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.

No comments: