Sunday, August 28, 2016

Canton Arts District Weather Report: CLOUDY

Canton Arts District Weather Report: CLOUDY

By Tom Wachunas

   “Snarky Art and Journey Studios have some news to share….We are moving to the cloud! After years at both Second April Galerie and 431 4th St NW, Snarky Art and Journey Studios announce they are moving! We have tried using our beautiful corner space as an art gallery with a classroom and yoga studio, as working studio spaces, and as a fashion boutique with unique wearables. We've shown you beautiful art and one-of-a-kind fashions. We've thrown parties, offered classes, organized community projects and held lovely art exhibitions and fundraisers. But in the end, we find our walls and racks full... but our pockets...not so much. "  - from Su Nimon, Journey Studios

   I was originally going to title this entry “Journey’s End,” but thought it a bit too pessimistic. The recent buzz in the arts community about Su Nimon (Journey Studios) and Judi Krew (Snarky Art) closing up shop at the end of September does indeed mean the cessation of business in their location for nearly the past three years - a particularly elegant physical space within the “Canton Arts District” at the corner of 4th Street and McKinley Avenue NW.  But it also signals a forward look, a beginning of their respective endeavors to continue making their art accessible to the public online, and hopefully profitable enough to sustain their creative practices in the long term. And after all, what seriously active artist doesn’t want to find a consistently dependable venue where worthy work can be properly presented, viewed, and yes, purchased?

   I’ll sorely miss Journey Studios and Snarky Art. Sue Nimon and Judi  Krew have been an important and unique entity in our midst, and I wish for both women better days ahead as they artfully weave their web presence. 
   That said, Canton and “thriving art gallery scene” are far from synonymous. A number of factors – some arguably insurmountable for the foreseeable future – work against making the downtown corridor a viable location for establishing real art galleries. High on the list is the sobering fact that too few people venture into the heart of downtown specifically to view, much less buy, fine art on a regular basis. (As it stands now, there’s actually only one space that could be rightly called an art gallery in the truest sense of the word – Ikon Images on 5th Street NW – though I’ve no idea how well the gallery is doing these days.) Those who do explore the “Canton Arts District” will encounter, for the most part, bazaar or boutique-style offerings heavy on crafts, some interesting collectibles, and utilitarian tchotchkes -  fancy snack bars, so to speak, but not much in the way of a gourmet feasts. And frankly, I’m still not convinced that the demographic and geographic potential for developing sustainable art galleries even exists in Canton’s cultural DNA. Someone please prove me wrong! 

   If there’s an overarching local perspective on the idea of sustainable “retail art” establishments in the Canton Arts District, perhaps it has been best indicated in a recent Repository article by Dan Kane, reporting on ArtsinStark’s management of the former Second April Galerie, now called Avenue Arts. Here’s an excerpt  (click here for the full article -  ):
        Almost all of the artists have stayed," said Tricia Ostertag, ArtsinStark's First Friday and Canton Arts District coordinator who now also is running Avenue Arts. "We have 14 resident artists who pay rent, and 20 additional commission artists." Three artist studios, which rent for $175 to $225 a month, are available.
    Ostertag made clear her desire to shift Avenue Arts from a fine-arts gallery to an arts marketplace. "We're moving from $600 paintings on the wall to more of a place for gifts and functional items. "We want to be a place where you'd buy a scarf or a T-shirt or a piece of pottery or jewelry," she said. Boutiques on the second floor are devoted to handmade soaps and crocheted hats, scarves and bags.

    At the end of the day, it seems that more and more artists, for better or worse, are necessarily embracing the reality of web marketing to keep their art “out there.” Will brick-and-mortar galleries ultimately give way to online viewing and shopping?  Meanwhile I wait, looking forward to my first sighting of an Amazon drone-drop of a pesky $600 painting or sculpture. Thanks to “the cloud,” someday soon it could be raining fine art on a front yard near you.

   TOP PHOTO: Su Nimon (left) and Judi Krew

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A Captivating Call and Response

