Thursday, April 16, 2015

Like a box of chocolates?

Like a box of chocolates?

By Tom Wachunas

    EXHIBIT: April Assemblage, biennial show from the Canton Artists League, THROUGH MAY 10 at the Canton Museum of Art, 1001 Market Avenue N., Canton, Ohio  330.453.7666

    How many different ways are there, really, to say “mixed bag”? Hodgepodge? Gumbo? Mélange?  A box of chocolates?
   Unlike Forrest Gump’s glib acceptance of life’s unpredictability, I usually seem to know in advance exactly what I’m going to get from the biennial exhibit of the Canton Artists League (CAL). Weighing in on this latest incarnation is déjà vu all over again.
    The show is stylistically diverse in CAL’s ever-dominant, conventional 2D genres of painted landscape, floral, portrait, and still-life imagery. Not surprisingly, the levels of technical finesse and conceptual depth in these works ranges from genuinely marvelous to mediocre with, sad to say, nearly half leaning (some more so than others) toward the latter. The judges’ awards notwithstanding, what follows is a consideration of what I found to be especially savory, in no particular hierarchy of merit.
    In the tradition of the Old Masters oil technique, local mentor Frank Dale (his portrait, Coquette, stunningly lives up to its name) and some of his beneficiaries are well represented. Those include Kristine Wyler and her diminutive, haunting portrait, The Dancer, and Michele Tokos’ poetic A Foggy Day. So much powerful lyricism on such tiny picture planes!
   There are occasional forays into varying degrees of 2D abstraction, though none as wholly nonobjective or challenging as Joan Willms’ small acrylic Mood Indigo. There’s a strange tension between its tentative, enigmatic waves of patterned, scratchy linearity and its slick silver (though arguably too bulky) frame.
   Among a total of 69 wall pieces, there are a few mixed media works, including a delightful assemblage by Cheryl Eul, Camofish, reminiscent of ritualistic tribal art.  It’s disappointing that there are only two printmaking entries in the mix, both of them intriguing metal plate works by Anna Rather. Her Crushing and Receding is a fantastical rendering of what might be a nature sprite caught up in a swirl of watery creatures and organic textures. Also disappointing is the relative scarcity of sculpture.
    For sheer mastery of craft, there are several exquisitely finessed entries. They include a colored pencil work by Sharon Frank Mazgaj, Shiny Things (First Place in “Other Media”); Emma, a quilt by Irene Tobias Rodriguez (Second Place); The Road Home, an oil landscape by Pat Ripple; Waiting For Incoming Tide, a watercolor by Wanda Frease (First Place in Water Media); and a small stoneware sculpture that looks remarkably like cast bronze, Balancing Snow Boy by Laura Donnelly.
    Equally exquisite are Girl From Ipanema, a figural watercolor by Nancy Stewart-Matin, and an acrylic botanical painting by Judi Krew, King of the Hill. Both employ a robust color and compositional dynamic. Stewart-Matin’s mark making is at once delicate and sure in its clarity and fluidity, with some passages recalling the contemplative elegance of Asian brush painting. Krew achieves an almost crystalline effect with her vibrant planes and wedges of color, suggestive of a stained glass window.
    So, without belaboring too mush much the negative, and to continue the Gump (grump?) analogy, while many confections can be, say, too sweet, sour, hard, or soft, the aforementioned delicacies are…just right.

    PHOTOS, from top: King of the Hill by Judi Krew; Shiny Things by Sharon Frank Mazgaj; The Road Home by Pat Ripple; Camofish by Cheryl Eul; Girl From Ipanema by Nancy Stewart-Matin

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