Saturday, January 30, 2010

A House On Fire

A House On Fire

By Tom Wachunas

I’m not sure when the word “dysfunctional” became the universal descriptor for damaged or destroyed human relationships, or socially aberrant behavior in our culture. But these days it seems like the term is ever on the tips of our tongues - an integral part of our social and medical vocabulary, and otherwise popularly if not reluctantly accepted as a given condition of modern life. Encountering the horrific interactions of dysfunctional families can be a bit like witnessing a house fire at too-close a distance. Morbid curiosity gets the better of us. Despite being singed by the heat, we just can’t seem to avert our gaze, mesmerized by the sheer scale of the devastation unfolding before us.

Tennessee Williams’ 1955 play, “Cat On a Hot Tin Roof,” has a similar effect. As stage literature, it is a searing, brilliant, and brutally honest examination of a dysfunctional Southern family. So honest, no doubt, to the producers of the 1958 film version, that they toned down the original language and content which they deemed too “controversial” for the movie-going public of the day. Measured by most of today’s entertainment standards and practices, though, Williams’ unedited script could be comfortably slotted into primetime television without remarkable fanfare or protest. Still, and interestingly enough, its themes remain both relevant and, to a considerable (though perhaps more palatable) degree, uncomfortable.

I can’t think of a more effective way to experience the full impact of this dramatic masterwork, however, than to see it performed live in a black-box theater context. So it is appropriate that the current Players Guild Theatre production of the work, directed by Jon Tisevich as one of the entries in this season’s Stripped Away series, is being performed in the intimacy of its William G. Fry Theatre. In that context, the explosive nature of the narrative, delivered here by a disarmingly credible and sharp ensemble cast, takes on a distinctly visceral, in-your-face urgency.

A troubled Southern family reunites to celebrate the 65th birthday of its dying patriarch, Big Daddy, a bitter and surly plantation owner who shamelessly flaunts disdain for his wife (Big Mama), and believes a false medical report that he doesn’t have terminal cancer. That’s just the first of many lies that fuel the frictions and hypocrisies dividing his sons, Brick (childless with wife Maggie, “The Cat”) and Gooper ( three children and a fourth on the way with wife Mae), vying for the family fortune. Brick, clearly Big Daddy’s favorite son, is an ex-pro football player who turns to alcohol after the suicide of his best friend and former teammate, Skipper. Suspecting Maggie of having an affair with Skipper, he refuses to have anything to do with her, and is completely numb to her passionate pleas for reconnecting on any level. As the story unfolds, it’s clear that brother Gooper, Mae, and Maggie have seriously questioned the depth and nature of Brick’s relationship with Skipper, stoking Brick’s drunken outrage at the very idea of homosexuality. Lies, innuendos, resentments, greed and jealousies smolder and eventually ignite into a thunderous confrontation of confessional rage between Brick and Big Daddy in Act II that in turn overruns the entire family in Act III.

The performances offered by the cast here are, in general, so crisply defined and genuine that they take on nearly operatic proportions. As Maggie, Tiffani Hilton turns in a largely seamless, powerful, and authentic portrait of a witty, sensual woman - lonely, and desperate for loving attention, while consumed by longing, envy, and suspicion. Both Jennifer Davies as Mae, and Daryl Robinson as her husband Gooper, are well matched to their roles that at first seem understated and inconsequential. But as the story unfolds, their skillful display of feigned affection for Big Daddy is really an effective burlesque - a subtle (and very integral to the story) masking of their cocky airs and egocentric sense of entitlement. And Carrie Alexander Spina as Big Mama delivers a convincing presentation of the doting matriarch whose stubborn denial of the realities around her turns from bubbly, delusional naivete to a torrent of tearful, very real frustration and anger.

But it is the marvelously crafted volcanic crescendo of unguarded emotional tensions between Big Daddy, played by Christopher Gales, and Brick, played by Aaron Brown, that sears this story into our memory. Gales is a monumental force to be reckoned with, both as his character and in his riveting presence as an actor. Equally, Brown has immersed himself in his role with astonishing, even scary intensity.

