Monday, November 29, 2010

Strangers in a Strange Land?

Strangers in a Strange Land?

By Tom Wachunas

If you’re looking for another art review here, the best I can offer this time around is what you could call “The Consumer’s Art of Feckless Christmas Spirit.” In her Sunday Repository column (November 28), Charita Goshay seemed to subtly parallel the hysteria over airport body searches (which she called “…just the latest fishy controversy in a school of red herrings”) with a larger malaise at work in America. We want what we want when we want it. In the midst of consumer angst and demands over the economy, she reminded her readers that some retailers were open for business on Thanksgiving Day, noting that, “Economically speaking, we have to be encouraged by any uptick in consumer spending, but it is also disheartening that we can’t seem to take off even one day to decompress.” Disheartening? I think Goshay is being a bit too kind. It’s downright tragic. Decompress? The whole engine needs to be replaced.

With what? One look at the image accompanying this post will probably clue you in as to where this is leading, but nonetheless, I ask your indulgence as you read on. Call it sermonizing if you wish, but I just call it speaking my heart. In the last several years of teaching the Art Survey course at Kent Stark, I’ve never been comfortable with the text book dating notations for the art works we examine. The old ‘B.C.’ (before Christ) and ‘A.D.’ (anno Domini- “in the year of our Lord”) designations have been replaced with BCE and CE, respectively. The translations of these increasingly visible designations read “before the common era” and “common era.” Some scholars and readers translate the ‘C’ as ‘current’ and, yes, ‘Christian.’ Now, I’m not one of those raving zealots who decry this move as a vile secularist plot to altogether erase Christ from history. To a considerable degree, though, I think it’s more evidence of our culture’s efforts to be “sensitive” to religious pluralism. And as such, I do regard it as a distressing moving away from the centrality and significance of Jesus Christ and his Lordship in human affairs.

And therein is the tragedy. To dilute and homogenize Christ into just another good, loving man, or eminently wise teacher, is to completely miss his meaning, his mission, his reality, his divinity. It is to indulge in what C.S. Lewis called “patronizing nonsense,” and it is to our detriment. And so it is that I remain ever more saddened and perplexed by the social landscape we have fashioned around this time of year, by the urgency and energy we assign to such things as tempting and cajoling folks to shop on Thanksgiving Day, at 4 a.m. on “black” Friday, on “Small Business Saturday,” on “Cyber Monday.” As if it is our joyous duty as Americans to participate. Lemmings diving into the commerce abyss. How about replacing Christmas shopping days with Christmas stopping days? Stopping to remember, savor, come back to the source of who we are, what we have, where we should be going and what we should be doing every day. Stop for a moment – many moments – and think of the possibilities of a Christ-driven economy, nation, indeed world, the possibilities not for “the holidays,” but for a transformed CHRISTmas landscape.

As this year of 2010 A.D. draws to a close, stop and consider where your allegiances are. Whom do they serve? Whom do YOU serve? What would surrendering to the Lord of the Universe look like?

Photo: “Surrendered,” oil, 2003, by yours truly

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ascendance: Stark's Vision-Makers, Part 2

Ascendance: Stark’s Vision-makers Collected, Part 2

By Tom Wachunas

The many shortcomings of the recently closed Annual Stark County Artists Exhibition at the Massillon Museum are yesterday’s news. For a far more balanced and, piece-for-piece, substantial show of Stark’s artistic diversity and excellence, try and get to the Stark Arthology artists show at the Canton Museum of Art before it closes on Sunday (November 28). The show is the real-life component of the new (and first) book published by Indigo Ink Press, “Stark Arthology” (see my post from November 13). While the book’s excellent photographs (by Tim Belden) of the artworks are as fine as they come, no photos can ever be expected to fully capture all the nuances of other mediums. Many thanks to the Canton Museum for slotting what time it could, and the beautiful job in mounting the show.

Before going much further, honesty compels me to remind you that as in any juried exhibition (and in essence, that’s what Stark Arthology is), some real clunkers got in (though thankfully not near to the extent we saw in Massillon), and there are some startling omissions. C’est la vie. In any case, blame and/or bless the jurors. Let’s hope for a second round some day. Overall, though, this collection is considerably more stunning than stultifying.

