Monday, December 3, 2018

Seizing the Fugitive Moment

"Open Door" by Sue Collier


"Woman in the Hallway" by Sue Collier

"Couple on a Bench" by Sue Collier

"Couple on a Swing" by Sue Collier

"Odyssey" by Sarah Schuster

"Shallow Waters" by Sarah Schuster

"The Lovliest of What I Left Behind" by Sarah Schuster

"Below the Surface" by Sarah Schuster
Seizing the Fugitive Moment

By Tom Wachunas

“To see we must forget the name of the thing we are looking at.”
- Claude Monet

EXHIBIT: RECENT WORK by Sue Collier and Sarah Schuster, at The Lemmon Gallery, located inside the Kent Stark Fine Arts Building, 6000 Frank Avenue, North Canton, Ohio / THROUGH Dec. 7, 2018 / Gallery viewing hours are Monday – Thursday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Friday 11 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  



   Mea maxima culpa. With just four days remaining to see this superb exhibit, I can only offer yet another abject apology for such a late posting. It is nonetheless very worth your time to plan a visit before 5 p.m. on December 7. 

   Most of Sue Collier’s oil paintings in this exhibit were painted en plain air – on site, outdoors. A few others are scenes of interiors. With all of them, I had the sensation of being present in an intensely personal moment - hers and mine. At times I felt like I was standing right next to her as she labored to grasp something fleeting, to make the ephemeral somehow permanent and solid. Her memories of, or encounters with, her subjects, whether foliate or figurative, became my now.

   There’s a tangible vitality and intimacy to all her images. They aren’t polished and static, but rather dynamic. The images pulse and breathe, appearing to actually move through the picture plane with a visceral, all-at-once immediacy. The brush strokes have a heartbeat. Suffused as they are with the sensual tactility of generously applied paint, there’s the uncanny sense that it’s not Collier’s eyes alone that are doing the seeing. Her act of looking is a concordance, a concert of responses to perceived relationships. Eyes, hand, and brush are caught up in a beautiful, seemingly still-evolving dialogue - an intuitive harmony of staccato and lusciously protracted markings. Most of the works are imbued with singularly enchanting tonalities of light, as if spontaneously, even urgently painted before something changes, or departs altogether.

    While Collier’s expressive, ornate abstractions maintain substantial connections to the recognizable, natural world, most of Sarah Schuster’s entries here are comparatively non-objective and enigmatic in nature. That said, they’re a collectively intriguing complement to Collier’s specificity. And they’re no less compelling or real in their palpable sensation (especially in her very large-scale canvases) of motion either imminent or indefinitely suspended. Her palette is bold to the point of being electric, giving the works a wildly decorative and celebratory spirit.

   What’s being celebrated? Spatial ambiguity, evanescence, explosive transience. The anti-gravitational architecture of uncertainty. Patterns and organic forms are in flux, floating on tenuous grounds both liquid and atmospheric. In one series of smaller paintings, color fields comprised of accumulated wispy lines and specks of paint reach a central crescendo, clustered into a gorgeous, flickering luminescence. 
  
    In the really big paintings, those hair-thin lines have become tangles of thicker squiggles and swoops, looping back and forth as if they were a map of  meandering roads that lead to nowhere in particular. After all, the moment of looking is its own destination. Carpe diem.    

Monday, November 26, 2018

From Gershwin Swagger to Sublime Swan Lake


 From Gershwin Swagger to Sublime Swan Lake



By Tom Wachunas

   “Music of the People” was the theme of the November 18 Canton Symphony Orchestra (CSO) program, with works by George Gershwin and Pytor Tchaikovsky. As stated in the press release for the concert, “..the two composers… wrote music to touch the souls of the people of their respective countries.”

   What could be more “of the people” these days than national politics? Commenting on the evening’s opening selection - Gershwin’s overture to his 1931 satirical Broadway musical, Of Thee I Sing – a mischievously grinning Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann explained that he intentionally pre-scheduled the work to be performed on the heels of this country’s recent,  highly contentious midterm elections.

   Gershwin regarded Of Thee I Sing not so much as a traditional musical as a topical operetta. It was a grand lampooning of Depression-era political shenanigans, incompetency, and the democratic process itself. The absurd story centered on the presidential campaign, election, and comically troubled administration of a character named John P. Wintergreen.

   The majority of Broadway musical overtures prior to this one were generally medleys of the show’s most memorable tunes. But for this production, which was the first musical to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1932, Gershwin composed an overture relatively more “classical” in nature and what could fairly be called a finely developed fantasia for orchestra. There are echoes of his 1928 An American in Paris as well as a foretaste of piquant moments from his 1935 masterpiece, Porgy and Bess. In embracing the work’s audacious spirit, the CSO delivered a delightfully bright romp, replete with crackling percussion accents and lavish, swaying orchestral harmonies. 

