Saturday, August 28, 2010

Anima Humana

Anima Humana

By Tom Wachunas

“The artist alone sees spirits. But after he has told of their appearing to him, everybody sees them.” - Johann Wolgang von Goethe –

“Where the spirit does not work with the hand there is no art.” - Leonardo da Vinci –

“You don’t have a Soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.” - C.S. Lewis –

When we strip away all our rhetoric about contexts and definitions, making art has always, essentially, been about giving physical form to those things that by their very nature would seem to defy the effort. At its most fundamental level, the glorious miracle of us is that we exist at all. Our awareness of this fact has always clamored for – even demanded - our attention. Toward that end, art can be a powerful vehicle, a conduit for communicating our response to being. Beyond our very bodies, our art is the story of spirit-inhabited flesh. Further, our most potent and efficacious art transcends the merely formal delights (or assaults) for eye and mind, and speaks eloquently to and about the state of our souls.

There’s plenty of such eloquence – vibrant and pithy - on view in two shows at the Summit Art Space building in Akron. One is called “Fire and Ice,” a two-person show in the Big Box Gallery on the 3d floor, featuring the work of Karen Pierson and Terry Klausman, both members of Artists of Rubber City. The other, called “My Spirit Rises,” is a much larger group show in the main-floor gallery. I visited “Fire and Ice” first.

Karen Pierson makes objects that, as jewelry, would certainly be daring fashion choices. Beyond that, though, these are fascinating small sculptures in their own right, each one a marvel of metalsmithing. Particularly dramatic are “Point d’ebullition – Boiling Over,” and “Dichotomie.” The former is a ‘Volcano Brooch’ and the latter a ‘Fire and Ice Brooch.’ Both brooches are mounted on an 8”x10” oil painting – each brooch a removable 3D pictorial ingredient intrinsic to the tiny, elegant landscape. This isn’t jewelry destined for stashing in a box. “Dichotomie” is a fantastical union of a miniature campfire glowing against a night sky, with an underside of crystalline ‘ice’ forms that hang down against the painted streaks of the aurora borealis. All of her pieces are imbued with a primal, elemental intrigue impeccably crafted.

That same spirit is even more viscerally evident in Terry Klausman’s thoroughly unique mixed media works. Most of his wall hangings combine hand-carved and varnished natural wood “frames” draped with irregularly-shaped pieces of canvas – like stretched skins - generously lathered with waves of acrylic spatters and swirls. Some are about fire, as in, perhaps, eruptions of hot emotions. Others, like “Icicles,” seem cold and frozen hard, yet strangely liquid. Bold, haunting, and intensely tactile, they suggest exotic artifacts a modern shaman might use in purification or exorcism rituals.

While it was purely by chance that I saw “Fire and Ice” at all, I’m delighted to report that it’s a remarkably fine exhibit that also, interestingly enough, seems cut from the same conceptual cloth as “My Spirit Rises.” In that show there are more than 70 works by six artists: Jean Evans, John Herring, Ted Maringer, Carole Pollard, Judith Salamon, and Bob Yost. For rich variety of media and depth of engaging visual and emotional content, this is surely among the most breathtaking group shows I’ve seen this year. My spirit rises indeed.

What comes to mind, then, is a stunningly expanded sense of what I saw in “Fire and Ice” - something the classical Greeks would have called ‘pneuma.’ It’s a marvelous word that, depending upon context, can refer to breath, wind, life-force, rational soul, or the principle essence of human existence. All of those applications, in varying degrees, are at work here. Of course in a show this large, some works understandably resonate longer and more deeply than others.

Among those are Bob Yost’s raku pieces, particularly his eerily beautiful masks – charred and charged gems of human drama . Ted Maringer’s mixed media hangings that use fiberglass mesh as shimmering ‘cloth’ are riveting in their simplicity and elegance. There’s a timeless potency in their suggestion of priests’ vestments, or ceremonial kimono. The mixed media “Spirit Dress” paintings by Judith Salamon are similarly endowed with an archetypal energy. These softly colored and patterned surfaces are hypnotic, codified ‘garments’ that clothe both the deeply personal and cosmic.

