Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Dialects of Glossolalia?

 Dialects of Glossolalia?

Andrea Belag, "Cave" - oil on wood

Joanne Freeman, "Covers Cobalt" - etching

Deborah Freedman, "Oaks and Oleandrs #1" - acrylic on polyester

Joseph Haske, "Asterion #5" - acrylic on canvas

Mark Saltz, Untitled - oil, resin, pigment on linen

Marjorie VanDyke, "Ides #1" - oil on canvas

By Tom Wachunas

   “Abstract art is a fundamental distrust of the theory of reality concocted by the eyes.” – Robert Brault

   “One of the most striking of abstract art’s appearances is her nakedness, an art stripped bare.” – Robert Motherwell

   “Abstract literally means 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

EXHIBIT: Painters Prints / works by Andrea Belag, Deborah Freedman, Joanne Freeman, Joseph Haske, Mark Saltz, Marjorie VanDyke / at The Lemmon Gallery, located inside the Kent Stark Fine Arts Building, 6000 Frank Avenue, North Canton, Ohio / THROUGH APRIL 6, 2019 / Gallery viewing hours are Monday – Friday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Gallery Talk: April 4, 3:30 p.m. / Artist Reception: April 4, 5–7p.m.

   Aesthetics 101: Two-dimensional art is a language of myriad dialects, both learned and intuited. When we say that an artwork “speaks” to us, we affirm its capacity to take us into some quiet state of perception that resonates with our own experience of existence.  Mindful looking, or listening, if you will, requires slowness, and begins with a surrender, founded upon our intentionality, our willingness to be transported, perhaps even transformed.  What the artist makes becomes all the more compelling when it prompts us, the viewers, to look at our world in a deeper way.

   Now stretch your imagination to consider the possibility that this highly captivating exhibition of abstract prints and paintings by six accomplished New York City-based artists could be a variation of the phenomenon known as glossolalia (glôs-ō-lā- lēə). Here’s the Collins English Dictionary definition of the term: 1. ecstatic or apparently ecstatic utterance of usually unintelligible speechlike sounds, as in a religious assembly, viewed by some as a manifestation of deep religious experience / 2. gift of tongues.  

   Glossolalia, or speaking in tongues, is known in many cultures, most of them ancient. In Christianity, for example, it is regarded as a mystical language coming directly from God, and spontaneously voiced by entranced worshippers. A communing with the divine. To the uninitiated or insensitive, such utterances might well sound like gibberish.

   Similarly, it’s no secret that there are viewers who, in their passing rush to identify the meaning of what they see only with their eyes, consider abstract art, particularly of the non-objective sort, as the strictly proprietary language of artists engaged in iconoclastic nonsense. Those who hold such a dismissive view are probably looking too fast.

   This is certainly not to say that we should consider all artists as either the dispensers of mystical experiences or the sole recipients of cryptic messages from on high. It’s not entirely unreasonable, however, to regard artists such as those presented in this marvelously diversified fete of abstractions as somehow akin to shamans, or spirit-catchers. Think of them in a larger sense as curious gatherers of energies and essences. As all visual artists do, the individuals in this exhibit have made symbols, allegories, metaphors. These particular artists, however, have channeled their personal encounters with corporeal realities and personal memories into varying dialects that depart from conventional naturalism to arrive at intriguing if not transcendent distillations.

   Back to mindful looking for a moment. Yes, there is a substantial presence of rarefied quirkiness in this exhibit. So slow down. Let your intuition do the deciphering. Here’s where the ordinary and the predictable get wrecked. It’s viewer-friendly glossolalia.  

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Giggles and Grace from the Canton Symphony Orchestra

Giggles and Grace from the Canton Symphony Orchestra

By Tom Wachunas

   Imagine watching a very fine orchestra as it begins to perform the stirring final movement of a symphony. After only a few bars, the violinists abruptly stop playing and start to tune their instruments. Oh, the indignity! Nervous giggles ripple through the audience as the conductor, clearly mortified by such a cacophonous interruption, glares incredulously at his rude ensemble before continuing.

   Such a scenario was actually one of several intentional breaches of symphonic protocol that transpired during the first work on the March 2 program from the Canton Symphony Orchestra at Umstattd Hall. Franz Joseph Hayden’s  Symphony No. 60, Il Distrato (The Distracted, or The Addle-Minded), was an expansion of the incidental music that he originally composed in 1774 for a comedy  by Jean François Regnard about a man named Leandre, who was so absent-minded that he nearly forgot to attend his own wedding.

    Accordingly, Haydn penned a particularly quirky symphony in six movements, rather than the “normal” four, presented here in keeping with the overall theme of the evening, “Humor in Music.”  In mischievously breaking with his own standards of composition that would earn him the epithet, “Father of the Symphony,” Haydn convincingly transformed the orchestra into the persona of the blundering Leandre, creating a work  replete with goofy non-sequiturs and “wrong” music.  For example, the first movement is disrupted by the inclusion of a direct quote from a completely different symphony (No. 45, “The Farewell”). The lovely processional wedding tune in the second movement collides with the sounds of a passing marching band. Elsewhere there are jarring key changes, obtrusive fanfares, and snippets of seemingly random folk tunes. Other than Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann’s brief lapse into mock horror at the infamous tuning break in the final movement, he and his valiant ensemble navigated this impish farce with delightfully straight-faced, business-as-usual aplomb.

