Monday, January 8, 2018

Euphoric Palimpsests

Euphoric Palimpsests  

By Tom Wachunas

   “…My paintings undertake a topoanalysis of spaces that have invited us to come out of ourselves. The paintings can be seen as contemporary impressions of the constructed world and its impact on or relationship with natural spaces, underscoring our persistent need to understand ourselves through space…”  - Jack McWhorter

   EXHIBIT: ENGRAVED FIELDS, recent paintings by Jack McWhorter / curated by Tom Wachunas / at the Canton Museum of Art, THROUGH MARCH 4, 2018 / 1001 Market Avenue North, Canton, Ohio 

   Palimpsest -  noun,  pa·limp·sest \ ˈpa-ləm(p)-ˌsest , pə-ˈlim(p)- sest  
1 : A manuscript or piece of writing material on which later writing has been superimposed on effaced earlier writing.
2 : Something having usually diverse layers or aspects apparent beneath the surface
3: Something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.

     My first encounter with the art of Jack McWhorter – Associate Professor of Painting and Art Department Coordinator, Kent State University at Stark -  was in 2010 at his Malone University solo exhibit of paintings, called “Forces Constant.” It was immediately clear to me then, and continues to be today, that he’s a painter’s painter - a masterful colorist who revels in the materiality of oil paint, the physicality of the brushed line or shape, the fluidity of intuitive, vigorous markmaking.

   Since that 2010 exhibit, I’ve been increasingly fascinated by the evolving trajectory of his aesthetic, and very grateful for the opportunity to curate this collection of 15 new works on view at the Canton Museum of Art. The exhibit is luscious evidence (like thick icing on a cake) of his ongoing pursuit of what he calls in his statement “a topoanalysis of spaces that have invited us to come out of ourselves.” In his 1958 book, The Poetics of Space, the French philosopher, Gaston Bachelard (1884-1962), defined topoanalysis as “the systematic psychological study of the sites of our intimate lives.” 

   McWhorter refers to this group of paintings as ‘engraved fields.’ The  reference is an apt one if you think of fields in the sense of being tactile expanses of forms occupying a structured space or environment, as well as regions of ideological or emotional activity. His fields, then, are both physical and conceptual arrangements, inscribed or otherwise articulated via layers of abstract calligraphy describing poetic singularities.

    Each layer of these painterly palimpsests represents a moment in time, either brief or protracted. There’s a remarkable feeling of constancy, at once fast and slow, between the painter’s hand and eye engaged in a give-and-take dialogue. One prompts a response from the other as compositional decisions are made and allowed to evolve and morph within ghostly structural grids that seem to simultaneously emerge and fade from view. 

   Give yourself permission to be drawn in. Take the time to be caught up in the sheer immediacy of the imagery. You just might get the uncanny sensation that the painted surfaces are still arriving, still moving, still coming into being. These…objects…breathe.

   Jack McWhorter has not set out to imitate or improve upon the look of nature. He doesn’t woo us with cosmetic, representational illusionism. Instead, his integrated systems of gestural and chromatic configurations are first and foremost true to themselves – ongoing revelations of what I recently heard him describe as his “personal archaeology.” While they might variably suggest things of private significance such as landscapes or architectures, or fascinating ontological phenomena in the realms of biology or chemistry, their meaning is far from exclusive. Think of them as metaphors for how we as viewers might navigate and process “…the sites of our intimate lives.” McWhorter’s personal archaeology in effect invites us to re-discover our own.
    Surely the most electrifying impact of these images rests in their compelling expressivity of color. Call it chromatic euphoria. McWhorter’s palette is so radiant, so exquisitely lambent, that it becomes an illuminating force – a memorable form in itself.

   Looking at these exuberant paintings is to encounter sights, indeed sites, wherein  the mysterious, the metaphorical, and the mundane are conflated into elegant coexistence. Welcome to the abstract sublime.

   PHOTOS, from top: 1. Ptolemy Diagram, 60” x 54” / 2. Ptolemy Diagram (detail) / 3. Path of Yellow Sand, 40” x 34” / 4.  Formation, 42.5” x 51” / 5. Engraved Field, 54” x 60” / 6. Signal Tree, 40” x 34” / 7. Sky Map, 48” x 40”

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