Saturday, August 28, 2010

Anima Humana

Anima Humana

By Tom Wachunas

“The artist alone sees spirits. But after he has told of their appearing to him, everybody sees them.” - Johann Wolgang von Goethe –

“Where the spirit does not work with the hand there is no art.” - Leonardo da Vinci –

“You don’t have a Soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.” - C.S. Lewis –

When we strip away all our rhetoric about contexts and definitions, making art has always, essentially, been about giving physical form to those things that by their very nature would seem to defy the effort. At its most fundamental level, the glorious miracle of us is that we exist at all. Our awareness of this fact has always clamored for – even demanded - our attention. Toward that end, art can be a powerful vehicle, a conduit for communicating our response to being. Beyond our very bodies, our art is the story of spirit-inhabited flesh. Further, our most potent and efficacious art transcends the merely formal delights (or assaults) for eye and mind, and speaks eloquently to and about the state of our souls.

There’s plenty of such eloquence – vibrant and pithy - on view in two shows at the Summit Art Space building in Akron. One is called “Fire and Ice,” a two-person show in the Big Box Gallery on the 3d floor, featuring the work of Karen Pierson and Terry Klausman, both members of Artists of Rubber City. The other, called “My Spirit Rises,” is a much larger group show in the main-floor gallery. I visited “Fire and Ice” first.

Karen Pierson makes objects that, as jewelry, would certainly be daring fashion choices. Beyond that, though, these are fascinating small sculptures in their own right, each one a marvel of metalsmithing. Particularly dramatic are “Point d’ebullition – Boiling Over,” and “Dichotomie.” The former is a ‘Volcano Brooch’ and the latter a ‘Fire and Ice Brooch.’ Both brooches are mounted on an 8”x10” oil painting – each brooch a removable 3D pictorial ingredient intrinsic to the tiny, elegant landscape. This isn’t jewelry destined for stashing in a box. “Dichotomie” is a fantastical union of a miniature campfire glowing against a night sky, with an underside of crystalline ‘ice’ forms that hang down against the painted streaks of the aurora borealis. All of her pieces are imbued with a primal, elemental intrigue impeccably crafted.

That same spirit is even more viscerally evident in Terry Klausman’s thoroughly unique mixed media works. Most of his wall hangings combine hand-carved and varnished natural wood “frames” draped with irregularly-shaped pieces of canvas – like stretched skins - generously lathered with waves of acrylic spatters and swirls. Some are about fire, as in, perhaps, eruptions of hot emotions. Others, like “Icicles,” seem cold and frozen hard, yet strangely liquid. Bold, haunting, and intensely tactile, they suggest exotic artifacts a modern shaman might use in purification or exorcism rituals.

While it was purely by chance that I saw “Fire and Ice” at all, I’m delighted to report that it’s a remarkably fine exhibit that also, interestingly enough, seems cut from the same conceptual cloth as “My Spirit Rises.” In that show there are more than 70 works by six artists: Jean Evans, John Herring, Ted Maringer, Carole Pollard, Judith Salamon, and Bob Yost. For rich variety of media and depth of engaging visual and emotional content, this is surely among the most breathtaking group shows I’ve seen this year. My spirit rises indeed.

What comes to mind, then, is a stunningly expanded sense of what I saw in “Fire and Ice” - something the classical Greeks would have called ‘pneuma.’ It’s a marvelous word that, depending upon context, can refer to breath, wind, life-force, rational soul, or the principle essence of human existence. All of those applications, in varying degrees, are at work here. Of course in a show this large, some works understandably resonate longer and more deeply than others.

Among those are Bob Yost’s raku pieces, particularly his eerily beautiful masks – charred and charged gems of human drama . Ted Maringer’s mixed media hangings that use fiberglass mesh as shimmering ‘cloth’ are riveting in their simplicity and elegance. There’s a timeless potency in their suggestion of priests’ vestments, or ceremonial kimono. The mixed media “Spirit Dress” paintings by Judith Salamon are similarly endowed with an archetypal energy. These softly colored and patterned surfaces are hypnotic, codified ‘garments’ that clothe both the deeply personal and cosmic.

The quilts by Carole Pollard are nothing short of astonishing. The thread work alone in “Awakening,” for example, is a journey unto itself. A road map to infinity? Combined with myriad colors and intertwined patterns upon intricate patterns, it’s an explosive celebration, perhaps, of celebration itself. And for sheer electrifying muscularity of form – literally and symbolically – there is her trio of wall pieces, “Melville’s Angel (I, II, III).” The work was inspired by a Herman Melville poem built around the image of Jacob wrestling with an angel, in this case art. The third quilt in the set, called “Triumph,” is an utterly arresting embodiment of this show’s pneuma (or a Latin companion, ‘anima humana’), as it were.

This victory icon, with its silvery central gauntlet clutching red feathers beneath a lusciously blazing sun, is on one level a compelling symbol of the good fight that all artists engage. It is a timeless struggle, at once unreasonable and joyous. Still, to think that we humans could wrest from heaven the capacity to create is only half the story.

And so it is that in the end, I think that our victory isn’t so much in ‘winning’ anything from God or his angels. Rather, it lies in our grasping of what was freely given in the first place. This show is a thrilling reminder that art is where body and spirit unite in gratitude for an eternal gift.

Photo: “Melville’s Angel III: Triumph,” quilt plus 3D mailed/armed gauntlet, by Carole Pollard, on view in “My Spirit Rises.” This exhibit, along with “Fire and Ice” is on view through September 18 at Summit Art Space, 140 East Market Street, Akron, Ohio. Free Admission and Parking. Gallery hours for “My Spirit Rises” are Thursday – Saturday, 12 to 5 p.m. (330) 376 – 8480. Hours for “Fire and Ice” in the 3’d floor Big Box Gallery are Friday and Saturday 12 to 5 p.m.


Tom Wachunas said...

Look for an exhibit of Carole Pollard's work coming to Stark Stae College, toward the end of September

tschmitt said...

Professor Wachunas, i just have a question about the blue colored media surrounding the hands and fist. I was wondering what that is supposed to be depicting. Overall i love it I can really see the artist's spirit in his work.

Tom Wachunas said...

The blue medium is quilted fabric in a configuration consistent with other shapes that surround the work...more feathery forms, or blue 'flames', maybe. I think I 'explained'my take on overall "message"/content in second-to-last paragraph. Thanks for the question!