Thursday, January 27, 2022

Vinyl Destination - PART 2


Vinyl Destination – PART 2 

   Yet more reason to be…elated. I’m turning this post over to Alex Stimmel, who has written a review of my reissued album for Ugly Things Magazine. I’m head-over-heels grateful for his remarkable writing prowess and astute musical sensibilities. THANK YOU, Alex!



 Spare Changes / Gotta Groove LP /  REVIEW,  by Alex Stimmel


   This first-ever reissue of Tom Wachunas’s brutally beautiful Spare Changes, with its collage-art album cover and general air of DIY mystery, is a welcome late entry for Find Of The Year.

    Recorded with grad school friends as his MFA thesis project for Ohio State University, Wachunas tapped One St Stephen guitarist Bruce Roberts to help out and recorded this low-key opus at Ohio’s fabled OWL studios (founded by the Tom Murphy of local garage heroes the Ebb Tides). The sound is crystal clear, rather than the lo-fi efforts one might expect from a one-off grad project.

   Wachunas also channels some erstwhile northern neighbors: Neil Young’s shadow looms large, although to my ears Joni Mitchell has an even larger impact. In this way, Spare Changes is unique in its centering a male singer influenced by her phrasing and chordal approach, especially on “Each Day’s Passing” and “I’ll Be Better Soon.” Even with these identifiable influences, there’s a uniquely dolorous individuality to Wachunas’s singing, and interesting instrumental choices, including kalimba, tabla and accordion (although the sax on “Poets Never Win'' may bring some listeners to the verge of an easy listening cliff).

   With its easygoing vibe and woozy folk-rock arrangements, Spare Changes works excellently as both a late-night Saturday sign off and an early Sunday morning comedown. To wit, Wachunas closes things out with a powerful one-two punch. The title track, on which he laments, “Can’t tell the ceiling from the floor/I can see all the windows but I can’t find the door,” could be both ecstatic or delusional, while the final track, “Happy The Man,” is an energetic send-off: one of the only tracks to feature a full band, with pumping electric piano and Roberts’ eloquent lead lines coming to the fore.

Meticulously mastered by the good folks at Gotta Groove, this is one that’s worth searching out for lovers of private press folk.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Vinyl Destination (Part 1?)


Vinyl Destination (Part 1?) 

By Tom Wachunas 

"Tom Wachunas' Spare Changes is by far one of the best (and unknown/underappreciated) singer-songwriter records ever made. Classifying the album within a specific genre is a terribly difficult feat -- acid folk? folk rock? psychedelic? A true cornucopia of instrumentation -- sax, vibes, kalimba, tabla, guitars (including One St. Stephen guitarist Bruce Roberts), accordion(!) and highly introspective lyrics. Imagine being on a Caribbean cruise ship in 1975, and Neil Young happens to be croonin' with a 12-piece band on some new material that never saw the light of day. Recorded in Columbus, Ohio USA in 1975 at the now-defunct Owl Recording Studios, Spare Changes was actually Tom Wachunas's graduation project for his Masters in Fine Arts from The Ohio State University. Extremely rare -- only 1,000 copies of the original pressing were manufactured. Owl Recording Studio operated from 1973(ish) through 1977 under the direction of Tom Murphy, who would eventually go on to run the famous Track Record Studios in North Hollywood. Tom Murphy's blessing and involvement in sourcing the audio were essential in making this reissue happen."          - from Gotta Groove Records.

   Maybe consider this post as a “nostalgic resume artifact.” It seems like an eternity ago, but back in the summer of 2019, Matt Earley, President and co-Founder of Gotta Groove Records, contacted me out of the blue to let me know that he was interested in reissuing my long-out-of-print record album of original songs, Spare Changes. The album is now available again, miraculously re-mastered from the only very scratched-up copy of the album I still own (the original 8-track master tape from 1975 was lost). I am deeply grateful for, and thoroughly amazed at the technical excellence of this reborn recording, and all the remarkable work that went into achieving it. THANK YOU MATT EARLEY AND ALL THE PEOPLE AT GOTTA GROOVE Pressing Plant in Cleveland!! The reissue includes an insert with the song lyrics and new liner notes I wrote. Here those notes:  

    Who, or what, had I become by the summer of 1975 in Columbus, Ohio? The long and short of it is that the songs of Spare Changes tell the story a 24-year old geeky hippie painter who was something of an introverted poet, a mediocre self-taught acoustic guitarist, a passionate if not prolific singer-songwriter, and an inveterate Romantic striving to embrace the pleasures and pains of love and loss, of comings and goings, of hellos and goodbyes.

