates most with me is an intriguing thread that runs throughout the collection: rural scenes and urban landscapes, or combinations thereof. Indigenous to these works is an abiding, often haunting poeticism - very evident in Charles Burchfield’s watercolor, “Twilight Moon,” for example - powerfully revealing the artists’ efforts to define and render the essence, indeed the magic and spirituality of a time and a place.

Sometimes that essence is eerie and melancholic, as in the 1948 oil by Santos Zingale, “White Station.” Four red gas pumps stand like mute sentinels in a foreboding setting, conjuring shades of Giorgio de Chirico, the prominent Italian Surrealist. A similar, lonely mood pervades the desolate plain and exaggerated architecture in Harold Noeker’s “Angular Landscape (Division Street).” The figure of a factory worker is dwarfed by a huge mechanical monstrosity, looking like something from “War of the Worlds,” in Arthur Osver’s “Red Ventilator.” For a particularly strange perspective on evocative light peeking through ominous clouds, and bathing the black hills that overlook a country house with factory nearby, there’s a compelling, untitled gouache by Raphael Gleitsmann.

And there are plenty more such meditations, from rustbelt musings and plains vistas, to pleasantly cluttered urban neighborhoods, many imbued with vibrant color and warm, optimistic sensibilities. Seen in the aggregate, they present a substantive vision of what was once a newfound release from the traditional expectations of making paintings. This show, then, is fascinating evidence of a profoundly important era of painterly lyricism. It’s a remarkable testament to that era’s lasting and unique impact on the heart of America.

Photo: “The Pool" by William Sommer, 1918, courtesy Massillon Museum of Art and, on view in the exhibit “Against The Grain: Modernism In The Midwest,” at the Massillon Museum of Art through September 12.

Located at 121 Lincoln Way East (Ohio 172) in downtown Massillon, Ohio

For information call (330) 833 – 4061 or visit

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Monotoned Marvels

Monotoned Marvels

By Tom Wachunas

Some species of sea mammals are not equipped to see in color – a condition called cone monochromacy. Whales, for example, can see only in terms of light patterns. But if those denizens of the deep perceive a world even half as beautiful as that presented by photographer Clyde Butcher, they are surely a blessed species. We here in Canton are similarly fortunate to behold the current exhibit of his work at Joseph Saxton Gallery of Photography.

Butcher is a classicist in the majestic tradition of Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. He’s a formidable modern master of a fading art in this digital age. His black and white, large-format prints in this show, called “Wilderness Visions,” largely from his collection entitled “America the Beautiful,” are an utterly stunning and heroic record of intricate American landscapes and ecosystems.

On an abstract level, Butcher’s images are unabashedly sumptuous celebrations of pure texture and a patient, uncanny attention to light. And from the perspective of representational content, they are visionary epics - monumental narratives that savor places as yet undisturbed by the polluting sprawl of human progress. Spiritual places. Mysterious, magical places.

Beyond the startling mastery of depth and clarity that these pictures demonstrate, there is a more ineffable presence here – one easily more achievable with the convenience of color. It is a fugitive but nonetheless refreshing quality, and one I’ve rarely encountered in viewing the contemporary black and white photography that poses as art theses days. It’s a quality that’s simply not attainable with standard-format digital photography. I’m speaking here of warmth. Not as in real air temperature, of course, but a pictorial state of being that affects the degrees of our receptiveness to the subject at hand. Warmth as in something magnetic, inviting, even mesmerizing.

And so it is that even a snow-blanketed scene like “Yosemite West 62” can draw us deep into its warm matrix of gently gnarled, crisp black lines woven through a rich tapestry of shimmering whites and velvety grays. The deliciously cloud-rippled sky in “Rock Island Prairie” is a breathtaking study in pure tactility. And ‘monumental’ is simply too small a word for the impossibly varied, lush tones and textures of mountains and sky that surround - but somehow manage to not overpower - the white accent of a distant waterfall in “Inspiration Point 26.” Inspiration indeed. The soft drama of haunting, ethereal light in “Agawamuck Creek Falls 3” is as sensual, perhaps, as the forest sprites that you half-expect to peek out from the tantalizing shadows.

These are only some of the thoroughly seductive images – miracles of monochromacy all – that make this exhibit a whale of a show.

Photo: “Agawamuck Creek Falls 3” by Clyde Butcher. On view in his exhibit, “Wilderness Visions” at Joseph Saxton Gallery of Photography, 520 Cleveland Avenue NW, downtown in the Canton Arts District. Through June 25. Gallery hours: Wednesday – Saturday, 12 – 5. (330) 438 – 0030

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Resonate in Peace

Resonate in Peace

By Tom Wachunas

Looking over past programs of the Canton Symphony Orchestra 2009-10 season, I’m reminded of how effectively each evening built to a memorable finale. I marveled at the consistency with which audiences were left not just pleased, but more often than not, genuinely electrified, and rightfully so. It’s a bit surprising, then, that the energy of the final concert of the season was notably subdued – funereal, actually - in comparison.