Tisevich’s choice to cast two black men in this production – Gales and Robinson - would seem, at the very least, curious. But in so much as the play addresses the decaying dynastic system of Southern society and its attendant moral flaws, the casting points unapologetically to the play’s larger indictment of dysfunctional behavior in general. So as audience, we are effectively absorbed into sordid truths of the human condition regardless of historic or geographical setting. “Mendacity is the system in which we live,” Brick reminds his father. Moral turpitude respects no boundaries - neither chronological nor demographic. Mendacity. A system of lies.

The play ends on an exhausted yet subtly hopeful, perhaps even redemptive note. Catharsis is necessarily painful, and born only out of confession. Call this production an eminently successful exercise in honesty and courage.

Photo, courtesy Jon Tisevich: Christopher Gales (left) and Aaron Brown in a scene from “Cat On a Hot Tin Roof,” at the Players Guild Theatre, 1001 Market Avenue N., Canton, Through February 7. Shows at 8p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2:30p.m. Sunday. Box Office (330) 453- 7617 or visit

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Curious Allure of War

The Curious Allure of War

By Tom Wachunas

Even a sidelong glance at human history will reveal that among the most appalling qualities of earth people is our apparently indefatigable capacity to hurt each other. But that same glance will also bring to light our outrage at such atrocious shortcomings, coupled with our ceaseless pursuit of justice, healing, and hope. Clearly, we are a maddeningly dichotomous, unreasonable species. Capable of spawning soaring, inspiring geniuses the likes of da Vinci, Michelangelo, Handel, or Beethoven, we also birth misanthropic scourges like Hitler and bin Laden. There is to this day abundant evidence that we continue to make our world a place where beauty and beast are entwined, wrestling and inseparable…where with one hand we hungrily grasp at sweet, ephemeral delights, and with the bloodied other, wield unspeakable cruelties.

And yet we do speak of them – with jarring clarity as well as subtle eloquence - in our art. There are numerous romantic depictions of war throughout art history that would seem to glorify some causes as noble and justifiable, presenting bloody conflicts as intrinsically heroic. The images that continue to resonate with me, however, are those I regard as compelling attempts to exorcise the demon by presenting it for what it is – murderous, devouring, ugly. Two examples come immediately to mind: Francisco Goya’s gripping masterpiece, “The Third of May, 1808,” and Pablo Picasso’s monumental and explosive protest, “Guernica.”

On the left side of the 1937 Picasso work we see a mother, her screaming face raised skyward as she cradles her lifeless infant. Six years after that painting was completed, and during the Nazi occupation of France, Picasso unveiled another masterpiece, this one full of a distinctly more tender angst, “First Steps.” Here, a clearly apprehensive mother, in a moment of bittersweet release, gingerly loosens her hold on her child, who looks straight ahead with wide-eyed anticipation, seeming to step right out of the canvas into a world turned upside down by war.

It is, I think, a similar spirit of wartime angst that is at the heart of the work by Erica A. Meuser, in her show titled “In America’s Wake,” now on view at Studio M in the Massillon Museum. But these works – black and white monotype prints with charcoal- are not outright renderings of military confrontations per se. Rather, they address the subtle, emotionally complicated – even insidious - domestic issues that grip our own warring society. Specifically, as we learn in Meuser’s statement for the show, the images initially rose from her feelings about the Iraqui War. Additionally, she acknowledges the further influence of related literature, history, and music, adding, “With their voices in my head - in a highly charged emotional moment – all my worlds collide, and I create my floating, ghostly compositions where my figures act and play out their role in my tale about mothers and sons lying and dying in the wake of America’s Wars.”

Emotionally charged moments indeed. All 14 of the large works here are executed in a mannered but fluid style not as much “drawn” in the traditional sense as they are exposed, or rubbed into view, as if excavated from deeply embedded memories and dreams. These are images that breathe a desperate urgency. Their surfaces are richly varied terrains of texture and tonality from ponderous, dense, blacks to wispy flourishes of velvety grays that hang like so much dispersing smoke. Sometimes Meuser’s figures are distorted and exaggerated, yet even at their most grotesque, they embody a searing, unforgettable pathos.

In “Day Four – Canoe Over Water and Graves,” the woman (mother?) appears lost in a somber trance as she holds the oars of her canoe floating over the face-down corpses beneath her. “The Battle” is a startling vision of a naked boy wresting one of the three arrows from the talons of a monstrous eagle.

In the heartrending, raw portrait, “Mothers and Sons II,” the central figure (of a mother?) clutches the limp body of a boy, her shoulders amply covered by the hands of the figure hovering behind. The hands of both figures, with their fingers splayed apart just so, are a grim ensemble of white shapes that bring to mind teeth bared in anguish.

