Wednesday, October 26, 2011
When Art Gets In Your Eyes
When Art Gets In Your Eyes
By Tom Wachunas
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. - Ecclesiastes 1: 9-10 –
“Originality is nothing but judicious imitation.” - Voltaire –
“Good artists borrow. Great artists steal.” - Pablo Picasso -
Regarding the latest installment of the annual Stark County Artists Exhibition at the Massillon Museum, I’m almost convinced that the jurors of competitive shows (in this region anyway) are required to always select a few works that intentionally strain credibility – theirs and ours. This year’s What Were They Thinking Award goes to Laurie Baker for her two paper mache sculptures: “Scary Winter Snowman” and “Full- Size Sitting Tiger”. These are simplistic, somewhat garish tchotchkes, though certainly very impressive in scale and craftsmanship. Part of the problem might be with the Museum’s practice in the last few years of jurying digital-only entries. Maybe the pieces are somehow more appealing encoded on a shiny disc and illuminated on a computer screen. Like Forest Gump’s box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get until you free it from its wrapper. As seen here, they’re cute and “entertaining”, but only to the extent that circus kitsch is best presented on parade floats.
A few other pieces bring up interesting questions about “originality” and appropriation of imagery not one’s own. Billy Ludwig’s “Bird Shark” is a digital image that won Second Place honors here. Imagine my surprise when fellow blogger Judi Krew informed me that her internet-savvy son noticed how Ludwig’s delightfully bizarre frankenform of a seagull and Great White was eerily similar to several images found under “bird shark” on Google Images. In fact, but for the photo-shopped background and webbed feet in Ludwig’s picture, the critters are virtually identical. IF it was someone or some entity other than Ludwig (or his personal Impale Design brand) that originally created the Google images, shouldn’t they be credited? Ludwig and many other digital artists make no secret of incorporating “found” imagery for works that bear their names. So are we OK with assuming that anything and everything on the internet, with little or no alteration, is fair game for inclusion in art, or legitimately in the public domain enough to be fodder for the contemporary art trough? How thin is the line between homage and forgery? Between an original and a counterfeit?
Related questions are posed by James Begert’s oil painting here called “War”. His piece is an instantly recognizable appropriation of an Andy Warhol Campbell’s Soup can from 1962, and truly needs no introduction or credit, being the emblematic icon of an entire art movement. Begert’s borrowing, though, is a much clearer recontextualizing of his “found” source than that of some digital artists. Eschewing Warhol’s cool industrial surfaces, Begert’s more impromptu, painterly treatment is an effectively crude awakening to 21st century marketing and consumerism of war.
But enough with the thorny stuff. As a whole, this year’s showcase of 62 works by 41 artists is notably more balanced than in years past - in variety of mediums (including more 3-D works), engaging thematic content, and depth of technical mastery. It’s gratifying, too, to see that the echoes of the Old Masters can still hold us in their thrall. Frank Dale’s stunning “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” garnered Best In Show honors. His unquestionable mastery of the Flemish method of oil painting is in full force with this shadowy portrait of his late wife and muse. A ghostly wisp of cigarette smoke rises up her cheek and lingers over her left eye like a haunting scar. One of Dale’s accomplished students of the technique, Kristin Lupsor, received an Honorable Mention for her sumptuous, riveting portrait, “Flora”.
There’s a captivating sensuality about the two excellent still lifes by Karen Hemsley. The picture planes are intricately engineered with contrasting patterns and diagonals, unusual perspectives, and a rich palette. Deliciously mesmerizing. So too the acrylic collage by Isabel Zaldivar called “Landscape in Black and White”. It’s a fascinating abstract exploration of lavish textures and organic forms laid out with an almost photographic clarity, suggesting a churning natural environment. A similar textural intrigue abounds in the exquisite color photograph of the gnarled base of a tree, “Sleepy Old Ent”, by Scott Alan Evans.
Here’s a short list of other entries that I found particularly remarkable: the vibrant pastel pieces by Diane Belfiglio, Judy Huber, Judi Krew, and Brian Robinson ( Juror’s Honorable Mention); the wondrously tactile fiber portrait by Marge May; the equally wondrous stoneware pieces by Laura Donnelly (Third Place for “Dish Rags”); and the elegant wood vessels by Marty Chapman.
And for the sheer power of art’s capacity to “speak” with electrifying authority, there are the two acrylic paintings by Sherri Hornbrook: “Lux” and “Visor”. My dilemma is that I’m at a loss to explain exactly what’s being said. Stumped. Flummoxed. Yet absolutely sure I’m seeing something really fresh. Yes, there are apparent derivations in these abstracts – a melding of Fauvist color with the loose expressivity and design sensibilities of such painters as Picasso, Kandinsky, Matisse, to name just some. But Hornbrook offers a compelling synthesis all her own – private, enigmatic, intensely intuitive. PRIMAL. They pose questions. I want to see them bigger. Maybe next time around. Meanwhile they linger, sweet and loud. Art will do that sometimes.
Photo: “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”, oil by Frank Dale, on view at the Massillon Museum THROUGH DECEMBER 31. 121 Lincoln Way E., downtown Massillon. (330) 833 – 4061 www.massillonmuseum.org