   The next piece on the program was even more adventurous - Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F. The work is an intricate orchestral pastiche brimming with multiple themes and disparate moods infused with lush romanticism along with the pulsing swagger of urban jazz. As a central percussive and melodic element, the performance by guest soloist Spencer Meyer was commanding and vivacious from beginning to end. Especially during the Adagio movement, in playful dialogue with the electrifying ensemble, he articulated all of Gershwin’s bluesy savoir faire with captivating finesse. One of the most colorful sentences in that dialogue was the muted trumpet solo from Justin Kohan. His deliciously sensual, bent notes conjured a somewhat naughty image of drunken wandering along empty streets after a late night in the jazz clubs.  

   At several points during the performance of the evening’s final selection, Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake Suite, I marveled yet again at how the CSO can keep doing what it does with such consistent unity of purpose and power. What exactly is the ineffable chemistry that can make this orchestra become greater than the sum of its parts to produce a sound so sumptuous and completely immersive? Does it not begin with the conductor connecting with the soul of the music? In assessing the role of the conductor, Charles Munch, Music Director of the Boston Symphony from 1949 to 1962, once noted, “The conductor must breathe life into the score. It is you and you alone who must expose it to the understanding, reveal the hidden jewel to the sun at the most flattering angles.”

  Throughout much the performance, Maestro Zimmermann had the look of a man mesmerized, smitten by the sheer beauty of the music. His commitment to this monument of ballet led him to expand the suite - traditionally an arrangement of between six and eight of the ballet’s most popular scenes - with several additional excerpts, including the magnificent finale in its entirety. Zimmermann’s unique arrangement significantly augmented the sublime emotional agency of Tchaikovsky’s dramatic vision.

   A memorably crystalline, dreamlike moment came in “Dance of the Swans” from Act II, wonderfully rendered by CSO violinist Christian Zimmerman, harpist Nancy Peterson, and cellist Brian Klickman. But this was just one of many similarly astonishing passages that grace this work. Through it all, it was indeed an impassioned conductor and equally smitten ensemble who shed dazzling light on this most magical of Tchaikovsky gems.    

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

At the Site of Seeing


At the Site of Seeing / photos by Aimee Lambes

l. to r. - Abraham Adams, Natalie Sander Kern, Brian Newberg

Natalie Sander Kern as Molly Sweeney

Abraham Adams as Frank Sweeney

Brian Newberg as Mr. Rice


By Tom Wachunas

“…they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding,…”  - Mark 4:12

"Learning to see is not like learning a new language. It's like learning language for the first time."  - Denis Diderot

   What assumptions do we make about someone’s well-being or world- view? What perceptions inform those assumptions? Do they justify our judgments on the circumstances of that person’s life? How do those judgements motivate our actions toward that person? Living, and loving, can be complicated, mysterious, and hurtful.

   With his 1994 play, Molly Sweeney, Irish playwright Brian Friel gave us a deeply probative and eloquent examination of these considerations. It’s an utterly intriguing parable, generously laden with humor and pathos, about the vexing gap between seeing and understanding. The play visits an ideological crash site at the daunting crossroads of philosophy, psychology, science, and spirituality - all colliding with life-altering force.

   Three fascinating characters speak to the audience directly through intertwined monologues that address their divergent perspectives on the same story. Here’s the tale, directed by Craig Joseph, of 41 year-old Molly Sweeney (Natalie Sander Kern), blind since early infancy; her well-meaning dreamer of a husband, Frank (Abraham Adams); and Mr. Rice (Brian Newberg), a once famous opthamologist, now driven out of seclusion by his whiskey-soaked obsession to restore Molly’s sight.

   There’s something exquisitely appropriate about Craig Joseph’s choice of venue for this production – the 50-seat Dietz Theater in Akron’s Weathervane Playhouse. The performance space itself could be taken as a metaphor for how sighted people might assume that for a blind person, living must indeed be a sad condition - boxed in, it would seem, by blackness. The intimate darkness of the room gives way to an uncanny if not ironic effect of magnifying and illuminating even the smallest of emotive gestures and facial expressions articulated by the actors who are, in a word, astonishing.

   A thrilling element throughout the evening, thanks to dialect coach Chuck Richie, is the actors’ command of their enchanting Irish accents, particularly from Kern and Adams. It’s much less present in Newberg’s speech, though still authentic when considering that the Irish-born character of Mr. Rice spent years forging a career while living in America (before his marriage fell apart), thus becoming more Yankee-ized, as the character of Frank so eagerly reminds us at several points.

   Through a large portion of the play comprised of flashbacks on the characters’ lives, Natalie Sander Kern renders the character of Molly with a palpably luminous countenance. Kern makes Molly Sweeney an effervescent embodiment of charisma, a positively contagious presence, and anything but morose – that is, at least until the cathartic eye operation. Her consistently riveting gaze isn’t the vacant look of someone groping about the world tentatively (she doesn’t use a cane), but rather someone whose eyes sparkle with the shimmer of pure, wonderful apprehension. In one of the play’s richest passages, she speaks of a favorite life activity – being immersed in the sea, swimming. Her voice bubbles with joy, tinged with sorrow for sighted folk, when she recalls, “…Just offering yourself to the experience—every pore open and eager for that world of pure sensation, of sensation alone—sensation that could not be enhanced by sight—experience that existed only by touch and feel; and moving swiftly and rhythmically through that enfolding world; and the sense of such assurance, such concordance with it.” Molly doesn’t see her blindness, so to speak, as a tragic abnormality to be pitied or remedied.

