Sunday, September 25, 2011

Then Sings My Soul

Then Sings My Soul
By Tom Wachunas

“The world will never starve for wonder, but only for want of wonder.” –G.K.Chesterton-

“Nature is too thin a screen; the glory of the omnipresent God bursts through everywhere.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson-

There have been moments in my life when I felt - standing with wordless wonder in the presence of mountains, or feeling my face gently slapped by wind-blown ocean water, or walking beneath the verdant, sun-dappled canopy of a towering pine forest – that I was actually in the mind of God. I’m fairly convinced we’ve all had such encounters at least one time or another – or should. I feel blessed to have had many.

Another blessing has been taking vicarious pleasure in Nature via the art of well-traveled photographers who seek out the pristine, transcendent grandeur of our physical planet. And so it is that in that same vein I feel blessed yet again to have seen the current exhibition of photographs by Portland, Oregon photographer Rick Canham, on view in both the Student Center and the Advanced Technology Center at Stark State College. His show is called “Brief Moments in Light,” and it is indeed, in a word, wondrous.

This magnificent collection of images demonstrates Canham’s 30 years of experience in purely seeing and framing the sheer power, vitality, and palpable grace of his subjects. Aside from his meticulous attention to color balance and print density, he doesn’t employ any digital trickery. Instead, he brings a painterly intuition to just the right time and place - drawing, so to speak, with light, texture, and sumptuous color. For Canham, this combination of disciplined eye, technical prowess (he does all his own color darkroom printing), and fortuitous timing has produced invariably breathtaking declarations of his clear reverence for, and awe of, earth, water, and sky.

It’s important to remember that photographers, like painters, make aesthetic decisions – they choose what formal elements will occupy the picture plane. In that, Canham is a consummately thoughtful organizer of the picture plane. He can beguile us with abstract, even minimalist essences, as in the haunting and simple “The Vivid Edges of a World,” wherein the soft alpen glow of White Sands National Monument in New Mexico seems indeed otherworldly. Many other scenes are more muscular, even heroic in their composition - spectacular blendings of intricate, sharp textures of earth and foliage against larger, strongly defined rock forms, as in the majestic arched symmetry of “A Moment When Something Sacred Is Revealed,” from Utah’s Zion National Park. His close-ups of undulating sandstone formations in the Colorado Plateau are utterly hypnotic. Still others are more poetic, impressionistic panoramas, both serene and churning, immersed in fog or sun-drenched ocean mists, as in the golden “The Great Sea Stirs Me,” where the crests of violent waves glimmer as if sprinkled with tiny jewels.

Our history is rich with philosophers and artists who have wisely said, in various ways, that Nature is God’s art. As I’ve mentioned several times in the past, I think that when we humans make our own art (and in particular, re-presenting Nature), we are, consciously or not, noticing the remnant spark of God’s primordial act of love – his creation – thus receiving it with joy. More important, one need not be an artist to be touched by Nature’s intrinsic power to elicit wonderment. In lieu of witnessing first- hand the myriad geographic gems that crown this planet, artistic masterworks that commemorate them can go far in keeping us connected to genuine awe.

This show is bursting with such works. And while I’m not certain of Rick Canham’s specific religious leanings, I don’t really need to be. The titles of his pictures very often indicate that he senses a humbling spiritual ethos, and I suspect he has more than just an inkling that a higher power had a hand in making these scenes possible in the first place. He’s an eminently accomplished purveyor and editor of visions that are inspiring in their unspeakable beauty, and for that I’m deeply grateful. Beyond their technical and compositional excellence, his photographs do remind me that there is God, I’m not Him, and He’s available for intimate conversation when I behold the wonders of His art.

Photo: “A Moment When Something Sacred Is Revealed” – by Rick Canham, on view THROUGH NOVEMBER 12 at Stark State College Student Center and the Advanced Technology Center, 6200 Frank Avenue, North Canton. Public viewing hours are 8 am – 8 pm Monday to Thursday / 8 am – 4 pm Friday / 8 am – Noon Saturday. Information at (330) 494 – 6170, ext. 4319, or email

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Psychedelia Redux, or Postmodern Doodling, or...?

