Monday, February 27, 2012

Student and Teacher

Student and Teacher
By Tom Wachunas

“I cannot write them otherwise. When I think of God, my heart is so full of joy that the notes gush forth as from a fountain. Since God has given me a joyful heart, He will forgive me for having served Him joyfully.” - Franz Joseph Haydn –

When Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann speaks, audiences listen. Then they laugh. Not at him, per se, and not so much at what he is saying as at how he says it. At the February 26 concert by The Canton Symphony Orchestra (CSO), I imagined once again that, in a parallel universe, Zimmermann (gifted as he is with a wicked sense of humor) would be a successful standup comic. He’s just that affable and clever.

The theme of the concert was “Student and Teacher,” and the program consisted of Beethoven’s Symphony No.1 in C Major, followed by a Haydn (Beethoven’s teacher) work composed in the same year (1799), Mass No. 12 in B-flat Major (“Theresienmesse”). In his inimitably endearing fashion, Zimmermann introduced the Beethoven work by commenting on the composer’s own sense of musical humor. He cited the “wrong key” beginning of the first movement, the “deceiving” Menuetto third movement – too swift in tempo to be a minuet and in essence a full-fledged scherzo - and the sly beginning of the finale, with its slow sequence of start-stop chord fragments. Zimmermann proposed the scenario of a German couple’s flummoxed reaction to the 1800 Vienna premiere of this mischievous departure from expected symphonic form. “Frau Elizabeth,” he exclaimed in authentic German accent, “we are no longer in Dusseldorf!” Then he asked the audience, as waves of laughter still rippled through the packed house, to hear this seminal work with fresh ears.

Thus encouraged to listen intently for these formal elements - not only by Zimmermann’s observations about the work, but also by the pre-concert talk (a regular feature at CSO concerts presented by guest speakers) - we as audience in effect became a collective student body of sorts. On this occasion, one might call it an expansion of the evening’s “Student and Teacher” theme. We learn to become more engaged with the music on both a sensory and cognitive level. It’s just one of many aspects that make any evening with the CSO so wholly entertaining.

So here then, Zimmermann continued ‘speaking,’ but now to the business at hand with fluid, authoritative baton. Fast, playful, and tight, the wind instruments sparkled, the strings were fully luscious, and in flawless aural balance, the pulsing timpani soared. This was an exhilarating performance that did indeed generate a thoroughly refreshed appreciation of how a 30 year-old Beethoven had not only mastered all the musical prowess Haydn had to impart, but was on the cusp of surpassing it.

For the second work on the program, I recalled the delightful pre-concert presentation by Dr. Britt Cooper, director of the Walsh University Chamber Singers, wherein he made special note of the happy spirit that resides in Franz Joseph Haydn’s masses, including the one performed on this occasion. It is a spirit generously, even gloriously demonstrated here as the orchestra was joined by the Walsh singers, along with the accomplished Canton Symphony Chorus, and the University of Mount Union Concert Choir – a total of 120 voices.

Filling out the choral element were four truly remarkable soloists: Tessa Grindle-de Graaf (soprano), Sandra Ross (mezzo-soprano), Benjamin Krumreig (tenor), and Brian Keith Johnson (baritone). Their beautiful, impeccably blended tonalities and lavish harmonies – alternately solemn and joyous, but never somber - along with the very impressive, ethereal clarity and precision of the large choir, combined to deliver an inspiring, efficacious reflection of Haydn’s own words about his grand masses: “…When I think of God, my heart is so full of joy that the notes gush forth as from a fountain…”

Photo: Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann, Music Director and conductor of the Canton Symphony Orchestra

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Astonishingly Tepid

Astonishingly Tepid
By Tom Wachunas

“…I will blaze until I find my time and place. I will be fearless, surrendering modesty and grace. I will not disappear without a trace. I’ll start a riot, be anything but quiet…I’ll be astonishing.” - lyrics from “Astonishing” by Mindi Dickstein (music by Jason Howland), from the musical, “Little Women” –

Over the past several years of seeing the mainstage productions of Canton’s Players Guild Theatre (now celebrating its 80th season), I’ve been wowed every time by great stage literature – both dramatic and musical – presented with wondrously impressive, fiery professionalism that far exceeded ‘standard’ expectations of a community theatre organization. But expectations in this context can be fragile, and too easily built upon the consistency of past performances. And so it is that I found the current production of the musical “Little Women,” directed here by John M. Russell, to be unusually unsatisfying on a few levels.

