Friday, March 4, 2011
By Tom Wachunas
His name was David, but everyone in my childhood neighborhood of Alliance, Ohio, including his parents, called him Buster. He was a few years younger than I, and something of an anomaly when compared to the rest of my playmates. He was frail, pale, and relatively introverted, but uncannily advanced for his years - the local brainiac who was an easy target for teasing and exclusion, the proverbial last kid picked for team sports. Maybe it was for want of a softer, gentler playtime connection to the rest of us (backyard war games being just too exhausting), or maybe he was simply lonely, but he chose to teach me how to play chess when I was about 10 years old and I was – never being very adept at anything involving airborne balls - eager to oblige. I well remember many hot summer days when the chaotic running about of loud, unruly children invaded our concentration, often resulting in the premature - and somewhat prophetic - end of our more heady games. It wasn’t until my junior year in high school that the reasons for Buster’s seemingly incessant visits to the hospital became sadly all too clear. He died, far too young, from leukemia. And so it is that this memory made its way into my most recent artwork – a memorial, really – called “Game Interrupted.”
I tell you this neither out of self-aggrandizement nor because I want to talk in any more detail about my art piece (something I very rarely do in these missives), which is included in the current exhibit, called “When We Were Young,” at Anderson Creative. It’s because I feel sincerely honored and grateful to be included among the other 19 artists here (including 4 from other Ohio cities and three from out-of-state) who, I’m fairly certain, have similarly, symbolically traveled back to another time and place in their lives, and returned to offer toy-inspired works that are as thoughtful as they are visually delightful to behold. The show is a refreshing blast of warm, artful air guaranteed to bring wistful smiles along with some belly-laughs. Call it toyful remembrance.
Billi Kribbs’ “Lego Chest of Drawers” is just that – a brightly colored wooden chest, itself looking like an over-sized Lego furniture piece. Its open drawers and magically blinking top are sprinkled with silicone casts (that feel just like the Gummi candies kids love so much) of Lego blocks. Go ahead, you’re welcome to play with them; or some of the Lincoln Logs that have been immortalized in stoneware clay by Eric Rausch. The largest of his four configurations, “Lincoln Tile,” is generously dripped with sumptuous, multi-colored glaze. Dripping, too, is Joe Martino’s inventively gooey “Play Doh Phantasm,” an abstract portrait of a melting figure “painted” in acrylic and real Play Doh. The mixed media, three-part collage set by Gail Wetherell-Sack, called “Follow Me,” is inventive, too. Rusted metal never had so much appeal as it does in this playful homage to old-timey pull toys.
To be sure, some works here have a comparatively edgy, mysterious air about them, though always visually intriguing. In his “You Won’t Ever Be This Pretty,” Scot Philips gives us a somewhat jaded vision of a benday- dotted Barbie, that icon of spindly blonde plasticity, painted on weathered barn wood. Beth Nash’s take on the Chutes and Ladders game, called “Snakes and Ladders,” is distinctly mystical and intricate. And the three minimalist, crisp digital art prints on polystyrene by Jay Oldaker are stunningly designed, subtly lyrical nods to Atari.
Among the most arresting entries here is a fluid and expressive acrylic and pastel image by Sally Lytle called “Manifest Fantisy,” inspired by the stick horses many of us must have “ridden” at some point in childhood. Dressed in Western garb and grasping his trusty stick steed, a boy looks off into an unseen landscape, his long blue shadow that of a real cowboy on a real horse. It’s a marvelously poetic picture that speaks enchantingly, as does this show, of simple childhood pursuits and artifacts, re-filtered through the eyes and hands of the grown-ups who recall them.
Viewers are encouraged to bring to the gallery new or gently used toys to be donated to the YWCA and Community Christmas. Your donations entitle you to 10% discount on gallery purchases, not limited to this show.
Photo: “Manifest Fantisy” by Sally Lytle, courtesy Anderson Creative. On view in “When We Were Young,” through March 26 at 331 Cleveland Avenue NW, downtown Canton. Gallery Hours are Noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.