Friday, September 17, 2010



By Tom Wachunas

Nyctea was nestled against the trunk of her favorite Oak. She was studying something she held carefully in her cupped hands, close to her face. Aegolius approached quietly and sat down next to her.
“What have you got there?” he asked.
“I’m not exactly certain,” she replied slowly, “but it’s so very interesting.” She opened her hands wider for him to see.
He glanced down and said, “What’s so interesting about some seeds and twigs?”
“You look too fast,” she scolded. “Look slowly!”
“Oh very well,” Aegolius huffed. After a while his eyes grew wider. “Oh my,” he whispered. Then, “Oh my my!”

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

The current exhibit at Gallery at Main Hall, on the Kent State University at Stark campus, is called “Freshly Hatched” and features works by five Master of Fine Arts graduate students. To the casual passerby, some of their small pieces might seem inconsequential, or overwhelmed by the relatively vast white surrounds of the gallery walls. But don’t be deceived by the apparent lack of physical mass. Big ideas – intriguing ideas - can come in small packages. Just how big and intriguing is of course a relative matter, so I’ll proceed in ascending order as to what I feel to be those most engaging.

Each of the two graphite and acrylic ‘portraits’ by Nicole Calderon – “Momscape” and “Dadscape” - is a simplistic juxtaposition of two heads (on blank white ground) seen from the back. On the left is a fairly ordinary drawing of the ‘real’ head, and on the right the same shape is filled in with a colored rendering suggestive of foliage and floral elements. Maybe it’s a tribute to what’s on Mom and Dad’s minds. Contemplating their garden?

Tabitha Ott makes tiny objects – jewelry of sorts - of clear cast resin. They appear to contain miniature worlds of rich, shiny blue specks and dots interspersed with passages of aluminum and silver that sometimes have the look of miniscule digital circuitry, as in “Undulating Bracelet”. It’s unfortunate that these simply-shaped baubles have to be encased on their pedestal, because they beg to be held close to the eyes, so as to savor their subtle complexities.

The untitled jewelry pieces by Nikki Coupee, on the other hand, are larger and mounted directly on the wall. Inspired by antique jewelry for royalty, Coupee fabricates her precious stones to look like the real thing, sometimes suggesting the “jewelry for the masses” of old, she tells us in her statement, by incorporating traditional enamel work and steel. Bordering on gaudy theatricality, these are impeccably crafted objects, and convincing in how they conjure the look of period pieces.

Annie Stimson’s “Ova” is a haunting and delicate horizontal row of 20 glass pipets attached to the gallery wall at eye level, each filled with tiny fresh water pearls. The work is so transparent that it seems to progressively solidify right before your eyes as you get closer. Then you notice that from the bottom tip of each pipet a thread hangs straight down to the floor, where all 20 strands rest, piled into a gossamer-like tangle. The combination of materials, along with the work’s verticality and horizontality, brings a fascinating tension into play, both visual and conceptual. Is life (implied by the ‘eggs’ in the pipets?) merely an inexorable downward progression into chaos, or the manageable (and fragile) hope of rising from it?

The same cool precision of presentation that characterizes Stimson’s work here – like mounted laboratory specimens – is also evident in the pieces by Lesley Sickle: “Small Collection 1-6” and “Contaminated Forms 1-5.” These very small sculptures are comprised of color drawings from photographs of diseased human cells, silk- screened on to strips of drafting vellum. The pieces are transparent and in “Small Collection 1-6,” rest on clear plexiglass “shelves.” Even the shadows cast on the wall are somewhat translucent, enhancing the intricacy of the organic forms that look like deformed Mobius strips, or corroded double-helix configurations. Stimson’s works are quite successful in translating the ideas she articulates in her statement about diseased cells further degraded by the toxic interventions of modern medicine that our society increasingly embraces. The eerie beauty of their amorphous, superficial colors belies a deeper, uglier reality.

These are elegant metaphors for the corruptibility of our physical nature, certainly, and perhaps even, to some degree, our spirituality. It’s a large idea, presented in a manner both clinical and intimate, born out of an appreciation of microscopic phenomena.

Photo: “Small Collection 1-66” by Leslie Sickle, on view in “Freshly Hatched” through September 30, Gallery At Main Hall, on the campus of Kent State University Stark, 6000 Frank Ave. NW, North Canton, Ohio. Gallery hours: Mon. – Fri. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m. to Noon.

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