   And now for something completely different: The Carnival of the Animals, scored for two pianos and orchestra in 1886 by Camille Saint-Saëns, and subtitled “a grand zoological fantasy.” Zimmermann took a seat to the side of the orchestra in his role of narrator. Matthew Jenkins Jaroszewicz, CSO Assistant Conductor, directed this tantalizing tour of the animal kingdom from the podium with infectious zeal. The exhilarating narration, full of whimsical puns and tongue-twisting rhymes, was based on the the comical verses that Ogden Nash wrote in 1949 to accompany each of the work’s 14 movements.  Zimmermann inserted some hilarious improvisations of his own, including a much anticipated singing passage that was more a raucous chant than an actual song, though nonetheless endearing in its throaty chutzpah.

   Meanwhile, guest pianist Jeffrey Biegel and CSO pianist Dean Zhang significantly augmented the onomatopoeic brilliance of the music so magnificently articulated by the ensemble.  With enchanting keyboard magic, they deftly conjured everything from roaring lions, leaping kangaroos, and fish in glittering water, to galloping donkeys, fluttering birds, and even piano students practicing monotonous scale exercises.

  An old show business maxim admonishes, “Leave them laughing when they go.” So it was on this occasion with the final work on the program, Jacques Ibert’s wild, six-movement romp from 1929, Divertissement. The orchestra was clearly very eager to embark on this frenetic excursion into musical eclecticism that included some mild skewering of works by Jacques Offenbach and Johann Strauss Jr. It all ended with a zany evocation of a Keystone Kops chase scene, complete with Maestro Zimmermann frantically blowing a police whistle. And so yes, mission accomplished. We left laughing.

  Something else, however, lingered long after. Despite all of the evening’s boisterous, tweak-your-nose humor, I was left remembering, thankfully, the evening’s most quietly compelling performance – the second (Andante) movement of Dmitri Shostakovitch’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No.2, composed for his son, Maxim, in 1957.

   Before the intermission, pianist Jeffrey Biegel had regaled us with an utterly stunning rendition of the work, which is for the most part playful, untroubled, and certainly witty. Biegel’s virtuosity was breathtaking, his technique in executing the work’s lavish trills and muscular arpeggiations clear, concise, and thrilling throughout. But it’s the second movement – ironically, anything but humorous – that lifted me up into Biegel’s mesmerizing state of impassioned lyricism. In this protracted moment of emotive profundity, his playing was a warm, slow pouring out of rapturous grace.    

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

An Odyssey Penetrating the Primal

 An Odyssey Penetrating the Primal

The Optimist

Beluga Caviar

A Good Hand

Old Soles

Lyin' Eyes

Life on Mars

By Tom Wachunas

   "The act of drawing is intrinsic to all visual art disciplines, and to  express oneself through the basic mediums of paper and pencil or paint and canvas is to penetrate an interior, subconscious  existence - one that is uncharted, yet rich in creative discovery."
-Patricia Zinsmeister Parker /

    The Cave Paintings Suite / Old Soles Suite – works by Patricia Zinsmeister Parker / THROUGH MARCH 29, 2019 / ART AT THE SCHOOLHOUSE , 2026 Murray Hill Road, Cleveland, Ohio,  Suite 108 / 216-721-1507 / Viewing hours: Wednesday and Thursday 4pm -  7pm; Friday 4pm - 8pm; Saturday 12pm - 8pm; Sunday 1 - 5pm / Please call ahead to make sure gallery is open.

   I can’t think of a place more well-appointed for exhibiting the prolific wildness of Patricia Zinsmeister Parker than Art At The School House. What used to be an elementary school building in Cleveland’s Little Italy – Murray Hill School, built in 1907 and closed in 1978 – was renovated and re-purposed in the late 1980s, and some of the classrooms have since become art galleries.

   The vintage look and atmosphere of the building’s exterior and its internal rooms have been essentially preserved, and the spacious gallery displaying Parker’s mixed media paintings from the past few years provides an intriguingly apropos context for appreciating their visceral physicality and childlike swagger. Here, then, is a richly varied materiality enlivened by Parker’s intrepid and audacious spirit which can be alternately funny, mysterious, alluring, and elusive.
   On one long wall of the gallery are 29 small (12” x 12”) paintings on wood panels, some generously sprinkled with glitter or textured with colored splotches of carved joint compound. Collectively, these pieces from Parker’s “Cave Paintings” series have all the disarming abandon and charming snap-crackle-pop of a children’s art show. I certainly don’t mean this in any way to be disparaging or dismissive. Beneath all of Parker’s constant tides of iconographic eclecticism and stylistic eccentricities is an irresistible undertow. A primal force. It’s the same ineffable force that feeds the impulse in a child to literally draw out, or excavate, pure intuition. And it’s this same force that Parker boldly taps in making a deliberately imperfect art. It’s nevertheless a sublime art, celebrating refined un-refinement with often jarring rawness.
    While some of her Cave Paintings incorporate actual objects or found images, she doesn’t paint slick pictures of objective realities so much as she paints attitudes. Parker has constructed an intensely personal, codified language, if you will, describing her odyssey into the primal with more adjectives and adverbs than nouns. They may be enigmatic or whimsical symbols of remembered situations or conversations, but they’re not so cryptic that they altogether prohibit us from construing a narrative, or imagining our own dialogue with them.