   Equally captivating and intense are the performances by Abraham Adams and Brian Newberg in their roles of Frank and Mr. Rice, respectively.  Adams is a dizzying amalgam of boyish bravado, self-doubt, tenderness, mournful frustration, and righteous anger as he recalls his big-hearted but quixotic career pursuits. They include his hilarious story about making cheese from Iranian goats afflicted with chronic jetlag. And though all his support for the successful outcome of Molly’s surgery is genuinely ebullient, he doesn’t much like Mr. Rice.

   No wonder, perhaps. Maybe he sees too much of his own flawed motivations in the alcoholic doctor. In that role, Brian Newberg gives us a punctilious philosopher who quite effectively draws us into the angst-riddled disaster that his life had become, and the desperate hope to restore his internationally acclaimed reputation by performing a miracle on Molly.

   Molly’s partially restored vision initially leaves her in a short-lived period of giddy hope. But amid Frank and Mr. Rice’s incessant pressures to educate her in correctly connecting to what she can see, it dawns on Molly, and us, that to the men in her life, she’s become an agenda, a project, not a person. No miracle at all, the cure has forced her out of the ecstatic sensory completeness she once knew, becoming instead an infection that progressively thrusts her into a state of heartbreaking withdrawal and confusion.

   This work of truly great theatre may well leave you longing for the same assurance and concordance with the experience of being alive that Molly savored when swimming. In the end, more than a little heartbroken yourself, you’ll simply want to hug her.

   Molly Sweeney, in The Dietz Theater at Weathervane Playhouse, 1301 Weathervane Lane, Akron, Ohio / Friday, November 16 & Saturday November, 17 at 8 PM, Sunday November 18 at 2 PM / produced and presented by Seat of the Pants Productions and presented through special arrangement with Dramatists Play Service, Inc. / tickets $20 - available ONLINE at  



Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Elaborated Lives


Elaborated Lives

Photos courtesy Jonathan Tisevich

Sarah Marie Young

Brandon Michael and Joy Ellis


By Tom Wachunas

…Too many choices tear us apart / I don't want to live like that / Too many choices tear us apart / I don't want to love like that / I just want to touch your heart / May this confession be the start

- lyrics from “Elaborate Lives” by Tim Rice, from AIDA
  
  In the beginning of the Players Guild production of Aida, the Tony Award-winning musical by Elton John and Tim Rice, several people are strolling about the beautiful set designed by Joshua Erichsen in a convincing evocation of visiting an ancient Egypt exhibit in a museum. Emerging from a display niche, a statue of Amneris (Sarah Marie Young), daughter of a Pharoah, comes to life and intones the song, “Every Story is a Love Story.” It’s a richly sung summary of what will soon unfold, wherein we hear the solemn reminder, “…This is the story of a love that flourished in a time of hate.”

   In this highly moving chronicle of forbidden love, divided loyalties, and treachery in an era of tyranny and war, we meet Aida (Joy Ellis), a Nubian princess stolen from her country and enslaved in Egypt. There she struggles mightily to reconcile her growing love for Radames (Brandon Michael) – a imposing Egyptian soldier already betrothed (for nine years!) to Amneris – with the pressing burden of remaining a faithful leader to her own beleaguered people.  

   As he has done for so many past productions, director Jonathan Tisevich has assembled a wondrously gifted group of performers. Amid the ethereal lighting designed by Scott Sutton, the sonic magic from the live, 11-piece orchestra conducted by Steve Parsons, and further energized by Michael Lawrence Akers’ exotic, often sensual choreography, this 27-member cast effectively morphs the smallness of the Guild’s arena theater into a place of epic dimensionality.

    Tisevich has always been a thoughtful minister to his performers’ agency for articulating emotional and psychological authenticity in their characters. And nowhere does that agency have more depth than in the portrayals of Aida, Radames, and Amneris.

  In expressing, indeed exclaiming, all of Aida’s tortured heart and crisis of conscience, Joy Ellis is a thoroughly riveting presence. Her singing is a mesmerizing force in itself – plaintive and wounded when she sings the bitterly ironic “Easy as Life”; alternately fierce, plaintive, and tender elsewhere. Among of the evening’s most touching and powerful passages are her duets with Radames, such as “Enchantment Passing Through,” and the soaring “Elaborate Lives.” 
  
   It’s fascinating to watch Brandon Michael, a wholly compelling singer in his own right, as he navigates the changing tides in the heart of Ramades. The conquering soldier is conquered by Aida’s nobility and courage. He falls inexorably in love with a slave, though not without a price.  

   Speaking of changing hearts, an equally fascinating catharsis transpires as you watch Sarah Marie Young’s stunning portrayal of Amneris. Through half  of the story she’s a feckless, self-possessed, swaggering imp with an inflated sense of entitlement. In the hilarious “My Strongest Suit,” she and her women-in-waiting strut about the palace like so many fashionistas sporting ridiculously bizarre outfits and headwear (marvelous costumes by Stephen Ostertag). But as Ramades grows more distant and cold, the reality of her plight becomes all too clear. Now humbled and resolute, she pours out her woundedness, her surrender, in one of the show’s most heartrending songs, “I Know the Truth.”