Psychedelia Redux, or Postmodern Doodling, or…?
By Tom Wachunas

The salon-style exhibit of several dozen untitled paintings by Joe Cortese, currently on view for maybe a few weeks at Acme Artists, poses something of a conundrum for anyone looking to pigeonhole exactly what he does as a painter. My suggestion is…don’t try. Better to take your cues from the show’s title – “Joe Cortese: The Life and Mind of…” – and be content to know that what Joe Cortese does best is…Joe Cortese.

There’s a lot of nodding going on here: nods to the Abstract Expressionists, including some Pollockian splatter jobs sans the gripping density; nods to Byzantine-type intricate patterning and bordering; nods to the ‘automatic writing’ of the Surrealists; nods to the urban graffiti milieu; nods to the underground comics of the 1970s; some nods to Peter Max (on steroids, maybe) psychedelia. If there is a dominant flavor in this mixed bag, Cortese himself calls it (in a September 16 Canton Repository story) “…a glorified doodle.” Or at least (when the paintings fall short of unarguably “glorious,” which many do) structured painterly scribbling.

And indeed, it’s the exploring of pictorial structures – regardless of what the paintings signify in overt content – that I find to be the most unifying element of this show. More specifically, structural dualities. Within the picture plane, Cortese often describes two “systems” of configurations (elaborate linear illustrations and amorphous color fields, for example) that can be either wholly separate, or integrated edge-to-edge - one system imposed upon, or in harmony with, another. If these works do signify the mind of the artist, it’s a mind that apparently loves, simultaneously, organized and elaborate decoration for its own sake, and surrender to serendipity; precise, intentional design and expressive spontaneity.

This tension, this clash and/or blending of motifs, has an emotional resonance (surely personal to Cortese, yet suggestive for us in one way or another) that is often quite intense, translated into a color dynamic that can be alternately cloying and inviting. We’re witnesses to the artist’s struggle to negotiate that tension into an agreement of some sort. Sometimes the resolution is awkward, left in suspended animation. And when there is a truce, many of Cortese’s intricate forms and surfaces, while often collaborating to produce dramatic spatial depth, and despite passages of saturated, neon-bright color, tend to radiate an aura of battle-induced ennui rather than any really ardent optimism.

In the end, amid the variously frenzied, brash, or sometimes silly pictorial content to be encountered in these works, I’m nonetheless left with the sense that there might be a latent or understated genius at work. The best paintings in this wild gestalt speak more compellingly about a process than about anything of discernable, accessible “reality,” and there’s certainly nothing intrinsically wrong with that. In any event, rest assured that for those of us who opt to peer deeply into that process, there’s little chance of, so to speak, nodding off.

Photo, courtesy Canton Repository Sept. 16 issue of ‘Ticket.’ Joe Cortese at Acme Artists, 332 Fourth Street NW, downtown Canton. (330) 452- 2263.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

No Letdown Stand-Up

No Letdown Stand-Up
By Tom Wachunas

“Comedy is exaggerated realism. It can be stretched to the almost ludicrous, but it must always be believable.” - Paul Lynde -

The raucous season-opening production of “3 Guys Naked from the Waist Down” at Akron’s Weathervane Playhouse is a veritable theatrical pastiche, deftly melding hilarious, bizarre satire with a story line that moves along at relentlessly rapid-fire pace. The show, originally created by Michael Rupert (music) and Jerry Colker (book and lyrics), ran for 160 off- Broadway performances in 1985 and won a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Book of a Musical.

Don’t be too thrown by the title. Yes, there are three men – total - in the cast. But beyond their progressively exposed egos, aspirations, and disillusionments, they don’t in fact get naked. This is a PG-13 story (language and thematic content) about Ted Klausterman, Kenny Brewster, and Phil Kunin – a New York City trio of stand-up comics whose meteoric rise to international celebrity, and subsequent flame-out, is alternately hysterical, pathetic, and poignant.

Marc Moritz directed this show, and he’s clearly let his cast, both as singers and actors, bring an exhilarating spontaneity to their respectively distinct performing styles, which in turn gives riveting credibility to their characters. And rest assured, these are three startlingly wild and crazy guys.

