Saturday, July 22, 2017

Presents from India

Presents from India
कुम्भ मेला 

By Tom Wachunas

   “Presence is what allows us to live a life Enlightened…when we think of the most beautiful moments in our lives we have to ask ourselves what is common thread amongst them all? What we find is Presence.”  - from the artist statement of Jeffrey Scott Boardley

   EXHIBIT: ENLIGHTENMENT REVEALED - A Photographic Journey With Presence – Photographs by Jeffrey Scott Boardley / at Cyrus Custom Framing and Art Gallery / 2645 Cleveland Avenue NW, Canton, Ohio / THROUGH AUGUST 18, 2017 / HOURS: Monday - Friday 10am ish - 6pm, Saturday 11am - 3pm, Closed first Saturday of the month, Closed on Sundays / 330.452.9787

   First, some contextual background. Here’s part of what’s on the invitation card for this exhibit: “This exhibit features photos taken at the largest peaceful gathering ever known to human kind, Maha Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, India, which took place January/February 2013. On one day alone, 40+ million pilgrims bathed in the sacred river Ganges and Jeffrey was one of them. Witness these rare moments captured over 6 weeks, where so many gathered to share in presence with the hope of healing, bliss and spiritual awakening.”

   Hindu mythology speaks of how Lord Vishnu (the second god of a Hindu trinity – Brahma the creator, Vishnu the maintainer, Shiva the destroyer) poured drops of immortality, carried in an urn or pitcher, on four locations along the Ganges River. “Kumbh Mela” – literally, “Festival of Urn” – has become a traditional commemoration that transpires every 12 years on a rotating basis at each of those locations, with Maha (Great) Kumbh Mela occurring once every 144 years. If you’re wanting to learn more, here’s a useful link:

    Confession time. While viewing Boardley’s 38 stunning, evocative photographs - and reading the thoughtful, educational and often poetic captions that accompany each of them - I was caught up in contemplations that were at once conflicted yet somehow comforting and enlightening enough, even as an overarching question still remained: What am I, an avowed disciple of Jesus Christ (not news to any of you who have regularly read these missives of mine over the past several years), to make of Hinduism as an ideology and religious practice?

   Worth considering, of course, is the compelling lyricism of Boardley’s images – vibrant scenes of impassioned humans caught up in their own contemplations, a distinct aura (oh! those colors!) of communal renewal  surrounding them in their lavish ritual. Looking at this photographic art, I was in fact witness to, if only vicariously, their “…hope of healing, bliss and spiritual awakening.”  I thought about how such hope has always been and continues to be (or potentially so) a Divine agent of truth and cathartic harmony among all humans. Hope. Call it God’s universal calling card and open door policy. His eternal presence is an invitation. It is his present – his gift - to us.

   Here’s where things get interesting and very personal, if not a bit ironic. I have always believed that the act of “practiced looking” at art which we determine to be beautiful, as Boardley’s pictures certainly are, can be a spiritually transcendent experience. The apparent subject matter of the art ultimately gives way to something much larger and immersive than itself – something that performs a baptism of sorts. 

   And so in the end, I was looking at something not immediately apparent at all, and perhaps not intended by the artist in the images as such. It was something I would not call conspicuous in its absence so much as hidden in plain view. It seems to me that the act of pilgrimage is itself a metaphor, a physical manifestation or symbol of the spiritual journey undertaken by all of us, regardless of cultural specifics. To engage pilgrimage is to arrive at the source of our very existence, to be in the presence of God and all of its concomitant blessings…its presents. Looking at these pictures had the wholly (holy?) unexpected outcome of causing me to reflect on my destination and its creator – Christ, the author of my being, my faith. 

   My purpose here, however, is not to assume the role of Christian apologist, or to impugn Hindu culture, or categorically deny the sincerity and reality of Hindu spirituality. It is only to tell you that my looking had excited a perception, generated an unveiling, and induced in me an intensely prayerful state, along with a profound sense of real gratitude.

   My gratitude? Thank you, Jeffrey Scott Boardley for introducing me to those millions of devout seekers from 2013, and by extension all who will come after. Namaste – I bow to the divine in you and all of them. My prayer?  That all pilgrims ultimately find their salvation and joy complete in the one, true Lord of all lords.

   PHOTOS, from top: Mystical Awakening / Jai Ma Divine Mother / Namaste / Colors of Enlightenment / We Sing / Faith / Krishna Krishna Play Me Your Flute

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Leveling Canton's cultural field?

By Tom Wachunas

   “…The most positive aspect of “culture”—the idea of personal, humane enrichment—now seems especially remote. In its place, the idea of culture as unconscious groupthink is ascendent.”  - Joshua Rothman

   Location, location, location. 

