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.


Thomas said...

You have got to be kidding. Obviously Mr. Close didnt consider the size factor or traffic flow. In the time it takes to drive under this piece all a viewer is left with is mud.Is that airbrush? Possibly more suitable on a van from the 1970`s.
Like most of Joes work it is very dismal,raw umber, burnt sienna and black, maybe an extended palate would help. This is a high school, maybe something a little more uplifting. Not very site appropriate.
The "pack", are you really qualified to make that profound observation?
I believe Close and his passive personality makes him non-threatening to other artists, like yourself. It would be nice if you kept your opinions directed at at the art itself.

Tom Wachunas said...

Site appropriate? I agree that it can't be seen well while driving. But what piece of public art can be really seen from a moving car? Sheesh...ever hear of walking, stopping, and looking? Though I can understand how that heavy chip on your shoulder might make walking a bit uncomfortable. And yes, I am very much qualified to make the observation you call "profound" (though I suspect you're being sarcastic rather than complimentary). I'm very comfortable in my own skin, and have never viewed an artist or artwork on the basis of feeling threatened. I have studied Close's work for some years now, and stand by my assessment. Thanks for your comment.

ronni said...

Seriously? I'm w/Thomas on this. with all due respect to Allen Schulman's vision for this piece,I found Close's interpretation (walking or driving)flat,obtuse, muddy,out of focus, brown,shapeless without hope. More death in the rust belt than sky's the limit. Gaia's Hope on the other hand was beautifully expressed color and cohesiveness and more representative of Close.
As for 'He confounds easy definition'it's because it only makes sense to him.You choose what it does to you.
AND that said, please expound on the bad art of which you speak. Art is evocative & up to individual interpretation with no set denominating scale, it is incredibly self indulgent to think of one's self the last word on artistic quality. Your teeth on edge statement I found to be more honest than the passive aggressive under the radar digs buried in between the lines of your musings.

Tom Wachunas said...

Ok now I'm getting really frustrated with some of you. I NEVER said I was the last word on anything. Merely qualified. And as far as "please expound on the bad art," do your homework before asking such questions. I HAVE explained my thoughts on the bad art downtown SEVERAL times in past posts. Thanks for your bellyachin', uhmmm, comments. No seriously, I mean it. Thanks.

ronni said...

Oh dear, it's seems I have offended you. Let me clarify something..I have only yesterday signed up for gmail in order to participate in your blog, and you appear to be taking my content personally..please don't, as it is only my personal perception. Perhaps I was too assertive. I thought it more expeditious to ask you which pieces you considered "bad art" which I maintain assumes some authority on the subject. Perhaps your education allows you that, I have to rely solely on natural instincts &'gut reactions'( which fits in nicely w/ the "belly achin") terminology .I am very passionate about art & have enjoyed this exchange and you are indeed welcome. I will as time allows peruse your archives. Fair enough? Peace!