Among the works here that have previously made their way through the exhibition circuit, some still thrill me to the marrow, regardless of when they were made or how often I see them. Diane Belfiglio’s astonishingly crisp acrylic painting, “Ascent With Geraniums,” (1997, page 15 in the book) is a gorgeous jewel of sunlit, architectural lyricism. Christopher Triner’s oil, “Autumnal Sunrise,” (2005, page 69) continues to hypnotize with its pulsating color clouds. Like Rothko on steroids. I had forgotten how the lavish, Baroque-flavored frame around Erin Mulligan’s delightful oil “Firebreathing Rabbits” (2005, page 56) acts like a portal into her surrealistic fantasy. And by our local master-practitioner and teacher of the old masters’ Flemish technique (also seen in the Mulligan work), Frank Dale, “Leitzel” (2005, page 29) remains among the most haunting, subtle, and beautifully composed portraits I’ve ever seen. Anywhere, anytime.

And while we’re on the subject of that technique, “Guilt” (2009, page 33), by Steve Ehret, is marvelously haunting too, as in macabre. Call it a collision between Harry Potter and Hieronymus Bosch. Among other surprising works (which is also to say that if they’ve been in other local exhibits, I must not have been paying attention), there’s Joe Martino’s mixed media “Jungle Moon” (2009, page 48), a tantalizing, fluid abstraction of tactile mysteries in the nocturnal wild. Abstract, too, is “Symphony” by Tiffany Marsh (not pictured in the book, though her “Juvenile Bluebird” is on page 47). Extremely so. It’s an utterly visceral image that at first appears to be pure accident. Paint and plaster combine (conspire?) to suggest scarred and blistered earth mixed with desiccated organic matter. On a brighter landscape note there’s the acrylic “Peace On Earth” (2010, page 21) by Renie Britenbucher, with its impossibly luminous hills in rainbow colors under a deep blue night sky. The scene is lovingly aglow with child-like wonder.

Placed about midway through the exhibit is a tall pedestal topped by “Grey Owl,” a sculpture made from what seem to be hundreds of small reclaimed steel scraps by Patrick Buckohr (his “Rhino” is on page 22 of the book). It’s a thoroughly dramatic and awe-inspiring construction. With it wings spread wide and talons opened to literally grab our attention, the owl is frozen in its ascent (or is it landing?), and appears to survey the visions around it and all who might join its scrutiny. A trophy of sorts, and fitting evidence of a triumphal, albeit short-lived show. In lieu of seeing it, then, the book is surely the next best thing.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Photo: “Grey Owl,” reclaimed steel, by Patrick Buckohr

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Curious Case of Telltale Trinkets

A Curious Case of Telltale Trinkets

By Tom Wachunas

While I’m fairly certain that the current show at The Little Art Gallery isn’t intended to be a subversive commentary on materialism, it nonetheless brings to mind commodities and consumerism. Maybe it’s the timing. Maybe it’s because I started seeing Christmas trees in stores and homes as early as two weeks ago. Maybe it’s because Christmas has become increasingly less sacred and reverential and more of a brand as the years march on. Dutifully stocking our store shelves on November 1 in preparation for “black Friday,” we’ve come to the point where “the holidays” have become one run-on sentence - a measure of economic health, a marketing ploy to immerse us in a constant barrage of glitz, glitter, and goods, beginning with Halloween and ending with eleventh-hour Christmas shopping, only to be reminded just a few weeks later not to forget Valentines Day. A run-on sentence of imperatives to get (and give)…stuff.

The show is called “Rhythm & Obsession” and features mixed media works by Russ Hench and wearable art by Judi Longacre. I’m not at all sure that the word ‘Rhythm’ in title is a clear reference to the specific nature of the work at hand. But ‘Obsession’ is arguably more applicable on a few levels: the obsession to find and collect all manner of baubles and tiny things and, more to the point, the obsession to arrange them in an artful, even exuberant manner. This show is very much about the playful and sumptuous visual design of colors, textures, and lots of tactile bric-a-brac.

Judi Longacre has brought her design background (graphic and interior) sensibilities to her wearable art – necklaces, bracelets, and broaches – that are a hybrid of antique and used buttons with “repurposed” (her word, and a delightfully apropos one at that) jewelry. The net effect is one that exudes a joyous simplicity with a flashy dose of vintage elegance. They’re a particularly appealing complement to the mixed media canvases by Hench.

Before venturing into those, though, I think his “watercolor reproductions” (a term I’ve not seen as a medium descriptor in a show before) warrant a few observations. These eight pieces are actually laser “printed” reproductions of watercolor originals. As Hench was careful to point out to me, they’re technically not prints in the true understanding of the term, though they can be regarded as limited edition images should he decide to sell more than one. The current technology of laser color reproduction is attractive to Hench, as the colors translate with more saturation and intensity than his originals. In any case, these pictures aren’t so much about exploring watercolor as a purely painterly medium as they are marvels of precise representational draftsmanship.

His mixed media canvases, on the other hand, are dazzlingly elaborate worlds unto themselves. Lewis Carroll would have had a field day with his word inventions for these strangely alluring wall hangings. Call them ‘suspendollages.’ Things such as beads, crystals, and a wide variety of trinkets hang suspended on strings and wires, often jewel-like, beyond the sensually painted and collaged picture planes. Hench says in his statement that his creations “don’t necessarily tell a story,” though he’s gratified when viewers find one. Indeed, with titles like “Row Boats to Heaven,” and “Kyla’s Perilous Game,” who could resist looking for a way to navigate these vibrant dreamscapes, these streams of material consciousness? For sheer physical thingy-ness, they’re unabashedly decorative, and as deep as you’d care to make them. And so very touchable, gallery etiquette notwithstanding.

So it’s true, I’ve got the physical trappings of Christmas on my mind. Hench’s canvases remind me of glittery lights and sparkling orbs and opening lovingly wrapped presents. As art, his pieces are lovely and even desirable objects. And as commodities, they’re the stuff of skilled and electrifying visions.

Photo: “Come Back to Tomorrow,” acrylic and mixed media by Russ Hench, on view in “Rhythm & Obsession,” The Little Art Gallery, located in the North Canton Public Library, 185 North Main Street, North Canton, through December 18. Gallery hours are 10 – 6 MWF, 12 – 8 Tuesday and Thursday, 9 – 5 Saturday, 1 – 5 Sunday.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Watts Happening

Watts Happening

By Tom Wachunas

Canton Symphony Orchestra, Umstattd Hall, Canton, Ohio

Richard Wagner: Prelude to Die Meistersinger Von Nurenberg (1868)
Richard Strauss: Death and Transfiguration, Op. 24 (1889)
Sergei Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No.2 in C minor, Op. 18 (1901)

One constant in the concerts by the Canton Symphony Orchestra (CSO) is a big, lush sound you’d expect from a much larger orchestra. It’s always impeccably balanced and enveloping. While the level of the musicians’ technical mastery is certainly a contributing factor, another all-important element that gives this orchestra such an electrifying presence is its astonishing ability to identify and amplify the very soul of the music – a capacity nurtured, to be sure, by Maestro Zimmermann’s interpretive powers. It’s the difference between competent (albeit magnificent, as was the case here) playing, and genuinely inspired performing. In that regard, the orchestra delivered its November 14 program at Umstattd Hall with unfettered brilliance.

Zimmermann addressed the audience before performing the first selection, Wagner’s Prelude to Die Meistersinger Von Nurenberg (The Mastersingers of Nuremberg). At the end of his very touching and gently humorous remembrance of Linda Moorhouse, the deeply loved former CSO president and CEO who passed away last year, he nodded affectionately at the nearby empty orchestra chair on stage. It was certainly a poignant reminder. The Wagner work was a Moorhouse favorite, and so the performance, which perfectly captured the work’s exhilarating air of graceful majesty, was dedicated to her. This was surely a heartfelt start to an evening that would continually probe even more resonant emotional depths.