   The evening flows fairly consistently with other memorable characters and interludes. David Everett plays Zoser, the stern and sinister father of Ramades, and who is slowly poisoning the Pharoah (Corey Paulus). Jeremy Clarke plays Mereb, a clever and tender-hearted Nubian servant who knows his way around the royal bureaucracy. He sings with palpable urgency in “How I Know You.” Aida pleaded with him to not reveal her true identity to the rest of the Nubians, but doesn’t keep her secret for very long. Destiny was calling.

   An electrifying choral high point comes at the end of Act I with “The Gods Love Nubia” – a thunderous cry for release from suffering, sung by Aida, her friend Nehebka (played by Sunayna Smith), and the Nubian captives. That anthemic single moment, replete with gravitas and grace, with its stratospheric harmonies gripping and soulful, embodied the entire spirit of this production. Call it a prayer of longing, love, and hope, and hauntingly relevant to our own time and circumstances. 
    
AIDA, in the Canton Players Guild W.G. Fry Theater, 1001 Market Ave., N. Canton, Ohio /  THROUGH NOVEMBER 18, 2018 / Shows Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday 2 p.m. / additional performance at 8 p.m. on Nov. 18 /Single tickets $32, 17 an younger $25, Seniors $29 / www.playersguidtheatre.com / Box Office at 330.453.7617

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Alchemy Lives in The Canton Symphony Orchestra


Alchemy Lives in The Canton Symphony Orchestra

By Tom Wachunas

Alchemy: (from Miriam-Webster Dictionary)
1 : a medieval chemical science and speculative philosophy aiming to achieve the transmutation of the base metals into gold, the discovery of a universal cure for disease, and the discovery of a means of indefinitely prolonging life
2 : a power or process that changes or transforms something in a mysterious or impressive way
3 : an inexplicable or mysterious transmuting

   After hearing the very eclectic program offered by the Canton Symphony Orchestra at Umstattdt Performing Arts Hall on October 27, I was finally convinced of something I had suspected on numerous previous occasions: Every member of this ensemble, including Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann, is an alchemist. What else could explain the transmutation of the instruments they play and the scores they read into vessels of such profound spirituality? Alchemy.  

   This uncanny phenomenon was wondrously evident in the evening’s first selection, Cantos in Memory of Benjamin Britten, composed for string orchestra by Arvo Pärt in 1977 as a memorial to the leading British composer of the mid-20th century who died in 1976. Pärt was greatly moved by what he called the “unusual purity” of Britten’s music.

    This work is so stunning in its hypnotic simplicity that the players themselves seemed mesmerized as they articulated an utterly ethereal reality. At the beginning, a solitary tubular bell rang out three times, followed by the whispered entry of very high violins that introduced the haunting melodic idea. Like a rolling mist, that single motif descended progressively into lower registers from violins to violas, then to cellos, then to the basses, and all against the ceaseless tolling of the bell. Most intriguing is how gradually through time the tempo slowed while the volume of sound increased to a roar until, at its loudest point, it suddenly stopped. We were left with just the sound of one more bell softly ringing and fading away into breathtaking, mystical quiet. It was silence with a pulse - an achingly poignant arrival at reverential, even tearful introspection.

   That was the calm before the stormy opening of the next work on the program, Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia Da Requiem, composed in 1940. Britten, an avowed pacifist, was commissioned by the Japanese government (at that time engaged in war with China) to write a work commemorating 2,600 years of Japan’s ruling Mikado dynasty. Perhaps the Japanese didn’t fully comprehend the implications of the work when they initially approved the title. After it was played through during a rehearsal in Tokyo, the score was rejected. The angry Japanese foreign ministry found the work’s Christian liturgical references disturbing and otherwise culturally inappropriate. The work has no references to the Japanese dynastic anniversary, and the titles of its three movements have no liturgical specificity as such, but rather speak to the intense emotional trajectory of the work – Britten’s feelings about war.

   It is a trajectory replete with alternately thunderous, writhing, and lush melodies voiced in layers by every section of the orchestra, all executed here with electrifying aplomb. The first movement, “Lacrymosa,” began with the startling ferocity of timpani blows, sounding like cannon fire, followed by a slow lament from the brooding cellos. The frenzied second movement, “Dies Irae,” ranks among Britten’s greatest feats of orchestral writing. With remarkable fervor, the orchestra conjured the full outbreak of war, symbolized by piercing flutes, snarling rapid-fire triplet figures from the trumpets, and explosive syncopations from the brass. In the third movement, “Requiem Aeternam,” all that grim tumult was left behind to impart a spirit of peace that concluded with a sustained, consoling note from the clarinet.