Rob Dougherty presents a remarkably finessed combination of optimistic charm and self- confidence in his role of comedy club emcee Ted Klausterman, the trio’s resourceful ‘leader,’ fascinating to watch as he vacillates, with maddening ease, between his own wisdom and the ludicrous choices he makes in his hunger for success. As Phil Kunin, hefty Patrick Ciamacco is commandingly funny even if he is the quintessential “angry guy” – a possible sociopath in the making if not already ripe. His street-wise, scary volatility is all the more intriguing as we watch him struggle to balance an insane career with his genuine longing to be with his family – conveyed with aching tenderness as he sings “A Father Now” late in the second act.

And speaking of scary volatility fused with tenderness, there’s Kenny Brewster, played to the hilt by Connor Simpson. The character is described as a “Zen Catholic,” which only somewhat explains his “conceptual” comedy routine. Simpson is nothing short of mesmerizing as he negotiates his character’s surreal disconnects from life as we know it, slipping in and out of various movie roles with the alacrity of a quick-change artist, and an inventory of voices to match. If chronic psychotic episodes can be said to be gut-splittingly funny, Brewster/Simpson’s your man. But there’s a darker underside to this pathology, colored by a desire to leave it all behind one way or the other, as Simpson sings with convincing, childlike pining in “Dreams of Heaven.”

Keyboardist Brad Wyner directs a small but razor-sharp live ensemble here, delivering a fully rich, energetic sound that’s always in fine balance with the impeccably enunciated singing. Arguably, the musical doesn’t yield memorable, anthemic songs with truly iconic melodies. But they do possess an appropriate, in-the-moment verve and theatricality – infectiously so - that effectively enhances the slap-stick, cabaret atmosphere.

For all of the masterful lampooning and satire we see here about show business and “The American Dream,” the story never succumbs to heavy-handed moralizing. Think of it as a tornadic, we’re-all-Bozos-on-this-bus tour through a country named Stand-Up Comedy. The authors of the written constitution for this particular country were surely inspired by the likes of The Marx Brothers, Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Steve Martin, and Andy Kaufman. It’s a country where some laws of physics still hold true – the opposite of gravity is comedy; what goes up must come down; you’re not in Kansas anymore. Enjoy the ride.

Photo: from left to right, Connor Simpson as Kenny Brewster, Patrick Ciamacco as Phil Kunin, and Rob Dougherty as Ted Klausterman, in the Weathervane Playhouse production of “3 Guys Naked from the Waist Down.” Shows through September 25, 1301 Weathervane Lane, Akron. Performances are Thursday 7:30 pm, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm, Sunday at 2:30 pm. Tickets are $24, $21 for seniors and students for Thursday and Sunday performances, and $19.50 for children ages 17 and younger. For tickets, visit or call the box office at (330) 836 – 2626, or online at

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Homeland Asunder

Homeland Asunder
By Tom Wachunas

“This is not war, this is murder.” – a Confederate general after viewing Union dead from the Battle of Cold Harbor, 1864 –

“It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.” – Robert E. Lee, after the Battle of Fredericksburg, 1862 –

Some anniversaries are cause for joyous remembrance. Others of course are occasions for somber reflection if not remorse. Amid all the media coverage of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, there were several reports of how the awful debris from ground zero has made its way to far-flung places across this land. Corroded girders and all manner of twisted, burned architectural remnants have been exhibited as public monuments. Oh how we cherish the artifacts and remains of our cruelest tragedies. In as much as we regard such displays with solemn respect, I wonder if they’re not so many milestones along our trudge through history as much as they are millstones weighing down our relentlessly troubled heads and hearts.

To the extent that war itself has been disambiguated into an “art” (Sun Tzu’s 5th century BC treatise, “The Art of War,” comes to mind), then it’s certainly true that we’ve made an art out of remembering it. A breathtaking, lavish example is the current exhibition at The Canton Museum of Art, called “A Nation Divided: The Heartland Responds.” The sprawling show commemorates, with particular relevance to Ohio and surrounding ‘heartland’ states, the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the American Civil War. In its sheer depth and variety of artifacts – clothing, weaponry, letters written from soldiers’ camps, and a stunning array of other 19th century wartime “accessories,” the exhibit is a curatorial tour de force.

But what sheds the most dramatic light on this dark episode of American history is the imagery – photographs, drawings, and prints that bring a palpable, heartrending immediacy to a terrible conflagration. Photography in the 1860’s was still considered by many to be a newfangled concoction, a novelty. The first permanent photographic images – daguerreotypes – were introduced in 1839. As a medium for presenting indisputable records of physical realities (prior to modern-age technical trickery), it’s fair to say that photography quickly came of age during the Civil War. And with it, the classical notion that war was in any way a noble or sanctified pursuit would flounder in a sea of images of the wounded, the dead, the savaged landscape.