After seeing that particular piece, I keep coming back to the hope embodied in Picasso’s “First Step,” even with its bitter irony of a mother releasing her child into a war-ravaged future. Is it so unreasonable to dream that either a single artwork, or collection of works, could ever move us to finally eradicate the horrors those works address? Probably. Maybe even certainly.

But remember our sidelong glance at history, and its cloying revelation of our unreasonableness as a species? Dream on, then. Powerful art, like Meuser’s, has a way of compelling us to do just that.

Photo: “Mothers and Sons II,” ink monotype with charcoal, by Erica A. Meuser, from her exhibition, “In America’s Wake,” on view in Studio M at the Massillon Museum, through February 21, 121 Lincoln Way East, downtown Massillon

This is a touring exhibit. Next stop: Kent State University, Bowman Hall, April 1- May 21, 2010.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Beyond the Canton Pale

Beyond the Canton Pale

By Tom Wachunas

For the better part of the 14 years I resided in New York City, I was sure that despite the fact that being a painter was an unreasonable pursuit by modern, “real world” terms, I had nonetheless found a place that welcomed and even nourished that unreasonableness. New York is, after all, famous (or infamous) for such sympathies. For me it was a safe place where even the most unusual, unorthodox visions and voices could thrive.

Since coming to Canton some 18 years ago, my sense of our city remains one of stubborn optimism in the face of a sociocultural milieu resistant to fully -or at least consistently- embracing and supporting (both commercially and intellectually) the level of artistic energy and daring that I experienced in New York. Having said that, I am thrilled that there are artists residing here who continue to hone skills and visions that are, in varying degrees, bold, challenging, and genuinely refreshing. In that realm, I offer for your consideration the work of four painters – Gene Barber, Martin Bertman, Aaron Hubbard, and Isabel Zaldivar- in the exhibition, “Abstractitudes,” now on view at Gallery 6000.

Much of the raw physicality in the acrylic canvases by Gene Barber, such as “Life Before Man,” comes, simply enough, from his technique. His bare-hands application of paint imbues the works with a gestural immediacy and certainly a resonating emotional intensity, all rendered in bright, saturated colors. Forms seem to rise and fall like so many gaseous clouds and liquid streams, conjuring, perhaps, ghosts of a volatile, primordial soup.

The acrylic ink paintings by Isabel Zaldivar have a similar overall sensibility, though the loose forms in her pictures have a more concentrated, tactile appearance. Indeed, her paintings revel in intricate pictorial textures that are comparatively “down to earth,” suggesting mysterious, sometimes turbulent landscapes. Amid the many amorphous, churning pools of color that make up the compositions, there are judiciously placed oases for our eyes to rest – shapes that could be a patch of sky, a small field, or calm bodies of water. Subtly hidden throughout the rich depths of “Sanctuary,” for example, several birds are nestled.

The ambitious canvases in the “Cartographicalanarchic” series by Aaron Hubbard are clustered meanderings of dots and puddles that float in cloudy seas of “background” color. Large “islands” of poured paint are surrounded by smaller groupings of drips and spatters, many of those in turn emphasized with surrounding circles or irregular outlines rendered in marker. The overall effect is reminiscent of aerial views, or maps of archipelagos. But these delightfully strange pictures - at once abstruse and intriguing – are suggestive of far more than superficial geographies, I think. On one level they could very well be metaphors for the human pursuit of relational community, or even the pursuit of meaning itself.

The enigmatic spirit of the paintings by Martin Bertman, on the other hand, seems relatively more accessible, if only because in this group, they exhibit a pictorial content somewhat closer to what I would call representational reality. But it is a content nonetheless abstract at heart. Bertman’s images are compelling arrangements of decidedly personal symbols, executed with fluid painterly confidence. All of his paintings here are executed with a keen eye for compositional elegance along with, as I’ve noted in the past, an enthralling color sensibility, as in “Interior,” or “Entwined.”

I’ve also noted in the past that I have no axe to grind with purely representational painting. Canton has an abundance of remarkably talented, practicing traditionalists, many of them to one degree or another successful in finding a local market for their work. But Canton is far from a hotbed of abstractionist expression, and I’ve tended to view the local public at large as somewhere between tepid and nonresponsive in its embrace of abstract art in general. So I think shows like this one send an important message. The work being done by artists such as these, while often seen as outside the comfortable pleasantries of “normal” or “popular” art, deserves our undivided attention and respect.

