Thursday, July 19, 2018

Pop Goes the Easel

Pop Goes the Easel

By Tom Wachunas

      “You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” 
        - Robin Williams

   EXHIBIT: Before the Streetlights Come On – Work by Kat Francis and Steve Ehret, to July 27, 2018, Tuesday and Thursday 2:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at The Hub Art Factory, 336 6th Street NW, downtown Canton / 330–451-6823 /

   Once again, I apologize for this late entry, as this exhibit at The Hub Art Factory is quickly approaching the end of its run. But I’ve been, uhm… really busy of late.

   Anyway, after reading Dan Kane’s July 5 Repository piece on artist couple Kat Francis and Steve Ehret (click on the link above), I thought for a while how it might be interesting to be a fly on a wall in their home after they’ve each been making something. Do they have regularly-scheduled joint critique sessions on their latest projects? Is their exchange thick with arcane artspeak or deep philosophizing about compositional dynamics and iconographic content?

   Maybe, maybe not. In any case, this delightfully eye-popping exhibit offers plenty of evidence that they inspire and influence each other. The oeuvre of one comfortably complements the other while remaining individually true to a discrete graphic methodology, mode of presentation, and personal aesthetic identity. Here is a memorable gathering of distinct yet compatible signature styles.  

   Looking at the exhibit can be a little like eavesdropping on the couple’s  observances of people and occurrences in their urban neighborhood.  Imagine the titles of their pieces as being snippets of conversation, or shared remembrances, some fond, some edgy. “When Tony was four he got hit by a pigeon while his head was sticking out the passenger side window”; “Our neighbor Rick is a creep”; “Dancing in a rainy day parking lot”; “Earl loved Mr. Ed growing up so much he almost turned into him”; “My neighbor Jay”; “You know that one guy who’s always sitting in his driveway watching cars drive by?”; “Ill communication”; “The one green patch”.

   The organically-shaped, low relief configurations by Kat Francis – acrylic and graphite on wood cut-outs – have an adventurous, storybook feel, often emanating a tender and thoughtful spirit. The acrylic paintings on panels by Steve Ehret, on the other hand, might be a storybook as well, though one of a relatively more bold if not lurid sort. His renderings of heads and faces can seem like caricatures of caricatures, as if picking up where funky underground counterculture comix from the late-1960s to mid-1970’s left off. His technique is deftly tight and fluid all at once. Call it a controlled abandon -  freakishly colorful and, like this entire show, unabashedly fun.

   PHOTOS, from top: 1. Night Crawlers by Steve Ehret / 2. Keep the bubbly coming, by Steve Ehret / 3. Baby Squirrel Brigade, by Kat and Steve / 4.  Dancing in a rainy day parking lot, by Kat Francis / 5. Ill communication, by Kat Francis / 6. My neighbor Jay, by Kat Francis / 7. Photo of Kat and Steve by Karen Reynolds

Thursday, July 12, 2018

A Piquant Sojourn

A Piquant Sojourn

By Tom Wachunas

   “A picture is a secret about a secret, the more it tells you the less you know.” ― Diane Arbus 

   “All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.”  ― Susan Sontag

   EXHIBIT: Afterwards - New Photos by Aimee Lambes / curated by Craig Joseph, at The Joseph Saxton Gallery of Photography, 520 Cleveland Ave NW, in downtown Canton / THROUGH SEPTEMBER 1, 2018


   The remarkable photographs made by Aimee Lambes while in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland are not the kind of contrived, touristy scenarios you’d find in a promotional travel brochure. Nor are they likely to lure you into adding the specific locales that are depicted here to your bucket list of must-see vacation spots.

   These particular places feel old, far-flung, not especially verdant, and a bit lonely. Residents might ward off decrepitude with a coat of bright yellow or turquoise paint on the weather-beaten facades of their ramshackle houses and sheds. Otherwise it’s a raw place, with unattended docks and boats piled with the tangled accessories of rough maritime livelihoods. In short, it feels simply too strange to visit, and you wouldn’t want to live here.

   Then again, I could be mistaken…different strokes…whatever floats your lobster trap… all that stuff. That said, Lambes’ pictures are compelling – perhaps even oddly charming - in a number of ways, not the least of which being in how they pose more questions than people. In fact, there isn’t a soul to be found anywhere in these scenes – not one in the guise of a human body, anyway. Where is everyone? Is it nap time on a Sunday afternoon? Has everybody gone fishing? Are all the people here photophobic? Are they on vacation in more amiable, exotic environs?  Has there been a mass exodus, apocalyptic or otherwise? 

   This is not to say that the photos themselves don’t have soulful presence. There’s real eloquence in these visions - a poetical attitude, a lyrical perspective. On a purely formal level, Lambes has a finely honed skill for engaging us with intriguing rhythmic contrasts of colors, shapes, patterns, and textures that can seem to sing or dance across the picture plane. If these images were songs, they’d be bittersweet ballads. 