This is certainly not to say that the predominant content of the imagery here is blood and gore. Far from it. In fact, emanating from many of the photographs of soldiers is a sense of quiet pride and dignity, even if there is the accompanying appearance of antiseptic stiffness. No such rigidity, though, is to be found in the marvelous drawings by Winslow Homer that were turned into prints for Harper’s Weekly. For all their aged, dingy patina, these are remarkably alive depictions of soldiers that exude real emotion and often, if it can be said of such a horrific context, compelling warmth.

The exhibit nonetheless succeeds in reminding us quite effectively of the more jarring and deadly complexion of battle. One display case presents us with photos of Alvah R. Williams, a Pennsylvania soldier wounded in the Battle of Petersburg. A photo shows him after surgery, his right arm amputated. Also on display is the .58 caliber bullet (“Minie Ball”) that shattered his elbow, as well as a leather prosthetic. It’s an eerily medieval contraption with internal metal gears, originally colored to look like flesh, and now just a sickly, mottled gray. Elsewhere, another case houses a battlefield surgeon’s tool box, containing amputation saws, knives, a tonsil puller, blood letter, and an utterly sinister-looking skull drill.

On the heels of commemorating 9/11 and all it conjures in our hearts, this exhibit is still timely in its powerful joining of art with history. Yet in all of its authentic lest-we-forget sensibility, and the thoroughly expert care with which it was assembled, there is perhaps a hint of bittersweet irony about it. I wish we didn’t need (or want) to see shows of this sort at all. But we do. In his own era, Robert E. Lee hoped we would not grow too fond of war. He’d surely be mortified to witness that now in the 21st century, war remains evidently not terrible enough to abandon. So I suppose you could say I “love” this exhibit. But I hate doing so.

Photo: “Home From The War,” by Winslow Homer, on view through October 10 at The Canton Museum of Art, 1001 Market Avenue N., Canton. Museum hours are Tuesday, Wednesday 10am to 8pm / Thursday, Friday 10am to 5pm / Saturday 10am to 3pm / Sunday 1 – 5pm. (330) 453 - 7666

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy

Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy
By Tom Wachunas

Who? Hairspray. A musical based on the 1988 film written and directed by John Waters, with music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman. A 2002-2009, multiple Tony Award winner on Broadway with a run of 2,500 packed shows. And a film remake in 2007.

The current live production playing on the mainstage of the Players Guild Theatre in Canton makes the 1988 film look like a wilted, miscast practice run.

Director Craig Joseph once again brings his Midas touch to the Guild proceedings, made all the more golden by Michael Lawrence Akers’ sharp, electrifying choreography and Steve Parsons’ masterful direction of a muscular, airtight 11-piece orchestra. Throw in a generous dose of inventive scenic design by Craig Betz, along with lavish, eye-popping costumes by Susie Smith with Cristine Patrick. Then add an astonishingly buoyant 34-member cast of unassailable talent that sings and dances with indefatigable energy, bolstered by the crisp, lush harmonies from a six-member vocal ensemble (singing offstage). Now you’ve got all the tasty ingredients for a show - already spiced up with sizzling-hot songs - that is nothing short of pure, undiluted brio incarnate.

The story is a Cinderella derivative of sorts, with a sociopolitical message. Set in 1962 Baltimore, it’s built around Tracy Turnblad, a vivacious, plump, white teen who dreams of romance, dancing on her favorite TV show, acceptance from her peers, and overcoming racial divide. From the inspiring, animated opening number, “Good Morning Baltimore,” to the second act’s Dionysian dance marathon in the climactic “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” there’s not a lackluster minute that goes by in this raucous collision between giddy 1960s pop schmaltz and genuine pathos.

