Wizards of Odd
By Tom Wachunas
In any art, you don't know in advance what you want to say - it's revealed to you as you say it. That's the difference between art and illustration. - Aaron Siskind
EXHIBIT: IKON IMAGES – The Illustration Gallery, 221 5th Street NW, downtown Canton, 330.904.1377, www.ikonimagesgallery.com
Hours: Wed. – Sat. 12p.m. to 6p.m.
With Canton’s newest art venue, Ikon Images (which opened in August), owner Rhonda Seaman has provided the Arts District’s most quintessential example of form following function when it comes to art galleries. It’s a remarkably handsome chamber – bright and large (65’ x 15’), with lots of unobstructed wall space and architectural elegance, right down (or up) to its vintage tin tile ceiling. So call me a traditionalist, but this is, as a purely physical environment for exhibiting art, everything a gallery should be.
Ikon Images is devoted to showing the paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures of internationally accomplished artists in the realm of fantasy illustration. As a formal designation, Fantasy Illustration has come to denote a very specific yet eclectic iconography, embracing everything from fairy tales and ancient mythologies to sci-fi epics and horror stories. Call it the celebration and commodification of the odd and eerie. So it seems only appropriate that I’ve been writing my comments on Halloween night.
For starters, I highly recommend clicking on Ikon’s web link posted above to get an introduction to the gallery’s featured artists, though certainly not as a satisfying substitute for visiting the gallery in person. To do so is to encounter a magical collection of works that are wholly captivating if for no other reason than their exquisite precision of execution. Additionally, you can click on the “The World of Illustration” tab at the top of Ikon’s web page for a useful overview of the term and its historic applications.
Thanks in large part to mind-bending developments in digital animation technology over the past few decades, the Fantasy genre has substantially advanced to become a major entertainment component of our consumerist culture. What was once a relatively specialized niche of artistic practice has morphed into an elaborately appointed castle, so to speak.
That said, permit me to wax confessional. I admit to a complicated if not polemical appreciation of the genre, particularly as it is practiced in the art of painting. My ambivalence is grounded in my sense that contemporary 2D illustration has become something of an impotent subset of true fine art painting. Some may find that distinction to be an elitist one. So be it.
Within this bazaar of the bizarre there is a curious pastiche of historic painting influences. It’s as if the ghosts of Gothic drama, Baroque theatricality, Rococo whimsicality, and Neoclassical heroism have been processed, distilled and otherwise compressed into pristine pictorial episodes of a hyper-realistic nature. As I mentioned above, it’s true that in terms of mechanical technique, there is much to praise. All of the artists demonstrate, to varying degrees, astonishing drafting skills and design sensibilities. But their precious exactitude of rendering gives their surfaces the detached, photographic look of animated film stills. After a while, this formulaic sameness tends to sap their power as discrete painted objects, and undermine their potential for making any truly remarkable intellectual or emotional impact.
In this context, I miss the ghosts of Goya and Delacroix.
PHOTOS, from top: We Are Lost, by Raoul Vitale; Bone Image, by Travis Lewis; An Offering, by Ania Mohrbacher; Descent of the Centaur, by Soutchay Soungpradith; Lubber, the Pine Sprite Elder, by Kevin Buntin