If you didn’t know that Richard Straus was just a young man of 25 when he wrote his tone poem, Death and Transfiguration, you might have thought the work came from a very old soul, struggling to reconcile deep existential concerns. The orchestra gave a thoroughly riveting account of this haunting, contemplative, and ultimately triumphal vision of a life lived and transcended. Particularly enthralling were the explosive, crackling passages wherein brass and strings seemed to be caught up in stormy spirals, suggesting perhaps thick plumes of dark smoke that dissipate into gentle, light-filled wisps.

The atmosphere in the hall after intermission was vibrating with a sense of both ebullience and growing anticipation of the appearance of guest soloist, the inimitable pianist Andre Watts. And once again, a remembrance. Watts was the featured soloist when Zimmerman conducted his first concert as the newly hired CSO Music Director 30 years ago. They have since performed more than 14 concerti together in various other venues. Their chemistry is indeed a seasoned and powerful one, and in eminently fine form on this occasion.

At the beginning of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 - with its low, dark piano chords reminiscent of gently rolling, distant thunder – Watts seemed to be tentatively negotiating his aural balance with the orchestra as the strings introduced the main theme. In fact it was this spirit of nuanced negotiation between keyboard and orchestra that did in fact resolve and settle into a remarkable symbiosis throughout most of the performance. You could actually see how Watts and the orchestra were listening to each other. This is, after all, an iconic work – a masterpiece of monumental piano pyrotechnics that could easily overshadow orchestral presence.

But even in its most dominant moments, Watts’ startlingly muscular power nonetheless illuminated the work’s poetry. And nowhere was that poetry more beautifully stated and balanced than in the lovely second movement. Here, it’s worth noting that the playing of the main theme by principal clarinetist Randy Klein was particularly memorable for its sweet, plaintive lyricism.

By the time Watts had finished the third movement, with colossal virtuosity and passion, it was clear we had witnessed something of a phenomenon. In a way I think he has re-invented this work, and in the end not so much negotiated with the giant, so to speak, as eloquently conversed with it. And passionate conversation can be draining.

So it is that many present may have been disappointed that no encore was forthcoming, even after bringing Watts back to the stage some four or five times to roof-rattling applause. But how does one follow an act like that? I was reminded of the proverbial victorious star athlete who leaves it all on the field after a super-human performance.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Gentle Fire: Stark's Vision-Makers Collected

A Gentle Fire: Stark’s Vision-Makers Collected

By Tom Wachunas

“The internet – the ubiquitous www - is a poor imitation of pulse, a digital cloud of cold cyber air. It doesn’t have an odor. It can’t be felt with flesh. Web pages don’t have a heft you can cradle close to your breast, cozy in bed or a favorite chair, soothed by the glow of a reading lamp. Give me my pictures and words in a book. Living things, I say. Books! Caress their pages as you turn them. They’ll return the favor. Go ahead, smell them. The aroma itself is an endangered species.”
- June Godwit -

Ahh, the sweet smell of success. I’ve been like the proverbial kid on Christmas Eve, breathless with anticipation, awaiting the release of “Stark Arthology.” The book is the inaugural publication from Canton’s non-profit publisher, Indigo Ink Press, and the first-ever anthology of Stark County artists - 69 of them to be exact. It’s due to hit many local stores on Saturday, November 20. So imagine my delight when Jessica Bennett – founder and executive director of Indigo Ink Press, and who also designed and edited the book – advanced me a copy hot off the presses (and oh yes, that smell!) with an invitation to review it. Yes, June Godwit, there is a Santa Claus.

Don’t write off the slender mass of this product as an indication that it is in any way inconsequential. As hard-bound paper products go, it’s as well-crafted and sparkling as any art anthology I’ve seen. Beyond that, the book is a seriously handsome, thoughtfully laid-out presentation of Stark County’ artistic energy. As a documentary of that energy, it is a sumptuous, revelatory homage to the diversity and depth - at times profound – of the creators in our midst. As such, this is a truly remarkable gift to both the artists and their devotees as well as an elegant invitation to the community at large to further embrace our burgeoning visual arts milieu.

Each artist page includes a photograph of a single work, artist’s statement and bio (of variable lengths and depths throughout), and a wondrously sensitive black-and-white head shot. Those subtle portraits are by Michael Barath and Thom Metz, while the excellent, true-to-the-original photographs of the artworks are (except where noted) by Tim Belden. The book, funded in part by a grant from ArtsinStark (with a portion of the book’s proceeds to benefit ArtsinStark’s SmArts initiative), also includes a foreword by David C. Kaminski, and introduction by publisher/editor Bennett.