A Captivating Call and Response

By Tom Wachunas

    EXHIBIT: Readapt: Artwork Inspired by the Permanent Collection / at the Massillon Museum, THROUGH SEPTEMBER 25, 2016 / 121 Lincoln Way East, downtown Massillon / participating artists:  Kevin Anderson (Canton), Kristen Cliffel (Cleveland), Melissa Daubert (Cleveland), Dana Depew (Berea), Andy Dreamingwolf (Mogadore), Brian Harnetty (Columbus), George Kozmon (Gates Mills), Noel Palomo-Lovinski (Kent), Francis Schanberger (Dayton), Gina Washington (Cleveland)
    EXHIBIT: Conversations With Our Collection, featuring works by 15 Massillon Museum staff members / at Cyrus Custom Framing and Art Gallery, THROUGH SEPTEMBER 23, 2016 / 2645 Cleveland Ave. NW / 330.452.9787
 participating artists: BZTAT—Vicki Boatright (Art Teacher) , Heather Bullach (Traveling Exhibits Coordinator) , Alexandra Nicholis Coon (Executive Director) , Christopher Craft (Artful Living Program Director) , Demi Edwards (Education Intern) , Diane Gibson (Art Teacher), Samantha Lechner (Social Media and Events Intern), April Bernath Olsen (Education and Outreach Coordinator), Scot Phillips (Operations Officer), Mandy Altimus Pond (Archivist), Meghan Reed (Registrar), Emily Vigil (Studio M Coordinator), Margy Vogt (Public Relations Coordinator), Michelle Waalkes (Artful Living Program Art Teacher), Jamie Woodburn (Social Media and Shop Intern)
    There’s plenty of precedent for the idea of contemporary artists creating works which intentionally echo, without directly copying, a particular artwork or significant artifact from a previous era. Some examples come immediately to mind: Edouard Manet’s confrontational “Olympia” from 1863 - a direct reference to Titian’s 1538 Renaissance masterpiece, “Venus of Urbino”; Otto Dix’s gripping “The War” (1929-32) - its triptych configuration being a deliberate appropriation of Renaissance altar pieces; or Picasso’s late-career variations on the magnificent Diego Velasquez painting (c. 1656), “Las Meninas.”  

   While the motivations for such endeavors can be many and varied, the most engaging results go well beyond simply formal imitation. They’re very often predicated on the desire for connecting with the past as a path to illuminating the present. 

    For its ambitious and very handsomely mounted exhibit called “Readapt,” the Massillon Museum commissioned 10 Ohio artists to make pieces inspired by artworks or artifacts from its permanent collection. Each artist’s piece is accompanied by a photo of an object or image selected from the museum collection, along with a bio of the participating artist and statement of his or her approach or process in creating a response. Curator Heather Haden said this about the show:  "No two people interpret an object the same way.  What does the art and historical legacy of the Massillon Museum collection look like to artists, and how might it inspire continued creativity?  That is the question posed by this project… The task of each artist was to adapt some element—aesthetic, historical, or even an emotional response—of his/her assigned Museum artifacts into a new creation.”

   Among the more intriguing works here are Melissa Daubert’s “Harvey mends the sawfish rostrum,” which joins Harvey the monkey (back in the 1970s, live specimens were kept by the museum in its former building) with a sawfish rostrum (nose). Daubert has created something of a delightful children’s tale, perhaps, with fiberboard and wire, wherein Harvey rescues and repairs the captive sawfish.

    “Out of the shadows,” an exquisitely textured wall piece by Kevin Anderson, is a tall, narrow piece of leopard wood, with its surface carved out to make an elongated silhouette of David Hostetler’s (1926-2015) beautiful “Yellow Hat,” a free-standing woman sculpted in wood. The inside of Anderson’s silhouette is in turn painted to recall “Collage I,” a dramatic 1973 scratchboard portrait of an African American family by Donald Townsend. 

   The acrylic painting, “Blood, Steel, and Tears,” by Andy Dreamingwolf, is a stark exploration of the troubled history of steel in these parts. The work is somewhat jarring in its reductive black-and-white contrasts, underscored by a blank panel of red, like an angry footnote. Yet for all of its crisp, minimalist markings, it is remarkably - even profoundly - expressive.

    Meanwhile, at Cyrus Custom Framing and Art Gallery, 15 Massillon Museum staff members have assembled their own works in a similarly conceived and equally striking exhibit. Considering the notable preponderance of photographs in the Massillon Museum’s collection, it’s not surprising that many of the artists have sourced them to create their pieces here. 

   Michelle Waalkes’ fascination with old buildings is in excellent form with her phototransfer image on gold leaf called “The Interior,” prompted by a 1900 photo of Massillon State Hospital. It’s an eerie evocation of minds locked (imprisoned?) in receding layers of oddly glowing mystery.

   Heather Bullach, in her exquisite oil painting called “Subtelty,” has deleted the figure of a lone woman standing on a shore that we see in Nell Dorr’s 1937 photo, “None But the Lonely Heart.” As a viewer of Bullach’s painting, you might project yourself, then, as a lone walker contemplating the soft quietude of the scene. 

   Emily Vigil was also inspired by Nell Dorr’s photographs, particularly of children in nature, for her sumptuously painted oil diptych called “Young Explorer (Madelyn and the Banyan).” The painting exudes a genuine sense of pure, youthful excitement at discovery.