First, and perhaps most important, is the art itself. Allan Knee’s book adaptation greatly short-changes the rich depth of character and story development in Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 beloved classic novel about the March sisters and their mother fending for themselves in Concord, Massachusetts, while father is away fighting in the Civil War. The episodic, truncated structure of the musical, with its largely unmemorable melodies and lyrics, makes it difficult to sustain lasting emotional connection to the characters. For most of the show, neither the bright live accompaniment (provided by an excellent seven-piece orchestra directed by Steve Parsons), nor even the cast’s most fervent performing, fully conquers this shortcoming.

There were, to be sure, some notable performances on opening night, both in singing and acting - just not enough of them, and not where you might expect them to be. You would expect, for example, the central character of tomboy Jo - the feisty, blunt, but jovial sister who dreams of being a world-class writer - to be a truly commanding singer. But in that role, Michelle Rae Chaho – an infectiously energetic actress (particularly as she narrates/mimes her hilariously goofy “operatic tragedies”) - lacked the vocal chops to pull off her character’s dreamy urgency in a convincing or consistent manner. Closing the somewhat sluggish first act, her big solo, “Astonishing,” was anything but, and hardly a show stopper. Similarly, Rose Medley, for all the sincerity and matronly warmth she brings to her role of Marmee (mother), seemed a bit too forced and tentative in her singing.

Not so with Jo’s sisters. Each of them – Cassidy Tompkins as Meg, Brooke Upholzer as Beth, and Rachel Wolin as Amy – brings a remarkably sonorous clarity and soaring verve to their ensemble harmonies, particulary in the invigorating “Five Forever.” Therein they welcome Laurie (Jo’s would-be suitor), played with intrepid boyish enthusiasm by John Gluckner, as an honorary fifth member of the March family. Eminently entertaining, too, is Teresa Houston as the worldly Aunt March, obsessed with social etiquette. Her marvelously animated manner and crisp vocals bring a quasi-operatic panache to the proceedings.

One memorably charming scene during Act One transpires in the period-sounding song, “Off To Massachusetts.” Rich neighbor Mr. Laurence (grandfather of Laurie), played by Merle Smith, effectively softens his stuffy, gruff demeanor and sings a delightfully lilting duet with the gentle Beth playing piano.

Another of the evening’s most compelling and tender vocal performances comes during the more engaging second act, with the song “Some Things Are Meant To Be,” as Jo and the ailing Beth fly a kite along the sands of Cape Cod.

The musical is too empty of passages like this one. Its emotional authenticity rises above the generally cosmetic, cookie-cutter ‘charm’ of the show, and is a truer reflection of the potent charisma in Alcott’s original story.

The Canton Players Guild Theatre presents “Little Women: The Musical” at the Cultural Center for the Arts, 1001 Market Avenue North, THROUGH MARCH 11. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets can be ordered at 330 – 453-7617, or at

Photo, courtesy Players Guild Theatre: (front, left to right) Michelle Rae Choho, Rose Medley, Rachel Wolin; (back, standing) Cassidy Tompkins and Brooke Upholzer

Monday, February 20, 2012

Bitter Pill

Bitter Pill
By Tom Wachunas
“Our appetite for schadenfreude is ravenous, and misery’s best company is a hungry voyeur.”
- June Godwit, from “Post-structuralism: Flacid, yet absurd?” –

I realize that reviewing the production of “August: Osage County,” currently on the venerable North Canton Playhouse mainstage, might seem to be a recanting of my ARTWACH post on February 12, filled as it was with moralizing about gratuitous profanity and otherwise vapid content in our entertainment. It’s not. Frankly, if beforehand I had known more about the sheer preponderance of insouciant gutter-speak that permeates Tracy Letts’ 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a numbingly dysfunctional Oklahoma family - or for that matter the play’s stifling, dyspeptic aura - I likely would not have committed to seeing it.

That said, it’s not the dark and tragic narrative content of this production that makes it so compelling. For that, all one need do is sample television news magazines or the talk show circuit to vicariously experience the seamy undersides and consequences of toxic human relationships. So no, this play is neither particularly original nor revelatory in its imitation of life, Pulitzer Prize notwithstanding. It is, on the other hand, eminently memorable for the explosive performances delivered by the excellent 13-member cast under the direction of Ted Paynter.