This was definitely not a matter of how the music was performed by the orchestra (which was with all the commanding aural presence that makes it so consistently exciting) as what was performed. In his opening remarks, Maestro Zimmermann opined that the evening’s first selection – Wound Dresser, composed in 1989 by John Adams- was among the greatest works of the 20th century. While such a sweeping observation can surely invoke healthy discussion, suffice it to say the piece is arguably more intriguing for its evocative concept than its memorable musicality.

The work is an elegiac operetta of sorts, scored for orchestra and baritone soloist, and set to the text of the eponymous poem by Walt Whitman. At its heart, the music is a backdrop of hushed chords, like the slow, constant pulsing of ocean swells. Hovering in this quietly haunting aural sea, a solo violin, often in gently piercing high register (and joined later in the work by solo trumpet), punctuates the more anguished moments of the text, emphasizing the blunt details of Whitman’s caring for maimed Civil War soldiers. Baritone David Small, a crisp and splendid operatic presence, sang the text with a deliberate clarity, as if engaged in an urgent conversation, befitting the searing compassion in Whitman’s remembrance of the wounded and dying. Yet the vocal music that Adams composed seems too often disembodied from the orchestral score, creating a tension that is perhaps more cloying than heartrending.

With the somber end of this work still lingering after the intermission, the final selection performed this season - Mozart’s Requiem in D minor- was equally sobering, though certainly richer in its texture and “traditional” emotionality. As Kenneth C. Viant wrote in his program notes, the particulars surrounding Mozart’s final work “are sufficiently bizarre to seem almost improbable and melodramatic…” Its tortured history, and Franz Sussmayr’s less- than- edifying completion of Mozart’s unfinished score notwithstanding, the orchestra performed, as Viant pointed out in his notes, the Requiem edition with orchestration revised by Franz Beyer, published in 1972. It is a version intended to more seriously communicate the “Mozartean spirit.”

As the orchestra successfully offered a stirring and warm reading of that spirit, the featured soloists’ performances were not entirely seamless. The accomplished ensemble consisted of soprano Christine McMasters, mezzo-soprano Kimberly Lauritsen, tenor Drake Dantzler, and bass Nathan Stark. On this occasion, though, their work as a unit seemed at times listless, and McMasters’ somewhat mannered vibrato tended to overpower melody. While this Requiem as a whole certainly doesn’t have the fervent bombast of other works in the genre, it is nonetheless imbued with a distinct dramatic fervor of its own. Thankfully, that drama, whether subtly implied or powerfully declared, was in glorious evidence here, delivered with inspiring finesse by the Canton Symphony Chorus.

It would be unduly harsh to call the entire program a lackluster showing. Still, in the panoramic landscape of the season, this was no celebratory cry of delight at a luminous, epic sunset. Call it an artful, dusky sigh.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Solid Air

Solid Air

By Tom Wachunas

The magic of the Impressionists - Monet and Renoir in particular – still holds powerful sway over me. They were courageous purveyors of the unreasonable idea that well-placed, thick daubs of paint could capture and communicate the transitory effects of light on a person, a place, a thing. Their works are an intricate language born out of an unconditional surrender to the viscous physicality of pigments suspended in oily binders. From this mundane, ancient science they composed visual wonders imbued with otherworldly beauty. A perfected marriage of the tangible and spiritual.

It is that same sensibility (though in distinctly more abstract terms) very much at work in the current exhibition of collages by Clare Murray Adams, on view at Anderson Creative through May 29. “Of Time and Place” is a collection of 52 two-sided collages. It’s the culmination of Adams’ ambitious project of making one collage per week over one year, producing an elegantly codified record of seasonal changes as they unfolded on her 50-acre farm. From the perspective of rendering pure atmosphere, what the Impressionists managed to accomplish with paint, Adams has equally mastered with an enthralling mix of sewn fabric, paper and shellac.

And let’s not forget color. Here is a sumptuously tactile combination of the transparent and the opaque, the saturated and translucent, all orchestrated to convey the subtle visual transformations, on a week-to-week basis, that each season brings. From the gentle monotones and muted pastels of winter, to the verdant intensities of summer and autumn, all of the collages exude an uncanny luminosity.

Accompanying the collages are Adams’ written descriptions of their content, along with more personal observations of her process and moments of discovery. Her writing style is at times disarmingly simple and matter-of-fact, yet always colored with a warm lyricism apropos to the bucolic surrounds that inspired the imagery. Those images, in turn, are visual poems in their own right, each a complete, independent entity nonetheless in delicate dialogue with the next.

The problem of how to display two-sided pictures was ingeniously resolved by gallery owner Kevin Anderson. The collages hang, each with two long wires unobtrusively attached, from the ceiling, arranged in short rows. The overall effect plays up both the vertical and horizontal aspects of the long gallery space, and produces an inviting sensation of strolling through an orchard or woods abuzz with life and color.