    It’s both important and interesting to note that not all of the contributors to the Cyrus exhibit are what we would automatically call “artists” in the sense of them being trained and/or practiced in pursuing a specific medium or style, or regularly exhibiting their work in a gallery context. Yet this in no way diminishes the validity or imaginative scope of their contributions. 

   “Roots,” for example, by Meghan Reed (who told me this was the first time she’s ever made a painting), is a triptych of very small canvases painted to suggest a red brick wall, or the windowless facades of three individual buildings. The work is a deceivingly simple response to a more dense-looking mixed media work from 1965 by Alice Lauffer Lawrence called “Brownstone Fronts.” Reed interrupts her free-hand brick patterns with the addition of a few green splotches that trace the mortar joints. Are these cryptic insertions a metaphor for the intrusive vagaries of life both inside and outside human-made structures? Are we to view Reed’s response to the work that inspired her (or the call, if you will) as interrogative or declarative in nature? 

   It’s a lively spirit of inquiry, then, that makes both of these exhibits so arresting. Art – whether making it or viewing it - is essentially nothing if not a dialogue, a conversation. And that conversation, as art so often demonstrates, can be equal parts answers and questions. The past need not be merely a preserved collection of silent or static artifacts and images. As these artists show us, our history is a continuum - a living catalyst for enlivening our present.  

   PHOTOS, from top: Harvey mends the sawfish rostrum, by Melissa Daubert; Blood, Steel, and Tears, by Andy Dreamingwolf; Subtelty, by Heather Bullach; The Interior, by Michelle Waalkes; Roots, by Meghan Reed; Thoughts, by Mandy Altimus Pond    

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Mystidigital Embodiments

Mystidigital Embodiments

By Tom Wachunas

   “My Child, strive to see supernal light, for I have brought you into a vast ocean. Be careful! Keep your soul from gazing and your mind from conceiving, lest you drown. Strive to see, yet escape drowning.”   -  from “Drowning”, a passage in the Zohar  

    EXHIBIT: EMANATIONS: Charting the Interior Life, Limited Edition signed prints by PETER MOHRBACHER / at IKON Images, 221 5th Street NW, Canton, Ohio / THROUGH SEPTEMBER 2 / 330.904.1377 /

   Peter Mohrbacher writes on one of his web sites (the third link posted above) that the majority of his images begin as pencil sketches which are then “…painted in Photoshop.” Hence the works in this collection, currently on view at Ikon Images Gallery, constitute a limited edition of signed, 13”x19” digital prints. “Painted” in Photoshop? Mohrbacher is a remarkably adept draftsman who has impressively mastered this digital technology to deliver colors, tonalities, and illusory textures of spectacular dimensionality.  

   There is also an accompanying 52-page book, with collaborator Eli Minaya, called “Angelarium: Book of Emanations”. With images, narrative prose, and poetry, the book references ancient texts from the Book of Enoch (great-grandfather of Noah) and Kabbalah, the highly esoteric and scholarly tradition of Judaic mysticism. Herein is a chronicle of Enoch and his encounters with the Tree of Life, its ten “angelic” emanations, and his meditations on the infinite, “unknowable” entity known as Ein Sof.

    At first blush, Mohrbacher’s images - which are essentially portraits of loosely anthropomorphic beings who appear to levitate in strange lands and atmospheres splashed with ethereal light - seem to comfortably fit into the iconographic mold of the “fantasy illustration” genre that continues to be enormously popular in our culture. But to be more precise, these images aren’t merely silly fictions, or inane fantasies so commonly rendered in the genre. They’re thoughtfully constructed musings on, and continuations of, the timeless artistic tradition of probing who, why, and where we are. Though my knowledge of Kabbalah is very sparse at best, I do know that among its tenets is the valuing of human creativity as a never-ending process to grasp and perfect our imperfect existence and the world where it unfolds. So in a sense you could rightly call this an exhibit of “religious” art, albeit a departure from an ostensibly Christian perspective.

   Still, if the “angels” pictured here are messengers or ephemeral manifestations of God (Ein Sof), I’m nonetheless reminded of the Biblical accounts of encountering them. Scripture often reports how humans, trembling in the unexpected presence of these awesome beings, hear some variation of “be not afraid.” And so I found myself imagining that if I were visited by one of Mohrbacher’s creatures – they are beautiful if only in a freakish sort of way - I too would tremble. At first. But then, interestingly enough, would come their calming salutation, “be entertained.” 