   On August 4, the fifth public artwork in ArtsinStark’s much-ballyhooed “The ELEVEN” project will be officially “unveiled” (though it’s been entirely visible throughout its making over the past few months) during the Pro Football Hall of Fame (HOF) Enshrinement Festival.  Popular mural artist Dirk Rozich was awarded the $40,000 commission to memorialize Joe Namath’s famous guarantee that he and his fellow underdog New York Jets would win Super Bowl III in 1968. For more background, here’s a link to ArtsinStark’s web site. Before proceeding any further into my comments, consider clicking on this link and reading the info as a kind of pre-game show:

   As a work of art, the heraldic configuration of Rozich’s superbly painted mural exudes a certain spectacular majesty. Poised to throw the football, a focused and determined Joe Namath steps out of the escutcheon-shaped frame (looking like a coat of arms), into our field of vision, and stands over his bold prediction emblazoned in white letters on a blue ribbon, “I guarantee it.” 

   Even bolder (dismayingly so, as some folks have already expressed to me in the past several weeks), was ArtsinStark’s decision to locate this work on the huge, south-facing brick wall of the Cultural Center for the Arts  at 1001 Market Avenue North, which houses the Canton Museum of Art, Canton Ballet, Players Guild Theatre, and VOCI. 

   I confess to being initially dismayed myself (though now I’m merely conflicted). Haaarrrumph. The audacity!! To co-opt our beloved Cultural Center for the Arts – our local temple of high aesthetic pursuits – by attaching such an unabashed glorification of something as common, ordinary, and…low as the game of football is just… well, it’s just… In the end, it’s just… not surprising. 

   Culture, cultural, cultured. Or cluttered? 

   What does culture really mean today? What are our assumptions, expectations, predilections? Here are several things Merriam-Webster says about it:

a :  the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations 

b :  the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also :  the characteristic features of everyday existence (such as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time * popular culture * Southern culture
c :  the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization *  a corporate culture focused on the bottom line 

d :  the set of values, conventions, or social practices associated with a particular field, activity, or societal characteristic *  studying the effect of computers on print culture

   OK, so let’s say it’s now halftime in this admittedly long missive. The show I’ve planned is for you to once again click a link to a very timely and thought-provoking piece from 2014 by Joshua Rothman, writing for The New Yorker:

   It’s interesting to note that behind the football mural, on the other side of the brick wall, is the Players Guild Theatre mainstage. Knowing as much, are we to take this public art gesture as some sort of implied, “insider” message, a looming symbol of football (or for that matter, perhaps any sports activity) being a type of theatre, and therefore an art form in its own right? While I might be over-thinking this a bit (and without knowing the exact reasoning behind designating The Cultural Center for Athletics…er, uhm, the Arts… as the location for the mural), I know that many folks continue to make a moderately reasonable argument for some sports being types of art, or at least ‘artful,’ in that they’re consciously created spectacles adhering to certain rules of design, form, execution, and presentation.

   Some intriguing questions come to mind. Is the perfectly executed pass in a football game, the home run hit in a baseball game, or the tennis player’s ace, for example, to be considered as a “thing of beauty,” or noble, or personally enriching to behold in the same way as, say, the exquisitely chiseled marble hand of Mary in Michelangelo’s Pietà, the gripping painted drama of Picasso’s Guernica, or the transcendent emotionality of a Beethoven symphony? Is there any more need or desire in our society for nurturing a hierarchy of meaningful aesthetic forms and experiences? Should there be?

   Like it or not, the football mural is now a permanent fixture both on and of the Cultural Center for the Arts. That said, I think it’s much larger - and arguably more important - than the story it tells of one Miami sports event from 1968. It speaks volumes about the Canton zeitgeist, which is to say Canton’s communal identity, its sense of cultural purpose and priority, however mixed (or confused) it might be. I suspect that this particular work of public art – a marvelous painting, to be sure - will generate some intense reactions and dialogue as time goes on. 

In fact I guarantee it.   

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Looking at women...for a little while longer

Looking at women…for a little while longer

By Tom Wachunas / Canton Museum of Art

   Since my July 4 posting about The Wiles of a Woman exhibit currently on view at Ikon Images Gallery, it feels only right that I should remind you about the In Praise of Women exhibit still up at the Canton Museum of Art (CMA). But time is short, as the last day for viewing is July 23. It’s a marvelous gathering of works from the CMA Permanent collection, and once again, very substantial evidence of that collection’s remarkable variety and depth.

   So with no more from me, here’s the CMA Press Release (from June 9, 2017):  

   In Praise of Women: Works from the Permanent Collection focuses on the many women who are depicted in artwork from the Museum's collection, which is on view now through July 23, 2017. This original CMA curated exhibition features paintings, collages, prints, and more.

   Throughout history, women have been a key subject matter for artists. You'll see one such woman in Andy Warhol's Liz. Warhol was fascinated with Elizabeth Taylor. For him, she was much more than just an actress. She was the survivor of a near-fatal illness, and the ultimate combination of mortality, celebrity, and fame which so fascinated the artist.

   Will Barnet’s drawing of Emily Dickinson is an enigma of solidarity and strength. Barnet saw his wife standing alone on the porch of a summer house in Maine and he was inspired. It was dusk, the figure was silhouetted against the sea. His work over the past decade has dealt with the basic concepts of form, space, and solitary women. Although Dickinson lived in isolation, she challenged the definition of poetry at the time, creating her own version and becoming one of the greatest and most original poets of all time. Emily Dickinson is one of the many female figures depicted in this inspiring exhibition.