Most impressive is their consistently sustained, riveting dramatic intensity and focus over a very long stretch. The evening runs about three hours (with two intermissions), and for all of that, scenes move along at a reasonably brisk pace. Still, such an indulgence in lengthy play writing seemed largely unnecessary in this story. The grimy message was received in half the time.

The play opens with Beverly (Bill Brown), the alcoholic poet- patriarch of the Weston family in the process of hiring Johnna, a gentle-hearted Native American (Shannon Jamison), to take care of his addict wife ailing from mouth cancer. “My wife takes pills and I drink,” Brown intones with cavalier glibness, “That’s the bargain we’ve struck.” The tone is set, and it’s soon clear we’re in for a wild unraveling of family pathologies that make the case studies from such luminaries as Eugene O’Neil, Tennessee Williams, or Arthur Miller seem sunny by comparison. Here, father proceeds to disappear, prompting an emergency extended family reunion.

Reunion? More like an Oklahoma tornado, flinging about a blistering detritus of resentment and rage. Damaged goods indeed, this is a family united by some of the ugliest common denominators of human behavior, including substance addiction, infidelity, divorce, and incest. Sure, there are deliciously ‘humorous’ interludes, some provided by the vociferous bickering of Mark Adkins as Uncle Charlie and Stephanie Hester as Aunt Mattie, others by the chatty Kelly A. Tanner as one of the three Weston daughters, Karen. And there are a few moments of genuine tenderness. But all these are quickly swallowed up, like so many mood-altering pharmaceuticals, by the unrelenting cynicism, hubris, and emotional bloodletting that drives the characters’ interactions. They’re completely clueless as to finding lasting solutions on this sweltering August battlefield.

And speaking of pharmaceuticals, Donna Rasicci’s portrayal of Weston matriarch, Violet, who ingests pills like candy, turns in a tour-de-force performance of astonishing fluidity. Like flipping a switch, she alternates between passages of searingly honest assessment of herself and family, and her pathetic, howling disconnects from reality.

Similarly, Marci Sailing Lesho is utterly startling and every bit as darkly commanding in her character of eldest daughter, Barbara. Bitter and exasperated over her failed marriage (among other things), at one point she tells her all-too- precocious, pot-smoking teenage daughter, Jean (Andrea Hartman), “Thank God we can’t tell the future. We’d never get out of bed.”

But no prescient interventions are forthcoming, Divine or otherwise. While this unabashedly bold descent into domestic degeneracy is assuredly epic, it is also neither heroic nor hopeful. I emerged bludgeoned, not blessed.

“August: Osage County” on the North Canton Playhouse mainstage, located in Hoover High School, 525 Seventh Street NE, North Canton. Performances are Friday, March 2, and Saturday, March 3, at 8:00 pm, and Sunday March 4 at 2:30 pm. Tickets are $13 and can be ordered by calling (330) 494 – 1613.

Photo, courtesy North Canton Playhouse: Left to Right – cast members Mark Adkins, Tara Shooks, Shannon Jamison, Donna Rasicci (on couch), Marci Sailing Lesho, and Ross Rhodes (background)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Superlative Piano Times Two

Superlative Piano Times Two
By Tom Wachunas

Of the more ineffable skills that can assure a sterling rather than merely adequate instrumental performance is the performer’s capacity for embracing the music’s soul. That skill, coupled with stunning technique, was in abundant supply for the February 9 “Two Pianos” performance – the second in the Canton Symphony Orchestra’s Aultman PrimeTime series of chamber music concerts at Cable Recital Hall.

Pianists Heather Cooper and Shuai Wang provided a highly thoughtful and accessible program of six works, well balanced in its demonstration of both technical prowess and lyric power, beginning with several selections from Brahms’ Waltzes, Op. 39, for four hands on one piano. They played with palpable grace and jovial abandon that effectively conveyed the dance spirit of these short, charming pieces.

Heather Cooper followed with a magical rendering of Ravel’s “Une barque sur l’ocean” (A boat on the ocean, from Miroirs). Her mastery of the work’s continuous arpeggios and sustained right-hand tremulos, and her remarkable control of the work’s subtly varied sonorities, was nothing short of hypnotic.

