Thursday, March 15, 2012

Drawn to the Light

Drawn to the Light
By Tom Wachunas

“Every Portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.” – Oscar Wilde

“The countenance is the portrait of the soul, and the eyes mark its intentions.” - Cicero

“Without atmosphere a painting is nothing.” – Rembrandt

First, some venting. Imagine my surprise at learning that “GCB”, the name of a newly unveiled ABC television ‘comedy/drama’, stands for “Good Christian Bitches”. Is this bold marketing or what? I know I’m not alone in thinking there’s something amiss, skewed, and otherwise disturbing here. With absolutely no interest in ever watching the show (yeah, on this one, I’m perfectly content to remain forever closed-minded), it still reminds me of just how easily disenchanted I feel these days at the general state of us.

‘Surprise’? More like saddened bewilderment. We continue to settle, not soar. Like so many shocked survivors of a tsunami, we wander (wonder?) among the chaotic remnants of ruined life, rummaging for nourishment, comfort, and some sense of direction. But our compass has been broken by the torrent of modern “thinking”.

Here in the 21st century, nowhere is the sheer weight of philosophical pluralism and moral relativism more unwieldy and disorienting than in our arts and entertainment – always a bellwether of societal “trending”. In the world of contemporary fine art alone, we seem to have taken great pride in our aesthetic tolerance, our inclusiveness, our willingness to reveal and revel in ALL things human, which would by definition include the nihilistic, the lurid and loathsome, the salacious, the dark. So it has become an increasingly wearying venture to sort out and latch on to something truly edifying, encouraging, hopeful and – if there is anything left resembling agreement among us on such matters (alas, probably not) – beautiful.

This is certainly not to say that ALL our art represents society’s brazen descent into moral or ethical depravity. There are certainly artists in our midst whose work I have found to be authentically and consistently uplifting in its celebration of human (and Natural) beauty, integrity, dignity, and grace. One of those is Lynn Digby. Her oil canvases are constructed with gently tactile, facile brushwork – each stroke rendered with all the careful, even loving thoughtfulness of a poet choosing just the right words without ever seeming too heavy or labored.

Quite by accident I recently came upon a small exhibit of her work currently at the Fountain Gallery, located in Malone University’s Johnson Center. While this mini-show includes an accomplished, Impressionist-style landscape and a wondrously glimmering seascape, it’s the four portraits in particular that best exemplify the aforementioned aesthetic qualities to great effect. There is certainly ‘dark’ content in “Disconnect”, “Connect”, and “Denial”, but neither horrifically nor threateningly so. Rather, these brooding, night backdrops serve more as necessary, atmospheric contrasts to the haunting (yet inviting) light on the subjects’ faces – a light coming from outside the picture plane. It’s as if we, the viewers, along with Digby’s own gazing, and perhaps even an implied Divine source, are the providers of light. And as such, the depicted subject emerges from the dark and is literally drawn toward and into our attentions.

It’s a small dose of Digby that’s nonetheless large on lovely.

Photos: Top – “Disconnect” (left side), “Connect” / Bottom – “Radiance, The Inner Light” / by Lynn Digby, on view to April 20 at Fountain Gallery, Malone University Johnson Center, 2600 Cleveland Ave., Canton

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