Saturday, March 3, 2012

Tchotchkes Transformed

Tchotchkes Transformed
By Tom Wachunas

“I’m afraid that if you look at a thing long enough, it loses all of its meaning.” – Andy Warhol –

The premise of the recently opened group exhibit – “Thrift Store Masterpieces” at Translations Gallery in downtown Canton - is essentially a cliché: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. As mentioned by curator Craig Joseph in his statement for the show, artists have embraced the notion for a very long time. On one level you could call the exhibit a collective dusting off of an ideological trifle, not unlike rediscovering a forgotten attic memento. Nonetheless, it does resonate interestingly with our ever increasing attentions to correcting our wasteful consumerist ways.

Each of the 17 selected artists were asked to take a 2D or 3D piece of thrift store art (“or something from my grandmother’s attic,” as Joseph explains in the exhibit statement) and alter it while still keeping some aspect of the “original”. In that regard, some works here are very clear in the visual connections to their source, others considerably more subtle.

In the former category, Christine Brenner has re-painted the original (and decidedly generic) pictures of a red covered bridge and a red barn for her “Rural Life Seen Thru 3D Technicolor Glasses”. Her alterations are lurid, psychedelic exaggerations of color that make her images even more unabashedly kitschy than the originals.

Photographer Jon Conklin’s inkjet print - “What Becomes of Desire?” – clearly incorporates the original antique wedding photo. But in Conklin’s arresting, melancholic montage, the aged source photo appears as the faded (fated?) end of a once flaming romance, now discarded like so much trash.

A sad spirit resides, too, in the oil painting by that inimitable Queen of Eerie, Erin Mulligan. The source of her convincingly off-kilter vision is a faded picture of a misty lake (swamp?) and sky aglow at either sunrise or sunset. Mulligan has morphed the scene into a night time phantasm called “Why Are All My Children Born Mummies With 8 Legs?” Much of the murky surface is inscribed with tiny black text. It’s a rambling, surreal story that, despite a line deep into the narrative that ironically counsels the viewer not to read it, held me spellbound.

Somewhat surreal, but far more bright and serene, is “The Woman Who Knows”, a painting by Michelle Mulligan (Erin’s mother). The title (really the only element taken from the original – a theatrical scenery panel) is painted into the landscape wherein a woman’s head rises from a stream that nourishes a tree bearing the Fruit of the Spirit. Words from Scripture are written on paper in her open mouth (is she consuming them or speaking them, or both?), and her beatific expression declares that she indeed knows…peace.

Not so peaceful is the startling “Secuestro (Kidnapping)” by Hugo Jimenez. His statuette of Michelangelo’s heroic giant slayer, David, has been painted black and rendered as a prisoner – bound, hooded, tortured.

There’s no immediately apparent visual similarity between the given original picture of a pastel-colored conch shell matted in gold leaf and Kelly Rae’s small mixed media painting called “The Red Line”. The title refers to a wispy straight red line in her painting that might be a reconfiguration of the meandering curvy pink accent in the original. This is an enthralling, painterly jewel of architectonic abstraction that is in some ways reminiscent of the incandescence in Richard Diebenkorn’s iconic “Ocean Park” series of heroically-scaled oil paintings from the 1960s-1970s. And yet Kelly Rae has made this relatively miniature homage to soft light, geometric planes, and intensely tactile surface treatment distinctly her own.

In a similar vein of miniature homage, Don Parsisson's “Jim Was Uncomfortable With How Ursula Had Placed Him On A Pedestal” is something of an ‘inside joke’. His source was a woodcarved statuette of a man in a full-length robe, holding a staff. Parsisson’s elegant take on the object was to render the statue as headless and handless, sans staff, and paint the robe in the Pop style of Jim Dine – himself a modern master of appropriating the “already done”. It’s a clear reference to Dine’s series of “invisible men” in bathrobes. The statue rests on a cedar pedestal that is in turn a variation on the organic/abstract cedar beam sculptures of Ursula von Rydingsvard.

What I think makes this show as a whole so intriguing is its reflection of the unpredictable, unconstrained workings of free association that can prompt or inspire an artist to respond, each in his/her unique way, to a given (or found) object, no matter how intrinsically unremarkable or “low brow” that object might be. Most of the works here, in varying degrees, are at least as much about engaging personal processes and decisions as they are about crafting a finished product, and are otherwise successful in transforming the ordinary into the uncommon.

The other participating artists are: Amanda Gaumer, George DiSabato, Carey McDougall, Rosemary Hayne, Laura Donnelly, Annette Yoho Feltes, Brennis Booth, Sally Lytle, Anna Rather, and Christian Harwell.

Photos, courtesy the artists: “What Becomes of Desire?” by Jon Conklin, and “The Red Line” by Kelly Rae. On view through March 31 at Translations Gallery, 331 Cleveland Avenue NW, downtown Canton, Wednesdays – Saturdays, Noon to 5 p.m.


Martha W. said...

Another one of those reviews that just makes you want to get in your car and go see the paintings.

mulliganstew said...

As a participating artist in this show, I felt challenged in a fun way to collaborate with the original artist and in a sense, with Craig as the chooser of the original piece given to me. It forced me to think in terms other than what I usually do in approaching a painting. Thank you for the opportunity, Craig, and thank you, Tom, for a great review of the show.