The quilts by Carole Pollard are nothing short of astonishing. The thread work alone in “Awakening,” for example, is a journey unto itself. A road map to infinity? Combined with myriad colors and intertwined patterns upon intricate patterns, it’s an explosive celebration, perhaps, of celebration itself. And for sheer electrifying muscularity of form – literally and symbolically – there is her trio of wall pieces, “Melville’s Angel (I, II, III).” The work was inspired by a Herman Melville poem built around the image of Jacob wrestling with an angel, in this case art. The third quilt in the set, called “Triumph,” is an utterly arresting embodiment of this show’s pneuma (or a Latin companion, ‘anima humana’), as it were.

This victory icon, with its silvery central gauntlet clutching red feathers beneath a lusciously blazing sun, is on one level a compelling symbol of the good fight that all artists engage. It is a timeless struggle, at once unreasonable and joyous. Still, to think that we humans could wrest from heaven the capacity to create is only half the story.

And so it is that in the end, I think that our victory isn’t so much in ‘winning’ anything from God or his angels. Rather, it lies in our grasping of what was freely given in the first place. This show is a thrilling reminder that art is where body and spirit unite in gratitude for an eternal gift.

Photo: “Melville’s Angel III: Triumph,” quilt plus 3D mailed/armed gauntlet, by Carole Pollard, on view in “My Spirit Rises.” This exhibit, along with “Fire and Ice” is on view through September 18 at Summit Art Space, 140 East Market Street, Akron, Ohio. Free Admission and Parking. Gallery hours for “My Spirit Rises” are Thursday – Saturday, 12 to 5 p.m. (330) 376 – 8480. Hours for “Fire and Ice” in the 3’d floor Big Box Gallery are Friday and Saturday 12 to 5 p.m.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Picturing Language

Picturing Language

By Tom Wachunas

A few posts ago I shared a recollection, from my college years, of Professor Hoyt Sherman. Here’s another. On more than a few occasions of our discussions about what I thought I was doing with my art, he would seemingly change the subject and tell me that I should pursue a college teaching career because I’d be really good at it. For reasons too many and complicated to share here, I didn’t. At least not right away.

So here I am about to embark upon my fourth year as adjunct faculty in the Fine Arts Dept. at Kent State University Stark. And as the Fall semester quickly approaches, I’m reminded, every time I go to my campus desk to prepare my lecture notes and powerpoint presentation, of how much I truly love this work. It’s a marvelous sensation – this love of one’s work – and it invariably overcomes my self-loathing for having delayed my professional entry into the Hallowed Halls of Academe for 30 years. Mea maxima culpa.

When people ask me what I teach, I have often replied simply, but in all seriousness, “passion.” Passion for observing and seeing. Passion for searching. Passion for the language of art. The course is officially called Art Survey. In my mind, though, it will always be Passion 101. My purpose, then, is a daunting one. But if I can impart to my students even the smallest glowing ember of the fire that burns inside me for ALL the arts, then I’ve earned my paycheck. My best days in the classroom are those when I see at least one pair of eyes widen with a realization, a connection, a challenging question, or a thrilling discovery. Even more, a beautiful mystery fully accepted can be just as enthralling as the one skillfully solved. That’s the power of art.

Speaking of Hallowed Halls, I’ve walked the same corridor to my classroom in the Fine Arts building hundreds of times during the past three years and am only now getting around to talking about the remarkable art there. The north wall of the corridor (just inside the south entrance of the Fine Arts Building, marked 30S) is adorned with six massive panels, painted in oil and cold wax on plaster wall board by Jack McWhorter (Associate Professor of Art at Kent State University Stark)in 2004, each measuring 7’x16’. These aren’t just very big paintings hung on the wall. In large part, they ARE the wall, forming a permanent interior architectural feature of the building. I admit that for my first few weeks on campus back in 2007, the paintings seemed to be an obtuse curiosity, a decorative mystery indeed. After reading the accompanying information about the installation many times (mounted near the drinking fountain on the wall opposite the first panel), seeing the work has become an increasingly mesmerizing experience that I find continually inspiring.

That’s because they remind me of why I’m in the building in the first place: to teach about seeing art. And to do that, I need to use language. Many years ago, impetuous youth being what it is, I used to think that needing and searching for language to ‘explain’ visual art was antithetical to the art experience and thus a little arrogant. The reality is that language is intrinsically connected and necessary to how we extrapolate and communicate (or, translate) the meaning or value of our art.

