Come What May, Part 74
by Tom Wachunas
EXHIBIT: 74th Annual May Show at The Little Art Gallery. THROUGH MAY 31, 2016 / located in the North Canton Library, 185 North Main Street, North Canton, Ohio / 330.499.4712 x312 / www.ncantonlibrary.org
Full disclosure: I’m excited and grateful to report that I do have a piece in this show, and it was awarded Second Place in the Mixed Media category. I wrote about this newest work here on April 1. Here’s the link if you’re interested:
If only for the disappointing dearth of non-objective abstract works here (one exception being the First Place in Mixed Media winner, Daniel Vaughn’s Lego decoration, Which Way?), this exhibit is certainly not a comprehensive survey of the visual arts in Stark County. Interestingly enough, though, the 52 works in the show are deftly mounted (thank you, Elizabeth Blakemore) so that the overall content seems more varied than it actually is. In the 2D realm, the preponderance of landscape and nature imagery is punctuated with a few other subjects, among them figural/portraiture and still-life.
Yet within this generally limited range of genres, there is an entertaining diversity of stylistic and technical approaches ranging from the sweet and ornamental to the genuinely compelling, from the ridiculous (Mike Uhren’s Red Hot Sexy Smoker, Second Place winner in the Acrylic category, gives dubious new meaning to “eye-popping”) to the sublime.
Among the more sublime landscapes are two small, horizontal gems of subtle light: Heather Bullach’s oil painting, The Rising Sun, confidently rendered in unfussy brushwork, and Ron Watson’s Rainclouds Near Hartville, a darker study in colored pencil that was awarded First Place in the Drawings and Original Prints category.
The Second Place winner in that category, a black-and-white woodcut print titled Veuve, by William M. Bogdan, is one of the few pieces here really potent with both cerebral and emotive heft. Call it thoughtful gravitas. His arresting entry is an arrangement of two figures – husband and wife, presumably (Veuve is French for widow)- caught in a moment of loss or mourning or letting go. The seated husband figure is a blank white silhouette – a ghostly emptiness - still holding on to the recumbent wife. Particularly fascinating is the miniaturized version of an earlier Bogdan print (Marriage in Silverdale, from 2014), presented here as a picture in the background of the composition, depicting a married couple standing. As Veuve is a chapter in a history, it could also be seen as a symbol of Bogdan’s own history as an artist.
Haunting, too, is Erin T. Mulligan’s startling, hyper-detailed Self Portrait as a Grown-Up. In this elegantly creepy picture of angst, her beehive hairdo is a weighty home to demonic bugs.
And speaking of chapters in history, Michelle Mulligan’s Art “Her-Story” (Second Place award in the Three-Dimensional category) is a delightfully crafted parade of doll-like figurines, all meticulously adorned after some of art history’s most iconic representations of women. Gourd-geous work.
This year’s “Best In Show” award brings up the same concerns I’ve expressed in the past about the whole idea of juried art shows. Just blowin’ in the wind, I guess. Still, to remind you, here’s an excerpt from last year’s May Show review: … designating prizes, especially the “Best in Show,” can be particularly problematic if not plain silly…It’s not as if there exists a magic formula or universally accepted canon of standards for determining the last word on aesthetic superiority. Such awards are necessarily declarations of opinions (albeit educated ones, one would hope) – a decidedly subjective exercise – on the part of the jurors.
So it is that this year’s honors went to Pat Waltz for her fabric, stoneware, and embroidery sculpture called Petite Pinto. What can I say about this curious tchotchke? With all due respect for Waltz’s remarkable technical skill, not much…lest I be accused of beating a cute horse.
PHOTOS, from top: Red Hot Sexy Smoker, by Mike Uhren / Petite Pinto, by Pat Waltz / Veuve, by William Bogdan / Self Portrait as a Grown-Up, by Erin Mulligan / The Rising Sun, by Heather Bullach