    Spare Changes, then, is a veritable rollercoaster ride through the emotional and spiritual peaks and valleys of various relationships with some very lovely young women in my own very young life. There’s doubt and some anger in the album opener, Blues; the bittersweet light of acceptance and gratitude offered in the album closer, Happy the Man. In between, matters of the heart understandably enough take a number of complex twists and turns. There’s palpable longing in the gentle ballad, Sailboat, and a sense of hope in Each Day’s Passing; nostalgic fondness in Remember You That Way; and again, the cathartic power of hope in I’ll Be Better Soon.

   If there’s a real burning torch song in this collection, it may well be Poets Never Win. The lyrical perspective is admittedly that of the rejected suitor who clearly has a big ego and lots of self-pity. But looking back on that particular tune in the larger sense of savoring the entire process of recording this album, I realize that unlike the poet wallowing in the resentment described in the song, I certainly did win in the end.

Beyond the thrilling experience of the actual recording sessions at Owl Studios, two memories remain especially resonant.

First, there were the rehearsal / jam sessions. On two occasions (or was it three?), about a week apart, the musicians – 10 of us at one point – and all their gear piled into the first floor of the old 2 ½-story rented house where I was living (very near the OSU campus) with a few other artist friends/classmates. Full drum set, electric instruments, tangles of wires, mics, amps… the works. The walls shook, the furniture rattled, the roof was risin’. Wide-eyed, smiling neighbors from around the block came up onto the long front porch, their faces pressed against the screened windows, peering in. Cheering and clapping and even some dancing. For a brief while it all felt like a micro- Woodstock festival.

Later in the summer when the album test-pressing arrived, I was honored to be interviewed by WCOL FM’s Terry Wilson, a great friend to Owl Recording Studios. Along with the interview, he played the album for one of his popular “Home Grown In the Studio” programs. Hearing that night-time radio broadcast was humbling, and filled me with a gratitude that still stirs in me even after all these years. I had joined a very special family of artists.

    And so to this day I remain grateful for the blessing of working with superior musicians - all gifted creators and arrangers in their own right. I still treasure the remarkable technical skills they poured into the music, as well as our camaraderie. Far more than simply backup players, they were true partners and collaborators who  generously articulated the spirit of the songs. Happy the man indeed. 

There’s plenty of additional background here for those of you interested in opening these hyperlinks, starting with some history of Owl Recording Studios:

Then, a YouTube recording of all the songs here:

But wait, there’s more! Here’s the fascinating history and info about Gotta Groove Records, including an excellent YouTube video on the Cleveland pressing plant and the process of making vinyl records: 


And vinylly, got a turntable? if you wish to order an album directly from Gotta Groove Record Store, you can purchase at this site:

Thursday, January 6, 2022

A Bountiful Harvest in Stark County


A Bountiful Harvest in Stark County 

"Places You Pass" by Nicole Malcolm

"Audience" by Jake Mensinger

"Color Diversity" by Laura Donnelly

"Immigration Quilt" by Priscilla Roggenkamp

"Storyteller" by Clare Murray Adams

"Passage" by Christine Janson

"A year in the life of lockdown" by Judi Krew

By Tom Wachunas

   ““It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Life, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair,…”  - Charles Dickens, from A Tale of Two Cities

“…Lights in the distance, like twinkling prayers, float like my words,  like fireflies dancing somewhere. Upon this hill is where I’ll be waiting for you, should you need me. I will wait for you…”  - lyrics from I Will Wait For You, by Bruce Dalzell, for the installation artwork by Nicole Malcolm

   EXHIBIT: Annual Stark County Artists Exhibition, at Massillon Museum, October 16, 2021, THROUGH JANUARY 16, 2022 / 121 Lincoln Way East in downtown Massillon, Ohio / 330.833.4061 / viewing hours: Tuesday through Saturday 9:30am - 5:00pm and Sunday 2:00pm - 5:00pm 