   Dialogue of a kind is an active ingredient in the considerably larger canvases from her “Old Soles” series. She wields a wry and witty brush in these scuffed-up wanderings into ambiguous mindscapes, articulating a frenetic graffiti of the subconscious. Awkward, blotchy shapes and scratched words and phrases mingle together, floating within, or disappearing behind loosely painted fields of pale color. Scribbled figures step forward, then back into a mist. Life on Mars indeed. Are these nervous expeditions through unfamiliar terrains without a map?  Is this a psyche deciding whether to reveal itself or run away? 
    Insightful and inciteful, Patricia Zinsmeister Parker makes art that wags a sassy finger in your face and rattles your sense of “finished” aesthetic decorum. She’s a painter seriously engaged in mindful play, and in the process, not too unlike that gleefully recalcitrant kid who refuses to color inside the lines. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Rising From the Wreckage

(l. to r.) Dominic Iudiciani, Keitha Brown, Michael Burke

Devin Pfeiffer, Hallie Walker

(l. to r.) Dominic Iudiciani, Jonathan Tisevich, Keitha Brown

Keitha Brown

Hallie Walker
Rising From the Wreckage

By Tom Wachunas

“…Who's crazy? The one who's uncured, or maybe the one who's endured; the one who has treatments or the one who just lives with the pain …”  - lyrics by Brian Yorkey

   Could any of us ever experience hope without first floundering in despair? Or savor light without first tasting darkness? These vexing questions and their complex repercussions resonate throughout Next to Normal, the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical from 2010, with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, and music by Tom Kitt. In addressing them, this deeply engaging story about the damaging effects of a mother’s mental illness on her whole family goes far beyond any gentle tugging at your heartstrings. It relentlessly yanks and twists them into torturous knots.

   For this Players Guild production, Jonathan Tisevich set a very high bar for himself in his double-duty as director and actor. But he and his marvelously adroit cast members have successfully joined to become a dynamic entity. Together, they’re an astonishing family unit in their own right, telling their anguished tale with practically operatic force driven by a profound and riveting emotional intensity. They elevate Yorkey’s lyrics – which on paper might at times seem like so much cosmetic sentimentality – to a level of startling sincerity. In the process, this courageous ensemble becomes  empathy itself.   
   The tiered set designed by Joshua Erichsen, with its pixelated images of a house and faces on panels floating in the air, is a stark metaphor for the fractured and dysfunctional life that has crippled the Goodman family for 16 years. The ever-shifting moods and textures of that life are sharply reflected in the music, which is an edgy pastiche of idioms flavored with rock, countrified melancholy, and dreamy lyricism, and all superbly articulated by the small yet plush-sounding live orchestra conducted by Steve Parsons.

    Diana Goodman is a housewife diagnosed with severe bipolar disorder, and hopelessly imprisoned in a futile cycle of pain management protocols including an arsenal of drugs, psychoanalysis, and even electro-convulsion treatments. The merciless progression of her disease is presented in such a way that we don’t learn about the shattering event that first triggered it until after we’ve witnessed a number of scenes with her husband Dan (Jonathan Tisevich); daughter Natalie (Hallie Walker) and her boyfriend Henry (Devin Pfeiffer); son Gabe (Dominic Iudiciani); and Doctors Madden and Fine (Michael Burke).

   In the daunting central role of Diana, Keitha Brown is an uncanny embodiment of unmitigated dramatic power in the way she makes us vicarious participants in her brokenness. With exceptionally powerful singing, she draws us deep into her character’s ravaged psyche, her wounded heart, her ferocious groping for a reality that makes some sense. Yet, caught as she is in her numbing inward spiral of tears and terror, she’s not so far gone that she can’t see or dream of a reasonable way to reclaim her real self, as she reflects with tender and urgent yearning in the song, “I Miss the Mountains.”

   To her role of daughter Natalie, Hallie Walker brings a poignant credibility that’s equal parts sardonic and sad. There’s an understandably bittersweet yet visceral quality to her singing when she reveals Natalie’s feelings of invisibility, as if her life at home has been erased. Her heart has been hardened by too many years of neglect from her mother who has been in turn pathologically focused on her other child, Gabe. In that role, Dominic Iudiciani is intriguingly stealthy and lithe as he basks in his mother’s constant fawning, particularly when he sings “I’m Alive” with all the panache of a rock’n’roll star.

   Meanwhie, Natalie begins to find some solace in her slow-growing affection for her charismatic stoner classmate, Henry. Devin Pfeiffer conveys all of Henry’s amiable quirkiness with delightful aplomb.

