Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Grace, Guts, and Giggles

Grace, Guts, and Giggles

By Tom Wachunas

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a Canton Artists League (CAL) show with as much depth of esthetic scope and craftsmanship as the their Spring Show now hanging in the Canton Museum of Art. Methinks they’re serious this time. A considerably substantial number of the 80-plus works here are of consistently high, mature quality. And though there are certainly some pieces comparatively less refined and developed -CAL will probably always be an egalitarian collective in that regard - the show as a whole is a strong and engaging representation of the League’s bountiful talents. And while it’s disappointingly light on sculpture, it appears that almost no pictorial medium, genre or style is unexplored.

Even the more capricious works possess a confident ‘je ne sais quoi.’ Nancy Michel’s acrylic collages - “Man Kabob” and “Cake Walk” – are well-constructed and humorous takes on meat –on- a- stick and sexy desserts, respectively. And Nancy Stewart Matin’s playful watercolor collage, “Grazing Pteramingos,” is a delightfully loose and lustrous abstraction of morphed pink birds amid wildly colored foliage.

Some pieces have that uncanny capacity to literally beckon a viewer from far across the gallery, due to starkly defined and very effective figure-ground configurations, as in Judi Longacre’s watercolor “La Vie En Rose,” and “Orchids,” an egg tempera painting by Jose Vasquez Jr., with its big lush petals that fly off the all- black ground. In the landscapes/seascapes by Nick Lanzalotta and Jim Grand (both paint with disarming simplicity and directness), it’s the bright, contrasting light sharply focused on their natural forms that draws our attention. More subtle, but absolutely compelling in this vein, is the achingly sweet portrait, “There are Moments with My Daughter that Stay Forever Young,” an exquisite oil painting by Dr. Fredlee Votaw. It’s a haunting, even fragile vision that looks transported from the white mists of a dream.

Also haunting are some of the abstract and semi-abstract works that don’t call or shout from a distance so much as they sneak up quietly to draw you into their secrets. Gail Wetherell-Sack’s acrylic collage, “Compelling Path,” is just that - full of secrets of the kind lurking in an enchanted autumnal forest. Carol Klein Schmidt offers two intriguing mixed media visions –“Reclamation” and “Retreat” – that seethe with suggestions of mysteries both earthy and atmospheric. Somewhat along the same path is Isabel Zaldivar’s ink painting, “Layers of the Past,” a powerfully dense and luminous field of what might be shattered and molten rock faces. And Kristine Wyler’s oil, “The Persistence of Red,” is a tour-de-force of marvelously painted magnetic ambiguity. Is it fabric folds or a phenomenon of violent weather? An abstracted live volcano, a cosmic event? No matter. Stunning.

Stunning too is Cynthia Capestrain’s oil “Masquerade in Venice,” executed in the tradition of the Flemish masters – a festive and meticulous celebration of architectural and figurative detail. There’s a similar kind of Old World charm in Pam LaRocco’s oil, “Misty Morning,” and, though less glassy in surface treatment, Nan Rearick’s meditative and serene “A Gray Day.”

Surely the most arresting if not volatile (and unsettled?) painting here is the untitled acrylic abstraction by Amanda Morena. I wonder if her visceral esthetic might be better served by the intrinsic liveliness and lustre of oil paint. That said, this work is unabashedly raw and gestural, with its flurries of scraped, scribbled, and scuffled forms and linear elements simultaneously coming together and disintegrating. I’m reminded of the 1950s Abstract Expressionists and the inspiration they took from the “automatic writing” of the Surrealists.

The piece is all about unfettered energy, and a bold willingness to experiment. It’s a refreshing exclamation point to this show – a show that CAL should be rightfully proud of as it struts its lively stuff into Spring.

Photo, courtesy , “The Persistence of Red,” oil by Kristine Wyler, on view in the Canton Artists League Spring Show at the Canton Museum of Art, through April 24. For viewing hours, call (330) 453 – 7666 or visit

1 comment:

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