Participating Stark County Artists: Seth Adam, Rodney Atwood, Lawrence Baker, Michael Barath, Diane Belfiglio, Chris Borello, Peter Castillo, Moriah Clay, David L. Dingwell, Laura Donnelly, Libby Bracy Doss, Sharon Frank Mazgaj, Timothy Hirst, Sherri Hornbrook ,Christine Janson, Judi Krew, David Kuntzman, Ted Lawson, PJ Lytle, Nicole Malcolm, Judi Malinowski, Beth Maragas, Jake Mensinger, Jaime Meyers, Clare Murray Adams, Benjamin Myers, Clair Nelson, Lee Novotny, Patricia Zinsmeister Parker, Mark V. Pitocco, Brian Robinson, Priscilla Roggenkamp, Lee Rossiter, Sari Sponhour, Stephen Tornero, Daniel Vaughn, Tom Wachunas, Jo Westfall, Gail Wetherell-Sack, Shawn Wood, Isabel Zaldivar, and Anna Zotta.

   My month-long hiatus from writing has unfortunately delayed a more timely commentary on this exhibit, and for that I apologize. Still, as of January 7, there are nine days left to view it if you haven’t done so already. I think you’ll find the time to be very well spent.

   If you have seen it, well then, maybe you could think about returning for another taste. It’s harvest time in Stark County. The 41 participating artists here (and I’m happy to be one of them) provide a bountiful crop of 56 works that make the exhibit a veritable feast for the eyes with a remarkable mélange of materials, styles, and concepts.

   During one of my three visits to the show, I watched from a short distance as a viewer looked closely at a wall piece by Christine Janson called Passage. It’s a small, old wooden typesetter’s drawer. Its compartments, emptied of moveable type, are painted in a spectrum of colors, with some containing bits of frayed, crinkled canvas.

   I overheard him ask his companions, “So what’s the story here?” A good question, really. It reminded me of how natural and often necessary it feels to seek out, or outright (out-write?) construct a narrative to satisfy our desire to connect with what might seem like an enigmatic work of contemporary art. In this case, I think it not too farfetched to see Janson’s entry as perhaps symbolizing the history of storytelling itself - a passage from the elemental components of a typeset tale into the more ancient practice of a painted one.

    There is a palpable spirit of storytelling threaded through a considerable number of pieces in this show, sometimes literally, sometimes metaphorically. Here are just a few examples of pieces which prompted some closer viewing during my multiple visits.

   Clare Murray Adams’ wall installation is called, interestingly enough, Storyteller. There’s something of a symbiotic relationship between the hanging dress (smock, frock, apron?) and the eight small mixed-media paintings arched on the wall above it. Are they tactile research notes in the story of making and adorning the dress, like snapshots of processes? Or did making the dress inspire the stuff of the paintings?

   Priscilla Roggenkamp’s stunning Immigration Quilt, for all its apparent softness, raises tough, unsettled and unsettling questions. Those clothes -  looking like they’re for children, toddlers, babies – are all pressed against, indeed restrained by cording patterned like a net. Or a chain link fence.  

   The glimmering installation by Nicole Malcolm, Places You Pass, is actually a room (approx. 8' x 10' x 11' ) created within the gallery. It’s an intimate, enchanting, interactive environment unto itself and includes handwritten lyrics and recording of an original song titled I Will Wait For You. Here’s a link to Malcolm’s web page for a deeper look at the work:  

Please don’t pass it by. Stay and read a while. Therein she has written, ”…I often think about how some “places you pass” end up being the places where you will have life changing moments, and you don’t even know it yet… This work is a representation of the way in which I hold onto places, and moments in time. I will carry this with me, and remember that each new place I go will change me in ways I do not yet know.”

   And so, consider this post not just a late invitation, but better yet, as a mindful summons. See the testimonies of artists navigating the ethos of our here and now. Artists are our vital tribe of explorers, spirit guides, seers and conjurers who activate our own imaginations. They bear witness to being alive during these scabrous times. Witness the witnessing. Savor and carry it with you. It’s waiting.