   And then there are Diana’s two therapists. Both are played by Michael Burke, who deftly conveys their frustrating if not humorous cluelessness in identifying the precise nature of the affliction they’re trying to treat. 
    Jonathan Tisevich can be both breathtaking and downright excruciating to watch in his role of Diana’s beleaguered husband, Dan. In the face of Diana’s   terrible pain, he’s an eminently loyal man trying to be an anchor, a present haven of comfort and “normalcy” – whatever that means anymore. It’s a sublime depth of passion and searing expressivity that Tisevich brings to this production. As the husband and wife in this story appear to be inexorably fading away from each other, Dan’s desperate grasping at even the faintest glimmer of hope for recovery grows all the more. That’s the point of the show’s thunderous, ebullient closing number, simply called “Light” – the stuff that untangles our knotted heartstrings. 
   And what I most want to know is, where on earth, if on earth at all, did Tisevich go to get that singing voice of his? I’d like to visit there for a while, then come back and sing to you all about it.
All photos courtesy of Players Guild Theatre

NEXT TO NORMAL, at Canton’s Players Guild Theatre on the William G. Fry stage, 1001 Market Avenue N., Canton, through March 3rd / performances on Fridays & Saturdays @ 8:00 PM, Sundays @ 2:00 PM, as well as Thursday, February 28th at 8:00 PM.  Tickets are $32.00 for adults, $29.00 for seniors and $25.00 for those 17 and younger / purchase online at  or at the Players Guild Box Office, located in the Great Court of the Cultural Center for the Arts, 1001 Market Ave N. Tickets may also be purchased by phone: 330-453-7617.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Intriguiled and Mystiflighted

"Jade Cove Study I" (wax, hydrocal on plywood)

"Cyanophyta" (wax, hydrocal on plywood)

"Succulent with Red Color Field" (glass)

"Waste Line 9" (with Nathan Gorgen - acrylic, plywood, hydrocal)

"Waste Line 2" (with Nathan Gorgen - acrylic, wax, hydrocal, plywood)

"Queueing" detail

"Queueing" detail
Intriguiled and Mystiflighted

By Tom Wachunas

queue /kyo͞o/  (noun):  1.  a line or sequence of people or vehicles awaiting their turn to be attended to or to proceed. / 2. in computing, a list of data items, commands, etc., stored so as to be retrievable in a definite order, usually the order of insertion.

   EXHIBIT: Queuing -   a solo exhibition featuring works and site specific installation by Molly Burke / at The Lemmon Gallery, located inside the Kent Stark Fine Arts Building, 6000 Frank Avenue, North Canton, Ohio / THROUGH MARCH 2, 2019 / Gallery viewing hours are Monday – Friday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

    The title of this post is comprised of two neologisms, offered in the playful spirit of Lewis Carroll’s “portmanteau” words (from Through the Looking-Glass), wherein parts of multiple words are blended to form a new one. This  exhibit of works by Columbus-based Molly Burke left me, as Humpty Dumpty might have said to Alice, intriguiled and mystflighted – intrigued and beguiled, mystified and delighted, all at once.

   A casual stroll through the exhibit could possibly lead you to think you were looking at a group show of three or four different artists. It’s true that I often walk into many artists’ solo shows with an expectation of encountering works that have a certain unified rhyme and reason about them, or some sort of consistency in visual vocabulary and syntax - an apparent “style” in one medium. But expectations can undermine our willingness to look deeper and be surprised. After all, where is it written that an artist must by definition be constrained to one method or iconography? 

   To better appreciate the diverse trajectories of materiality in Burke’s art, the statement on her web site is illuminating. There she tells us, “I observe details and the repetition that occurs in our environment.  My artwork focuses on magnifying these observations.  I am not specifically geared toward one media, although I am attracted to materials that have a certain amount of transparency, and change states from fluid to solid.”

   Transparency and solidified liquids. Glass, wax, and hydrocal (a type of plaster) are Burke’s raw materials, transformed into various series of objects. They’re comfortably-scaled enough to imagine cradling them in your hands, or running your fingers along their lusciously tactile surfaces. They suggest, as opposed to depict or illustrate, any number of things or phenomena  including, perhaps, fertilized ova, microorganisms, or clusters of succulent plant growths emerging from viscous pools of wavy fluid.

   Several pieces in the exhibit are collaborative projects between Burke and her husband, Nathan Gorgen. These fascinating, somewhat enigmatic works from their "Waste Line" series have the look of abstract puzzles in the process of being assembled with leftover materials from their respective creative practices – wax and hydrocal from her, wood and painted faux surfaces from him. A union of rescued remnants given new life.

   And then there’s Burke’s compelling installation from which the title of this exhibit is derived - “Queuing.” Within this gallery there is a rectangular island of sorts in the form of a very long, wide, four-walled column. Burke opted to hang no art on the walls of this structural element of the gallery space. But the sheer expanse of all that white emptiness serves quite effectively as a frame, drawing your eyes downward to the floor. There at your feet you can see the entire island surrounded by a group of white hydrocal forms cast from balloons. 

   Some are intact, some slightly cracked, others broken into pieces like shattered chinaware. Yet there they are, a population lined up on the floor at the base of that monolithic column, as if in a procession, or standing at attention. At one point there’s a gap in the line. On the wall above the gap there’s a shelf. On it are three of the balloon forms – one red, one white, one blue. They don’t sit on the shelf so much as delicately hover there, seemingly poised on a sliver of air. Metaphor for a fragile democracy? I imagined that if I blew on these cryptic balloons hard enough, they’d fall over.

