Monday, May 20, 2013

An Extraordinary Convergence

An Extraordinary Convergence
By Tom Wachunas

    EXHIBIT: 71st ANNUAL MAY SHOW, THROUGH JUNE 2 at The Little Art Gallery, located in the North Canton Public Library, 185 North Main Street, North Canton.
    “My selections are not meant to illustrate the breadth of the capabilities of Stark County artists but instead to create a conversation about what I saw to be the most interesting achievements to date.”   - painter Jack McWhorter, juror for the 71’st Annual May Show-

    First, here’s a thumbs-up to fellow artist/blogmeister Judi Krew for her critique of this juried show (link provided here - ). Therein she included a photo of her wildly ornate and tactile piece from her Hoard Couture series, which garnered First Place honors in the Three-Dimensional category, and also a photo she took of me sniffing the brilliant oil pastel bloom by Diane Belfiglio (Second Place winner in Drawing) at the opening reception.

    Krew’s review also reminded me about disclosure. So yes, her photo of that whimsical moment also shows my own work (Second Place in Mixed Media) on the wall next to Belfiglio’s. I’m elated, grateful and, frankly, humbled to be in the company of so many truly remarkable artists.

    Unexpected circumstances in the jurying of the show were such that a single individual – Jack McWhorter, Associate Professor of Painting at Kent State University at Stark - judged the entries. There were 124 submissions from 75 Stark County artists. McWhorter selected 50 works for the show. 

    The resultant ensemble is a striking mélange of styles and media, and unquestionably the most exhilarating May Show I’ve ever seen at this venue. Elizabeth Blakemore, Little Art Gallery curator, has once again proven her considerable skill at hanging diverse collections such as this. It’s an art in itself, to be sure, to present “traditional” imagery with works of relatively more contemporary content in a way that is sensually and intellectually engaging throughout the exhibit.
   Particularly alluring, for example, is the placement of Sherri Hornbrook’s  acrylic painting, Quest (First Place in the Oil and Acrylic category), next to Eleanor Kuder’s oil, Rose Hips (Second Place in the same category). Hornbrook’s is an electrifying and enigmatic abstract work. Its bold blue diagonal lines are vectors that seemingly invade clusters of red and orange organic (vaguely floral) shapes, all floating on a misted background. Kuder’s boldly contoured recumbent figure on opaque blue, surrounded by loosely rendered blossoms, evokes the raw, dreamlike imagery of Marc Chagall. Both pieces employ very bright palettes that effectively play off each other, and both exude a mystical sort of tension.

    First Place in Mixed Media went to Randall Slaughter for his elegant abstract collage, Long Way Home. It’s an impeccably balanced arrangement of shapes, spontaneous-looking marks, colors and surface textures that has a distinctly vintage feel about it – abstraction in the “classical” sense. Similar in sensibility, though I think more compelling and muscular, is Lynn Weinstein’s acrylic abstraction, More Organized Than Usual.

    If there could be such a thing as an “Endangered Species Award” in painting, Frank Dale would surely win it for his oil portrait, Girl In A Rosewood Chair. Dale is a master of the Renaissance Flemish Method, and his technique is utterly enthralling. The sophisticated woman in his painting is set against a background of purple so intoxicatingly deep that it feels like infinity. Have some fun and make up a story. Imagine the expression of self-possessed taunting on her illuminated face as if it were directed at the young man on the opposite wall of the gallery in Erin Wozniak’s portrait, Morning (Best In Show).

    This flawless and captivating portrait is a subtle blending of pastel, colored pencil and graphite that goes far beyond photorealism. With astonishing, meticulous naturalism - right down to the wispy (almost invisible) blue veins under pale flesh - Wozniak delivers a lyrical gem. Her image of a haggard man doesn’t appear to be drawn “on top of” the paper at all. Instead it seems to magically emerge from within the white ground, like waking up from a deep if not troubled sleep. 

    I wonder if some (maybe many?) viewers might be somewhat perplexed at the awarding of First Place in Watercolor to Daniel Chrzanowski for his Critic with Neolithic Skull. In these parts, watercolor painting is a tradition so longstanding and revered that it’s practically sacred. While the ten other watercolor entries here are all certainly noteworthy for various reasons, Chrzanowski’s is a jarring departure from the more conventional pleasantries we normally associate with the medium.

    Call it more of a study than a complete, resolved “picture.” Better yet, the monochromatic gestures of a painter rendering watery nuances of a face. Not a scene, but perhaps a paragraph. Comprised of related phrases. Each one a variation on the theme of making marks and shapes. A watercolor painting about watercolor painting. 

    In any event, the painting reminds me of what I find so exciting about this show. It’s a thoroughly egalitarian gathering of visions as stimulating to the mind as they are tantalizing to the eyes.

PHOTOS (from top): Rose Hips by Eleanor Kuder; Critic with Neolithic Skull by Daniel Chrzanowski; Morning by Erin Wozniak; Quest by Sherri Hornbrook

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