Sunday, December 5, 2021




Sonrise, by Tom Wachunas, 2021


   To you, all my artist friends, and all my beloved readers, may the everlasting Peace of Christ - his way and his truth and his life - be upon you in this Holy season.

Arise, shine,

for your light

has come,

and the glory of the Lord

rises upon you.

Isaiah 60:1

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

When Paint Dances


When Paint Dances 

Moon River

Bright Landscape III

Full Moon on a Quiet Field

Spring X

Red Hat

By Tom Wachunas 

  “Exactitude is not Truth.”  - Henri Matisse

   I try to construct a picture in which shapes, spaces, colors, form a set of unique relationships, independent of any subject matter. At the same time I try to capture and translate the excitement and emotion aroused in me by the impact with the original idea.   Milton Avery

   “A dance between the intense and the subtle, the strong and the fragile, and between control and spontaneity… I want to create paintings which are both familiar yet unknown and I hope the work attracts the viewer with beauty and simultaneously prompts curiosity.”  - Katharine Dufault

   EXHIBIT: BETWEEN EARTH AND SKY - new paintings by Katharine Dufault. Dufault’s work reflects her deep love of nature and landscape, nurtured by a childhood spent in the English countryside and, more recently, by her current home at the edge of an estuarial nature reserve in Westchester, New York. On view through November 30th, 2021, in The Lemmon Visiting Artist Gallery, located in the Fine Arts Building at Kent University at Stark / 6000 Frank Avenue NW, North Canton, OH  / Gallery Hours Monday – Friday 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (not open Nov. 25, 26)

    One efficacious way to see a Katharine Dufault painting, as suggested in her statement excerpted above, is as a dance. Think of painting as a performative act in time and, in that sense, a form of choreography.

    Dufault constructs pas de deux, i.e., duets. She organizes partnerships wherein her deft manipulations of paint become engaging pairings of things opaque and translucent, solid and liquid, weighty and atmospheric, permanent and ephemeral.

   Her landscapes aren’t ostentatious illustrations brandishing trompe l’oeil illusions. The brushwork is never so forced or fussy, but rather quietly gestural, like poised arabesques, or balletic glissades gliding across, or floating in undulating pools of luscious color. These are elegant, reductive abstractions, yet nonetheless loaded with emotional and psychological affect. Memories of the past made eminently present.

   A vigorous expressivity is also abundantly evident in Dufault’s figurative works. Of her portraits, she writes: “The abstract faces appear to be calmly resting or deep in thought yet, there is a deliberate emotional ambiguity to the work: the serene expressions may conceal an inner world of strong emotions. I move swiftly, with almost calligraphic brush strokes, to capture the essence of my subjects. Wide brushes loaded with paint in my quest for simplification of form and smaller brushes for necessary detail. The process is part of the finished painting…”

Altogether, Dufault’s painterly actions exude an immersive, poetic lyricism. Alluring dances indeed.

Monday, November 8, 2021

Eloquent Countenances

                                                            Eloquent Countenances 

Veiled Radiant Joy

The Gardener

Wind in the Flowers

Gilded Hope Rising

Wisdom of Silence

The Ancestor

The Phoenix Rising

By Tom Wachunas


   EXHIBIT: Facing Humanity – work by Jonathan Kipp Becker / at Vital Arts Gallery Through December 18, 2021 / 324 Cleveland Avenue NW, downtown Canton, Ohio / Gallery hours: Wednesday 4 – 8p.m., Thursday-Saturday 6 – 10p.m., Sunday 10a.m. – 2p.m. 


“Nothing is more real than the masks we make to show each other who we are.”   ― Christopher Barzak, from The Love We Share Without Knowing

"I would say masks are stories, they're the story of their maker, they're the story of the person who encounters them, and they're the story of the universal human condition…” – Jonathan Kipp Becker

    It’s certainly interesting that this exhibit opened on Halloween, our culture’s season of the mask. In our ritualized annual parade of peculiar personae, which witch were you? What ghoul, goblin, ghost? What hero, villain, savior, or scoundrel? A Disney damsel or a Marvel mutant? Angel or alien? And so we go our merry if not mischievous way.

  For the moment though, let’s flip this street theater paradigm over. Let’s step away from silly disguises, and into revelations. What if masks can be more than false faces, more than ornamented mendacities? What if masks can be visions of our active truths, our authentic identities, our genuine personhood?