McWhorter’s work here is called “Stele Forest: A Typographical Fairy Tale.” The panels do in fact bring to mind ancient steles – engraved stone slabs or columns. These are inspired by the alphabets and writing systems of several ancient cultures (Mayan, Sumerian, Egyptian, Indian, Greek, and Chinese) and the possibilities they present for organizing pictorial abstractions. I’m not sure exactly what the fairy tale is (is there a hero, a wizard, a damsel, a villain?) beyond an intuition that with this work we are presented with a quest, a search. As pure painting goes, the work is monumentally enthralling. Against earthy grounds that look layered and scraped, each panel is a matrix comprised of intricate calligraphies and pictographs rendered with great confidence and precision, yet never losing the sense that these “letters” are painted with a brush . Within each themed panel there are separate ‘highlighted’ rectangles and corridors of varying dimensions –like rooms within the larger structure. To see the paintings you must walk the length of the narrow hall, all the while gazing up to the frosted skylights, and then going (via stairs or elevator) to the second floor mezzanine hallway to gaze down. This tale can’t be read straight-on at eye level, but from many angles, calling our attentions to things beyond the confines of its painted surface. Seeing art can be challenging that way. So maybe these paintings are a story about making art. A story about the language of looking.

And so it is that every time I pass these impressive monoliths on my way into room 142, I think about what I can say to widen some eyes and open some ears as we speak sincerely about that language. I love this job.

Photo: partial view of “Stele Forest: A Typographical Fairy Tale,” 2004, 6 panels by Jack McWhorter, oil and cold wax on plaster wall board, each panel 7’ x 16’, located in the Fine Arts Building at Kant State University Stark.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Weightless in Canton

Weightless in Canton

By Tom Wachunas

Aegolius was pacing about, nervous and anxious. He couldn’t wait to talk to Nyctea after her visit to the city. When he saw her approaching, he ran right up to her and nearly knocked her down.
“Well, so now you have to tell me,” he blurted, out of breath, “what… did you think… of Pavo’s… new work? Everyone’s… talking about it!”
“Yes, I know,” Nyctea replied wearily. She was very tired and didn’t feel like talking, but Aegolius pressed her harder.
“C’mon then, what did – “
Agitated now, Nyctea interrupted, “It’s not a new work at all,” she snapped. “Pavo’s been making the same piece for 50 years.”

- from “Mournings of the Grebes” by June Godwit -

He has enamored himself to a dramatically growing number of fans and purveyors of public art in recent years, garnering such affectionate monikers as ‘The Grizzled Wizard of Recycling’ and ‘The Junkyard Pied Piper’. P.R. Miller is baaaack.

If Miller’s life is ever made into a movie, some weisenheimer filmmaker just might insert a scene parodying the classic 1940 film of John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.” I can see it now. Like Henry Fonda’s Tom Joad in his farewell scene, the character of P.R. Miller peers into eternity and intones, “I’ll be around in the dark. I’ll be everywhere, wherever you can look. Wherever there’s scraps ‘o trash no one wants, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a town that wants junk art, I’ll be there.” And he’s here again in downtown Canton with yet another of his critters made from recycled stuff, this one called “Shutterbug,” located in the parking lot across the street (the 500 block of Cleveland Avenue NW) from the Joseph Saxton Gallery of Photography.

Based on comments I’ve heard from Miller in the past, he doesn’t seem to care deeply for art history or academically-couched assessments of his art. Such disdain notwithstanding, I’ve always viewed his work as heavily indebted to Picasso’s more playful assemblages of found materials. It’s an esthetic with a ‘distinguished’ history, though in the vast compendium of modernist content and methods, a fairly toothless one in terms of truly remarkable art.

That said, I don’t want to come off as too venomous, or dismissive of Miller’s work per se. In all its colorful gaiety and variety of textures, it does possess, as the cliché goes, a “certain je ne sais qua.” And at times, its formulaic, low-brow charm might well be an inviting introduction for casual viewers to embrace sculpture at a rudimentary, ‘entertaining’ level.

Still, in all the hooplah about art made from recycled materials, I wonder why going green seems to result far too often in art that looks so downright chincy, so…green. As in simplistic, predictable, and cerebrally lightweight? This kind of sculpture (with the exception, perhaps, of Pat Buckohr’s thrilling Rhino made from tires) has sufficiently dotted the arts district in the past.