What always fascinates me about the kind of abstract painters we see in this show is their fundamental surrender to the substance, the physicality of paint itself. Such painters have evolved distinct visual languages. Those languages are free from the constraints of manipulating paint to merely recapitulate visible reality. They are in fact languages exquisitely endowed to articulate the drama of being alive, languages that define things spiritual and metaphysical. Things on the fringe of our perceptions. Things that need to be illuminated.

Photo: “Life Before Man,” acrylic on canvas, by Gene Barber, on view in “Abstractitudes,” at Gallery 6000, located in the University Center of Kent State University Stark Campus, 6000 Frank Avenue NW in Jackson Township, through May 14. EXHIBIT OPENS WITH A RECEPTION FOR THE ARTISTS ON TUESDAY, JANUARY 26, 5:30- 7:30pm. Pleas RSVP TO REBECCA DeHART at (330) 244 – 3518 or

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Killing Us Softly

Killing Us Softly

By Tom Wachunas

After attending this year’s opening of the Stark County Artists’ Exhibition at the Massillon Museum, I couldn’t get the lyrics, “Killing me softly with his words…,”out of my head for the rest of the evening. Some of you may have read Dan Kane’s revelatory piece in the January 15 Repository Ticket section wherein several artists in the show talked about their entries. Bili Kribbs said that his painting, “Zombunny to Love,” (depicting a young man in a bunny suit, holding a red balloon on a string, and bleeding from the garden clippers sticking out of his chest) was simply a portrait of a friend in a Halloween costume, albeit an unsettling one. So the cat was out of the bag, or more precisely, the bunny out of his hole. What was interesting to me was watching how viewers looked at the piece, trying to decipher its “meaning”. Many of them clearly hadn’t read the article, and were genuinely puzzled if not mortified in their reaction to the work.

But even with knowing beforehand what was on the artist’s mind (which unfortunately killed any sense of mystery or surprise for me), the painting still exudes a daring, raw, even courageous energy. It is an energy that is sadly missing from this show as a whole. So yet another song began to invade my head, “Is That All There Is?”

For at least the previous seven or eight years, I have left this annual exhibition fairly well satisfied that I had seen a substantial – at times spectacular - cross-section of the rich, varied, and bold artistic talents to be found in Stark County. Not so this year. In fact, this show is distinctly lethargic in comparison. Call it handsome but toothless. How can this be?

Any juried show has the built-in problem, or challenge, of jurors overcoming their personal agendas and tastes in an effort to select the best material available for an exciting exhibition. And in light of 264 entries submitted for consideration, one would think we were in for a blockbuster show. Here, Mary Gray, director of the Riffe Gallery in Columbus, and Susan Vincent of SPACES in Cleveland, selected 53 works by 43 artists. While second-guessing jurors’ criteria is generally an exercise in futility, I nonetheless wonder about it anyway. Honestly, there have been occasions when I envisioned myself grabbing jurors by the shoulders and shaking them just short of an assault charge, desperately pleading, “What on God’s good earth were you thinking?!” Case in point here: awarding Second Place to Michael Nutter’s unimpressively impressionistic oil painting, “Song of Chikadee.”

If, on the other hand, the goal here was to assemble a show that would be, in the aggregate, academic, safe, and pretty, then this is a gloriously successful celebration of the unremarkable. With some notable exceptions, to be sure.

Kristine Wyler’s spectacular oil, “Grand Finale,” makes another appearance in a group show and, short of being in the presence of the real thing, remains among the most stunningly executed sunsets I’ve ever seen. Stunning, too, is the pastel work by Brian Robinson, “A Twelve Dollar Balloon,” in good company with the masterful oil pastel work by Diane Belfiglio, “Potomac Patterns IV”. For impeccably designed pictorial structure and vibrant color, there is the large and marvelous still-life oil, “Braeburns and High Biskets” by Cleo Clark-Williams, along with the Third Place-winning watercolor, “Target on Times Square,” by Ted Lawson. With all due respect to Mr. Lawson (and he is due much), the decision to include three of his works in this show was glaringly indulgent. Any one of them would have been sufficient enough evidence of his particular esthetic.