   This consideration forms the contemplative heart of Jonathan Kipp Becker’s stunning works. To better appreciate his background and remarkable accomplishments as a master of his craft, a teaching artist, and a performer, I strongly recommend clicking on the hyperlinks posted above, which include an interview with Ed Balint, arts and entertainment journalist for The Canton Repository.

   Working in painted gypsum plaster or neoprene (a synthetic polymer resembling rubber), Becker sculpts exquisite simulacra of countenances, many of them drawn from ancient cultures. At once archetypal and specifically personal, his objects speak of human connectivity throughout history as well as in the artist’s immediate present.

   For each piece, the artist provides a written narrative about his inspiration. Wisdom of Silence, for example, recalls the idyllic times he spent camping on the forested land owned by his Uncle, who could speak to owls, and ends with this poem by Edward Hersey Richards: A wise old owl sat upon an oak. The more he saw the less he spoke. The less he spoke the more he heard. Why aren't we like that wise old bird?

   Poetic, too, is the bold, bright dragon in The Ancestor. Becker, himself born in the year of the dragon, remembers a gift given by his grandfather to his father -  an embroidery of a dragon that his father hung in his office. “…I have felt an affinity for them my entire life,” Becker writes, “…For me… the dragon is…Courage Strength Hope Stubborn resolve Explosive anger Rage Wrath Chaos Wisdom Knowledge A Shape Shifterrrr…  

    Shape shifting – as both a visual and conceptual encounter - is an especially important component of Becker’s haunting Veiled Radiant Joy. His candid, at times searing words about the work constitute a moving meditation on the deep spirituality resonant, to varying degrees, in all of his pieces in this exhibit. He begins with, “This piece is a commentary on how it is, at times, as difficult to come out as having deep spiritual convictions as a gay man as it is to come out as gay.” He concludes his assessment with, “I often hide my spiritual convictions and that which brings me profound inner peace and joy out of a fear that it might be judged or simply pushed away as invalid. I find that rather than communicate the foundations of my convictions through words I instead create works intended to inspire and celebrate the humanity of others.”

   And so this exhibit is indeed an inspired celebration of being human. As a celebrant, Jonathan Kipp Becker invites and engages us not with decorated, inanimate vestiges, but with wondrously tangible, eloquent surfaces. Collectively, they evoke that most ineffable thing that unites us all – our soul.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Reading Beneath, Behind, and Between


Reading Beneath, Behind, and Between

Ursa Minor, Facing North / Jack McWhorter

Lunch with Picasso / Patricia Zinsmeister Parker

Partially Buried 3 / Earl Iselin

By Tom Wachunas



 November 4 – 27, 2021 / The Painting Center, 547 West 27th Street, Suite 500, New York, NY 10001, (212) 343-1060

    I was especially honored to write the catalogue essay for this exhibit.

Here’s a link for seeing artists bios and their exhibited works:

“If good art illustrates anything at all, it’s likely to be a story you didn’t even know needed telling.”  - David Salle

    In the introduction to his 2016 book, How to See, painter and critic David Salle wrote, “Art is more than a sum of cultural signs: It is a language both direct and associative, and has a grammar and syntax like any other human communication.”

   This analogy, while complex and expandable, is useful in “reading” contemporary painting. Think, then, of the three painters in this exhibit – Jack McWhorter, Patricia Zinsmeister Parker, and Earl Iselin - as writing in dialects. Each of their respective dialects is in its way a discreet synchronicity, or a dialogue, transpiring in unique terrains wherein the painter straddles the fluctuating boundaries between representation and abstraction.

   In the past, Jack McWcWhorter has characterized his process and product as “personal archaeology.” For this group of recent paintings on paper, that description remains potently apropos. Equally potent is the wide arc of his subject matter, born from his question, “How can one give form to one’s connection with the cosmos whether it be lost or hidden?” He adds this consideration: “Contemporary cosmology challenges us to look at nature in new ways and to see the inorganic world from broad areas; art, astronomy, chemistry, earth sciences and physics.”

