Thursday, May 19, 2011

Much Ado at Malone, part 2: Tactile Dialogue and Rarefied Earth

Much Ado at Malone, part 2: Tactile Dialogue and Rarefied Earth
By Tom Wachunas

What I’ve always enjoyed about Clare Adams’ fabrications (assemblages of painted or dyed fabric, found objects, often in tandem with encaustic) was their capacity to make me feel as if eavesdropping on an elegant soliloquy about her private life – intriguingly layered glances at her physical and spiritual worlds. Her current works in the McFadden Gallery at the Malone University Johnson Center make up one half of a collaborative project with fabric artist Rebecca Cross, who has worked extensively with dyed silks.

So the soliloquy has become a full dialogue. Adams established the parameters of this collaboration in November, 2009, by making a 15” x 15’’ piece and sending it to Cross, who in turn responded my making a same-size work and sending it on to Adams. And so it went on monthly, for one year, each artist making a work prompted and inspired by the other’s, in this show called “A Visual Correspondence,” on view through most of August.

The result is a delightful collection of 24 pieces that you could call, on one level, conceptual patches of a virtual quilt. Each ‘patch,’ though, functions as a finished fiber or mixed media visual meditation in itself. Some are more pictorial than others in the sense of being loosely composed of various symbols, shapes, and markings – snippets of recognizable reality, particularly in the works by Adams. Others have a more ephemeral presence – not abstract “scenes” so much as they’re gossamer-like, sumptuous constructions of colored textures. What adds a notably fascinating aspect to the collection is the subtle formal progression that takes place from one piece to the next. View them in order, as you would read the pages of a story, and savor how a compositional, material, and/ or color element in one becomes a presence in the next.

In the nearby Fountain Gallery is “Landscape Revisited,” seven sleek images by Scott Zaher. For several years I’ve watched many artists venture into the realm of photoshop and related digital tools to generate their pictures. Too many times the resulting work has a gratuitous, gee-whiz-look-at-my-new-toy glitz. All smoke and mirrors, no real magic.

Zaher calls his pieces “images re-interpreted digitally from conventional/traditional painting techniques.” But they have a vision both truly hypnotic and, and for all their intimate scale, considerably expansive. While all the pictures have a uniformly satin patina, the lush, soft color fields, sometimes gently intersected by the wispiest of lines, nonetheless have a painterly quality.

These aren’t realistic/naturalistic landscapes. Rather, they’re empyreal essences, purified suggestions. A line of trees, or tall grass, is a ghostly brush stroke of translucent green, for example. The perimeters of the images are where several planes of color seem to converge just slightly out of register and become a floating blur of thin, overlapping edges. In these “zones” are glimpses of other underlying colors – relatively tiny specks of warm intensity – that bring a beautifully understated, almost shimmering depth. Now, THAT’s magic.

Photo: “Landscape_4.5.11” by Scott Zaher, on view through September 13 in the Fountain Gallery at Malone University Johnson Center for Worship and the Fine Arts, 2600 Cleveland Avenue NW, Canton. Gallery hours are 9-5 Monday through Friday.

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