Monday, March 20, 2017

Variable Degrees of Refinement

 Variable Degrees of Refinement

By Tom Wachunas

“…I thought that I heard you laughing / I thought that I heard you sing /
I think I thought I saw you try / Every whisper / Of every waking hour /
I'm choosing my confessions…”  - lyrics from “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M.

   EXHIBIT: VISIONS Art Exhibition – Celebrating 20 Years / works by the Canton Artists League, THROUGH APRIL 16, 2017 at Canton Museum of Art, 1001 Market Avenue North, Canton, Ohio / 330.453.7666

    For those viewers with a hardy appetite for traditional renderings in landscape/floral, portraiture/figural, and still life genres, this exhibit of 75 works by 40 local artists from the Canton Artists League (CAL) is sure to satisfy. Viewed as a whole, you might think of it as an eclectic concert program by a polyphonic choir. CAL has always demonstrated a democratic embrace of both professionals and amateurs, with seasoned, trained performers (often of a conservative ilk) rubbing frames, as it were, with less accomplished, though free-spirited practitioners. So it’s not surprising that in a group show of this magnitude we can encounter some distinctly off-key (or “pitchy,” as a voice coach would say) voices. More on this later.  
   In the course of 25 years of viewing Canton-area artists, I was sure I’d seen far too many quaint scenes from nature crafted in watercolor – an especially popular medium in these parts. But then along comes Hilda Sikora, here with her simply exquisite The Journey Home, and I swallow my hubris with a humbling but grateful gulp. And for that matter, still life works such as Five Heirloom Tomatoes, by Sharon Frank Mazgaj, or Copper and Pears, by Nan Rearick, (both painted in oil, I think – can’t be sure, as none of the artists here provide any info as to medium, which is an unfortunate omission on their part), are impressive exercises in tangible lusciousness.

   Similarly in the realm of traditional subject matter, the paintings by Frank Dale and other artists he has trained in the Flemish method (there are several present for this occasion) are arresting if only for their pristine, glass-like surfaces. Yet for all their technical prowess and sheer prettiness, they nonetheless come off a bit like so many anachronistic bromides.

    So while the many conventionally handsome representations here of things we routinely call lovely or tender are certainly nothing to sneer at, there are pieces on this diverse program that resonate in more compelling ways. I’m referring to the relatively more abstract works. Residing in less formulaic or predictable aesthetic terrain, some of them still exhibit a brand of palatable preciousness in execution as they straddle borders between the furious and the finessed, the raw and the refined. In that regard, check out the paintings by Isabel Zaldivar and Lynn Weinstein, or the prints by Anna Rather and Nancy Saulnier.

   Which brings me back to the aforementioned “off-key” selections. For example, The Virgin of the Lilies, by Christine Wyatt Williams, is a stunning enough homage to Classical elegance and religiosity – a literally iconic application of Frank Dale’s “Old Masters” technique. But then something urgent and uncanny transpires when looking at the painting called Mother and Child, by Ileana Mihalteanu Saru, mounted very close by. It’s as if a cacophonous screech is shattering the calm of a gentle aria. Saru’s brushy slashes and smudges are unabashedly crude, but unflinchingly honest. Vive la différence. The proximity of her roughness to Williams’ studied serenity provides one of the most memorably tense, indeed theatrical passages in this ambitious concert of local talents.

   PHOTOS, from top: 1. Five Heirloom Tomatoes, by Sharon Frank Mazgaj / 2. Jazz, by Nancy Saulnier / 3. Iceberg Ahead, by Lynn Weinstein / 4.  Tropic of Columbus, by Nancy Michel / 5. The Journey Home, by Hilda Sikora / 6. Crashing and Receding, by Anna Rather / 7. The Virgin of the Lilies,  by Christine Wyatt Williams     

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