   For the next two program selections, the world-class artistry of the CSO was all the more augmented by guest soloist Mark Kosower, principal cellist of The Cleveland Orchestra. His performance here of Victor Herbert’s Cello Concert No.2 was a transcendent musical magnet, riveting in how it gripped and drew us progressively deeper into the work’s dramatic mood shifts. From the plaintive opening melody of the first movement, seeming to leap from the churning textures crisply described by the ensemble, then into the wistful, heartrending melodic journey of the second movement, and throughout the lyrical aggressiveness of the final movement with all its daunting passages of rapid sixteenth notes, Kosower’s mellow tonality was a constant, clearly sensual presence, and always in perfect aural balance with the ensemble.

   The soloist’s virtuosity was equally compelling throughout Dvořák’s Rondo for Cello and Orchestra. Kosower is an artist whose prowess rests not only in his dazzling, unfaltering technical precision, but more importantly, in giving palpable form to unmitigated passion. He transforms the cello into a sublimely emotive force.

   Speaking of emotive forces, the evening ended with a titillating rendition of George Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody No.1, composed in 1901. Rhapsodic indeed, this vivacious medley of Romanian- flavored folk songs and dances was delivered with infectious abandon. While medieval alchemists failed in their attempts to concoct a universal potion to cure all disease, the CSO alchemists were eminently successful in brewing up a delicious elixir of pure jubilation.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Poetic Journeys Home

"Brown House" by Shari Wilkins


"Winifred's House" by Shari Wilkins

"Ivy House" by Shari Wilikins


"4499R" by Laura Ruth Bidwell

"6564U" by Laura Ruth Bidwell




By Tom Wachunas

   “… Reality has always been interpreted through layers of manipulation, abstraction, and intervention… Every photograph has many truths and none. Photographs are ambiguous, no matter how seemingly scientific they appear to be. They are always subject to an uncontrollable context…”  - Taryn Simon

   “You come to the photograph as an aesthetic object with no context... Then you step in and read the text and then out again to revisit the image in a completely different way. I'm interested in that space between text and image. The piece becomes the negative space between the two.”   - Taryn Simon

   EXHIBIT: Art as Journal: Laura Ruth Bidwell and Shari Wilkins / THROUGH NOVEMBER 4, 2018, at STUDIO M in the Massillon Museum / 121 Lincoln Way East in downtown Massillon / Tuesday through Saturday 9:30am - 5:00pm, Sunday 2:00pm - 5:00pm / Phone: 330-833-4061 /


  Please note: I apologize for being so late with this post on the fascinating inaugural exhibit at Massillon Museum’s beautiful new STUDIO M Gallery. Last day for viewing this show is Sunday, November 4.

   Of all the myriad forms that a work of art can be, now more than ever photography remains the most challenging if not problematic to me. What makes a photograph a work of art? What distinguishes it from the plethora of photographic images that seemingly assault our daily lives? What separates it, for example, from all those terribly ordinary snapshots stuffed into social media? One unfortunate by-product of the photosaturated culture we’ve created for ourselves is the sheer ease with which we can sate our gluttonous appetites for the mundane. Fast-food for the eyes.

  Ansel Adams’ dictum comes to mind: “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” The notion of a photograph being an intentionally creative act on the part of the photographer is a prickly proposition, arguably implying that reckoning a photograph as art is simply a matter of determining how effectively its visual components adhere to certain aesthetic principles of formalistic excellence. But it’s rarely that simple.

   I included the above quotes from contemporary multimedia artist Taryn Simon because I think they offer an avenue to appreciating the photojournalistic or documentary character of the pictures in this exhibit. As discrete two-dimensional images, their essentially quotidian subjects are captured in a straight-on fashion, which is to say they’re unembellished by any really fancy special effects. But as Simon reminds us, embracing context is key. To that I would add the vital importance of presentation. So read the artist’s statements posted on the wall to better grasp their motivations and meanings. Therein you learn this about Laura Ruth Bidwell’s “The Great Tangle” series:

   “When we moved from Peninsula to Cleveland, the one thing I truly grieved for was the great abundance of forest and tangles surrounding our property and in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Once I started walking around my urban neighborhood with camera in hand I could see how much lush foliage and tangles existed among the houses and buildings around me. This show has given me the opportunity to pair up what I call The Great Tangles from my rural and urban lives.”

And of her works here, the “Promised Land” series, Shari Wilkins has written: "Shot primarily on miniature instant film, this project portrays images of homes built in my father's hometown of Cairo, Illinois… It is a mythological place in my family's collective memory… After a twenty year absence, I visited Cairo and was struck by the abandoned town that I visited often as a child. I set out to find my grandmother's home as my first step in documenting some of the remaining homes, some abandoned, some not…”

   The fronts of every house in Wilkins’ miniature pictures are seen from enough of a distance so that no matter how close you come to the actual picture, the details remain slightly blurred and fuzzy, though still clear enough to show varying degrees of decrepitude or abandonment. Especially interesting is how the photos are uniformly presented, all seeming to float under glass on wide-margined matts framed with very plain (pine?) wood. Like so many preserved museum specimens of extinct life, or fossils, the pictures have become objects - reliquaries of urban entropy. There’s something distinctly poetic in how they exude a saddening narrative about the historic diminishment and shrunken dimensionality of a once promising place. It’s a story certainly not unique to Cairo, Illinois.