Aside from its name and proximity to the Saxton Gallery, Miller’s concoction has no clear relationship with photography, though it was funded by Saxton owner Tim Belden. “Shutterbug” is a 15 foot-high, 4-legged metal creature fashioned after a bee. Its abdomen is streaked with paint applied in a slap-dash manner. Arguably its most clever attribute can be seen in the wings that flutter in the breeze. Alas, I think it won’t be flying away soon. Yes, it’s somewhat cute, and whimsical, and fun. And there’s certainly something to be said for decorative art that brings a smile. For all of its imposing scale, this creature is harmless, but nonetheless one pest among others in the downtown landscape. So call me a humbug, but enough already.

Photo: “Shutterbug” by P.R. Miller, sculpture from recycled materials, located at the corner of Fifth Street and Cleveland Avenue NW, downtown Canton.

Sunday, August 15, 2010



By Tom Wachunas

Recently I was reminded of one of my most cherished memories of art studies at The Ohio State University, which transpired shortly after the invention of dirt. They are of the late, great Hoyt Sherman, who not only tolerated but nourished my efforts at making paintings. He didn’t teach me anything about how to paint as such, but rather something more profoundly lasting: how to SEE painting. At some point in the process he said something that became then – and still is now– a mantra of sorts: Painting is first and foremost drawing, and all drawing is configuration in space. I can’t begin to unpack here all the depth and applications contained in that observation, but I assure you that it gets at the heart of how I look at ALL the arts. Regardless of the forms and styles they employ – even temporal and audio forms – all artists are engaged in making decisions about how to draw, i.e., how to configure their chosen elements in space, two-dimensional and otherwise.

Marge May draws with cloth. Specifically, most of the 31 pieces in her exhibit - called “Marge’s Images” at Lynda Tuttle’s Art Center in downtown Canton – are portraits composed largely from pieces of authentic African-styled fabrics that she sometimes enhances with her own dye and paint treatments. These are intricate visual jewels that elevate the craft of cut-and-paste to a magnificent level of artful enchantment… patchwork portraits executed with all the decidedly precise finesse that a master draftsman would ‘draw’ upon in composing a solid picture in any medium.

Marge May understands faces. Not just their anatomy, but their ephemeral underpinnings, the physiognomy of essential human spirit. With one exception (a delightful likeness of gallery proprietor Tuttle), all the portraits are renderings of Black people (most of them anonymous), and usually presented so as to recapitulate their historically rich ethnicity through the colors, textures, and patterns of African culture. And invariably, the eyes of the faces that May constructs are indeed the proverbial windows of souls. This is not easy to achieve with her chosen medium.

The works I’ve seen by other artists making portraits in similar manner are very often just innocently decorative collages and related pleasantries we associate with folk art. May’s works certainly are decorative enough, with their spectacular variety of print patterns that seem to magically interlock. Yet each portrait is, in its own right and despite its smaller-than-life scale, inhabited by a muscular spirit more urgently compelling than simply charming. These faces don’t invite merely casual scrutiny. They command our undivided attention. As in the portrait, interestingly enough, called “You Have My Attention.” The face of the man is marvelously faceted in a sculptural sort of way, his eyes locked with ours in a steady, intense gaze. His hands have broken the picture plane and come between us as if to define a boundary, perhaps. Is he ready to impart a truth about himself, or fend off our inquiries about him? To give or take?

“Serenity,” like so many of the portraits here, presents a similar sense of engaging questions behind the gaze and posture, along with exquisitely rhythmic compositional structure. A mother looks intently past us, through us, far into a place where her sleeping child has yet to arrive. Her hair is electrified, on end, alert. Her hand, resting on her baby’s torso, is both a cradling comfort and a strong, ready shield.

What I find regrettable about this groundbreaking show (the first-ever solo exhibit in Stark County by a Black artist) is that I didn’t visit it sooner, and more than once. It’s up for only a few more weeks (through August 30), and viewing times are limited (see schedule and contact info at the end here). Fear not, though. Lynda Tuttle is willing to open up the gallery beyond her posted schedule if need be. And she’s a delightfully generous hostess with her time in that she’ll regale you with fascinating stories about many of the works.