And speaking of over-indulgence, more than a quarter of the works here are in the medium of photography (or digital enhancements), and most of those are irritatingly ordinary. Michele Waalkes’ “The Unknown,” which took Best in Show honors, is not a photograph in the strictest sense, but rather a photographic transfer on to sheer fibers. Still, it’s refreshingly elegant, original, and mesmerizing to behold.

The show is decidedly lacking in sculpture and very thin on abstraction. In the former category, Tom Wentling’s wood construction, “The Inevitable,” is a gem of pure mystery and dark charm. In the latter realm, the two large ink and pastel drawings by Becky Breckenridge are a surprising and needed blast of fresh air, even though they owe some debt, perhaps, to the “automatic drawings” of mid-20th century Surrealists.

In the end, it’s difficult to believe that the very limited presence of Stark County’s “cutting edge” contingent in this show is a result of those artists not submitting work for consideration. Short of taking a poll of both artists and jurors, however, we may never really know why they’re not here. In any event, their absence this year makes for a comparatively lackluster show that is ultimately a disservice to both the artist community and the public at large. Better luck next year.

Photo: “Zombunny to Love,” mixed media painting by Bili Kribbs, on view in the Stark County Artists’ Exhibition at the Massillon Museum through February 28, 121 Lincoln Way East, Massillon (330) 833 – 4061

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Framing Evanescence

Framing Evanescence

By Tom Wachunas

Sometimes the ineffable power of great art can be defined in terms of its capacity to transcend real time and space- to in effect transport us into wholly ( or holy?) new relationships with the world we only thought we knew. With varying degrees of success, many artists aspire to create such experiences, through images, not only for themselves, but also for us, their viewers. Images that stop us in our tracks, make our hearts skip a beat, and otherwise elicit that unmistakable, tingling sensation of unfettered awe at what we are seeing. That is precisely what I experienced in viewing the recent show of photographs by conservation photographer Stephen McNulty – his first one-man exhibition - titled “Austral Radiance,” at the Joseph Saxton Gallery of Photography.

Recently I was fortunate to work with McNulty (who is curator at the Saxton Gallery) in jurying student entries for this year’s Northeast Central Ohio Scholastic Art Exhibition, hosted by Kent State University Stark campus. As we looked at hundreds of student photographs, I came to a deeper appreciation of what goes into making a successful fine art photograph –finding that delicate and often daunting balance between choosing appropriate technical procedures, waiting for just the right moment, and making purely esthetic compositional decisions. McNulty is a highly sensitive and disciplined observer when it comes to these aspects. And as a practitioner of the form, abundantly evidenced here by a spectacular collection of images from his recent travels to New Zealand, he walks it like he talks it.

All of his photographs clearly demonstrate a master’s touch when it comes to effective pictorial structure, mesmerizing textures, and sparkling, rich color. Even the show’s sole black-and-white work (the title piece of the exhibit) is nonetheless luscious in its sepia tones, lending this mountain scene a gentle patina of antiquity. In the lower portion of the image, the blurred forms of water rushing over rocks are an elegant echo of the billowing clouds high above. Sheer visual poetry.

Another stunning example of McNulty’s compositional prowess is “A Gannet Sunset.” Here, we see from above the native waterfowl population settling in for the night atop the strikingly geometric forms of peninsular cliffs protruding into the ocean. And for savoring Nature’s ability to delight us with unexpected dramas of color, there’s “Millford Falls, 2009.” The foreground is an impossibly electric green field of algae seen at low tide, collapsed into curvy, wave-like clumps. In the middle distance, like a dancing exclamatory spectre, is the waterfall.

To so skillfully record scenes this transcendent, this astonishingly ethereal, is in itself an uplifting act in a world dangerously close to abandoning such beauty to “progress” and “development.” Surely it behooves us, when viewing these images, to think seriously about McNulty’s wish for us, stated in his bio, “to emote and to be inspired to do something, no matter how small.”

For small starters, then, we should be joyously grateful that an artist as eminently gifted and conscientious as McNulty is active in this community, showing the fruits of his passionate labors in Canton’s most beautiful gallery.

