Monday, November 14, 2016

His and Hers, Separate Together

His and Hers, Separate Together

By Tom Wachunas

   “…I don’t know whether this has threatened our marriage or saved it, but Karen and I don’t collaborate in our art…In a marriage of two, we are very much artistic ones.”   - from the catalogue statement by  Bill Bogdan

    EXHIBIT: Fabrical & Digital – The Art of Karen and Bill Bogdan, at Little Art Gallery, THROUGH DECEMBER 4, 2016 / located inside the North Canton Library, 185 North Main Street, North Canton, Ohio

   Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keefe. Picasso and Gilot. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock. These are just some of the husband-wife artist couples that have spiced up the feast that is Modern art history.

   And now, with their current show at The Little Art Gallery (LAG), we can feast our eyes on the art by Karen and Bill Bogdan.  [By the way, if you’ve not yet visited the Stark County Artists Exhibition at Massillon Museum, please do. Both Karen and Bill have excellent pieces there.] Meanwhile, the LAG exhibit, curated by Elizabeth Blakemore, was timed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their engagement. Not that I’m comparing their works or marriage in any way to the aforementioned couples, but seeing this handsome and thoughtfully  mounted collection nonetheless has given me pause to wonder about what life in their household has wrought. Do their respective muses mingle or commiserate with impassioned dialogue or debate? Is the energy harmonious and nurturing, or is it volatile and stormy? Bliss, or blisters? 

   In his catalogue statement, Bill dispels any notions that life under their roof might be a festering hotbed of arguments about process or product. They make their art in separate rooms, allowing for a working atmosphere that’s probably more civil than contentious. “We seldom discuss our respective projects,” Bill writes, except, he notes, when one of them is having trouble with a formal problem, or questioning whether or not a work is “any good.” For the most part, Karen cuts and sews together lavish textile visions of nature. As Bill puts it in the catalogue statement, she “engineers” her art. Whereas she “builds,” he’s a storyteller - a composer of autobiographical impressions “…relentlessly wanting voice.” But, based on his pieces displayed here, I’m not so sure he’s any less an engineer of pictorial experiences than his wife.

   Karen’s works here constitute something of a mini-retrospective, beginning with Carousel, a spectacular piece from 1995. Unabashedly decorative and ornamental, it’s nonetheless a lustrous and lovingly crafted remembrance so dazzling that you can practically hear the OOM-pah-pah beat of the merry-go-round music.  

   Indeed, it’s a spirit of celebration – and reverence, really – that informs all her tactile idylls, replete with a variety of foliate shapes amidst undulating skies or rolling hills, vibrant colors, a wealth of textures, and surfaces that often seem to emit their own exuberant light. Whether densely layered, or dimensional like bas-relief sculptures, or flatter, open-air scenes, all of them exude an unbridled charm.

   Up to this point in time, I’ve been most familiar with Bill’s black-and-white woodcut prints. So it’s an intriguing revelation to see that while his pieces in this show are, technically speaking, prints, they began as one-of-a-kind drawings in color, executed with oil pastel on canvas board.

   The originals have been reincarnated and reproduced via digital enhancement. While he may have tweaked and otherwise filtered the originals to alter hue and saturation levels (they do effectively hold their own when seen next to Karen’s much larger color explorations), his overall manipulation process, which he charted in a meticulous schematic diagram included in the catalogue, successfully preserved the visceral immediacy of his drawing style and surfaces. Look closely and you can even make out the texture of the canvas ground under his thickly applied colors. The spontaneous energy in these loose renderings of local places is reminiscent of Impressionist croquis – quick plein air or on-site sketches. Unlike the overall brightness and optimism apparent in Karen’s crisp palette, however, Bill’s colors, despite (or because of?) their intensity, and combined with the rawness of their application, often seem to invoke a psychological gravitas.

   In the end, I don’t see this show necessarily as some sort of statement about, or metaphor for married life as such. That said, I keep coming back to the idea of celebration - a celebration of discrete aesthetic pursuits presented in a beautifully balanced way. If marriage can be seen on one level as two wearing one garment, I commend Karen and Bill for skillfully embroidering theirs through and through with complementary visions - each compelling in its own right - of being alive.

   PHOTOS, from top: City Flowers, by Karen Bogdan; Autumn Trees, by Karen Bogdan; Inception 2, by Karen Bogdan; It’s Spring Poem, by Karen Bogdan; Storm Warnings Come to Dalbury St., by Bill Bogdan; Sunday Afternoon on Train Trail, by Bill Bogdan; Gervasi – Piazza Dining, by Bill Bogdan     

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