   In Praise of Women also includes works by Viola Frey, Francisco Zuniga, Joseph Wagner, Lester Johnson, Roy Lichtenstein, Werner Grohans, and many more.


Canton Museum of Art Hours: Hours – Monday: Closed; Tues - Thurs: 10am - 8pm; Fri - Sat: 10am - 5pm; Sun: 1 - 5pm

   The Canton Museum of Art is located in the Cultural Center for the Arts, 1001 Market Avenue North, Canton, Ohio 44702. Free onsite parking is available around the Museum. Call 330.453.7666 for information and directions or visit our website at 

   PHOTOS from top: Andy Warhol, Liz, Silkscreen / Lester Johnson, City Scene I, Lithograph / Joseph Raffael, Le Printemps II, watercolor / Phyllis Sloane, Cathy in Grey, Silkscreen / August F. Biehle, Bathers, Watercolor and guache /  Roy Lichtenstein, Crak, Lithograph

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Looking at women for a wile...

Looking at women for a wile…

By Tom Wachunas

   “Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.”  - Robert A. Heinlein 

 “Anyone who says he can see through women is missing a lot.”        - Groucho Marx 

  “I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves.” -Mary Shelley

   EXHIBIT: The Wiles of a Woman / THROUGH SEPTEMBER 15, 2017 /at IKON IMAGES – The Illustration Gallery, 221 5th Street NW, Canton, Ohio / Viewing Hours: WED. – SAT. 12pm – 6pm / 330-904-1377 

   The title of this exhibit speaks to a persistent notion threaded through human history: For better or for worse, in sickness and in health, women can be at once maddeningly inscrutable and irresistible…’til death do us part. For the Ikon Images Gallery web page announcement of this show, owner Rhonda Seaman included this teasing(?) tidbit of dialogue from Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs:

Grumpy: "Angel, ha! She's a female! And all females is poison! They're full of wicked wiles!"
Bashful: "What are wicked wiles?"
Grumpy: "I don't know, but I'm agin' 'em."

  Maybe Grumpy speaks for those who still blame Eve, and subsequently all her daughters in time, for The Fall. Adam, conversely, in an effort to process his resentment and deflect his guilt, would pass on to his male progeny a conflicted perception of women as both a species to be subjugated and controlled, and a vexing, beautiful mystery to be savored if not solved. But perhaps considerations of this nature are best left to theologians, philosophers, and psychologists to continue unpacking and articulating.

   Meanwhile, even a casual glance at figural art through the ages reveals ample evidence of how artists have been seemingly obsessed with rendering women in dichotomous ways. On the one hand, women have been made into the beguiling stuff of myth and magic – goddesses, sprites and fairies, gracious oracles and soothsayers, or forces of Nature benign and malevolent. On the other, they’ve been objectified for the male gaze as sensuous symbols of our libidinous natures, as well as idealized embodiments of love, beauty, inspiration, and yes, cunning. Angels and vamps, Muses and monsters - equally pleasurable and cloying, alluring and mystifying. 

   Speaking of cloying and monsters, I couldn’t get Willem de Kooning’s ground-breaking (and initially controversial) abstract “Woman” series (six paintings from 1950-53) out of my head while viewing the many refined oil paintings here. His methodology was an uncompromising surrender to the actual materiality of paint, and intuitive physical gesture, such that he effectively deconstructed the Venus legacy in painting once and for all, while ironically enough paying homage to it. “Beauty becomes petulant to me,” he said of these paintings, adding, “I like the grotesque. It’s more joyous.” For all of their grotesque (many called it vulgar in 1953) effrontery and their almost Paleolithic primitivism – their eviscerated surfaces and seemingly sculpted forms – they remain oddly eloquent in their exuberant testaments to what de Kooning called “the female painted through all the ages, all those idols.” 

   So this is indeed a show of considerably eloquent idols. While their eloquence is of a wholly different sort than that of de Kooning’s Abstract Expressionism, it is no less potent. For those of you enamored of the “fantasy illustration” or, as it has been more recently called, “imaginative realism” genres, these preciously executed images are poetic narratives that invite you to pleasantly while away your time, if you will, contemplating the many nuances of feminine mystique. 

   In my usual process of searching out introductory quotes for my blog commentaries, I came across these words, uttered by that infamous womanizer, Pablo Picasso, to his mistress of nine years, Françoise Gilot: “Women are machines for suffering,” and, “For me there are only two kinds of women, goddesses and doormats.”

   Seriously? Unlike the sensitive perspectives so exquisitely presented in this exhibit (and the so called ‘wiles of a woman’ aside), Picasso’s words constitute a particularly brutal and anguished view of woman-ness, and I’m ‘agin it.

   PHOTOS, from top:  We Are Made Of Stars, by Rob Rey / Guardian of the Desert, by Aaron Miller / Rapunzel by Aaron Miller / Lora, by David Leri / Fawn, by John Hinderliter / Guardian of the Eastern Door, by Winona Nelson / A Daughter of Salem, by Jim Pavlec