Photo: “Milford Falls, 2009” courtesy Stephen McNulty. From his exhibit “Austral Radiance” on view at the Joseph Saxton Gallery of Photography through January 22.
520 Cleveland Avenue NW, Canton. Gallery hours: Noon – 5p.m., Wednesday - Saturday
Work is available for purchase, consignment, and exhibition.
Gallery Info and Contact: (330) 438-0030
Also, McNulty Imaging Limited, (330) 705 - 8659

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Arranged Marriages

Arranged Marriages

By Tom Wachunas

“Blind Date: The Romance of Word and Image,” is the name of a bold and fascinating exhibition now on view at Anderson Creative Studio in downtown Canton. First, let me tell you why I think it’s bold.

For as long as I’ve been writing about art (nearly 25 years), I’ve been an avid observer of how people in general look at art in a gallery or museum setting. I don’t mean ‘look at art’ in the sense of how people feel, think, or theorize about it. I mean how they are physically with art in real time and space – their posture, their eye movements, and the amount of actual time they spend in its immediate proximity. Over the years I’ve noticed that too many (I’m ever-closer to amending that to MOST) people treat the experience with a hurried nonchalance, absentmindedly breezing through exhibits with the vague hope, perhaps, that something will “catch their eye.” They simply look too fast. While I’m sure there are those who will disagree, I’m nonetheless convinced that we live in a society that discourages thinking too long or hard about what, exactly, we’re seeing. Truly dedicated art viewers seem to be a minority among us, if not a dying breed.

What makes this exhibit bold, then, is its unabashedly clear demand on our time. For here, to wholly internalize what is before us, we must not only look at the visual content, but read the accompanying text in full if we are to assess a connection between the two. In a way, we as viewers are witnesses to a performance, or marriage of sorts, between visual artists and writers.

The broker of this clever union is performance artist and writer –and here, curator- Craig Joseph. He paired 15 visual artists with 15 writers (a combination of individuals from Canton, Chicago and Minneapolis). The visual artists made works given to the writers to inspire literary works in a variety of genres, and in turn the writers provided material on which the artists based their visual pieces in a wide variety of media.

What’s most interesting here is that while each work in the show is necessarily an integrated presentation of object or image with a text, both the literary works and the visual works (with only a few weak exceptions) function as engaging, stand-alone pieces in their own right. Call it an exercise in simultaneous autonomy and symbiosis. In the end, this is a refreshingly successful collaborative project of remarkable substance.

Also interesting is how the writers’ chosen genres link up so effectively and appropriately with the visual artists’ chosen mediums. Clearly, the magic of artistic intuition is at work here. “Nativity,” a deeply moving poem by Carter Smith, for example, enhances the intensely personal, even mysterious quality of Joseph Close’s haunting “The Avatar and the Nash Equilibrium.” A similar chemistry is at work in the relationship between Michele Waalkes’ shimmering fiber piece, “The Verge,” depicting a church-like interior, and the reflective musings in the poem, “Shadows,” by Kris Lindquist.

One particularly good example of committing ample time to appreciate the depth of a work can be found in the collaboration between painter Marci Axelband and writer Judith Christy. Christy’s “Bad Connection” might be the longest written work in the show, but reading it all the way through yields a satisfying sense of real connection. Her narrative reads like a captivating scene from a noir film or play, telling the story of a phone conversation between a husband and wife discussing their impending divorce. Axelband’s abstract “Boxes” is captivating, too, and could be a crowded cityscape, or perhaps an elaborate phone doodle on a grand scale, depicting stylized ‘figures’ and ‘ghosts’ locked together in claustrophobic tension.

I found myself increasingly absorbed in reading each line of the story, my eyes darting back and forth between text and painting, looking for, and ultimately getting the gist of the works to my delight. This process is necessarily repeated in viewing each collaboration in this show and, as in the Christy-Axelband work, generally delivers an edifying result.

It is indeed a process that understandably asks us to go against the grain of our normally attention-fatigued, brain-numbing routines and be more intentional with our time. And in some ways, this exhibit challenges us to be willing to be enchanted. Think of it as both taking the time to savor a marvelous art show as well as giving time to these artists and writers who have surely earned it.

Photo: Installation view of text for “Bad Connection” by Judith Christy, and “Boxes,” pastel, acrylic, and water-based oil by Marci Axelband. One of 30 collaborative works on view in “Blind Date: The Romance of Word and Image,” at Anderson Creative Studio, 331 Cleveland Avenue NW, through January 31. Gallery hours: Noon to 5p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010



By Tom Wachunas

Consider the following as promotional announcements about two upcoming, exciting arts events. But first, some introductory thoughts.