Vulnerability, dignity, integrity, anxiety, desire, hope, pain, confidence, fear, joy – all woven together here like so many threads in the fabric of humanity. These riveting expressions, drawn so passionately from dazzling fibers, are not, in the end, unique to nameless individuals isolated in disconnected rooms, households, cities, or even nations, or the histories contained therein. Surely on one level, it seems to me, they symbolize the many-colored mantle that humans have donned, for better or worse, as a condition of being alive. And so it is that beyond their breathtaking, complex beauty of ethnic specificity, these transcendent visages speak to and about us all.

Photo, courtesy Lynda Tuttle’s Art Center, “Serenity,” mixed media, by Marge May, on view in “Marge’s Images” / 209 6th Street NW, downtown Canton. Gallery hours are WEDNESDAY 9a.m. to 5p.m., THURSDAY and FRIDAY 12noon to 5p.m., OR BY APPOINTMENT. Call (330) 452 – 8211. Email


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Purrfectly Pleasing (A Cautionary Tail)

Purrfectly Pleasing (A Cautionary Tail)

By Tom Wachunas

“On my way to you I did see a large, spotted cat,” Nyctea answered, “just over that hill, in the brush.”
Alarmed, Aegolius followed her gaze, which was something he seemed to be doing a lot of these days. “Just what we need, more predators,” he said with a snort. “You must have been very frightened.”
“Oh nooo, not at all,” she said. Measuring her words, in a soothing tone, she continued,
“There was something quite, quite…beautiful about it, in an odd sort of way.”
“Odd? How so?”
“Well, I mean to say it seemed so perfectly, so perfectly…”
Aegolius, knowing cats all too well, offered, “Pleased with itself?”
“Ahhh, yes,” Nyctea said, nodding vigorously. “Thank you! That’s it precisely. It was so perfectly pleased with itself.”

- June Godwit, from “Mournings of the Grebes”-

I wasn’t sure if I would comment any further about BZTAT’s downtown mural installation beyond what I offered in my June 29 post (“A Heap of City Kitties”). But now that it’s in place (on the side of the HEAP building at 201 Fifth Street NW), here’s a sequel, prompted in part by the above, intriguingly apropos excerpt from Godwit’s long out-of-print fantasy epic.

This is also prompted by recent comments from Judi Krew, in her August 7 blog post ( So I thank her for her thoughts. Not that I feel in the least bit compelled to ‘keep up with the Joneses’, but she alludes (through a refreshing cat’s-eye perspective) to some important considerations when assessing public art, the operative term here being PUBLIC.

The purview of public art works should never be regarded strictly as a free-for-all forum where artists – no matter how engaging or profound their work might be in a gallery or museum context - simply get to strut their stuff on a grand scale. Somehow there needs to be an accountability to, and acknowledgement of, relevance and appeal to viewers. This is not to say there’s no room for controversy. After all, we’re dealing with the ever volatile and subjective realm of balancing the artists’ personal tastes and esthetic languages with societal perspectives and trends. Sometimes they blend, sometimes they clash. The challenge will always be to present art we can hopefully and truly live with, talk about, and even be proud of at best, not just tolerate or ignore at worst.

You can’t ignore BZTAT’s Downtown Cats. In fact I’ve never seen her vibrant color sensibilities more thoughtfully balanced and alive amid bold, clear shapes, their edges more subtly softened, her brush work more facile. And while it’s gratifying to know of her deep passion for the welfare of domestic animals, the work stands on its own as a simple, innocent pleasure for the eyes (even if some poor souls among you can’t stand cats, in which case I’ll pray for you). Only time will tell if her materials and methods will withstand the ravages of local weather. As it stands now, though, these cats exude an air of (sometimes I just can’t help myself) purrfect permanence.

BZTAT’s mural comes to us on the heels of Canton’s ebullient annual rite of football brouhaha – the Hall of Fame Festival. So permit me a metaphor. In their much-publicized ambitions to present significant public art to both resident and visiting citizens, our civic and artistic “authorities” have yet to manifest a game plan of any really consistent quality. Their offense strategy has often been just plain offensive and otherwise indefensible, as it were. So while BZTAT’s mural may not be a touchdown for the record books, it is nonetheless an electrifying, sweetly and skillfully executed field goal.