   Though not so overtly mournful in scope, the narrative contained in Laura Ruth Bidwell’s photos is no less engaging than Wilkins’, and equally well-presented. In the journey of leaving her home in a richly sylvan environment to live in a more urban setting, Bidwell tells us how her missing the natural richness surrounding her former home was relieved by finding ample enough evidence of the same around her new one. Consequently her unframed photos, most of them capturing various densities of lush foliate textures, shapes and colors, and each uniformly mounted on a white birch panel, are presented in pairs, suggesting a before-and- after scenario. Interestingly, though, the pictures have no titles. They’re coded only with strange numbers, so we don’t know which home is which. Her memory of the first beloved locale has become intermingled and ‘tangled’ with her connection to  the second. Whatever anxieties Bidwell may have initially experienced in her moving from one place to another, her handsome photos represent the discovery of a comforting kinship between the two.  

  Returning for a moment to the idea of photographs as fast food for the eyes: If a more gourmet cuisine, as it were, is what you seek, be thankful for real art galleries. In this case, the featured entrees at Studio M are particularly savory.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

In a New York State of Mind, Part 2

Sauntering, by Randi Reiss-McCormack


Bush with Sky, by Robert Solomon

RED HERRING, by Gerri Rachins

Domain, by Thomas Berding

A Darlington Square, by Anthony Cuneo

Recollection No. 94 (Los Angeles)
In a New York State of Mind (Part 2)

By Tom Wachunas

   "Quite simply, I was in love with New York. I do not mean 'love' in any colloquial way, I mean that I was in love with the city, the way you love the first person who ever touches you and you never love anyone quite that way again.” — Joan Didion

   EXHIBIT: Mutual Aid – a group exhibition at The Lemmon Gallery, Located inside the Kent Stark Fine Arts Building, 6000 Frank Avenue, North Canton, Ohio / THROUGH OCTOBER 26, 2018 / Gallery viewing hours are Monday – Thursday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m, and Friday 11 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  RECEPTION on Thursday Oct. 18, 5 – 7 p.m. /  Contact: Professor Jack McWhorter,
jmcwhort@kent.edu   / Office: 330 244-3356


   Since resettling in Stark County in 1992 with a vague hope of connecting with a thriving contemporary painting and gallery milieu, I still often miss breathing in the crackling atmosphere of painters regularly engaged in bold experimentation, and experiencing the scope and depth of their probative visions that made my life in New York for 14 years so inspiring and enlivening.  In these parts, while there is certainly a noteworthy contingent of such adventurous painters, they’re a relative minority. A majority of local artists exhibit a comparatively constricted aesthetic identity, with a propensity for the pretty, the already tried and true, the tepid and the quiet,…stuff safely ensconced in the more predictable, quotidian conventionalities of traditional artmaking.

   With this visitation from city that never sleeps, Mutual Aid is another gratifying example of how the gallery exhibitions at Kent Stark are so consistently compelling in drawing a bead on the rich and sprawling vista of contemporary art beyond our immediate region. If you’ve not yet read the background / thematic statement for this show, posted here on October 3 (Part 1), I think it important you do so. Here’s a link:


    Also, another key to appreciating the artists’ motivations here can be found by reading their statements in the exhibition’s excellent digital catalogue, so here’s that link:


   In appreciating the thematic parameters for this show as laid out in the exhibition statement, I found one application of the ‘mutual aid’ concept to be particularly resonant when appreciating the sheer diversity of the artists’ approaches. It’s the idea that mutual aid “…is an acknowledgement that paintings create a relationship between two things or situations that suggest ‘multi-directional conversations.’”

   Think of conversation here as a call-and-response dynamic. Painters can be great conversationalists, which is to say they’re initiators of, as well as respondents to not only ideas, feelings, chosen models, or memories, but also the process itself of manipulating paint. A mark, a brushstroke, a shape, or a color can activate, or ‘call’ another into being, and another, and another, and so forth. The painting itself becomes a codified map or journal of protracted thinking, actions, and reactions through time. The entire exhibit is a wholly engaging dialectic on the often complicated relationships between intuition and intention, conscious design and chance occurrence, harmony and dissonance, mimesis and deconstruction.

   Here’s just some of the many works I found especially arresting: The frenetic flirtation with intricacy and chaos in Randi Reiss-McCormack’s Sauntering; the runic simplicity and indeterminate space of Robert Solomon’s Bush with Sky; the enigmatic playfulness of Gerri Rachins’ RED HERRING; the sumptuous textures and motion in Thomas Berding’s Domain; the ghosts under the geometry in Anthony Cuneo’s A Darlington Square; the reductive, monolithic flatness of that looming black shape in Barbara Marks’  Reflection No. 94 (Los Angeles). What is that thing anyway? A tree? An alien vessel landing? A tornado touching down? Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Canton anymore.

   Levity aside, it’s in that challenging place of not always knowing precisely what we’re looking at - of allowing for the intrigue of unanswered (or unanswerable) questions - where much of the allure of this show is to be found. There’s meaning in the mysteries if we can grasp that paintings, and the processes of making them, are essentially metaphors for not just the celebration of the familiar and the understood, but for navigating all manner of existential conditions, including life’s most vexing conundrums.