In that astute introduction, Bennett notes that the artists’ words about their work are something they recognize as an expectation on the readers’ parts. Those words are nonetheless “…most often simple trappings – means to an end… But it’s the work that is the unexpected, the honest… The words are a well done fake, a counterfeit; the art is the genuine article.” I couldn’t agree more. This is after all not a literary anthology, but a testament to an entirely different language. Yet it is in its own right a “readable” language, beautifully visible here, describing a fire burning among us. Not a catastrophic blaze, to be sure, but certainly a figurative fire that burns consistently in the hearth of our local culture. It is a fire that casts a warming glow on what is both strange and familiar, ethereal and earthy, and on the guts and grace of living, fueled by the unique passions of these eminently gifted Stark County artists.

So here they are: Clare Murray Adams, Diann Adams, Sandy Adams, Kevin Anderson, Jeremy Aronhalt, Laura Barry, Tim Belden, Diane Belfiglio, Vicki Boatright (“BZTAT”), Craig “Uncle Dregg” Booth, Brandon Bowman, John M. Branham, Brittney Breckenridge, Renie Britenbucher, Patrick G. Buckohr, Jerry Adam Burris, Martin A. Chapman, Michele Cimprich, Joseph Carl Close, Carol R. DeGrange, Frank Dale, Lynn Digby, George DiSabato, Marti Jones Dixon, Steve Ehret, Donna Fuchs, Carolyn Jacob, Robert Joliet, Laura Kolinski-Schultz, Judi Krew, Bili Kribbs, David Kuntzman, Ted Lawson, Jeff Lowe, Billy Ludwig, Joanne Mariol, Brett Marriner, Megan Mars, Tiffany Marsh, Joe Martino, Nancy Stewart Matin, Bob Maurer, Sharon Frank Mazgaj, David McDowell, Stephen McNulty, Thom Metz, Wanda Montgomery, Erin T. Mulligan, Su Nimon, Scot Phillips, Tina Puckett, Mieze Riedel, Pat Ripple, Pricilla Roggenkamp, William Shearrow, Sarah Winther Shumaker, Hurshel Smith, Brittany Steigert, Judith Sterling, John Strauss, Christopher J. Triner, Angelina Verginis, Fredlee Votaw, Michele Waalkes, Michael Weiss, Keith Wilson, Shawn Wood, Isabel Zaldivar, Derek Zimmerman.

Indigo Ink Press and the Canton Museum of Art will be hosting an exhibit of StarkARThology artists at a ticketed launch party at the museum on the evening of Friday, November 19, where guests can get their hands on early copies of the book ($29.95). The exhibit will be on view through Sunday, November 28. Tickets for the launch party are $25 and are available at , by calling (330) 417 -7715, or at the door. ALSO, on November 20, Borders Books and Music at The Strip in North Canton will be hosting a book signing from 3 to 5 p.m.

Photo: “Fire-Breathing Rabbits,” oil, 2005, by Erin T. Mulligan, courtesy Indigo Ink Press.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Up Close and Public

Up Close and Public

By Tom Wachunas

Look! Up in the sky! It’s…another piece of public art in downtown Canton! According to ArtsinStark, it’s public art work number 41. By now, those of you who have followed my musings about Canton’s public art installations know that a good portion of them have brought out the curmudgeonly gadfly in me. The works that I once complained about still set my teeth on edge. Those are simply bad art, and otherwise the lowest common denominators of artistic quality. It’s not reasonable to think they’ll improve with age. ‘Nuff said.

So relax. This entry isn’t a slam against the latest unveiled project, Joseph Close’s “The Sky Is The Limit.” Located on the Timken Campus Skywalk at the corner of McKinley and West Tuscarawas Street, the 12’ x 40’ “mural” is another slam-dunk for Close, and a welcome one for Canton’s public art profile. Coordinated by ArtsinStark, the project was originally the brain-child of attorney Allen Schulman, and sponsored by Aultman Health Foundation, Coon Restoration and Sealants, and Hilscher-Clarke. The theme of the work embraces the broad range of educational experiences available to students at Timken High School.