   At the core of his aesthetic is a persistent navigation of tensions and harmonies within symbiotic dualities. His compositions, which he calls “live surfaces,” are clusters or matrixes of lines, shapes, and patterns that juxtapose accumulations and singularities, gatherings and dispersals. Like an explorer’s field notes on remembered sights and sites, places and spaces, his pictures often entwine a then with a now, as if remembering their own beginnings even as they are transformed by his imagination into new visual moments.

    Live surfaces to be sure, they’re drawn with a vigorous, gestural immediacy, combining marks made in broad and loose ways with more concentrated movements of the hand that we might associate with calligraphy.

   Additionally, McWhorter’s exuberant palette imbues his imagery with a numinous energy, bringing to their spatial dimensionality a sensation of rhythmic pulsing. Rising from evanesced fields of personal history and the memories held there, his transfixing configurations have a heartbeat.

   Similarly, visceral gesture, remarkable chromatic dynamics, and personal history are prominent in Patricia Zinsmeister Parker’s works. Recently she wrote “I have always believed that abstract art and representational art are one and the same. It’s just a matter of scale and particularity.” Her pictures are invigorating records of spontaneous actions – an immersion in the primacy of painterly impulse and intuition.

   In a spirit of equanimity, Parker presents her canvases here in pairs, suggesting a continuum, or conversation, between a non-objective work and one of a relatively more representational nature. For example, Girl in White Tutu sits beside My Leaky Fawcet, while Wallflower attends Lunch With Picasso. Two pictures reading as a single entity, these pairings are unified by one or more formal commonalities, such as a recurring color, shape, or pattern motif.

    There was a period in Parker’s career when she deliberately painted with her “untrained” left hand. Consequently, the representational elements in her works regularly possessed a distinctive awkwardness. She has recently commented that her leftist approach, if you will, is a thing of the past. Her current paintings signal a re-emergence of her trained right hand - what she calls her “… return to figurative work and draughtsmanship skills - those skills being undermined and buried for decades by the use of my left hand.”

   Parker’s drawing acuity is especially evident in her renderings of female forms. They seem to emerge from under surrounding scruffy veils or rough layers of paint in a fluid, even graceful manner, deftly capturing the subtlest of bodily attitudes.

      Insightful and inciteful, Parker makes art that wags a sassy finger in your face and rattles your sense of “finished” aesthetic decorum. As the sardonic titles of her paintings suggest, such as Caught in the Act of Painting, she’s a painter seriously engaged in mindful play, and generous enough to provide us refreshing cause to chuckle.

   Meanwhile, for Earl Iselin, the act of painting is in many ways an ongoing inquiry into the very motives and meanings of creativity. Metaphor is certainly an active force in his iconography. “In five of the paintings I have offered,” he writes, “I’ve used isometric perspective, which has the penchant to lift, in essence to ‘sky’ the painting, as if to give flight to imagination.”

   Those five paintings share a title, Partially Buried, named after Robert Smithson’s 1970 land art installation, Partially Buried Woodshed. Made on the grounds of Ohio’s Kent State University when Iselin was living there, it was a site he visited, occasionally sitting inside, and which he remembers as greatly obscuring his view of the blue sky, itself a symbol of pure, limitless possibility.

   That sensation has prompted some intriguing philosophizing about history and existence itself. What he calls ‘skying the painting’ is his way “…of defying the past and escaping its definition.” Thus his paintings present the shed not as something dead, collapsed by gravity and entropy, but as a bright-colored geometric structure, maybe a house, free-floating in an open field dotted with suggestions of dirt piles or bodies of water.

   Meanwhile, his series of paintings under the collective title of Stack, is a further probing of history. These smaller individual pieces, some executed in lavishly-hued impasto, are attached to each other to make large modular grids, evoking a variety of modernist painting genres such as Color Field, Minimalism, Expressionism. The Stacks are intended by Iselin to symbolize and encourage imagination – his, and ours – and to create an energy for really seeing our present.

   And again, Iselin’s words describe that energy best: “It is…a creative force… to move me beyond the limitations of my own gravity, beyond myself, that gives purpose to the painting, a purpose that has everything to do with you. Your sky is as blue as mine.”

   Jack McWhorter. Patricia Zinsmeister Parker. Earl Iselin. To you, the viewer…enjoy the flight.