Seen as a unified whole, this installation is a stunning testament to the persistence as well as the evanescence of memory – a participatory autobiography. As viewers we vicariously walk the farm with the artist, immersed in sights, even smells and sounds, both present and past. In the text under the heading “Fall into Winter,” Adams writes, “The musicality of the air is different now. The fourth movement has undertones of base notes.” And later she reflects, “I ruminated around in my mind closets. Memory played a much larger part in the work than expected. Subtle references occur that allowed me to visit my past.”

It’s all a very compelling invitation for us to do the same, and be the richer for it.

Photo: Installation, “Of Time and Place,” collages by Clare Murray Adams, on view through May 29 at Anderson Creative, 331 Cleveland Avenue NW, downtown Canton. Gallery hours are noon to 5p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Treasures among the Tchotchkes

Treasures among the Tchotchkes

By Tom Wachunas

My dilemma about the 68th Annual May Show at the Little Art Gallery was a simple, though vexing one for about 2 hours after seeing the show: should I write about it, or not? Or more to the point, is there enough interesting work here to warrant commenting? On one level I was disappointed, and was close to passing on this one. It took some time to be OK with the fact that as a whole, the show sits squarely in the toothless realm of generic eye candy - ‘handsome’ and ‘very nice’ stuff. Pretty and skilled, to be sure, but safe and predictable. In short, it looks suspiciously like most of the larger local juried group shows I’ve seen over the past 10 years - heavy on representational painting (an eclectic range from photographic realism to looser, impressionistic stylings), light on abstraction of any remarkable substance.

But once again, as is invariably the case with shows such as this, there are several works here (from among nearly 50 on view) that sufficiently rise above the ordinary to merit closer attention.

“Pennsylvania Barn,” a pastel by Randall Slaughter, is an amazingly large handling of a very small picture plane. More smudged than “drawn,” it’s an elegant balancing of colored gestures. His oddly-titled “Lunch With DeKooning” looks more like an homage to Matisse’s paper cut-out collages, and every bit as mesmerizing in its simplicity and harmony of forms. Another intriguing abstract work here is “Sunglasses” by Nancy Stewart Matin – a collide-a-scopic festival of colors and intricate linear planes.

“Symbiotic Semantics,” a reverse mixed media collage by Sarah Winther Shumaker, is a deceivingly uncomplicated image of a tree that, on closer examination, reveals a subtle depth of textures floating amid transparent typography. Also in the mixed media category is the compelling “Domestic Violence Victim Praying to the Three Graces,” by Dr. Fredlee Votaw. While the work is fairly typical of Votaw’s skillful blending of haunting imagery with raw physicality, its drama is somewhat diluted by a sprayed-on slickness perhaps too close to Hallmark card sentimentality.

On the other hand, the drama in “Oracle,” a beguiling charcoal and acrylic collage by Eleanor Dillon-Kuder, is far from slickly rendered. This is clearly a very personal, dream-like narrative. Her drawing technique is honest and loose, its urgency made all the more visceral by the energetic tonal dynamics and strong diagonals.

For razzle-dazzle technique in modern photo-realism, there’s “The Historic Zoar Tavern & Inn,” an acrylic by Diane Betz Granger. And for similar wow-factor, there are oil paintings executed in the style of the Renaissance Flemish masters, including Frank Dale’s “Hollyhocks,” a tour-de-force of spatial magic and sumptuously subtle color. Similar magic is afoot in Kristine Wyler’s very warm “Odoriko,” and Deborah Woloschuk’s “Heirloom Bling.” It’s hard to tell what the “bling” refers to in Woloschuk’s work, though. Is it the jewelry worn by the lovely woman in the portrait, or the ridiculous, gaudy picture frame? An eminently successful exercise in overkill.

This show brings up another perennially apropos descriptor, ‘overcrowded.’ But what else is new? Happens every year, regardless of the venue, it would seem - so many artists, so little space. In fact, the far wall opposite the gallery entrance is a pseudo salon- style display of the show’s smaller works. Oddly enough, though, too many of the pieces in that crowded grouping have an anemic quality about them, like so many trinkets and baubles, when compared to the rest of the exhibit.

Given the sheer volume of work in this show, another consideration comes to mind. While I realize that it’s inappropriate to think this show is a comprehensive gathering of local artistic visions, I can’t help but wonder. Is Canton ready for a brave, artistically inclined entrepreneur to commandeer a warehouse, or one of the many empty commercial spaces in Jackson Township, and mount a really daring exhibition that could accommodate a more expanded representation of area artists? A guerilla art attack, if you please? It’s a quixotic dream, I suppose, to desire local shows of that magnitude and content. Nevertheless, I think there is a significant population of local artists who haven’t settled for annually repeating formulaic visual niceties (no matter how well executed they may be), but instead pursue esthetics that fairly soar into more challenging, avant-garde territory.

To a very limited degree, last year’s “Stark Naked Salon” at the Massillon Museum came close in spirit. Still, though, the idea behind it remains an un-tipped windmill on the horizon.

Photo: “Oracle,” charcoal and acrylic by Eleanor Dillon-Kuder. On view in the 68th Annual May Show, through May 29, at the Little Art Gallery, located in the North Canton Public Library, 185 North Main Street, North Canton.

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