Been There, Scene That
By Tom Wachunas
“The artist’s job is to be a witness to his time in history.” - Robert Rauschenberg –
Exhibition: “Daily Journal” – new work by Steve Ehret and Ron Copeland at Acme Artists, 332 Fourth Street NW, downtown Canton – Viewing times…unpredictable, but next best bet will be First Friday viewing on July 6.
In many ways, the current exhibit by Steve Ehret and Ron Copeland at Acme Artists is a throwback to the good old days of 2009 and the “Stark Naked Salon” group show (which included Ehret and Copeland among others) at the Massillon Museum. The Acme installation, in concept and visual style, is essentially a repeat performance, despite the fact that the individual pieces are all new. Additionally, my thoughts on the Massillon show (archived here on August 28, 2009) can in large part apply here.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! Not unlike those garish TV ads with the ear-piercing, deranged-sounding voice-overs for local car and furniture dealers, here is a loud, free-wheeling declaration of…what, exactly? The wild quirkiness of the individual pieces, or a general perspective that vacillates between goofy, sometimes arcane fantasies, and realities of a more unsettling nature?
Steve Ehret wields a mean paint brush and cup-o’-joe (coffee being listed as one of his painting materials). His mixed media images are bright, otherworldly scenes of anthropomorphic creatures and caricatured humanoids (alternately silly, endearing and goulish) cavorting through translucent and fluid backdrops (backdrips?), some more vaguely defined than others. The saturation and intensity of color in his meticulously rendered figures gives them a lurid, comic book dimensionality. Decidedly more stark is the gallery wall given over to a collection of Ehret’s explosive black ink drawings that read like the ramblings of an agitated sketchbook diarist.
Ron Copeland once again offers his somewhat frenetic assemblages and collages of photos mashed together with painted figures and disjointed poster lettering. They still have a streetwise, grimy appearance – a visceral, scuffed-up homage to (or swan song for?) Cubist pictorial space, 60s Pop-inspired image appropriation, and the textures of decay. All told, you could call it Urban Salvage Expressionism.
The works of Ehret and Copeland are good examples of a particular trend of content and methodology I’ve seen emerging with increasing popularity over the past several years on our local art scene. It can often include a down-and-dirty offhandedness in execution and presentation along with, in varying degrees, dark, impish, or surreal subject matter. With more than a few other practitioners, they offer perhaps not so much an evolving or involving personal aesthetic per se, but rather a shared group-think that’s been forging a brand. Fun and entertaining? As far as that goes, absolutely. Edifying? Arguable.
In keeping with Rauschenberg’s observation quoted at the top of this commentary, I’m reminded that like much of the consumerist era we inhabit, this kind of art is often more superficially tantalizing than intrinsically transformative. Yet it’s ironically relevant enough in how it seems to favor cosmetic fluff and theatrical bluster over genuinely engaging substance.
Still, as you sort through this raucous melange of an installation, and even as most of the works tend to take flight at low altitude, some pieces do manage to really soar.
Photos thanks to artists’ Facebook pages: Top two works by Steve Ehret, bottom two works by Ron Copeland.