Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Drawing a Bead on Stark's Artistic Diversity

Drawing a Bead on Stark’s Artistic Diversity

By Tom Wachunas

“I am interested in ideas, not merely in visual products.”

–Marcel Duchamp

    Exhibit: Stark County Artists Exhibition 2013, at Massillon Museum, THROUGH JANUARY 5, 2014, 121 Lincoln Way E., downtown Massillon,  (330- 833 – 4061)

    Once again, a large and locally important juried exhibit. Once again, I wonder about the jurors’ award designations (Best in Show, Second Place, Third Place, five Honorable Mentions). There are indeed some curious choices in the mix.

    But there’s nothing surprising about that - it’s the nature of the beast. As it is, this year’s Stark County Artists Exhibition is in general a notably solid one and certainly more exhilarating than usual in its remarkable eclecticism of media and styles. I suspect it was a particularly daunting endeavor for the jurors to choose 79 works by 60 artists (including my grateful self) from a total of 211 entries submitted by 82 artists.

     While Mark Pitocco’s digital photograph, Discarded Memory, East Liverpool, Oh, garnered an Honorable Mention, this image of a white gown hanging in a store window is a bland and otherwise far less compelling composition than his Two Mothers, Newberry, Michigan, 7.5.2013.

    Compelling, too (though no thumbs-up from the jurors here), is the black and white photograph by Michael W. Barath, titled Self Portrait with Boo, which gets my vote for best photo in the show. It’s a genuinely engaging (and more beguiling than sentimental) tribute to the bond between man and dog – a wondrous portrait of intricate shape-changing.

    In the realm of drawing, among the more exquisite entries are Heather Farthing’s Break (Honorable Mention), a haunting, mystical charcoal contemplation of intertwined, biomorphic shapes and textures executed on wood; Amy V. Lindenberger’s fantastical Transformation/Liberation in colored pencil; and a brilliant (in color and design) composition in oil pastel of leafy shadows on a sunlit outdoor wall by Diane Belfiglio, Digression into Detail III.

    This year there’s a generous scattering of distinctly heady works. Let’s for the moment regard them as challenging if not bold experiments. The remainder of this commentary addresses only some of those.

    One, Higharekie by Erin Meyer, was awarded Best in Show (?!). It’s a mixed media installation featuring a large contour drawing of a bunk bed, made from black tape stuck to the wall, spilling down on to the gallery floor. A curled-up cat sleeps up on the bottom bed. Above is Meyer’s excellent self- portrait in oil, topped by a silver plastic child’s crown. Queen of the broken picture plane, dreaming of childhood days? And speaking of childhood’s broken picture planes, Meyer’s large abstract oil diptych, A Table with a Split, is likewise unconventional and playful.

    Playfulness is very much in the character of the video loop by Matt Kurtz. Several household appliances perform on real musical instruments. A hilarious robotic band. A similar spirit prevails in Kurtz’s Rhythm Drawing, wherein a snare drum protrudes from the wall. The swirling graphite drawing on the drumhead cleverly echoes the textures of the found piece of wood -  the drumstick, so to speak -  that rests on top.

    A particularly strong abstract entry is Jerry Domokur’s black and white (though very rich in tonal variety) digital piece, Quandary. High-tech, to be sure, the work is nonetheless a hypnotic and immersive sprawl of radiating shapes, simultaneously mechanical and organic in nature, bringing to mind a prismatic mandala.

     Also fascinating in the abstract genre are the wildly muscular paintings by Maggie Duff (Business as Usual) and the ironically titled Safe For Now by Patricia Zinsmeister Parker. While Duff’s oil impasto musings are overtly structured and seem somewhat contrived, Parker’s jarring acrylic canvas is more about what’s hidden than apparent, like a painterly game of hide and seek. So what’s with those brutish swaths of orange and green? Call it the intuitive, rough-edged calligraphy of pure abandon.

    Finally, there’s Garden Buckets, a canvas and steel sculptural installation by Priscilla Roggenkamp and Keith McMahon. To anyone within earshot of my snide comments on opening night upon hearing that the work was awarded Third Place (?!), I humbly wish to amend my initial assessment. I seem to remember saying something like, “R. Mutt called. He wants his readymades back.” (I should talk, considering the objects included in my own work). My second visit to the museum widened my perspective.

    While there is a Duchampian character about these six, person-sized canvas bags suspended in air, something persistently striking – and yes, odd -  about their ambiguous and enigmatic nature lingers in my mind. Are these found objects, or invented to suggest a utilitarian purpose, as the title indicates? Harvest implements? Debris containers? Their shapes seem vaguely anthropomorphic, even feminine. Farm laborers’ uniforms from an alien world?

    In any event, these “bold experiments” imbue the exhibit with an elevated and invigorating conceptual dimensionality. Without them, the show would be merely safe. So here’s to art on the edge.

    PHOTOS (from top): Garden Buckets by Priscilla Roggenkamp and Keith McMahon; Higharekie by Erin Meyer; Rhythm Drawing by Matt Kurtz; Safe For Now by Patricia Zinsmeister Parker     

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