   So if a painter can let a painting emerge and simply be on its own terms,  we as viewers, in the spirit of mutual aid, can often return the favor by not overthinking it. Then maybe Descartes’ classic philosophical tenet of Cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am) could give way to the much more scintillating Miror, ergo vivo -  I wonder, therefore I live.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

An Electrifying Bernstein Tribute from the Canton Symphony Orchestra


An Electrifying Bernstein Tribute from the Canton Symphony Orchestra

By Tom Wachunas

    I was all of ten years old when I read Leonard Bernstein’s The Joy of Music for the first time. It was a cathartic experience, igniting in me a profoundly passionate appreciation of classical music. That inspiring book also fueled my regular viewing of Bernstein’s beloved Young Peoples Concerts on television for the next several years.

    A particularly memorable highlight in one of those concerts was watching the composer conduct excerpts from his own Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. I was bitten by the Bernstein bug, benevolently infected by all those mad rhythms coming at me like so many punches amid a torrent of luscious orchestral colors. Now, more than 50 years later, that watershed moment of musical enthrallment returned a hundredfold on October 6 during the Canton Symphony Orchestra’s (CSO) electrifying observance of the centenary of Leonard Bernstein.

   The evening commenced with his rarely performed Trouble in Tahiti, a one-act, two-character opera which Bernstein completed in 1951 while on his honeymoon with Chilean actress Felicia Cohn Montealegre. The timing was quite ironic if only because on one level the work is a cynical commentary on marriage. Additionally, Bernstein was acutely sensitive to America’s post-war euphoria in an increasingly affluent middle-class looking for an idyllic life in suburbia. His libretto for Trouble in Tahiti is a biting critique of materialism and a dour questioning of the American Dream itself.

    Bernstein’s score is an ingenious melding of contrasting jazz and pop idioms of the day, rendered here by a pared-down ensemble that played nonetheless in a very large way, crisply embracing the story’s emotional and psychological tensions. It is the story, superbly directed here by Craig Joseph, of one day in the life of Sam, played by baritone Dan Boye, and Dinah, played by mezzo soprano Ellie Jarrett Shattles - a disillusioned, constantly arguing husband and wife. Beneath their veneer of carefree consumerism lies a bitter yearning to reclaim marital intimacy. Boye’s throaty vocals were well suited to his character’s chilling haughtiness tempered with moments of vulnerability. Shattles was riveting as the sassy, nagging wife given to episodes of tender self-examination and confession.  In one scene, as she was alone watching a South Sea romance film called “Trouble in Tahiti,” she brought down the house with a hilarious aria that was both a tirade against the film’s silliness and a longing to escape into its magic. Meanwhile, a constant presence was the crackling jazz trio of Hilerie Klein Rensi, Scott Esposito, and George Milosh. Crooning in tight harmonies, and often sounding like goofy radio jingles about blissful family living, they were the equivalent of a mischievous Greek chorus relentlessly intoning sardonic comments.  

   The second half of the evening began with the full ensemble performing composer Eric Benjamin’s To LB: A Thank You Note. CSO Music Director Gerhardt Zimmermann has commissioned several works from Benjamin in the past – each noteworthy, to be sure – but I found this one to be the most beautiful to date. It’s an intensely personal and savory homage, inspired by Benjamin’s time spent with Bernstein in a master class at Tanglewood in 1989. Especially gratifying is how Benjamin has given us a moving remembrance of Bernstein’s spirit – the arc of his musical attitude, his religiosity – without falling into gratuitous stylistic imitation. Much of the music possesses an arresting sense of jaunty optimism and ever-emerging, triumphal adventure that at one point gives way to a sweetly contemplative melody, initiated by the piano, and blooming into a lushly romantic interlude before the breathtaking crescendo of the finale. 

   Benjamin’s marvelous piece was certainly a well-placed lead-in to the last work on the program, Bernstein’s groundbreaking Symphonic Dances from Westside Story.  These collide-o-scopic dances comprise a veritable rollercoaster of gripping rhythms, textures, and moods – at once raw and refined, punchy and poetic, and by the end, achingly poignant. The orchestra’s performance was yet another spellbinding exposition of what makes the CSO such a compelling musical entity – a treasure-trove of rapturous aural power and clarity consistently balanced with genuinely alluring lyrical grace. 
  
   In this work, and for that matter throughout the entire evening, Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann conducted with genuinely emotive authority. It was not an authority born of any autonomous bravado, but one clearly rooted in an understanding of what Bernstein once wrote about conducting: “Perhaps the chief requirement of [the conductor] is that he be humble before the composer; that he never interpose himself between the music and the audience; that all his efforts, however strenuous or glamorous, be made in the service of the composer's meaning - the music itself, which, after all, is the whole reason for the conductor's existence.”

   Following the ebullient standing ovation for Symphonic Dances, Zimmermann, with a conspiratorial smile, asked the house, “How about one more?” whereupon he and his magnificent ensemble lit up the place again by launching another dazzling musical rocket in the form of Bernstein’s Overture to Candide. 