One of my earliest encounters with the work of Joseph Close was his enthralling “Gaia’s Hope,” another public artwork from 2007, located on the side of the parking garage at 3d Street NW and Court Avenue. Since then he has consistently produced works that have set him significantly apart from the Canton art pack. That’s certainly not to disparage the pack. Rather, it is to say that his work confounds easy definition or labeling. Frankly, I think he’s a tool-belted sorcerer, or a shaman-transformer with a brush in one hand, a blow torch in the other. With a palette more solemn than somber, he wrests dignity from industrial detritus, grace from garbage, poetry from the mundane.

While the symbolism in “Gaia’s Hope” seems somewhat arcane (yet utterly fascinating), “The Sky Is The Limit” is more viewer-friendly, with its painterly montage of images depicting pursuits of science, engineering, sports, and the arts. It’s imprecise to call it simply a mural. Yes, the pictorial configuration is “two dimensional.” But like “Gaia’s Hope,” the work is not so much a painting on the building wall surface as it is a tactile vision-cloud emerging from it – a relief sculpture of sorts.

And speaking of relief, it’s gratifying to know that that the planners and supporters of this marvelous addition to the local public art inventory got it right this time. Joseph Close has provided us with a work we can literally look up to, and savor for both its artistic integrity and its message: Canton’s hope.

Photo, courtesy ArtsinStark: “The Sky Is The Limit,” by Joseph Close.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Consider Yourself...Surrounded

Consider Yourself…Surrounded

By Tom Wachunas

Much of the local buzz about the recent Players Guild opening of “Oliver!” has been about the decision to present it not on the impressively-fitted mainstage, but in the William G. Fry Theatre – the Guild’s much smaller, “black box” venue. After all, the production has long and deservedly occupied a venerated place in the history of musical theatre, and so understandably takes on an expectation of sprawling dimensionality. In retrospect, the decision to somehow shrink this lyrical epic to a more intimate scale was a truly visionary one, and one that in no way dilutes or minimizes the show’s overall richness. In fact, in these close quarters, the show’s dramatic impact becomes all the more immediate and visceral.

For starters, there’s the wondrously inventive set design by director Jonathan Tisevich and technical/lighting designer Craig M. Betz. A series of raised platforms and ramps (looking like stressed wood and effectively conjuring decrepit, crowded urban conditions) allow for action to take place not just at eye-level, but above as well as around the audience. Space constraints being what they are here, the excellent four-piece orchestra under the direction of Steve Parsons has been cleverly placed in a room off-stage. The room was equipped with a live camera feed for the musicians to keep in tight flow with the always energetic and crisp ensemble singing by an eminently talented cast.

To the role of the disheveled and eccentric Fagin, the cunning overseer of pickpocket street waifs, Greg Rininger brings a thoroughly riveting air of sinister camp that pours out hilariously when he sings “Reviewing the Situation” directly to some very surprised audience members. As Artful Dodger, Marina Dallas (who alternates with Dakayla Noble in the role) presents a delightfully spry portrait of the swaggering (oh that Cockney accent!), two-faced ‘guardian’ of Oliver. Playing the remorseless, vicious Bill Sykes, Aaron Brown basically stops the show (and your heart) with his thunderous entrance in the second act. His impeccably crafted cruelty takes on even more monstrous proportions particularly in light of the street-hardened yet tender loyalty of his ‘girlfriend,’ Nancy. In that role, Sarah Karam provides some of the evening’s most electrifying and heartfelt singing with her gripping delivery of “As Long As He Needs Me.”

The evening is certainly not without its moments of outright humor. Among those are the pub scene featuring the communal drunken revelry in the song “Oom Pah Pah,” and the scenes featuring the characters of the conniving and argumentative Mr. Bumble and Widow Corney, played by Dave Lapp and Emily Hubbard, whose singing voice lends an occasionally operatic edge to the proceedings.

