Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Curious Cartography

Curious Cartography
By Tom Wachunas

    “Maps codify the miracle of existence.” – Nicholas Crane, from Mercator: The Man Who Mapped The Planet” - 

    EXHIBITION: Terra Imaginara: Mapping the Fantastic, recent work by Scott Alan Evans, Studio M at The Massillon Museum, 121 Lincoln Way East, downtown Massillon, THROUGH MARCH 10  (330) 833 – 4061

    Déjà vu all over again. For a moment, this solo exhibit by Mogadore artist Scott Alan Evans took me back to my 1968 high school days and a live book report I presented to my English Literature class. At the time, none of my classmates had heard of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. The 1937 novel was the subject of my report, and a book that ignited my life-long love affair with fantasy literature. 

    I presented my report dressed in a borrowed royal blue graduation gown along with a wizard’s hat fashioned from gold-colored poster board rolled into a cone and inscribed with runes copied from one of Tolkien’s illustrations. The piece de resistance of my report included using what was normally the classroom’s roll-down map of the world, but in this case revealing my very large watercolor copy of Tolkien’s map of Middle Earth, secretly attached before class time. My special effects netted me an ‘A’ and, come to think of it, I view the whole experience as my first foray into performance art. But I digress.

   One of Evans’ digital works here is a faithful replication of a map from The Hobbit, with some spiffy silver leaf enhancements, and accompanied by the artist’s written homage to Tolkien’s inspiring influence on this body of work.

    In media and content – visual and ideological - this is indeed an eclectic collection of 16 pieces that “map” places somewhere between the faintly familiar and the purely strange. Some are so simplistic and raw that you’d think this was an exhibit of children’s projects. Others are decidedly more refined – even playfully slick – such as the digital works Moon and Cloud Atlas. They have the “official” patina of legitimate, scientific documents of extraterrestrial territories and phenomena.

    On the surface, while most of the compositions here denote physical locales, I think a strong case can be made for viewing the show as a collective cartography of processed ideas. These are works perhaps more conceptual in nature than purely image-driven. And from the perspective of technically accomplished pictures per se, the show is an uneven mix of hits and misses.

    I agree with the assessment offered by my colleague in critique, Judi Krew (whose observations I’ve greatly missed lately), in her blog entry from February 1 at   Evans’ most visually compelling works include the mixed media The Great Bear – a marvelously tactile work that harkens to prehistoric rituals of defining the observed cosmos – and the acrylic painting The Painted Isle.
   The latter is composed of organically-shaped splotches of heavily accumulated paint adhered to an all-white ground, itself thick with brush strokes. Still, it’s a visual idea that I think begged for more subtlety and development, as in letting the image become a kind of map of painterly process. If it can be said that ideas can actually tell an artist how they “want” to be presented, maybe the collaged islands in this painting, rather than simply sitting on top of, want to appear as emerging from and/or disappearing into the white ground.
    That said, Judi Krew’s take on the piece is nonetheless appropriately poetic when she writes, “…these layers of paint are like civilizations that have occupied the same lands over centuries and left their marks, their monuments and their memories and upon which we keep building, living, and dying.” 

    Déjà vu all over again. Thanks, Judi. Write on.

    PHOTOS (from top): Archipelago, The Painted Isle, The Great Bear    

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