   Then I imagined a perplexed Alice asking Humpty Dumpty, “What are these?!” The jolly egg - himself no stranger to being toppled - smiles a wry smile and says, “Why, they’re cryptaloons, of course.”

Friday, February 1, 2019

A Haunting Metamorphosen and Radiant Eroica from the Canton Symphony Orchestra

A Haunting Metamorphosen and Radiant Eroica from the Canton Symphony Orchestra

By Tom Wachunas

“Don't only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets; art deserves that, for it and knowledge can raise man to the Divine.”
- Ludwig van Beethoven

   With Beethoven as the primary focal point, the three works on the January 26 Canton Symphony Orchestra (CSO) MasterWorks program made for a beautiful and bittersweet journey through interconnected musical and dramatic ideas. The final destination was an altogether magnificent event - Beethoven’s ground-breaking third symphony, Eroica.

   This intriguing journey began with Beethoven’s finale to Die Geschöpfe Des Prometheus (The Creatures Of Prometheus), a two-act ballet choreographed by Salvatore Viganò, and first performed on March 28, 1801, at the Vienna Hofburg Theater. Though a few critics of the day complained that Beethoven’s music was so intellectually demanding that it overwhelmed the dancing, the public reception was more forgiving, and the ballet enjoyed reasonable success with 28 performances over the next two seasons.

   Viganò called the work a “heroic allegorical” drama which presented the mythological figure of Prometheus as a noble figure, driven to eradicate the ignorance of human beings. With the help of Apollo and the Muses, he leads two statues into experiencing human passions, gifting them with philosophy, knowledge of the arts, and morals.

   The form for Beethoven’s finale for the ballet was drawn from the Anglaise, a popular social dance at the time. The dominant musical idea resonates with prophetic significance. In it we hear a bass line and melodic theme that was clearly a lasting favorite for Beethoven. He would use it again in his set of 12 Contredances and in his Opus 35 piano variations (Eroica Variations), both written in 1802, and to a far greater extent in the finale of his third symphony, written 1803-1804. Here, the ensemble articulated all of the breezy, bright energy of the ballet finale with scintillating clarity.

   After this brief but cheerful moment of light, we were transported to considerably more challenging, darker realms. In introducing the next piece, Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen, composed in 1945, Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann offered astute and sensitive observations about the resonant themes that linked all three works on the program. In particular, he characterized the mournful solemnity of the Strauss work - strikingly similar to the musical ideas in Beethoven’s iconic funeral march in the second movement of Eroica - as an expression of unmitigated hopelessness. In the final measures of the work, Strauss directly quoted the Beethoven theme, and made a notation on the score, “In Memoriam!” While those words can certainly be regarded as grateful acknowledgement of Beethoven’s influence, it’s also fair to see them as implacable grief over the wartime collapse of an entire culture. When he heard that the Weimar and Munich opera houses had been destroyed, he wrote, “…it was the greatest catastrophe of my life; there is no possible consolation, and, at my age, no hope.” 

   Have you ever stood on an ocean shore long enough to be hypnotized by the waves coming in? Were you awed by the power of their constant slow swelling in the distance, their majestic cresting, and the whooshing sound of their falling close to you, over and over again, for what seemed like an eternity? In some ways, listening to the orchestra navigate this profoundly moving work was like that.

   The work was scored for 23 solo strings. On this occasion, all but the five cello players performed while standing – a haunting evocation of a funeral procession. Strauss’s music is an immersive masterpiece of intricate chromaticism and dense, complex textures, all intertwined and washing over us in seemingly relentless, alternating cycles of dramatic crescendos countered with passages of contemplative quiet. The ensemble’s reading was intensely reverential and cohesive, and yet another riveting demonstration of the virtuosic prowess and enthralling sonority of the CSO strings.

   That same remarkable depth of artistry was all the more multiplied and intensified throughout the entire orchestra in its radiant performance of Eroica. Now it felt to me as if all of this evening’s ideas, colors, and moods had congealed so completely that the orchestra under Zimmermann’s impassioned baton became a compelling embodiment of Beethoven himself, if such a thing were possible.

    I’m speaking of Beethoven the man, finding hope and joy even in the tragedy of his encroaching deafness and political tumult of his day; of Beethoven the Promethean visionary drawn to the idea of bringing enlightenment to humanity; of Beethoven the romantic revolutionary who changed the face of symphonic music. That an orchestra could so beautifully impart such considerations, as this one did, is a heroic act in itself.

Friday, January 25, 2019

From Beeswax, Poetry

Working Morning

Ghost Bridge

Airy Equation

Criss Cross

From Beeswax, Poetry

By Tom Wachunas

Encaustic \ in-ˈkȯ-stik (noun) : a paint made from pigment mixed with melted beeswax and resin and after application fixed by heat; also: the method involving the use of encaustic or a work produced by this method; from Latin encausticus, from Greek enkaustikos, from enkaiein to burn in, from en- + kaiein to burn

   “…I am drawn to the idea of encasing the subject, so it can be studied at a later date…Through the layering of wax, adding color and texture I aim to create an environment which allows the viewer to bring to it their own story and hopefully enjoyment of that journey and also with anticipation invite the viewer back over and over again to find different elements not noticed in the original viewing….”  - Dawn Tekler, from    

  EXHIBIT: Dawn Tekler: Mental Structures / In Studio M, at the Massillon Museum  through February 24, 2019 / 121 Lincoln Way East in downtown Massillon, Ohio / 330.833.4061 / 

On February 3, from 2-4pm, Dawn will be presenting an artist demonstration of her encaustic painting process.

