Here’s to Vigorous, Artful Eclecticism
By Tom Wachunas
EXHIBIT: Stark County Artists Exhibition, at The Massillon Museum, THROUGH JANUARY 31, 2018 / 121 Lincoln Way E., downtown Massillon /
330-833-4061 / http://www.massillonmuseum.org
This year’s incarnation of the annual juried Stark County Artists Exhibition – 55 works from 40 artists, chosen out of 189 entries- is flavored with some decidedly unremarkable pieces, ranging from stale and trite to just plain uninteresting. No matter what their credentials might be, jurors (and critics) are only human, and no less capable of feckless decision-making than anyone else. Over the years I’ve come to expect as much.
Still, the good news is that this year’s roundup also happens to be among the most satisfying I’ve seen in the past 15 or so years, featuring a thoughtful confluence of highly diverse media and compelling iconographic content. And when I say ‘satisfying,’ I must add that yes, a very recent work of my own (pictured above, and written about in October, at http://artwach.blogspot.com/2017/10/surrendered.html ) was accepted into this show. I’m certainly thrilled to be in this eclectic company of artful visions, and happy to offer here my take on a few of the more intriguing entries.
Back in June of this year, I wrote the following about the woodcut print by William Bogdan that we see in this exhibit: “…the skewed perspective and dramatic figure-ground contrasts in “Man, Bed, Cat” might make you wonder who is dreaming here – the sleeping man, the cat, or that ghostly figure off to the right side, floating in a white void?” But there’s a difference this time around. The original ghostly figure and the white void have been replaced (buried, or exorcized?) by a scruffy veil of blueish, grey-green paint. It’s a fascinating editorial decision on Bogdan’s part - this altering of a memory, this re-dreaming of a dream. A somber, visceral incantation of sleep.
A likewise solemn and ritualized air of remembrance emanates from Clare Murray Adams’ “Six Degrees of Separation,” which garnered the Second Place award. It’s a mixed media collection of tiny portraits on actual tea bags pinned to the wall, rendered in varying stages of clarity or disintegration – the faces of people (both still present and perhaps departed) and connections steeped, so to speak, in the sepia tones of memory.
In the realm of non-objective abstract painting, “Writer’s Block,” by Pamela Glover Wadsworth, is a startling mixed media metaphor that lives up to its title and stopped me in my tracks. It’s a wondrously intense essay on purposeful accidents, on finding the right words and deleting the wrong ones. Frantic brushwork, seemingly random smudges and scribbles, and sinewy drips describe the indescribable, all constituting a suspended history of painterly decisions.
Emily Bartolone’s very large abstract acrylic painting, “Stellar,” is just that. A vast, immersive cloud of hot reddish orange seems to emerge from surrounding murkier hues and undulate with a gentle scattering of grainy flecks and spectral wrinkles. Not far away on the wall from this work, a similarly hypnotic experience transpired when I examined the enthralling color dynamics of Stephen Tornero’s textile banner, “Violet X” – a masterpiece of intricate weaving.
I’ve seen many oil landscape paintings by Heather Bullach in the past, but none more exquisite than her entry here, “Embers.” Aglow in ethereal orange and purple light, every impasto stroke of this tactile tone poem floats like a glimmering facet embedded in a stunning jewel. Breathtaking.
In photography, two particularly extraordinary works are Michael Barath’s “Study of Broken Glass #3” – which won Third Place – and Mark Pitocco’s “Coastal Abstraction, Schooner Gulch, CA.” Barath’s image is a mesmerizing grid, capturing the multiple perspectives and sporadic pulse of industrial decay. Pitocco’s arresting aerial view of rocky terrain, sharply detailing a microcosm of bulges, cracks, and crags is also, from a slight distance, an eerie suggestion of reptilian skin.
From my past appeals to common sense, regular readers of ARTWACH may remember my objections to juried shows that still employ a ridiculous tiered awards format. These days, deciding on a “Best in Show” is an inherently absurd pursuit, amounting to high-minded lunacy. That said, there’s something delightfully lunatic about the jurors’ choice this year – Judith Krew’s whimsical sculpture, “I do, I doodle, I do.” So roll out the red carpet.
It’s an impeccably well-crafted work, to be sure, in the form of a puffy white dress comprised of individual paper napkins, each bearing a simple line drawing (mostly of a sketchy or cartoonish nature) in what looks like black felt-tip pen. A giddy foray into hoot couture, Krew has done a dandy doodle indeed. Take that, Versace.
PHOTOS, from top: After the Sermon - by Tom Wachunas / Man, Bed, Cat – by William Bogdan / Six Degrees of Separation – by Clare Murray Adams / Writer’s Block – by Pamela Glover Wadsworth / Embers – by Heather Bullach / Study of Broken Glass #3 – by Michael Barath / I do, I doodle, I do – by Judith Krew