And it all starts with the wide-eyed, disarming optimism and sheer lovability of Chelsea Boyd, who plays Tracy with palpable, lithe grace and savvy vocal effervescence. Tosca Rolf is absolutely endearing and daffy in her role of Tracy’s best friend, Penny. Equally loveable and funny is Adam J. Ford, who plays Edna, Tracy’s agoraphobic, very plus-sized mother. “I’m a simple housewife of indeterminate girth,” Edna/Ford purrs at one point, with convincing self-deprecation. Despite the sheer bulk of his fat suit, Ford carries his towering, infectiously comedic self with seemingly impossible delicacy and even a regal elegance. J. Scotland Gallo brings a vaudevillian charm and truly authentic affection for Edna to his portrayal of Wilbur, the Turnblad patriarch who owns the Hardy-Har Hut novelty shop. “My parents begged me to run away to the circus,” he glibly tells Tracy in support of her dreams. Ford and Gallo provide one of the evening’s most memorably tender (yet hilarious) passages as they sing “You’re Timeless To Me.”

Teresa Houston turns in a deliciously vampiric reading of her mean-spirited character, Velma Von Tussle, the bigoted producer of the wildly popular Corny Collins Show (a weekly teen dance-fest sponsored by Ultra Clutch Hairspray). Jay Oldaker seems born to the role of Corny Collins - yes, indeed a corny but likeable hybrid of Frankie Avalon and Dick Clark. Amanda Medley nails the manipulative, self-possessed and hurtful character of Velmas’s daughter, Amber, with real relish. Her would-be boyfriend, Link (who is ultimately won over by Tracy’s sincerity and passion), is a dapper young crooner played by Grant Cole, who captures his character’s narcissistic suavity - and his honest heart - with remarkable sensitivity. Kathy Boyd (no relation to Chelsea) plays Motormouth Maybelle, a mentoring ally in Tracy’s efforts to integrate The Corny Collins Show. With all the heated fervor of an impassioned gospel singer, she provides one of the evenings’s several show-stoppers with her inspired rendition of “I Know Where I’ve Been.”

Beyond the skillfully clear and soaring vocal performances, what keeps the production churning at an exhilarating pace is the dancing. That’s understandable enough, considering that this is, among other things, a show about a dancing show. And in that, the cast delivers with consistent, Motown-flavored panache.

With this opening show of its 80th Anniversary season, The Players Guild has surely raised the bar for (and perhaps redefined) professionalism in Canton-area community theatre. I’m fresh out of superlatives. This production is the real deal.

Photo by James Dreussi. HAIRSPRAY, at the Canton Players Guild Theatre, in the Cultural Center for the Arts, 1001 Market Ave. N, Canton. Shows, through October 2, at 8pm Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30pm Sundays. Tickets are $23 for adults, $18 ages 17 and younger. Available at or by calling (330) 453-7617.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Vibrato In Paint

Vibrato in Paint
By Tom Wachunas

“He did not set us on the right roads, but off the roads. He disturbed our complacency.”
- Henri Matisse, discussing Gustave Moreau’s mentorship and guiding philosophy on the expressive possibilities of color -

“Donatello au milieu des fauves!” Donatello among the wild beasts! That’s what critic Louis Vauxcelles declared the first time he saw paintings in 1905 by a group of like-minded artists (including, among many others, Matisse, Roualt, and Derain) who quickly became known as The Fauves – The Wild Beasts. As an “official” European movement, Fauvism lasted only several years, and was received with considerable public vitriol and critical antagonism. But its formal characteristics of vivid, strident colors juxtaposed with distilled, subtly abstracted shapes would exert far-reaching influences across both geography and time.

Nancy Stewart Matin is an accomplished beneficiary of that (to name just one) influence. Looking at the many watercolors in her current show at The Little Art Gallery, I felt immersed in a kind of synesthesia, as if hearing a commanding opera soloist – a nimble coloratura soprano whose vibrato is as audaciously earthbound as it is soaringly sweet. As a painter, she’s a self-described “abstract expressionist and a colorist.” True enough. But on her visit to this planet (her show is called “The Visitor”), she has also managed to absorb influences of Van Gogh, Picasso, and Matisse, along with spicy dashes of Surrealism, synthesizing all of it into a thoroughly electrifying, signature iconography.

That electricity – or roar, if you will – emanating from Matin’s adroit handling of what she calls “the fickle nature” of watercolor is most consistently the result of her bold, florid palette and its uncanny luminescence. Matin is anything but timid or complacent about bright color dynamics. Sometimes her compositions are tightly structured and contoured - as in the delightfully exotic “Coconut Bananas” or her humorous “Sunglasses,” with its subtly skewed passages of stripes fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. Other compositions are relatively more spontaneous and abstract, as in the primordial, liquid intricacy of “Cave Dwellers.” Still others are imbued with an unmistakably lyrical charm, like “Three Maidens,” wherein flowers seem to suggest a fluid trio of dancers.