   Cleveland-based Dawn Tekler has written that this series of encaustic paintings began during her morning commutes along Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River, prompting her vigorous attention to weather conditions, to the colors and textures of the atmosphere, and to the light reflected off the industrial landscape. She depicts unforgivingly flat terrains, with big, sweeping skies pierced by the earthy browns and rust tones of various buildings and towers, utility poles and power lines, or imposing trestle bridges.

   Most painters know that photo-documentation of their work has its limitations. They’ll tell you that even the most technically advanced cameras and photographers are often simply incapable of accurately capturing the whole truth of a painting. As you look at the photos of Dawn Tekler’s pieces that I’ve included here (courtesy of the artist) keep in mind that what you can’t readily discern are the paintings’ alluringly tactile character, which is as sumptuous as it is subtle. But don’t just take my word for it.

   Go to the gallery and feast your eyes. These works aren’t laden with the raised, curling edges of thick paint imprinted with brush trails that we often see in impasto technique. Instead, the picture planes are imbued with an ebb and flow energy that turns their waxy materiality into slow, smooth waves. So while you’re at it, go ahead and breach gallery etiquette. Be naughty, as if sneaking a taste of luscious icing on a cake. Run your fingers ever so gingerly along the paintings’ gently undulant surfaces. Sweet tooth indeed.

   Some of the pictures are emblazoned with the electric, translucent hues of spectacular sunrises – lavish bursts of luminous air, as in Working Morning. In others, such as Ghost Bridge, the distant structure we see has been reduced to a skeletal remnant, veiled and embedded in misty light.

   More ghostly and reductive still, Airy Equation is stunning in its sheer simplicity and quietude. Those wispy lines floating on and within the surface have a calligraphic elegance about them. Writings on the sky. With its muted glow of warm color peeking through that white air, the painting brings to mind a spirit present in varying degrees throughout the entire exhibit.

  Some of the structures rendered here might have once been remarkable feats of practical engineering, dominating our field of vision in a decidedly bold manner, such as in Criss Cross, or Environment. Curiously enough, they also exude fragility, lyricism, and something even mystical. Call them meditations on the vestigial and the ethereal. In that, they’re the probative stuff of poetry.       

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Their Kingdom Come

l. to r.: Sarah Dubinsky, Meshal Alsunaid, Tehilah Caviness, Logan Peters

Their Kingdom Come

By Tom Wachunas

“Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”
― C.S. Lewis, from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

   "The Narnian books are not as much allegory as supposal. Suppose there were a Narnian world and it, like ours, needed redemption. What kind of incarnation and Passion might Christ be supposed to undergo there?” – C.S. Lewis

   As of this writing, The Players Guild Theatre (PGT) production of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is sold out. Still, I’m moved to gratitude, and to my continuing celebration of how blessed we are to have the PGT in our midst.

   The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a fantasy novel written by C. S. Lewis in 1950, and generally regarded as the best known of seven novels comprising The Chronicles of Narnia (1950–1956). The story opens in World War II-era England and follows the adventures of the four Pevensie siblings after they stumble through the backside of a wardrobe closet and into a most unexpected place – the magical world of Narnia, populated by all manner of mythical talking animals. There, the children meet and aid the great lion named Aslan, who has returned to reclaim his kingdom from the evil White Witch and her cruel minions. After his victory, he departs for other realms and rewards the children for their trust and bravery by making them - whom he has called his Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve – heirs to his kingdom, the new Kings and Queens of Narnia.   

    Writing a really invigorating story, and then making really invigorating theatre from it, are both very much about surrendering, or stepping through a portal deeply embedded in the human soul. Call it what you will – imagination, intuition, or faith – it’s the portal of desire to see beyond the merely apparent and the willingness to go there. True artists, as well as children, are especially adept at reporting what happens upon crossing the threshold of that portal.

    Right from the start of this dramatization by Joseph Robinette, directed here by Jonathan Tisevich, it was eminently clear that the storytellers are indeed the children. As they flee from wartime air raids on a train ride to their rural refuge, they walk in a circle around the stage of the Guild’s arena theater, holding their suitcases above their heads, gently rocking them up and down to magically become rail cars rolling along country hillsides.

   So there’s nothing here of the glitzy special effects or breathtaking landscapes that dazzled us in the 2005 Disney film version. Instead, everything feels like it’s happening in, say, a dusty attic. Still, throughout this pared-down iteration of the story, the visual austerity of the set designed by Joshua Erichsen, together with the clever simplicity of the costumes by Stephen Ostertag, effectively conjure just enough alluring otherworldliness.

   Among the most thrilling aspects of this production is the riveting  authenticity which Sarah Dubinsky, Meshal Alsunaid, Tehilah Caviness, and Logan Peters bring to their respective roles of Lucy, Edmund, Susan, and Peter. These performers are youthful adults, to be sure. Yet for the lion’s share of the proceedings, so to speak, they’re so emotionally invested in their characters’ distinctive personalities that I thought at times I was observing actual children. They’re that credible and endearing. And in navigating the play’s deeper themes of fear, betrayal, forgiveness, and sacrifice, they seem to grow up before our very eyes.

