Wednesday, January 11, 2012

(Re)Covering the Classics?

(Re)Covering the Classics?
By Tom Wachunas

What was once not so old is new again. Anderson Creative Gallery, first established just a few years ago in the downtown Canton arts district, has acquired a new name in this, a new year: Translations Art Gallery. The new LLC, owned and operated by Craig Joseph (curator of the former Anderson Creative Gallery), is currently showing “Required Reading,” an exhibition of works by 20 artists, 11 of them new to the space.

For those viewers who may have been reluctant to fully embrace past exhibits here that called for the careful, sometimes extensive reading of literary materials (and there have been several – all nonetheless excellent), don’t be too put off by this one. The “required” reading is on one level more about the show’s premise than its overt visual content. The artists were asked to choose a title from a list of required high school or college reading, and create a book cover/jacket for a new release of the classic. The results constitute a mixed bag ranging from the predictable (though not uninteresting) to the surprising.

Simplicity rules in Matthew Doubek’s mixed media collage “Moby Dick” – a compact, energetic rendering of this whale tale’s tail in splashy dive mode. Holly Atkinson’s collage called “Sorrow and Strawberries” (for Thomas Hardy’s 1891 novel, “Tess of the D’Urbervilles”) is a digital collage portrait in a somewhat overbearing gold frame that nonetheless exudes an antique, fecund charm. Both Margy Vogt and Cheryl Henderson employ digital printing technology to great effect, respectively providing crisp, handsome packaging for “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Frankenstein.”

Not so handsome, but appropriately jarring, is “Literary Outlaw” by Dylan Atkinson. This wax and oil portrait of William S. Burroughs, author of “Naked Lunch” (1959), is rendered in muddy, jaundiced hues, and is at once repulsive and compelling. Like a ghostly mask, it seems to both rise from and sink into a gray void. Urgent, like death.

More quietly compelling, and ambitious in scale, is William M. Bogdan’s black and white (with a passage of green markings along the bottom) woodcut portrait of Walt Whitman – an homage to the poet’s “Leaves of Grass” collection. For all of Whitman’s heroic exaltation of human physicality, Bogdan’s meticulously-cut image presents the poet as fading in and out of sharp view. The blacks are inconsistently saturated (intentionally?), giving the image a ghostly incompleteness which, interestingly enough, imbues it with a gentle lyricism.

And lyricism (if not mystery) is very much at work in Ashley Barlow’s mixed media collage, “The Giver.” I’m not familiar with the Lois Lowry children’s novel of the same name. But it might involve misadventure in a monochromatic world, as indicated by Barlow’s wintery palette interrupted by a bright red sled tipped over at the bottom of a snow covered hill.

Maybe the idea behind Kevin Anderson’s arresting “The Tell-Tale Heart” is for his wall sculpture to be photographed for a book jacket. But then we’d miss his ingeniously incorporated mechanical effect of the changing photo images that flash by to suggest body parts seen between floor boards. It’s an eerie and elegant work that looks like it came from a 19th century parlor, and thus in keeping with the Gothic spirit of Edgar Allan Poe’s story.

Similarly, Tim Belden’s photo-assemblage light box - “One Hundred Years of Solitude” - is more about concept than actual, marketable book jacket. Still, as a purely visual object - and like Kevin Anderson’s piece, very thoughtful in its construction - it is particularly alluring in its cryptic combination of images and even inspiring, as in invitation to investigate its source.

I’m not at all familiar with Gabriel Garcia Marquez or the novel regarded as his masterpiece, a non-linear, “magical realist style” metaphorical narrative about Colombian history, originally published in Spanish in 1967. Even that bit of information comes only from Googling the title. And so it is that Belden’s piece represents an important aspect of this exhibit: illuminating art’s power to pique our curiosity and prompt expanded cognitive links between differing forms of expression.

Consequently I feel sufficiently tempted to find and read the novel (as is the case, for that matter, with “The Giver”). To better “judge” the efficacy of the cover by its book.

Photo, courtesy Translations Art Gallery: “Literary Outlaw” wax and oil, by Dylan Atkinson. On View through January 28 at Translations Art Gallery, 331 Cleveland Avenue NW, downtown Canton. Hours 12 noon to 5 pm Wed. – Sat.

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