Thursday, July 29, 2010

Adventures in Wandaland

Adventures in Wandaland

By Tom Wachunas

“You have traveled so far,” said Aegolius. Nyctea nodded her agreement as her wide, very round eyes darted toward the horizon. Then Aegolius asked, “What will you build now?”
“Abstractions,” she replied, her voice unwavering after her arduous journey.
“Yes,” she said. “To remind us of other things.”
Aegolius inched closer to her as he followed her gaze toward the sky. Nervous now, he asked, “W-w-what other things?”
“I won’t know until they show themselves,” she said, still looking into the distance. After a long while, she peered back at Aegolius, and whispered, “Then, we shall all know.”

- from “Mournings of the Grebes” by June Godwit –

In the brochure that accompanies the current exhibit of works by Wanda Montgomery at The Little Art Gallery, entitled “Art: a Never Ending Journey,” Montgomery writes of her non-objective mixed media paintings, “…Instead of recreating what I see, I create a painting from a deeper place, letting the painting tell me what it needs.” The statement points simply and essentially to the heart of making – and viewing - abstract painting. The artist sees with ‘other’ eyes, and discovers what only those eyes can see. As viewers we are asked to lay aside our ingrained expectations of ‘real world’ visual pleasantries, and be willing to embrace less familiar, even outright alien territories. Only then can the very process of perception - on both artist’s and viewer’s parts – be conjoined, allowing the art to speak its reality.

In this show, Montgomery presents the full spectrum of her artistic pursuits: watercolors, mixed media abstracts, sculpture, jewelry, art dolls, and altered books. Those books, by the way, are intriguing collage/assemblage affairs with an antique air. All of them are inaccessible as literature, since they’re under glass. So I assume that the text contents are unimportant. These are books that are indeed meant to be judged solely by their elaborate, often funky covers.

One of the more immediately noticeable characteristics of the paintings in this show is the predominantly subdued palette. This is, for the most part, not an electrifying romp through fields of bright, luminous color. Even the watercolors are moody - though truly elegant – renderings of recognizable objects and scenes executed with a distinct bias toward blue and a wondrous attention to light. But the washy paint applications that Montgomery employs are such that she achieves remarkably subtle variations in soft textures that seem to rise from deep within the paper surface. For all of their muted intensity, they’re nonetheless compelling for their meditative quality.

And it is that same sensibility that has crossed over into her abstract works, though with a ramped-up commitment to thrillingly visceral surfaces that fairly seethe with evidence of her ‘listening’ to what the painting ‘needs.’ Certainly that process is a deeply personal and challenging one, and not all the abstracts here are equally resolved ‘conversations.’

“Learning the Game,” for example, may be an ironic testament to that difficulty. The painting is a relatively confusing, soupy blend of marks and textures in an indeterminate pictorial structure. In contrast, the forms in “Ancient Cultures” seem to be breathed out of Montgomery’s gestural musings (often suggestive of handwriting in other paintings here) to produce a work highly evocative of archetypal magic, mysteries, and fossilized history. This sort of painterly, earthy exoticism is delightfully evident in several other works. It results from a facile balancing of non-specific fields of highly-worked color with solidified or (at least) suggested shapes and volumes. Texture, color, and form held in delicate suspension.

“Then, we shall all know” may well be, depending upon our predispositions to the unfamiliar, an overly optimistic leap of faith on Nyctea’s part as she waits for her abstractions to reveal their nature to us. On the other hand, she might mean that ultimately, all we can really ‘know’ of such things, like Wanda Montgomery’s paintings, is that they are not easy imitations of already known entities. They are, rather, soulful invitations to see “other things” with new eyes. To read painted poetry.

Photo: “Ancient Cultures” mixed media by Wanda Montgomery, on view in “Art: a Never Ending Journey,” THROUGH AUGUST 21, at The Little Art Gallery, located in the North Canton Public Library, 185 North Main Street, North Canton, Ohio.
Gallery hours: MWF 10am to 6pm / TR noon to 8pm / Sat. 9am to 5pm / Sun. 1pm to 5pm


Woman Creative said...

Thanks for the great review. Wanda is also a popular teacher with passion in her delivery.
-Barbara McGuire

whit said...

Having had the pleasure of seeing Wanda Montgomery's work and her process of doing that work, I can honestly say that she embodies the truth of art as communication, and in that communication one can see both things familiar and comfortable, but almost always either lying deeply within or hidden by things mysterious, profoundly organic, suggestively spiritual, agonizingly just out of reach. She is a compulsive, driven worker, as if there could not be enough time in the Universe to express all of what she, herself, sees.