Stories That Lurk and Linger
By Tom Wachunas
“…things that linger and call over the years to be included in a new thing…” - Joseph Carl Close
EXHIBIT: Storytellers – Works by Joseph Carl Close, Steve Ehret, Kat Francis, David McDowell, and Erin Mulligan / at Cyrus Custom Framing and Art Gallery, 2645 Cleveland Avenue NW, Canton, Ohio / Viewing hours: Monday - Friday 10am ish - 6pm, Saturday 11am - 3pm, Closed first Saturday of the month, Closed on Sundays / CLOSING PARTY on Saturday MARCH 4, 4 pm - ? / 330-452-9787 / http://www.cyruscustom.com/index.html
In Dan Kane’s Jan. 26 Repository article on this exhibit (here’s a link, so you can read each artist’s statement: http://www.cantonrep.com/entertainmentlife/20170126/stories-to-unravel-in-new-exhibition-at-cyrus-gallery ) painter and exhibit curator Erin Mulligan tells us, “ ‘Storytellers’ is about the narrative inside a piece of art. Without the story, why would we care to look?” A loaded question to be sure.
It does bring to mind the tattered platitude of “every picture tells a story.” Do we in effect ‘care to look’ at a painting because we assume it has a story to tell, a story either borrowed or authored by the painter? Does the story have a discernible plot, settings, characters, a beginning, middle, and end? Is it fictional, historical, autobiographical? In other words, is our caring to look at an artwork motivated primarily by a desire to discover and read, as it were, a narrative of the artist’s making?
Yes and no. The gestalt of looking is twofold. While it can ignite an acquired cognitive appreciation of purely formal or historical concerns, it can (and I think should) also inspire us on an intuitive, subjective plane. In the most impactful aesthetic experiences, both of these aspects come into play, often with equal force. It’s not unusual then – in fact I think it is an intrinsic part of our human nature – to construct a narrative of some sort even when we’re confronted with visual content that seemingly subverts or negates the existence of one. In the absence of an instantly familiar or vaguely implied representational tale, we understandably enough tend to weave our own out of the signs and symbols provided by the artist, no matter how cryptic. Thus we might become active authors in our own right, if for no other reason than to find meaning in the act of our looking.
Considering these aspects, then, the stylistic and iconographic eclecticism of this exhibit leaves plenty of wiggle room for your imagination. Some of the pieces, including the superbly executed entries from Kat Francis and David McDowell, have the viewer-friendly patina of book illustration art. The watercolor and graphite drawings by Francis exude a spirit of both innocence and adventure – fittingly so, as they describe bedtime stories she makes up with her son. In similar media, some of McDowell’s drawings, such as his self-portrait as the Norse god, Odin, are illustrations for an upcoming book, “The Butt Naked Field Guide to Trolls.”
One of Steve Ehret’s oil paintings here depicts an omnivorous yellow bug, at once ghoulish and goofy, prancing atop a patch of grass. The title would seem to tell the whole story: “Hey uuh Fred…Honey…Where do you think all the Squirrels, Bunnies, Racoons, Possums, Bird Feed, Banana Peels, and Skunks went? Fred…?” Yikes. Meanwhile, there are three much more abstract paintings - complex configurations wherein Ehret has rendered layers of organic planes and otherwise amorphous shapes of viscous paint occasionally punctuated with bizarre, sketchy figures. Are they trouble-making gremlins hiding between the layers? Or maybe they’re ghosts anxiously attempting to make harmony out of all that color chaos.
There’s an uncanny sense of archaeological urgency in the work of Joseph Carl Close. He salvages the past to give it a voice in our present. In his arresting, totemic sculptures, inanimate found objects collectively morph into avatars, guardians, or warriors. Equally haunting, his paintings have an aura of retrieved memories, his own as well as ours. His wispy brushwork at times recalls the expressive spontaneity of Velasquez or Rembrandt. His palette is equal parts earth-toned pigments and what seems like the smoke from burning wood, encircling these mesmerizing pieces with the aroma of sublimity.
For years Erin Mulligan, with a startlingly facile brush, has been birthing a weird and wondrous menagerie of hybrid creatures who populate eerie worlds. Her paintings are fantastical, hyper-realistic episodes in an ongoing saga soaked in Gothic whimsicality. “All of the pieces created for the show have a story for you to unravel and characters to get acquainted with,” Mulligan tells us. “They may be separate stories or one big story or both, it is really up to you!”
Up to you indeed. To a large extent, viewing all the works in this exhibit is something like taking a multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank test on your own imagination. In the process, you might discover how every story tells a picture.
PHOTOS, from top: Traveler 2, by Joseph Carl Close; This Intense Gravity, by Joseph Carl Close; Shadow People, by Steve Ehret; Odin, by David McDowell; Adventure Land, by Kat Francis; Cats Are Actually Aliens! By Erin Mulligan