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.

(330) 499- 4712, Extension 312

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