The kick is up, and it’s good.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Master Lensman's Legacy

A Master Lensman’s Legacy

By Tom Wachunas

Photograph: a picture painted by the sun without instruction in art.
- Ambrose Bierce –

In his day (late 19th century) Ambrose Bierce (aka “Bitter Bierce”) was the journalistic king of sardonic commentary on…everything. Clearly he didn’t consider photography an artistically noble pursuit, and his view of painting seemed equally cynical, calling it “the art of protecting flat surfaces from the weather and exposing them to the critic.” To a certain poetic extent, he got the “painted by the sun” part right for photography (particularly nature photography), and similarly in painting, the idea of exposed surfaces. Now, if we maintain our poetic sensibilities and combine the two, we might come up with something a little more illuminating as to process, like this: photographs from nature are flat surfaces painted by the sun after exposure to the artist’s decisions.

Enter Art Wolfe. He’s a world- class, award- winning conservation photographer who has, in the course of 30 years, left us a ravishing record of vanishing or threatened species and environments in far-flung reaches of the world. The current exhibit of his large format color prints at the Joseph Saxton Gallery of Photography, titled “Travels to the Edge,” is ample and sumptuous proof that Wolfe has honed his instruction in fine arts from long ago (meaning his artistic decision-making skills) to a point of stunning refinement.

The visual power of this exhibit is in Wolfe’s keen eye for organized color distribution in the forms we see, beautifully enhanced by fascinating textures. These are thoughtfully framed scenes, masterfully constructed in a way that an orchestral composer arranges a variety of instrumental colors, rhythms, and textures to support a main theme. Call them concertos for the eyes.

Eyes indeed. Hunkered down in a lush bed of warm-colored wildflowers, the baby birds in “Snowy Owlets” peer directly at us with a riveting, even threatening gaze. The startling brightness of their round orange eyes echoes analogous colors in the flower petals around them, and is an intense counterpoint to their fluffy, delicate gray down. That same facile employment of color rhythms to lead the eye through a composition is evident throughout this exhibit. In “King Penguins,” for example, the birds’ rounded white breasts, like high-relief punctuation marks on the dark earth of the shore, pick up the larger shape of the whitish sea water; the orange features of their heads act like staccato repetitions of the eerie glow of the sky at the distant horizon.

Even more compelling here are those photographs that, while certainly faithful records of real forms and moments in time, are nonetheless distinctly more abstract in appearance. In fact some of these are so imbued with a tactile lyricism that they look like modern paintings. “Flamingos” is an aerial view of liquidy land masses with amorphous edges, in various white tones amid undulating light tans and blues. The Flamingos are almost indistinguishable as birds but for the subtlest hints of pink, appearing as a flurry of very tiny dots clustered in the center, and rising up into a gorgeous patch of vibrant cerulean. The photograph is reminiscent of the poured color-field canvases by famed abstractionist Helen Frankenthaler. And “Cathedral of Ice” is a thrillingly sensual, mysterious Antarctica meditation that is unmistakably reminiscent of Georgia O’Keefe’s haunting explorations of floral forms.

This show is very much a double-edged living legacy. On one hand, Wolfe continues to issue an urgent call to savor and protect our natural wonders. And on the other, his exquisitely crafted visions constitute truly great art.

Photo, courtesy Art Wolfe and Joseph Saxton Gallery: “Flamingos,” on view in “Travels to the Edge,” through October 1, 2010, at the Joseph Saxton Gallery of Photography, 520 Cleveland Avenue NW, downtown Canton, Ohio. Gallery Hours are 12p.m. to 5p.m. Wednesday – Saturday. (330) 438 – 0030.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Women Eclectic

Women Eclectic

By Tom Wachunas

Someone (in his late 20s, I would guess) recently asked me about the new show at Gallery 6000 this way: “Is it modern or postmodern or what?” What, no room for good old traditional stuff? Maybe he was trying to be au courant. As it turned out he, like many people, equated ‘postmodernism’ in the visual arts with terms like ‘avant- garde’, and ‘edgy’, and the idea that ugly is the new beautiful (since, the thinking goes, there are no universally agreeable parameters for beauty, thereby rendering it a non- requirement for art). These days I personally regard ‘postmodern’ as an often confusing reference to all kinds of global hokum about sociocultural relativism, along with a rejection (or at least re-analysis) of modernist perspectives, as if modernism hadn’t already jettisoned much of what most reasonable people would consider worth keeping around. Suffice it to say here that all the art being done everywhere these days exists in “the postmodern era,” even though there are no definitive rules of postmodern formalism in painting, sculpture, drawing, etc. Anyone who tells you different is itchin’ for a fight.