  Equally endearing in their effusive and giddy energy are Michael Burke and Morgan Brown as Mr. and Mrs. Beaver. Additionally, Jeremy A. Clarke brings enchanting tenderness to his role of the friendly faun, Tumnus. On the other end of the behavioral spectrum, Charli Habingreither is deliciously vicious in her role of Ulf, the wolf-captain of the White Witch’s police force. She’s all too eager to carry out her boss’s every murderous command.

    As the White Witch, Shley Snider is charming and seductive in the darkest, most deceptive sense of the words. With a voice sometimes searing enough to peel paint, she’s also literally chilling, considering how her character’s cold-hearted maleficence has wreaked permanent winter on Narnia.

   Interestingly, the most understated presence here is Aslan, played by Eric Dubinsky. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s a very sensible understatement. Call it royal serenity. Or loving surrender. Dubinsky convincingly gives us Aslan’s unswerving compassion and confidence. Such qualities become all the more palpable and bittersweet as we witness his moment of real anguish when he’s about to die by the Witch’s hand.

   In the end, consistent with so many past occasions, I simply marveled at the exquisitely appointed portal to compelling art that The Players Guild Theatre keeps open for us. 
   The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe – at the Players Guild Theatre, THROUGH JANUARY 27, 2019 /1001 Market Avenue N., Canton, Ohio

   NOTE: I have included here some illustrations by Pauline Banes from the first edition of the novel in 1950, later hand-colored by the artist for the HarperCollins anniversary publication of the complete "Chronicles of Narnia," published in 2000

Thursday, January 10, 2019

A Transcendent Materiality

"Origins II..."

"Middle Horizons...Looking South"

"A Greater Volume..."

"Artifact of the Curious..."
A Transcendent Materiality

By Tom Wachunas

 “Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives, the cumulative experience of many masters of craftsmanship…”  - John Ruskin

   “… Art is all about craftsmanship. Others can interpret craftsmanship as style if they wish. Style is what unites memory or recollection, ideology, sentiment, nostalgia, presentiment, to the way we express all that. It's not what we say but how we say it that matters.”  - Federico Fellini

   EXHIBIT: The Matrix Series: Glass Art of Brent Kee Young, at the Canton Museum of Art, THROUGH MARCH 3, 2019 / 1001 Market Avenue North Canton, Ohio / 330.453.7666 / Viewing hours: Closed Mondays; Tuesday, - Thursday - 10:00am - 8:00pm; Friday & Saturday - 10:00am - 5:00pm; Sunday - 1:00 - 5:00pm

video of Brent Kee Young process:

   Our most compelling artists can often transform their chosen raw materials with what seems to be pure magic. In examining such skillful articulations, our careful looking can in turn become a profoundly transcendent experience. A spiritual encounter. That’s certainly what can transpire when encountering the exquisitely crafted sculptures by Brent Kee Young.

   His raw materials are pencil-thin rods of flame-worked borosilicate glass. The radiant constructions here were inspired by iconic artifacts and ceremonial objects from Asian and Wari (a pre-Columbian civilization that flourished from about AD 500 to 1000 in what is now Peru) cultures.

   What wizardry is this…this uncanny union of cultural histories, science, engineering, and poetic vision? Looking at these objects, the very air itself – inside and outside their labyrinthine configurations – becomes a tangibly contoured and volumetric element. There are forms embedded in forms - 3D echoes or permutations that enhance their spatial depth and evoke a sense of timelessness. These wondrous webs of glass seem to breathe when moving around them, and are all the more enlarged by the elegant gallery lighting that casts their diaphanous shadows on to pedestals and floor.  
   Enlarged indeed, in their gossamer-like translucency, there’s nonetheless a solidly architectural sensibility to these works - one that held me spellbound and transported in rapt attention to memories of unique realities as well as fantasies. I thought of Gothic cathedrals and the glow of candlelight dancing on glittery reliquaries; of prisms and ice castles and moonlight glistening on snow; even the dazzling complexity of our brains’ chemical synapses and neuro- transmission junctures.  Yikes – all this and more just from the shapes of a few urns and bowls.

   At one point, the intersecting clusters of crystalline, light-bearing tendrils that comprise these enthralling vessels caused me to recall a personally cathartic moment from many years ago here in Ohio winter. Stepping outdoors one blustery morning after an ice storm, I looked into the woods behind my house. I was instantly drawn to a marvelous sound carried on the wind as it whistled through myriad ice-laden branches. They were so many sparkling lines, as if each was encased in a sleeve of glass, all etched into a sunlit sky, and all flapping together to make a joyful a noise. It sounded just like… applause. Pure magic.  

Friday, January 4, 2019

Valuing the invaluable: And the winner is...

