Monday, June 14, 2010

Atelier Attitudes

Atelier Attitudes

By Tom Wachunas

Group exhibitions often set my mind, prone as it is to wildly free-associative processes, to wandering about the world of simile and metaphor. Case in point: “Art from the Salon,” currently on view at the Little Art Gallery in North Canton. Imagine, then, Forrest Gump as an accomplished artist rejected from the last May Show at the Little Art Gallery, feeling a bit bewildered and down in the dumps about it. His mama might well have intoned, “Life is like a juried art show. You never know what you’re going to get.”

Depending upon a predisposition to the notion of juried exhibits in general, we can fairly blame or praise the French for the contemporary presence of such shows. While any juror worth his or her salt will tell you that the aim of judging entries is to compile as great a looking show as possible, they’re just as loaded with opinions as are the hopeful entrants, and their labors invariably result in pleasing some of the people some of the time. Experienced artists fully accept the fact that most juried exhibits, such as the Little Art Gallery Annual May Show, are pay-to-play affairs with no guarantee they’ll actually get into the game. So I still stand by my sense that the quality of practically all the pieces on the entire west wall in the last May Show was maddeningly unremarkable at best, and served only to deaden the overall impact of the exhibit. The age-old query came to mind: What were they (the jurors) thinking? You never know what you’re going to get.

What this new show owes to the French is the idea of the Atelier Method. Dating from the 15th - 19th centuries, ateliers were art “schools” held in private studios where groups of students gathered to learn from accomplished masters. The teaching was conducted in an atmosphere of lively discourse and vigorous critique that eventually evolved into the formal (juried) French Salon exhibitions.

It is in the Atelier spirit that artist and teacher Nancy Stewart Matin began, two years ago, to invite other artists into her home studio not to be judged, but encouraged. “Art from the Salon” is a gathering of 12 artists who have clearly benefited from this traditional practice, and who here offer work that is indeed lively and vigorous in every sense. The collective result, piece-for-piece, is certainly among the most exhilarating group shows I’ve seen at Little Art Gallery in many years.

I can just about imagine what transpires at these artists’ sessions in Matin’s home. They aren’t about ponderous, academic pursuits of specific styles. I’m fairly certain that in her instructing, Matin has found a way to translate her own penchant for bold compositional experiments immersed in luminous color (check out, for example, her dazzling watercolor here, “Walk in the Woods”- a sylvan delight alive with liquid fire) into effective inspiration to take risks – regardless of medium or content - and push the passion for making art to new heights. And for all the varying levels and types of artistic maturity that are evident here, that passion is in abundant supply.

Following are some notable highlights among many. The works by both Russ Hench and Gail Wetherall-Sack are skillfully constructed combinations of paint and found materials into sumptuous, decorative exclamations of tactile intrigue. Intriguing, too, is “Over the Edge,” a watercolor collage by Nancy Michel, with its mysterious floral forms that break the picture plane. The alluring “Armed and Dangerous,” a watercolor by Judi Longacre, is indeed disarming in its close-up (and nearly abstract) treatment of a woman’s shoulders, bare but for the purple strap of her gown. Lynn Weinstein’s remarkable versatility is in full force, from the translucent magic of “Sand Bar,” a watercolor, to the haunting and visceral textures of her acrylic gem, “Port of Call.” And for boldly colored bravura, there are J. Kevin Maxwell’s muscular, energetic acrylics, like “Blue Tree.”

If this particular enclave of talented individuals should judge it appropriate to bring us another collection of their work in the foreseeable future, we’ll know exactly what we’re going to get: a thoroughly thrilling show.

Photo: “Blue Tree” an acrylic painting by J. Kevin Maxwell, on view in “Art from the Salon,” at The Little Art Gallery located in the North Canton Public Library, through July 10, 185 North Main Street, North Canton, (330) 499 – 4712, extension 312. Gallery hours are 10 – 6 Monday, Wednesday, and Friday / 12 – 8 Tuesday and Thursday / 9 – 5 Saturday / 1 – 5 Sunday.

Also on view in this exhibit are stunning jewelry creations by Paula Mastroianni.

No comments: