Homage To A Living Legacy
By Tom Wachunas
"…always present the spectator with a transfigured view of visible reality." –Jan Van Eyck
EXHIBIT: The Great Masters As Teachers – oil paintings in the Flemish technique by Frank Dale and his students, in the Wilkof Courtyard of the Canton Museum of Art. Opening tonight, Sept. 5 and on view through tomorrow, Sept. 6. THE SHOW WILL BE RE-INSTALLED ON SEPTEMBER 16 and REMAIN ON VIEW THROUGH SEPTEBER 21.
In one way you may call this entry ‘confessions of a flummoxed judge.’ When artist and teacher Frank Dale asked me a few months ago to judge this exhibit of 50 works by 23 of his students (from 10 to 81 years old), I was flattered, gratified and eager to oblige. Little did I appreciate then what a thorny gauntlet he had thrown down. The endeavor became the most daunting assessment task I’ve ever undertaken.
At one point during my second extended look at the show, I was exasperated and otherwise reduced to being a victim of analysis paralysis. I couldn’t decide on an order of first, second and third place. Determining the Honorable Mentions proved equally elusive – the show is, on the whole, simply that superb. All of the participants here should be rightfully proud of their achievements. A vast majority of the works demonstrate both an astonishing level of technical excellence and breathtaking beauty.
Frank Dale’s field of award-winning expertise is in the ‘Old Masters’ Flemish method. The technique of layering translucent oil color glazes imbues the painted subjects with extraordinary luminosity and vitality. All of the paintings here are modeled after works by historic masters spanning roughly five centuries.
Copying the masters in this context necessitated working from photos. Photographs of paintings can vary widely in terms of their overall clarity, and aren’t always dependably accurate records of the original works. So I think it fair to say that in a number of cases here, the artists needed to exercise some interpretive freedom in approximating certain nuances of detailing and color. But keep in mind that I think the goal for the artists isn’t so much perfect replication as it is to embrace the overarching vision of the chosen master and in turn learn more of how that vision was accomplished. In other words, what are the skills and mechanics needed to deliver the essence of a subject (especially in portraiture)?
Ultimately my difficult choices for awards (all pictured above, with the exception of an Honorable Mention for Kris Wyler’s The Girl with the Red Hat from the original by Jan Vermeer) were delicate matters of balancing head with heart. It’s a process that can’t be translated into a rigid, pedagogical formula. The works I chose, and for that matter many others here to varying degrees, transcend the demands of physical rendering to present not just pristine surfaces, but ‘places’ or even ‘events’ where poetry meets practicality, where the spiritual and cerebral resonate in harmony. These highly gifted artists have effectively captured the uncanny sense of palpable life – the exquisite anima – of the original works that inspired them.
I commend Frank Dale and his student artists for their courage in carrying forward an aspect of art that I think is often all too lacking in contemporary painting. Call it the enchanting aura of unabashed nobility.
PHOTOS, from top: Child At Bath, by Kathy Israel, First Place, from the original by William Bouguereau; Madonna of the Lillies, by Dan Wilkey, Second Place, from the original by William Bouguereau; La Donna Velata, by Nicole Hill, Third Place, from the original by Raphael; The Book of Fables, by Sujata Mukerji, Honorable Mention, from the original by William Bouguereau; Girl With A Pearl Earring, by Frank Dale, “Teacher’s Best” certificate, from the original by Jan Vermeer