Finally, as Oliver Twist, nine year-old Drake Spina (who alternates in the role with Morgan Brown) is on one level something of an irony. His singing in “Where Is Love” and the beautifully layered “Who Will Buy?” is sweet, direct, and gently compelling. Yet as a performer on stage - the focus of so much volatile attention from the population surrounding and assailing him – he’s not so much an actor as he is a haunting presence. His most physically animated moment comes in a brief scene wherein he attacks the relentless bully Noah Claypole (played with gleeful relish by David Burkhardt) for insulting his dead mother. Otherwise, young Spina’s low-key aura nonetheless effectively communicates a tired desperation, even a muted pain.

I’m reminded, sadly, that for all its magnetism and appeal as popular entertainment, “Oliver!” is at it’s core – despite its bright moments of humor, sympathy, and hope - a darkly unromantic indictment of societal cruelties and hypocrisies. I wonder if Charles Dickens might well be mortified today that the evils he so urgently and eloquently addressed in 19th century London (spawning awareness then of “The Great London Waif Crisis”) are, much to our shame, still abundantly with us nearly two hundred years later. And so it is that Oliver’s / Spina’s wistful innocence in “Where is Love?” resonates all the more with bittersweet relevance.

Photo, courtesy Players Guild: Greg Rininger as Fagin in the Players Guild Theatre production of “Oliver!” Showing at the William G. Frye Theatre, in the Cultural Center for the Arts, 1001 Market Avenue. N, Canton. Tickets $15. Show times are Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30p.m., THROUGH NOVEMBER 21. To order call (330) 453 – 7617 or visit

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Exibitus Wimzicalis

Exibitus Wimzicalis

By Tom Wachunas

“I think we can agree that the bright orb we see glowing constantly in the blue sky above us is in fact the sun. That is a truth. If I paint a picture of it, it is no longer that truth. What happens then if we put aside all the tedious rhetoric and codes we heap upon this thing we call art? All we have left in the end is a story. So the only real truth in art is that the artist makes it. Embrace that, and you might see how all art could be fiction. Historical fiction, perhaps, but fiction just the same.” – June Godwit -

Suppose for the moment that “every picture tells a story” is true and, similarly, that a given picture is worth in the neighborhood of a thousand words, give or take a few hundred. Now twist these platitudes around a bit, and you might come up with “every story is worth a painting, a photo, and a sculpture,” and you get the quantitative gist of the latest exhibit at Anderson Creative.

Even the show’s ponderous title smacks of something mildly mischievous if not pseudo-scientific: “Habitat: From the Recovered Trunks of Sir Steph(v)en Thomas Buckonhalt Andergan.” Shades of vintage National Geographic stories set in exotic lands. The story here is written by Steve Shumaker, displayed via large text panels, and supported with illustrations by Erin Mulligan, collaborative photographs by Jeremy Aronholt and Stephen McNulty, and sculptures by Kevin Anderson, Patrick Buckohr, and Tom Megalis.

The premise of this spoof of natural-history museum exhibits is that Sir Steph(v)en Thomas Buckonhalt Andergan (his name a composite of the participating artists) disappeared in Africa, and only his steamer trunks were recovered – filled with journals, photos, paintings, and taxidermy specimens – along with his manservant, Riley. We learn that the fictitious British naturalist was a contemporary of American entertainer Al Jolson, and his intent was to join the pantheon of world explorers by discovering new and strange species. He meets an astonishingly well-groomed, mute “native” (Riley), who is really a jazz musician. Their adventures and discoveries are as surreal as they are hilarious.

Shumaker’s writing is spot-on in its easy-going style and wit, along with its gleefully mangled Latin assignations of bizarre wildlife, like Trithumbus Dimmus Copulous (The Three-Toed Stumphumper). The stunning, elaborately-set photographs are equally delightful, imbued with a distinct vintage patina, and lend an epic, even cinematic (and certainly comedic) sweep to the proceedings. Mulligan’s ink and acrylic paintings are excellently rendered studies in pure whimsy while preserving an “official” presence. And the sculptured “specimens” share a similar sensibility, though I think the polymer clay pieces by Megalis have a palpable edge here on faux- authenticity.