It’s not that I feel in any way guilty about casting ArtsinStark in an unflattering light lately, considering my past comments about that entity’s part in hoisting bad public art on to the walls of downtown Canton. Besides, when it comes to presenting public art in this town, the powers that be apparently revel in the arguable if not ludicrous idea that generating public dialogue (no matter how negative or heated) is the sole endgame of public art. So you can rest assured I intend to keep stoking that fire as long as the decision makers’ good artistic sense and sensibilities continue to be an evasive commodity. Enough of that for now, though. For the remainder of this entry I hereby forsake the critic’s hatchet –which I’m sure some might view as curmudgeonly kvetching- favoring instead to focus on more praiseworthy things.

The fact of the matter is that in several other areas of presenting and disseminating the arts in our community, ArtsinStark has been an effective, edifying force for the last few years. I sincerely wish continued success for its visionary efforts, particularly in the realm of arts in education, i.e. the SmArts program. So I highly recommend checking out ArtSplash, a celebratory event to be held at the Cultural Center for the Arts (1001 Market Avenue North, Canton) from 11a.m. to 3p.m. on Saturday, January 23. The family-friendly event is free, and will feature a wide and wild array of things to see and do, including viewing the current crop of marvelous exhibits in the Canton Museum of Art. Visitors will be treated to demonstrations by participating SmArts schools wherein teachers offer take-home lessons for parents and caregivers to use in integrating arts with academics. There will be “make-n-take” art projects from the Canton Museum, Canton Symphony, and Players Guild Theatre, among others. Also included will be presentations on the Great Court stage by Canton Ballet, Canton Idol, Ananda Drum Circle, Green High School Ensemble, Silver Star Youth Theatre, and TENEO (from Malone University). Food will be available for purchase, and the parking is free. Make a day of it and warm up to the arts.

And now I indulge once again in that pesky, shameless self-promotion. Well, not exactly SELF-promotion. More like promoting an ongoing project of mine – curating the exhibits at Gallery 6000. As I’ve mentioned in the past, this gallery, located in the very elegant dining room of the University Center on the Kent State University Stark campus (6000 Frank Avenue NW, North Canton), is an atypical venue for pictorial art. Since it’s a full-service dining room designed to serve the many meetings and seminars that transpire in the building, it’s not an art establishment in the normal, commercial sense of the word. You can’t necessarily walk in any time you like to view the art. The building is open from 8am to 5pm weekdays, and you should call ahead (330-244-3300, or 330-244-3518) to confirm when the room is open for viewing on any given day. I highly recommend that you simply attend the opening reception for the artists in the next exhibit on Tuesday, January 26 from 5:30pm to 7:30pm.

The show is called “Abstractitudes,” and features the work of four very accomplished Canton-area painters whose work I greatly admire: Gene Barber, Martin Bertman, Aaron Hubbard, and Isabel Zaldivar.

Collectively, these four artists present a range of distinctly painterly languages - from pure abstraction to less extreme departures from objective reality.

Gene Barber’s recent canvases seethe with physicality, largely a result of his bare-hand application of paint. Elaborate in gestural quality, his paintings elevate the notion of finger painting to compelling levels of emotional nuance.

Martin Bertman’s expressive paintings are, on one level, lovingly executed explorations of several 20th-century stylistic influences. Apart from those influences, however, all of his images exude a loose, confident immediacy that is uniquely personal, along with an astonishing color sensibility.

Aaron Hubbard makes paintings that address what he calls “…the energy, activity, diversity, and potentiality of human practices and relationships.” Fueled by his interest in science fiction and poststructuralist philosophy, his images present an enthralling, abstract vision of interacting forces.

Isabel Zaldivar is clearly inspired by traditional representations – landscapes or still lifes, for example- though rarely confined by them. Like the Impressionists and Expressionists, she revels in the physicality of paint, and achieves marvelously textured surfaces that function within her larger “scenes” as delightful, intricate microcosms of abstraction.

I will surely be writing more on this exhibit. In the meantime, I hope to see you all at the opening. If you’re planning on coming, please RSVP Becky DeHart at 330-244-3518 or

Photo: “O’Keefe’s Desert,” acrylic on canvas, by Martin Bertman