By Tom Wachunas
“I knew when I met you an adventure was going to happen.”
― A.A. Milne
EXHIBIT: Nannyville – Drawings, Prints and Zines by Elizabeth Dallas / Kent State University at Stark MAIN HALL ART GALLERY / 6000 Frank Avenue NW, North Canton, Ohio / THROUGH FEBRUARY 28 / Viewing hours: Monday – Friday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
My apologies for being so late in telling you about this exhibit, as the last day for viewing is Feb. 28. I confess that the primary reason for my tardiness is that it has taken a longer-than-usual while for me to get a read on my own thoughts. This is a bit ironic, since much of the work on view here is itself confessional in nature, and otherwise about…reading.
Elizabeth Dallas has turned the gallery into an open book, as it were. This busy collection of her drawings, collages, and one huge (49” x 33”) woodcut print doesn’t have the pristine, formal look of conventional gallery exhibits. Nothing is framed or matted or under glass. The pieces, all executed on paper, are simply pinned very loosely to the wall in a way that suggests how some artists might casually put up sketch book pages on their studio walls. An accumulated inventory of visual ideas.
There is an ordered sequence here, though, beginning with a grouping of black and white drawings done in what appears to be ink pen and felt-tipped markers. These describe Dallas’s journey (an adventure, to be sure) as a nanny. Boldly contoured images – sometimes akin to styles you might find in comics or coloring books - incorporate brief texts that describe a wide range of moments, sentiments, and reflections. Some read like altruistic or streetwise slogans, others are more edgy, occasionally cynical declarations. Still others are tender, even poetic acknowledgements of Dallas’s interactions with the child in her care. These are the original illustrations that Dallas photocopied to make her zine (short for magazine, or fanzine) titled “Learning to Love in…Nannyville.”
The aforementioned large woodcut is placed halfway along the gallery’s longest wall. In one way, it’s a conclusion, or perhaps a lesson summing up the zine images, its text declaring, “You Being You Makes Me Excited About Being Me.” You might also think of it as a thematic bridge to the content of the colored drawings and collages that comprise the other half of the exhibit. These in turn have an episodic feel and a probing spirit, like snapshots of remembered or overheard conversations, philosophical observations, or descriptions of social exchanges and attitudes.
Beyond the facile directness and simplicity of Dallas’s drawing style, what I find most striking about the exhibit is how its impromptu spirit and unadorned presentation enhances the artworks’ physicality. The loosely mounted drawings cast shadows on the wall. They are, after all, tangible small objects bearing marks of the artist’s hand. Flipping through Dallas’s zine (displayed in a rack mounted on the wall along with some other zines), is a tactile, intimate exercise. Though just a pamphlet relatively speaking, it’s still not too unlike the unique intimacy one can experience in savoring a paperback, i.e. a book, a collection of papers covered with configurations – drawings of a kind - made of words.
So Dallas has given us an illustrated journal, or diary if you will – a narrative of day-to-day memories and musings. Her story- its particulars of specific people, places, and things aside - is in the end still a very human one, and as such could converge or resonate with yours or mine to one degree or another. All of us have experienced adventures, nurtured relationships, laughed in moments of joy, cried in seasons of sadness, felt triumph and failure. All of us have stories of wrestling with our demons or walking with our better angels.
I think of this show as an invitation to have an adventure, to nurture the act of looking, to connect with another person’s story. Dallas being herself can make us excited about being us.