   Beyond such arresting compositional elements, however, is something more subtle and ineffable – a quality or character that you either sense when you see it or you don’t. If it’s there, it will show itself, but only after honest, intentional seeing.  

   Look slowly. Take a walk on the quiet side. I’ve always thought that photography (and for that matter, any art form regardless of the medium or apparent content) is at its most impactfull when it points to something outside its immediate materiality. Even better, when it makes us feel something of or for the artist’s life. Lambes has written of these photographs that they’re a record of the last road trip she took with her son before he went off to college. That mood of isolation and abandonment prevalent in so many of her photos is, then, a mirror of her own struggles to come to terms with the inevitability of distance, separation, longing. It’s that bittersweet ballad again. We can hear it with our eyes.
   It’s also interesting if not downright mystifying that Aimee Lambes calls herself “an introverted misanthrope.” Methinks she protests too much. She’s released her pictures, beautiful to be sure, into our embrace, indeed our lives. That’s not the act of a misanthrope, but of a generous soul.

   PHOTOS, in order from top down: 1. Lenny Hanlon / 2. Bay of Fundy / 3. Yellow House / 4. Dinghies / 5. St. John / 6. Lobster Traps / 7. Lobster Floats

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Foretelling the Past, PART II

Foretelling the Past, Part II

By Tom Wachunas

    “All paintings start out of a mood, out of a relationship with things or people, out of a complete visual impression. To call this expression abstract seems to me often to confuse the issue. Abstract means literally to draw from or separate. In this sense every artist is abstract . . . a realistic or non-objective approach makes no difference. The result is what counts.”  - Richard Diebenkorn

UPCOMING EXHIBIT – SAVE THE DATE PLEASE !! – Altared States, a solo exhibit of my work at The Little Art Gallery, on view July 19 – August 19, 2018 / located in the North Canton Public Library, 185 North Main Street, North Canton, Ohio / Opening reception on Thursday, July 19, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

   Poet W.H.Auden once said, “We were put on this earth to make things.” Make of that what you will. As for me, today I made a fire.

   I burned six failed experiments from around 10 years ago. They were to me wholly forgettable artworks, mute distractions gathering cobwebs in the cellar, ugly things, really. Not that everything else I’ve saved over the years is in some way beautiful, certainly, but these particular aberrations merited immediate extinction. A necessary purging. I can’t remember what I was attempting to do or say when I made them. So I decided to spare any fellow humans the discomfort of looking at them, or the unenviable and otherwise lugubrious task of answering me if I were to pursue the old wha–da-ya think? gambit. Careful what you wish for, eh?

   That said, there are several much older pieces – specifically from my years in New York – that I thought still worthy of being seen in my upcoming exhibit. They’re chapters in a pictorial autobiography, or abstract analogs to the people, places, and events in my then everyday living. What startled me most when I re-discovered these small paintings was the vast difference in aura, or spirit, not to mention paint handling, between the gouache studies (pictured above, from top down: Open Invitation, In the Pink, Detour ) and the acrylic paintings on un-stretched scraps of linen (Apathy, What I Did To Her, and Omen), which were among the very last pieces I made before leaving New York at the close of 1991.

   The gouaches were made between 1981 and 1982, much of their imagery inspired by honeymoon camping in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. There’s optimism, a sense of promise, maybe even an air of mystery, but usually nothing too ominous. Even that red snake in the road of Detour seemed more whimsical than threatening to me. 

   But by 1990-91, my life had become a hopelessly tangled mess. Apathy is a self-portrait of a divorced, homeless drunk. What I Did To Her is also a portrait - a jarring meditation on the wreckage I caused in the life of the woman I married in 1981. Art as a form of confession.

   In retrospect, I see the auratic darkness of those end-of-New York paintings as harbingers of an equally if not more rueful period to follow. The 1990s were years as devoid of sane thinking as they were saturated with cheap vodka. In any case, I made no art again until 2000. 

   I neither regret my past, nor wish to completely shut the door on it. After all, it’s what got me here. Now. And at the moment, there’s no place I’d rather be. 

   There will be ample evidence of my Ohio output in Altared States, including several brand new pieces, which I’ll be addressing more at length here after the show opens. For now, suffice it to say that the Ohio stuff is also of a confessional nature. But these Ohio “altarations” are not the doleful rants of a broken soul. They are in fact declarations of an ongoing catharsis, a series of discoveries and transformations. Stay tuned.

   Now that the opening of the exhibit is only a few weeks off, I’m not ashamed to tell you that I’m thoroughly in the thrall of giddy anticipation, very much like the proverbial anxious kid on Christmas Eve. I can hardly wait to get your gift of…looking.