By Tom Wachunas
EXHIBIT: AVATARS – Relics from the Future / art by Gary Spinosa, at the Canton Museum of Art / 1001 Market Avenue North, Canton, Ohio / THROUGH JULY 23, 2017 / 330-453-7666 /
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“When I think of art I think of beauty. Beauty is the mystery of life. It is not in the eye, it is in the mind. In our minds there is awareness of perfection.” - Agnes Martin
“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. ― Albert Einstein
With its voluptuous and spectacular materiality, craftsmanship of the highest order, and deeply spiritual iconography, Gary Spinosa’s AVATARS is a truly astonishing experience. Among the many marvelous exhibits I’ve seen at the Canton Museum of Art during the past 25 years, I haven’t encountered such a profoundly inspired and breathtaking aesthetic vision from one man since Itchiku Kubota’s Kimono As Art exhibit in 2009.
Breathtaking? Breath-giving might be more to the point. Spinosa hints as much when he writes, “The most important quality in a work of art does not come from the idea alone, but from the innate communicating power contained and emitted through the object itself. Being charged with emotion, there can exist within an object a radiating energy. This reflects man’s sacred capacity to merge spirit into matter and make seemingly intangible tangible…” Operative terms here: “sacred capacity” and “radiating energy.”
Our word ‘avatar’ is from the Sanskrit avatāra, from ava, ‘down,’ and tarati, ‘he goes down’ or ‘he passes beyond.’ The term originally described the Hindu concept of a god’s appearance on earth in the form of a human or animal, i.e., an embodiment, or incarnation. Our most ancient art was at its core a response to living in a world at once awesome in its sensual fecundity, terrifying and baffling in its dangerous natural forces. Utilizing our ‘sacred capacity’ to imagine and create, we made commemorative things from the primal stuff of the earth - stone, clay, wood, metal - transforming these raw materials provided by nature into images, temples, totems, utilitarian vessels, and statues. Through the ‘radiating energy’ of these materials - the magic, if you will – we sought to remember our avatars, our spirit guides, as declaring their presence, perhaps even dwelling in our midst, and always commanding our attentions.
It is abundantly evident in the sculptures we see here, made over the course of more than 50 years, that Gary Spinosa has been inexorably drawn to let those same primal materials continue speaking, emanating many of the same essences that inspired the ancients. You could call him a modern-day shaman, baptizing clay with fire, recalling those seasons and places in human history when an artist was held as a conjurer of both mysteries and truths.
That said, Spinosa is neither an idol maker nor a builder of temples and tombs for dead kings. His eloquent renderings of humans, animals, and otherworldly combinations thereof, aren’t enthronements of implacable pagan deities demanding our abject worship, blood sacrifices, or burned offerings. They aren’t threatening sentinels so much as they seem on the verge of imparting wisdom. And even at their most austere or solemn, their visages exude a welcoming spirit in an air of contemplative, benevolent quietude.
So yes, there is intrigue and mystique here. And in equal measure there is an instantaneous familiarity about Spinosa’s works – a kinship to, or illustrative suggestion of archaeology from various cultures throughout history, yet without being directly representational of any specific societies, religions, or belief systems. In all of their beautifully detailed execution and their tactile monumentality, these objects are far more than simply hybridized reminders of ancient structures, rituals, or artifacts. Think of them collectively as the transcendent archaeology of the human soul. Stories live here. Spinosa’s and ours. In symbolically sourcing civilizations from across time and planet, this astoundingly prolific artist has – in extraordinary mythopoetic fashion - articulated the eternal narrative of…us. It is indeed the story of our ceaseless endeavors to pursue and apprehend the source and reason for our existence.
I recently read a passage in G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy which I think is particularly resonant with appreciating the high caliber of art shown here, and more importantly, why the making and viewing of great art such as this is a necessary and proper response to being alive. Chesterton was assessing the spiritual state of his world at the dawn of the 20th century when he wrote, “…We are all under the same mental calamity; we have all forgotten our names. We have all forgotten what we really are. All that we call common sense and rationality and practicality and positivism only means that, for certain dead levels of our life, we forget that we have forgotten. All that we call spirit and art and ecstasy only means that for one awful instant, we remember that we forget.”
In the end, after investing sufficient time – an adequate duration of ‘awful instants’ - to examine Spinosa’s wondrous creations, you may well find an unexpected portal to possibility, or a connective relic, as it were, of something heretofore undiscovered or forgotten. An entryway to epiphany. Think of this art as an invitation to embrace why and what you are in the continuum of humanity.
In that sense alone this exhibit is, in its entirety… an avatar.
PHOTOS, from top: Tower; Wall Shrine; Tockolosh; Life Force of the Fields; Container of Knowledge II; Divine Transport