Friday, March 11, 2011

Reconcilable Differences

Reconcilable Differences

By Tom Wachunas

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” - Elie Wiesel –

Among the posts archived in this site are occasional reflections on the notion of artists’ statements accompanying their exhibited works. Somewhere in there I mentioned a time when I was hostile toward the practice of writing down (for display purposes) the meaning of my (or any other artist’s) visual work. Looking back at my youth, this attitude was fueled by a flimsy, even arrogant reasoning that went something like this: If you need to exhibit words explaining what your art is all about, then you’re a failure as an artist and perhaps you should find another line of work. Like becoming a writer, or a critic. But that’s another story. Or is it?

Let’s get honest. Very much of what we think we know and appreciate about the content and meaning of art (whether in museums, history books, or other contemporary venues) is inextricably entwined with the surrounding written observations and commentaries by historians, philosophers, collectors, curators, and yes, pesky critics. So why exclude the artists themselves from writing about their art? Granted, some – maybe many - artists consider the practice some sort of game or performance, deliberately offering drivel, obtuse or arcane, posing as profundity. But just as many, I’m sure, welcome the writing about their work as an opportunity to open a window on their process. Call it an act of generosity – an invitation to more fully embrace the work at hand. The practice is by no means a requirement for making an exhibition successful. But when presented with genuine sincerity, artists’ words can make “the art experience” all the more enriching for the viewer.

Such is the case, I think, with the current show by Michelle DeBellis, called “Two-Faced,” at Anderson Creative. A Malone University student, and Anderson Creative intern, DeBellis offers eight pieces in this, her first solo exhibit. While two of the works are painterly (with collage elements) in form, as in “The Return Home,” neither of them indicates a particularly remarkable aptitude for imaginative paint handling. They are, however, consistent with the extemporaneous look of her mixed media assemblages, which convey a sense of fragile tentativeness and impermanence. Her combinations of disparate textures and found objects – you might call them spontaneous constructions – are well suited to illustrating or symbolizing the thoughts she presents in her attendant texts. Those texts, in turn, are not so much philosophizing about her working methods or esthetics as they are disarming, faith-driven confessions about coming to grips with “splits,” struggles, and dichotomies in her relationships with the world. Underlying all of them is a poignant longing to reconcile how she sees herself, how it connects to surrendering to God’s vision for her life, and what she sees as others’ expectations of her.

The resultant art is visceral, somewhat uncomfortable in its slap-dash appearance, and surely not “beautiful” by classical standards. Yet for all of this, there is present here a heartfelt if not raw authenticity that’s hard to ignore. This is, in the end, an artful fusion of enduring human spirit with the vagaries of physical reality. And in keeping with art’s mysterious power to reveal to us the essence of a person, that’s a beautiful thing.

Photo: “Two-Faced” mixed media assemblage by Michelle DeBellis, on view at Anderson Creative through April 9, 331 Cleveland Avenue NW, downtown Canton. Gallery hours are Wednesday – Saturday Noon to 5 p.m.

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