Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Of Tattooed Poodles and Atomic Love

Of Tattooed Poodles and Atomic Love
By Tom Wachunas

    EXHIBITION: Love Between the Atoms and New Drawings and Ceramics, works in clay by Eva Kwong and Kirk Mangus, Canton Museum of Art, 1001 Market Avenue North. SHOW ENDS ON SUNDAY, MARCH 10.

    This is the second in a series of shows featuring married couples who are professional clay artists (the first, Journey in Clay: The Colemans, presented last spring and reviewed at ), and I apologize for this late review. But there are still four days left to see these remarkable ceramic works by Eva Kwong and Kirk Mangus.

    In her statement for this exhibit, Eva Kwong tells us of her fascination with forces of attraction between protons and electrons, and how those forces determine the workings of the universe, microscopically and macroscopically. Further, most of her works here are explorations of intertwined dualities – solids and voids, mass and air. In short, the attraction of opposites.

   There is certainly a kind of gravitas attached to the idea of energies that bind structures (spiritual as well as physical) together – the yin and yang of existence. But Kwong’s interpretations of dualities, whether cosmic or personal, aren’t overly ponderous or heavy-handed. Instead, they exude an elegant, light-hearted if not gently awkward gracefulness.

    Her vibrantly colored objects are juxtapositions of tapered, hollow tubular forms that suggest flared-out stems joined to bulbous spheroids which are decoratively patterned with dots. Seed pods, or clusters of atomic particles? While these biomorphic configurations could understandably be seen as whimsical vases waiting to receive long-stemmed blossoms, they also function quite well on a more poetic, abstract plane -  three-dimensional metaphors for the unifying tension between filled and unfilled entities.

   Kwong’s husband, Kirk Mangus, offers among other objects an intriguing collection of small seated ceramic poodles and pit bulls. He cites in his statement Argos, the astonishingly faithful dog immortalized in Homer’s The Odyssey. Argos waited for 20 years in Ithaca after the fall of Troy for the return of his hero master, Odysseus. Accordingly, Mangus named his clay sculptures after various characters from Homer’s epic.
    So on one level these pieces are a collective homage to canine character. But with all of them being rendered from the same mold, I don’t believe they’re meant to represent all poodles or pit bulls, but rather specific encounters with individual dogs. Episodic sculptures of a deeply personal nature.

   All of Mangus’s multi-colored dogs are glazed in a painterly, frenetic sort of graffiti (the artist likens his illustrative approach to tattooing), much like his ink and gouache drawings on handmade paper. These meandering figurations have a primal energy about them, like the automatic writing of the Surrealists. Are they intended to be viewed as free-associative, flow- of- consciousness gestures about the artist’s life with beloved pets?

    Perhaps it’s just as reasonable to see dogs as vessels of their own memories and/or longings, and to view these pieces as indicating the dogs’ “personal” perspectives on living with their masters: playful, curious, equal parts reliability and unpredictability. And always completely in the moment.

    PHOTOS, from top: Pisea (left side) and Snowflake Vase by Eva Kwong; Argos (upper left) and Proteus by Kirk Mangus; Agamemnon by Kirk Mangus

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