But it’s the colors, always those colors, that beckon and grip as if glowing from deep inside the picture plane. Nowhere here is that sensibility more apparent than in the dramatic “Zoar Sunset.” It’s a remarkably simple, balanced picture, compelling in its comparatively limited range of hues. Matin’s loosely drawn Zoar Inn (rendered in wispy black contour lines) is set against a predominantly orange-ish sky, “grained” by vertical streaks of darker colors. The surrounding ground is punctuated with radiant green plant life – a luminous chemistry that makes the entire composition seem to vibrate with an unseen fire’s hypnotic pulsing.

And whatever fire may be driving or guiding Matin’s life journey, this exhibition makes eminently clear that her virtuosic brush continues to sing wildly infectious, exuberant songs of celebration.

Photo: “Picasso Me,” watercolor by Nancy Stuart Matin, on view THROUGH OCTOBER 1 at The Little Art Gallery, located in the North Canton Public Library, 185 North Main Street, North Canton. (330) 499 – 4712, extension 312.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Mournings After

Mournings After
By Tom Wachunas

The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.” - Genesis 4: 10-13 –

“Like me, she was merely a bystander to the events, but they played a role in the coming of war to her country. I wonder how life changed for her and how she views the events surrounding that day.”
- Heather Bullach, from the statement for her portrait “Iraqi Girl” in the Anderson Creative exhibition, “The Persistence of Memory” -

From the beginning, we humans have demonstrated a ghastly propensity for hurting each other. All of our history is imprinted with unspeakable injustices and cruelties. In my lifetime thus far, none of those horrors is more towering, literally or symbolically, than 9/11. To the extent that scars from a tragedy of that enormity can take many forms, long and deep, I don’t believe that all our wounds will ever completely heal. I wasn’t alive, for example, during the Holocaust, but encountering its recorded history still chills me to the bone. In these matters, time, in and of itself, heals nothing. Nor should we expect it to. For we are beings that remember. And remembrance, when engaged in a spirit of honoring the sanctity of human life, is a salve most precious.

With the exhibition called “The Persistence of Memory,” Anderson Creative and guest curator Dr. Fredlee Votaw – who has himself made compelling artworks about human tragedies – have gathered a richly varied group of artists to remember 9/11. The group is comprised of adults who remember the day itself, 20 year-olds who were then children, and current fifth-graders from Lake Elementary who have processed the awful event as told/shown to them by others. The participating adults and 20-somethings are Michelle DeBellis, Diane Belfiglio, James B Studios, Heather Bullach, Sharon Charmley, Judith Christy, Scott Alan Evans, Annette Yoho Feltes, Barb Hoskins, Rick Huggett, Chris Triner, and myself (forever grateful to be included).

What makes this show easily among Anderson Creative’s most powerful to date goes well beyond its timely thematic unity (commemorating the Tenth Anniversary of 9/11) and its excellence of craft. Without ever succumbing to blustery, obtuse politicizing or philosophizing, the works collected here are seething with emotional accessibility and disarming sincerity.

Particularly heartrending is the group of 45 color drawings of faces on paper – “Portraits of the Departed” - by the Lake Elementary students. Most of the faces, with eerily hollow eyes, are bordered with text that reveals something of their lives – dreams of futures never realized.

Heather Bullach’s stunning oil portrait – “Iraqi Girl” – is a warm, wondrously generous reaching out to embrace the impact of 9/11 on an “alien” culture as inexorably caught up in its aftermath as our own. Faces abound, too, in Sharon Charmley’s oil and collage, “The Agony of Grief and Relief,” a scene depicting an attended wall of missing persons notices – ubiquitous New York City sites where anguish and joy comingled. One of the notices hangs loose off the surface, reading “Sometimes I still think I might see you and get a chance to say goodbye.”

“Temporary Tattoo” is a jarringly honest written testimony by Judith Christy. It tells of her emotional passing from an intense, extended state of social awareness and patriotic fervor immediately after 9/11, eventually into a settled if not sad “life goes on” mode of fighting complacency while looking to be impassioned again.