One particular episode in this playful saga best encapsulates for me the gently demanding spirit of this show. In the segment called “Hypnopede (Cantilimbus Mesmerizus),” we read of the explorer’s encounter with a single-eyed “frightening beastie” with 100 legs, to wit: “I soon found myself unable to move, rooted to the ground and unable to look away from the monster’s single eye. My thoughts began to cloud and, although my mind knew to run, my legs were not about to cooperate.”

So yes, there is much text to read here. I actually heard moaning and groaning from a few fellow artists about having to negotiate “another one of those kinds of shows.” Gimme a break. To bypass the text is to do yourself and the artists a great disservice. I’m reminded of a recent Geico commercial. To paraphrase, maybe those jackwagons and others who share their sense of inconvenience should come on back from mamby-pamby land and just tough it out. Sheesh.

My own legs took me back to the exhibit and kept me rooted – body and mind - a second time. Cantilimbus Mesmerizus. Mesmerize us indeed.

Photo: “Slingshot Elephants (Launchis Pachydermis)” ink and acrylic on board, by Erin Mulligan, courtesy Anderson Creative Studio, on view through November 27 at Anderson Creative, 331 Cleveland Avenue NW, downtown Canton. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Earthy Celestials

Earthy Celestials

By Tom Wachunas

The second chamber music concert in this season’s Aultman Primetime Series by the Canton Symphony Orchestra (CSO) was a deeply edifying study in maximum delight from an economy of means. Katherine DeJongh, who holds the position of Principal Flute with the CSO, and CSO principal harpist Nancy Paterson, performed a program on October 28 in Cable Recital Hall of nine brief works spanning three centuries that was both imaginatively constructed and marvelously performed.

The first two works on the program – Bizet’s simple and lilting “Menuet from L’Arlesienne” from 1872, and Gluck’s beautifully pastoral “Minuet and Dance of the Blessed Spirits” from 1774 – were very warmly played. They effectively set the stage for the concert’s longest piece, Vincent Persichetti’s “Serenade No. 10,” from 1957.

The eight short parts of this work comprise a ‘modernist’ montage of various tempi and historic style influences. Yet even at its most modern (including some fascinating percussive harp effects), the work never becomes astringent or inaccessible. More important, through all of the work’s intricate, technically challenging passages, both performers maintained a sure hold on its compelling lyrical undercurrents – an enthralling mix of moods at once pensive and adventurous. At times the music suggests a journey, beginning with a looming storm, then a contemplative walk in the rain (with harp harmonics sounding like the patter of raindrops), and ending a with playful, fast awakening to light.

Lyricism and emotional resonance continued to be very much a part of the next two segments of the program – both 20th century works. Paterson performed two solos – “Tango” and “Rumba” from Carlos Salzedo’s 1943 Suite of Eight Dances – with charming, bright precision. Who would’ve thought that the harp could so powerfully immerse us in such exotic panache? DeJongh followed suit with two riveting flute solos from Astor Piazzola’s “Tango Etudes”, including the achingly melancholic “Lento meditativo.” She played it on the alto flute, haunting the hall with a rich, dark, throaty sound.

The last three works- staples of the flute and harp repertoire – were by Gabriel Faure, Maurice Ravel, and Jacques Ibert. From the melodic nobility of Faure’s “Sicilienne” and the sultry majesty of Ravel’s “Piece en Forme de Habenera,” through the flute’s breathlessly quick scale runs and propulsive harp energy of Ibert’s sparkling “Entr’acte,” the duo was flawless. And just in case that piece’s very last note - like the triumphal stamp of a dancer’s feet – didn’t leave us all smiling (as in fact it did), the encore performance of Francois Gossec’s frolicking and celebratory Tambourine left us decidedly ecstatic.

The combination of flute and harp often has associations with music so innocently ethereal and cherubic that we can too easily perceive it as somehow lacking in classical gravitas. Not surprisingly, we might just as often regard theses aural pleasantries as airy, albeit sophisticated background music. What this concert so brilliantly brought to mind, though, in a manner both poignant and electrifying, is that the combined sounds can be remarkably muscular. And in the skilled hands of DeJongh and Paterson, this music of the angels heralded an ebullient earthiness.

For ticket and concert information on this and the CSO MasterWorks Series, visit

Photo: Flute and Harp Duo, by Leslie Xuereb,