"Fourier" by David Kuntzman

"The Nightgown" by William M. Bogdan

"L3-L4" by Stephen Tornero

"Burdened and Becoming #2" by Spencer S. Molnar

"Diary Portrait #58" by Anna Rather

"Chasing Shadows" by Laura Donnelly
Valuing the invaluable: And the winner is…

By Tom Wachunas

   “The studio is a laboratory, not a factory. An exhibition is the result of your experiments, but the process is never-ending. So an exhibition is not a conclusion.”  - Chris Ofili

   EXHIBIT: Stark County Artists Exhibition / THROUGH JANUARY 13, 2019 / at 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 /

   It’s baaack…The Massillon Museum’s annual juried Stark County Artists Exhibition. By now, many of you readers have already seen it. If not, there’s still a little more time to do so, and it would be time very well spent. This diverse collection – 55 works by 43 artists chosen from 206 submissions from 84 artists - is even more exciting than last year’s in just about every way. And once again, I’m elated and grateful to be included.

   One predictable aspect of the show keeps it safely ensconced in the sacrosanct tradition of awarding prizes. It’s a typical practice that chooses one piece to be Best in Show, then a Second Place, then a Third Place, and several Honorable Mentions. In the past I’ve described the practice as stale and even at times feckless. In short, a largely irrelevant ritual. I still hold that view. More on this a bit later.

   Meanwhile, the photos I include here, in no particular order, are of just a few of many works I consider especially compelling or particularly fascinating in this exhibit. Two of the pieces pictured here are on the exhibition list of award winners; four are not. I’m choosing not to tell you which are which because the jurors’ awards in this show had only a small impact on my own assessments.

   David Kuntzman’s acrylic painting, Fourier, is downright spectacular in its sheer precision of execution.  With intersecting angular planes of eye-popping color, Kuntzman has constructed a playful geometric marvel of spatial ambiguity.

    There’s a stark, haunting simplicity to William Bogdan’s manually colored woodcut, The Nightgown. While the claustrophobic verticality of the work feels funereal, suggesting a person squeezed into a coffin, the featureless, tightly framed figure of the woman inside seems not so much gone, but uncannily present and rising.

   The linen weaving by Stephen Tornero, L3-L4, is an exquisitely crafted, fibrous organism or perhaps a landscape of sorts. It’s a dynamic tour de force of myriad threads that seem to breathe through undulating colors and patterns.

    Spencer S. Molnar’s abstract Burdened and Becoming #2 (acrylic, spray paint, and charcoal on canvas) is a startling, electrifying portrait –  bursting with vicious angst and raucous glee all at once. Electrifying, too, is the textured Diary Portrait #58 (mixed media), by Anna Rather. Here is a mesmerizing, shaman-like figure floating in the dark, with eight hands  conjuring or emanating (or absorbing?) all sorts of bright energy currents and waves of particulate matter and runic marks.

   And speaking of effective textures, with her modular Chasing Shadows, Laura Donnelly gives us a tender remembrance of a mother walking with her child on a sunny day. Donnelly adorned her ceramic grid of handmade stoneware tiles with a wispy rendering of the walking figures and their elongated shadows, and also incised the clay with subtle decorative patterns. Additionally, the tiles aren’t all mounted as if on a flat floor or wall. A few of them float above the picture plane, casting their own shadows, and enhancing the sense of motion in space. 

   I don’t think it at all unreasonable to expect that another group of jurors might designate any one of these, or for that matter a considerable number of other works in this exhibit, as the Best in Show, or second, third, etc. My annual complaints about hierarchies of awards are not at all meant to impugn the intelligence, integrity, or sincerity of the jurors.

   But the problem remains. Keep in mind that in juried shows, the works we see represent a daunting enough process of judging, of choosing. Any work we see has in effect already received a significant award, or honor, by virtue of being just that – one of the Chosen. I call the process ‘daunting’ because like it or not, for better or worse, in the realm of the arts there is no such thing as a universally applicable algorithm for objectively discerning absolute formal or conceptual excellence. There’s no inviolable constitution of art laws. Now more than ever before, isn’t it interesting how eagerly we might honor a work for how imaginatively it breaks what few academic rules of aesthetic order remain in place these days? That’s the delightfully unreasonable nature of this beautiful beast we call art – its often vexing capacity for usurping the status quo, for defying expectation, for posing tough questions rather than easy answers. Despite (or sometimes even because of ?) a juror’s education, experience, or expertise, it usually comes down in the end to subjective matters of personal tastes, biases, predispositions - at best a consensus of well-meaning opinions.

   Given these variables, our current paradigm for juried art exhibitions tends to be an exercise in distinctions without a difference. Instead of calling the folks who select the art ‘jurors,’ could we simply call them co-curators?  And in place of a descending order of monetary prizes, how about no prizes at all? If we still insist on giving some sort of special recognition beyond the very real honor of being one of the Chosen, maybe each curator could simply choose a favorite piece or two and issue a spiffy certificate declaring as much and leave it at that.

   Dreaming aside, somehow I don’t think such ideas will gain much traction in this culture of ours, entrenched as it is in cherished rituals of competition and celebrity. We love our trophies perhaps too much.

   In any case, let’s not forget the most unheralded winners of this art contest – the public viewing community. They’re not charged an entry fee, and they get to see invaluable evidence of extraordinary experiments and probative visions from another remarkable community - Stark County’s  artists. As a citizen of both communities, I am doubly blessed.

   Happy New Year.