Sunday, May 15, 2011

Thank You Very Mutts, Acme Artists

Thank You Very Mutts, Acme Artists
By Tom Wachunas

“He believes in you only in so far as he knows you; the possibility that you are greater than you seem is disturbing, for friendship is founded on mutuality.” – Henry Miller –

“Guys and Dogs” is the loose theme behind the gathering of eight artists’ work at Acme Artists in downtown Canton. I say ‘loose’ because not all the art is about or by guys, or for that matter dogs. In any event, it’s a delightfully eclectic collection of works with a fair amount of overtly canine content.

Erin Mulligan is in fine form with her four tiny pencil drawings of scraggly mutts, one of them with duck feet. In good company with those is the pleasantly strange “Dog,” a mixed media/ceramic sculpture by Annette Feltes. Like a few of her other objects here, it has the air of a primitive talisman or icon, though certainly more whimsical than darkly mysterious.

Nearby are two small oil panels by Tiffany March, each a scene at historic McSorley’s Old Ale House in Manhattan. One of them depicts the tavern from the outside, dogs flanking the entrance like sentries at rest. Both paintings are done in a liquidy sepia tonality, and suggest damaged, old-timey photographs. There’s a similar vintage quality in the two paintings by Ron Copeland – like black and white movie posters with a slight nod to Roy Lichtenstein’s pop iconography. And the two small oils by Marti Jones Dixon are studies in elegant spontaneity. “Queen Mum” features Her Majesty taking her beloved Corgis for a walk, while in “Doggy Style,” a bespectacled café patron scowls as his Pomeranean sits pertly atop his table.

Also included in the show is a display of Holly “Buffy” Atkinson’s unique and arresting greeting cards, as well as a very fine collection of ceramic vessels by Bill Shearow. His ovoid bottles taper into long, thin necks that flare out at the top into graceful openings. The raku glazing is stunning, with a crackled effect not on top of, but embedded within, the smooth matte finish. One of the bottles, “Titus,” features a charming rendering of a Labrador’s (?) head worked into the crackling.

The Henry Miller quote at the beginning of this post is hand-written on the wall below a portrait of an old man and his small dog, called “Raindogs at Home,” by Dylan Atkinson. The quote points in a poetic way to the dominant sensibility behind his several oil paintings here on one of the gallery’s main walls, as well as to the works by Joseph Close on the opposite wall: dogs and the homeless, presented either together or separately.

“Raindogs” is a recurring term in Atkinson’s titles, and taken from a 1985 Tom Waits album that was part of a trilogy of recordings addressing what he had called “the urban dispossessed.” Atkinson’s technique is particularly well suited in capturing the somber essence of a marginalized population and its raw, lonely life, as in “Loyalty of a Raindog,” showing a man curled up, sleeping on a sidewalk, his vigilant dog keeping watch. The paintings are largely monotoned and loosely drawn, with the paint applied very thinly. You might think they’re at the early stages of underpainting, or works in progress. And in a way they are. What makes these images so oddly, hauntingly resonant is their sense of simultaneously materializing before our eyes and yet fading away. Street ghosts.

It’s a different but equally expressive esthetic at work in Joseph Close’s pieces. There’s color, but it’s usually very brooding and earthy. Similar too is the spirit of street-weary, urban stress, right down to the found wood frames, old furniture fragments, and metal bric-a-brac that he so often uses as painting surfaces and/or adornments. “Earthly Possessions” is eerily jubilant - even regal - in its presentation of a man, dog in lap, seated upon a makeshift throne. More desperate and forlorn is “Ghost Dog Odin,” a sad-eyed, haggard canine that seems to rise from the mists of a sign reading, “Will Wurk 4 Food .com.”

See these works soon, paws and reflect (forgive the corny pun) before the show ends, though when that may be at Acme Artists is often an indeterminate thing. I get the sense that exhibits here don’t always have formal closing dates so much as they simply evolve, quietly or otherwise, into the next show. It’s one of the qualities that make this space so refreshingly…other.

Photo: “Earthly Possessions” by Joseph Close, courtesy On View at Acme Artists, 332 Fourth Street NW, downtown Canton. Viewing hours Tuesday – Thursday 11 to 5, call ahead to confirm Saturday and other hours, (330) 452 – 2263.

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