Still, ‘postmodern’ as a descriptor applied to the visual arts seems to imply some sort of intrinsically powerful relevance. And with that there are, almost always, expectations of encountering profoundly strange and/or irreverent things that confound easy categorizing. This, I suppose, comes with the territory. In the big picture, a considerable amount of the ‘new’ art I encounter in the context of postmodernist critique, which I mean here to be commentaries on the avant- garde, is really just a lot of smoke and mirrors anyway. And the emperor’s new clothes, such as they may be, are really just the emperor’s old clothes, worse for wear in many cases, with new labels sewn in.

In any event, my latest curatorial offering at Gallery 6000, while certainly a fairly mixed-bag of formal approaches, makes no claim to being astoundingly experimental, remarkably new, or controversial in content. Let’s call it comfortably contemporary and leave further label haggling for another fight…er, uhm…conversation. The fact of the matter is that the work exhibited here in “Women Eclectic” is by four artists who speak in visual languages that, while dialectically separate, as it were, are distinctly accessible to the mind (with a healthy dose of intrigue in some cases), and a delight to the eye.

Judi Krew is widely known for her raucous, highly detailed acrylic paintings celebrating womanhood in all its situational challenges, frustrations, and riotous absurdities, all rendered in an illustrative, or comic book style. Here she presents a relatively more recent evolution in her body of work – pastel portraits. Certainly more conventional, or ‘academic’ in approach when compared to her paintings, these five pieces are nonetheless sensitive, airy, and bold in both color and their clear mastery of authentically good drawing based on careful observation. Krew’s technique with pastels is one of very refined, gestured spontaneity. But her portraits aren’t overwhelmed by stiff poses or overly-precious markings, and so she deftly captures a sense of real candidness and soul in her subjects.

‘Eclectic’ surely applies to the nine works by Sarah Winther Shumaker. She’s equally adept in watercolor, reverse collage, mixed media, and encaustic (pigmented hot beeswax). Here she has delivered a remarkable range of textures and forms that embrace intimately-scaled visions (some the result of what she calls “happy accidents”) that have an engaging folk-art sensibility - part simple whimsy, part mystery, and all visually fascinating.

The five acrylic paintings by Ronni Marcinkowey nearly jump off the walls with their unabashedly brilliant, saturated hues. There is an unfussy innocence about these paintings. The compositions are simple, solid, and loosely rendered, with almost child-like confidence – a refreshing embodiment of joie d’vivre.

Kathryn Ackerman is relatively new to the Canton-area exhibition circuit. Beyond showing her work at Second April Galerie once (just several months ago), she’s been a well-kept secret up to this point. Speaking of secrets, her paintings here (one acrylic, four oils) might be full of them. Or perhaps questions would be more accurate, though not the dark questions you might encounter in a mystery-suspense story. These paintings aren’t so much a whodunnit as they are a who (or what) is it. Despite their small size, they impart a vast amount of representational imagery, presented in sweeping panoramas suggestive of cinematic, epic-scale dream sequences. Ackerman’s painting technique is exquisitely tight, her color sensibilities elegant and lush – achingly so - bringing new depth to the notion of ‘hauntingly beautiful’. Distinctly feminine, though never merely pretty, these images tell a deeply personal story about, perhaps, the artist’s identity - her past, present, and future ‘being-ness’. This simultaneity of search and revelation, while steeped in rich visual intrigue and mystery, is nonetheless powerfully inviting – even inspiring. It’s the kind of art that renders our tired categorizing of styles or eras moot. It’s the stuff of timelessness.

THE EXHIBIT OPENS THIS EVENING, Tuesday, August 3, with a reception for the artists and public at 5:30p.m. Please RSVP to Becky DeHart at 330-244-3518 or

Photo: “Beneath”/ oil, by Kathryn Ackerman, on view in the exhibition “Women Eclectic” at Gallery 6000, through October 28, 2010, located in the University Center, Kent State University at Stark, 6000 Frank Avenue NW, North Canton, Ohio.