From the statement accompanying Diane Belfiglio’s crisp 2002 acrylic painting, “In Memoriam,” we are drawn to a bittersweet irony. The painting is of the William McKinley Mausoleum, its imposing stone facade sparkling in the bright sunlight, and rendered in a way hauntingly mindful of World Trade Center verticality. Belfiglio was working on this very painting just as her husband called with news of the plane attacks.

Even more bittersweet, Annette Yoho Feltes’ work, a mobile sculpture suggestive of wind chimes, called “Birds,” was inspired by a remembered National Public Radio interview. Therein a mother said that her daughter - who was on that morning in a daycare center very near the Towers - reported looking out the window and seeing many birds in the air. These of course were the bodies of falling people. Feltes’ 200 small, white porcelain bird forms hang in two groups – ‘towers’ - counterweighted by a larger form, a hovering black ‘plane’ a few feet away. Despite all the terrible images that the work might potentially bring to mind, it doesn’t so much signify to me a procession of descending bodies as it evokes an inspiring ascension of spirits.

It is indeed this same spirit of evocation that is present in most of the works here. Neither too morbid nor preachy, what prevails is a distinct sense of quiet mourning and solemn reverence. And for all of that, I think of this show as a potent, collective prayer.

Photo: “Iraqi Girl,” oil portrait by Heather Bullach (courtesy Craig Joseph, Anderson Creative). THE PERSISTENCE Of MEMORY at Anderson Creative, THROUGH OCTOBER 1, at 331 Cleveland Avenue NW, downtown Canton. Gallery hours Wednesdays through Saturdays, Noon to 5pm.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Empyreal Energies

Empyreal Energies
By Tom Wachunas

“Poetry is the impish attempt to paint the color of wind.” – Maxwell Bodenheim –

“There is a muscular energy in sunlight corresponding to the spiritual energy of wind.” –Annie Dillard-

Even though Hurricane Irene’s recent reign over newsprint, TV, and cyberspace (not to mention the Eastern U.S. coastline) has been downgraded to last week’s news, I’m never too far from nature’s power to hold me in awe - even if indirectly, as in looking at art inspired by that power. Case in point: the current show of paintings by Nancy Seibert in the Main Hall gallery at the Kent State University Stark campus.

The show’s title – “Internal Powers” – is apropos not just because Seibert draws her pictorial inspiration from the atmospheric and earthy nuances of summer and autumn, but because the works are manifestations of the power of the artist’s intuition in generating her ethereal visions. Who can catch the wind indeed? These paintings, while suggesting seasonal light, color, and airy motion (without being literal illustrations), are also intriguing, visceral evidence of an ephemeral, abstract process.

Most of that evidence rises from variable paint viscosities and textures, combined with real sensitivity to gestural brush marks. Yet for all of the apparent hand manipulation of her materials, the resulting imagery looks more spontaneous than self-conscious, as if a passing gust of wind or an ocean wave deposited these configurations on to their surfaces. So Seibert’s technique has allowed her to frame essences, imbuing her surfaces with a sense of transient physicality. These are translations of immanent, changeable weather, and otherwise elegant impressions of both celestial and earthen flux.

Among the works on view is a series of five paintings - under the collective title “High Spirits” - executed on masonite- mounted paper. In a way they look like refined studies for larger projects. The amorphous imagery doesn’t bleed out to the picture plane edges as it does in her larger canvas pieces, and thus floats ambiguously in a tentative, liquid state.

But in the canvas works, there is a compelling sort of resolution and balance between liquid, gaseous, and solid states. Tactile trails of the brush movements combine, intertwine, or collide with larger passages of paint that’s been stained, blotted and layered into the picture plane, sometimes leaving little bits raw canvas still visible. The net visual effect, even with a palette as largely soft and pale as seen here (with just a few exceptions), is one of energetic motion emerging from subtly dramatic depths.

And in their studied contrasts of frenetic swells and swirlings with organized moments of visual quietude, there’s still an almost primordial serenity at work in each of the paintings. Loud silence, or silent noise? Like an ancient Zen garden.

Photo: “Effervescence” – mixed media and collage by Nancy Seibert, on view through September 23. Gallery at Main Hall, Kent State University Stark campus. Viewing hours are 11am to 5pm Monday to Friday, 10am to Noon on Saturday.