   As the enchanted audience exited Umstattd Performing Arts Hall, the air was palpably buzzing with folks exclaiming their delight and happily humming the infectious melodies they’d just heard. We had been summarily transported to…somewhere. That’s the joy of music.

   By the way, here's a link to another review - wonderfully written - of the same concert:

http://seenandheard-international.com/2018/10/a-small-city-ensemble-produces-big-city-allure/ 

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Saturday Mourning News






 Saturday Mourning News

By Tom Wachunas 

   I was really saddened to receive an email this morning announcing the closing of Ikon Images – The Illustration Gallery, at 221 Fifth Street NW. The Canton downtown arts district will be significantly diminished by this loss of a uniquely elegant exhibition venue and the consistently superb art it brought to Canton viewers. Here’s what Ikon owner, Rhonda Seaman, wrote:

   It is with much regret I must announce the closing of IKON IMAGES | The Illustration Gallery in the Canton Arts district. The last 3 and 1/2 years of working with artists, patrons, and the greater art community across the nation and beyond has been a joy and a wonderful experience, I shall soon not forget. But unfortunately, as most business owners are painfully aware, revenue must exceed costs or life becomes difficult at best.

     So after much consideration it has been determined to close up shop.

FINAL  gallery hours are as follows:

Today Saturday-      Oct. 6th 10am-4pm
Wednesday-             Oct. 10th 12-6pm
Thursday-                 Oct. 11th 12-6pm
Friday-                      Oct. 12th 12-6pm
Saturday-                 Oct. 13th 10-4pm

Or by appt. 330-904-1377

Our final day of operation will be Sat. Oct. 13th at 4pm.

I hope you'll always remember "Work is the bread of life, but Art... is the wine of life"

My best to you and happy collecting,
Rhonda Seaman :)

   So THANK YOU, Rhonda, and all the artists who joined your remarkable vision and dedication to engaging and entertaining Canton for the past 3 ½ years.  I include here several web links for anyone wishing to join me in a spirit of celebration and fond remembrance. The first is to the inaugural 2015 article by Dan Kane in the Canton Repository. The others are to reviews I had the privilege to write here on ARTWACH. Happy Trails.







Wednesday, October 3, 2018

In a New York State of Mind (Part I)


In a New York State of Mind (Part I)

   EXHIBIT: Mutual Aid – a group exhibition at The Lemmon Gallery, Located inside the Kent Stark Fine Arts Building, 6000 Frank Avenue, North Canton, Ohio / THROUGH OCTOBER 26, 2018 /  Gallery viewing hours are Monday – Thursday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m, and Friday 11 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  RECEPTION on Thursday Oct. 18, 5 – 7 p.m. /  Contact: Professor Jack McWhorter, jmcwhort@kent.edu  / Office: 330 244-3356

    I’m doing something that for me is unprecedented as a blogger and turning this post over to words from another artist. What follows is a wonderfully articulate exhibition statement from Jack McWhorter, a highly accomplished painter himself, and Professor of Painting and Coordinator of the Kent Stark Art Department. He, along with painters Patricia Spergel and Katharine Dufault, curated this exhibit. My own take on the show will be coming in the very near future. Meanwhile, Jack’s statement merits careful attention to fully appreciate the remarkably wide, deep, and spectacular scope of these works from members of the Painting Center in New York City.





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By Jack McWhorter

   The William J. and Pearl F. Lemmon Gallery is pleased to present Mutual Aid, a group exhibition of paintings by members of The Painting Center, NY. Eighteen artists were invited to exhibit up to three works that make reference to the exhibition theme: “mutual aid”. In organization theory, “mutual aid” is a voluntary reciprocal exchange of resources and services. For example, American Abstract Artists, Rubber City Prints and The Painting Center were all founded by artists to organize exhibitions of their individual works and to foster public appreciation and a forum for further discussion and investigation of matters of communal interest. In computing, we create hyperlinks to link web pages or hypertext documents. “Mutual aid” as a sharing, pattern-forming process is basic in animal life; think migration of birds and animals…”mutual aid” to hold small groups together.

   In studio practice, reciprocally generative relationships between mediums of drawing, collage, photography, painting, and printmaking are widely acknowledged and celebrated. In this instance, mutual aid is not so much a theme as it is an acknowledgement that paintings create a relationship between two things or situations that suggest “multi-directional conversations.”

   Each exhibiting artist embodies concrete ideas about mutual connections in their individual studio practice that reflect various organizing principles. For example: How does one work connect two or more things in visual problem solving? How do visual continuities between one work relate to another over time? What relationships are explored between memory, photographs, prints, collages and sketches? What is the relationship between model and artist?

   Mutual Aid encompasses work across various painting mediums including oil, acrylic, flashe, encaustic, alkyd-modified oil and black tourmaline crystals. Painting subjects come from the built environment, connections to nature, the figure, observations from multiple angles to comprehend complex structures, memories, and formal processes.

   The Painting Center is a non-profit organization dedicated to the exploration of painting in all its possibilities. It does not champion one school or tradition, but welcomes and encourages diverse viewpoints regardless of their market appeal. The Painting Center is a gathering place for painters and those who love painting. It is a democratic arena that fosters dialogue, experimentation, and community among artists.