   PHOTOS, from top: HOD, Emanation of Glory / BINAH, Emanation of Knowledge / GEVURAH, Emanation of Severity / YESOD, Foundation of Life / DA’AT, The Empty One

Monday, August 1, 2016

Rewind To Now

Rewind To Now

By Tom Wachunas

     I imagine that to Broadway theater goers in 1960, or film viewers in 1964, Gore Vidal’s “The Best Man” must have seemed, despite its funny moments amid unguarded cynicism, a searing and candid if not brave commentary on the toxicity of American politics. And now, after seeing it presented by Seat of the Pants Productions, directed by Craig Joseph at the Black Box Theater in GlenOak High School - and coming as it does on the heels of our national political conventions - I also wonder if those first audiences could have possibly appreciated the uncanny prescience of Vidal’s vision when compared to today’s terribly fractious political practices.

    Set at a contested nominating convention (of an unnamed party) in, interestingly enough, Philadelphia, the party’s nomination hangs in the balance as two embattled candidates wait to see which one the lame-duck president will endorse. All of the play’s action transpires in the candidates’ respective hotel suites. Some of the 1960s hot-button issues, back-room deal-brokering, and “scandalous” behaviors addressed in this story might seem downright ho-hum by today’s standards, for better or worse. Yet its topicality nonetheless takes on a palpable new authenticity here.  All eleven members of director Joseph’s excellent cast are remarkably adept at articulating the play’s uneasy balance between biting sarcasm and credible human drama.  

   There’s a distinct air of world-weariness to Greg Emanuelson’s portrayal of candidate William Russell, particularly when he navigates a crisis of conscience late in the proceedings. He’s a highly educated man of patrician stock who refuses to pander to public opinion. His penchant for quoting philosophers and writers on government, morality, and ethics to anyone within earshot is one that his very meticulous campaign manager, Dick Jensen, regards as a serious liability. In that role, Matthew Heppe is an excitable yet endearing bundle of nerves as he attempts to downplay Russell’s overly-brainy sermonizing.

   Other liabilities threaten to derail Russell’s bid for the nomination, including his reputation as a philanderer and its toll on his marriage. Stephanie Cargill has crafted a remarkably poignant rendering of dignity amid woundedness, tempered with a measure of emotional detachment both chilling and sad in her role of Mrs. Russell. It’s easy enough to appreciate her reservations about getting on board with feisty and sardonic party operative Mrs. Gamadge, played by Margo Parker, who insists with militant urgency  that Mrs. Russell be always visible at her husband’s side to inspire women voters.

    Conversely, Heidi Swinford exudes a practically lascivious glee in her role of Mabel Cantwell, the beautiful (and sly, despite her somewhat air-headed demeanor) wife of Russell’s opponent, Senator Joe Cantwell. She’s an effective poser, and all too eager to nurture the media feeding-frenzy with her vacuous glad-handing. And ‘eager’ doesn’t begin to adequately describe her husband. As the manipulative and self-serving Senator Cantwell, Scott Miesse turns in an often riveting study of intense cupidity surpassed only by his character’s frightening aptitude for flinging ill-gotten dirt on his opponent. He’s utterly unashamed to declare that his ends justify his means.

    Speaking of ends, Bob McCoy brings to his role of the ailing President Art Hockstader - outgoing in more ways than one – a genuine sense of existential angst. In his private talks with both candidates, he makes a big point of asking if they believe in God, perhaps looking to salve the consequences of his own unbelief and see if there might be an alternative route to immortality. “The world’s changed since I was politickin’,” he muses at one point, adding, “In those days you had to pour God over everything, like ketchup.”

    That line elicited a particularly hearty (and nervous?) laugh from the audience on opening night (July 29), and has lingered with me ever since. I’ve always found that the art of theatre is at its best when it doesn’t remain on the stage after the house goes dark – that it leaves us with something to chew on and digest beyond the more ephemeral elements of mere “entertainment”. A take-away of lasting value. Seeing this play’s indictment of so much wrong in American politics then seems to inexorably point head and heart to the failures and absurdities of our now.

   So call it sermonizing if you will. Indulge me, or get over it. But I wonder if for too long we’ve made God into an innocuous condiment. Like ketchup. Maybe he should be the main course. Now that’s a take-away.

“The Best Man” at the Black Box Theater in GlenOak High School, 1801 Schneider St. SE, Plain Township (Canton, Ohio) / Shows on Friday August 5 and Saturday August 6 at 8 p.m., Sunday August  7 at 2 p.m. / Tickets $15 at

   PHOTOS, from top, left to right (courtesy Craig Joseph, Seat Of The Pants Productions): #1: Matthew Heppe, Greg Emanuelson; #2: Margo Parker, Heidi Swinford; #3. Bob McCoy, Stephanie Cargill; #4. Scott Miesse, Heidi Swinford