Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Stark Realities

Stark Realities
By Tom Wachunas

If a thematic link is to be found among the 12 works that comprise the current show called “Stark Realities” at Main Hall Gallery on the Kent Stark campus, it’s not in the show’s title. That might suggest, on the face of it, a compilation of works that commonly share something stiff, bleak, harsh or perhaps forbidding. This show is anything but.

The title of my latest curatorial project, then, is simply a reference to the 12 participants being local, Stark County artists. So there is no conceptual theme other than my intent to mount an exhibit that indicates, to a reasonably interesting degree, the substantial depth of creative activity in these parts. To that end, I certainly realized that this space could never contain an exhaustive presentation of media variety or roster of accomplished local artists. As it is, on view are individuals I greatly respect and have written about in the past, and their works in this show are of their own choosing. I’m thrilled to report that this group stepped up to the invitation with flying colors, as it were, making for a truly eclectic gathering of visions that alternately intrigue, entertain, and edify. A mixed bag of challenge, chutzpah, and charm.

Kevin Anderson’s mixed media wall piece, “Hold On,” is a stunningly crafted memento/fantasy of sorts – a child-like model rocket ship under construction with the promise of flying away to a dream destination.

Dream-like, too, is Nancy Stewart Matin’s shimmering watercolor collage, “Moonstruck,” a vibrantly hued night landscape emerging from a subtly tactile ground.

And speaking of vibrant color, Sherri Hornbrook’s acrylic abstract, “Warded,” reminds me of a 1970s Artforum magazine marketing promotion with the text, “I love it. What is it?” Warded, as in one amorphous figure guarding the other? Or warded as in the intricate construction of lock mechanisms? Fascinating.

Both Ted Lawson (with his watercolor café scene “Pranzo Incantevole”) and Diane Belfiglio (with her floral oil pastel “Sunlight on Scarlet II”) provide real gems of compositional prowess and mastery of bright sunlight and shadow.

Another master in the mix – this one in the Flemish technique tradition - is Frank Dale, whose oil portrait, “Study of a Young Girl,” is a sumptuous and beautiful exercise in startling naturalism.

There’s remarkable naturalism at work, too, in Patrick Buckohr’s large, free-standing sculpture, “Young Camel with Cradle,” and all the more surprising when considering that it’s made completely from countless pieces of reclaimed steel – an airy mass of metal executed with astonishing craft and a playful dignity. Similarly, Joseph Close’s very tall “Moses ‘Rabbit’ White” has a dignity all its own. This seriously whimsical construction is made from found materials (largely wood) into a friendly giant of a jazz musician.

You could reasonably call Rick Huggett’s style Pop Minimalism. His precise application of acrylic silk screen ink gives his pictures a slick, commercial feel that only adds to their glib sparseness. Yet for all of the nervous, “unsophisticated” quality of line evident in his “Spigot On!” (a lawn sprinkler spewing squiggles of water into empty white space), the image is delightfully disarming in its giddy simplicity.

In the realm of photography, Stephen McNulty’s black and white “Light Study #42, Badlands, SD” is both haunting and riveting in its capture of dramatic mountain textures, rhythms, and shadows. And Michael Weiss’s digital mixed media “Free Home” is a wondrously convincing, surreal dreamscape featuring a lone man clutching a bunch of old houses like so many balloons on strings.

Finally, there’s the enigmatic “Sibling Rivalry,” a tempera, acrylic, and white pencil painting by the always surprising Patricia Zinsmeister Parker. It’s a matte blue effluence inscribed with scribbled white ‘portraits’ of two ladies with hats. The large red dot between them seems at once invasive and necessary – a mechanism or lens that points up the subtler gestural markings and variations in color saturation of the ground. Attention to tensions and fragile equilibrium. Call it a surface with psyche.

Opening artist reception at the gallery is on Thursday, February 9, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. The exhibit runs through Feb. 29. Located in the lower level of Main Hall on the Kent Stark campus, gallery viewing hours are Monday – Friday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 12:00 noon.

Photos: Top – “Sunlight On Scarlet II" by Diane Belfiglio; Middle – “Sibling Rivalry" by Patricia Zinsmeister Parker; Bottom – “Warded” by Sherri Hornbrook

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