Then, Shuai Wang turned in a startlingly beautiful performance of a notably challenging work in the piano repertoire – Chopin’s Ballade No. 3. She articulated the work’s strong contrasts between lilting joy and dramatic turbulence with extraordinary finesse and consistency, all the way through to the electrifying flamboyance of the triumphant climactic chords.

Returning to four hands mode, the pianists delivered an inspired, bravura performance of Claude Debussy’s Petite Suite. By this point, the duo had more than sufficiently established the concert’s wow factor, clearly evident in the enthusiastic audience response.

And from there, as these artists played their two remaining duets on separate pianos, the program soared higher yet. In both William Bolcom’s fiery “Recuerdos: Three Traditional Latin-American Dances,” and the rhapsodic lyricism of Anton Arensky’s Suite No.1, there was often a distinctly spirited give-and-take energy between the performers, as if they were exchanging passages in light-hearted competition. Yet throughout, their unity of emotional fervor prevailed, along with an impeccable balance of timbre dynamics – all the more astonishing when considering that this performance was their first collaboration.

So with consummate skill and infectious passion, this concert was a double dose of brilliant pianism.

Photo: “The Piano Lesson” oil by Gustave Caillebotte (1881)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Rock My World

Rock My World
By Tom Wachunas

“Picture yourself in a boat on a river, with tangerine trees and marmalade skies. Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly, a girl with kaleidoscope eyes…” – John Lennon/Paul McCartney, from “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” –

My first year at Ohio State (1969-70) was an engulfment in pure, unmitigated culture shock: small-town boy, after two years of disciplined Catholic seminary living (where the school uniform was priestly black cassock and white Roman collar) enters a bizarre parallel universe. Here, High Mass incense was replaced by wafting plumes of cannabis smoke, and Latin polyphonic choirs were forever drowned out by the sacred howls of Morrison and Hendrix and Zeppelin and... By spring quarter I sported a terribly scruffy beard, had sworn off haircuts, and otherwise had become a card-carrying member of the dreaded “counter culture,” where frayed bell bottom jeans, love beads, sandals, and patchwork paisley shirts (if any shirts at all) were de rigueur. Power to the People. Go with the flow. Be here now. Make love not war. Don’t bogart that joint, my friend. Far out, man.

I remember from those days a fellow art student who was gaga over his ample collection of Toulouse-Lautrec posters and their eerily liquid depictions of seamy Paris nightlife. These he lovingly interspersed among his equally copious collection of rock concert posters. Very apropos, when considering how Lautrec was among the very first 19th century artists to employ the then newly mechanized lithographic presses that mass-produced eminently artful posters to advertise popular entertainers and venues.

Sheesh…talk about flashbacks. These memories came rushing back in full psychedelic glory when I recently saw the current exhibit of 60s and 70s rock posters at First Row Centre for the Arts in Greentown, on view through February. This deja-vu-all-over-again show features the electrifying and magical vintage rock-era art of Carl Lundgren, whose concert posters covered the Detroit scene, as well as more than 100 posters from the impressive personal collection of native Ohioan John Bellas. Among those are works by legendary artists of the genre, including Gary Grimshaw, Alton Kelly, Stanley Mouse and Bonnie Maclean.

Roll another one, just like the other one. Er, uhm… Perhaps less density and more selectivity of product, along with putting the more pictorially ambitious posters in frames, would have gone further in spotlighting some of the truly spectacular gems of lithographic printing that are here. As it is, for those among us who have a lingering fondness for the era, there’s a delightfully nostalgic and impromptu feel to the crowded walls, somewhat recalling the Hippie paraphernalia shops of old.

And somewhere in traversing this rainbow forest of swirling faces and places, you might just hear the distant, sweet echoes of Joni Mitchell calling a generation to Woodstock: “…we are stardust, we are golden, and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.”

First Row Centre for the Arts, located at 3140 State Street NW (corner of Cleveland Avenue) in Greentown is a unique, relatively new art gallery and performing arts venue that features a coffee shop and full bar. Open weekdays 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (10 p.m. on Thursdays) and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Photos: Top – Oakland Pop Festival, offset lithograph by Carl Lundgren ( courtesy Carl Lundgren Art Studio, / Bottom – The Yardbirds, The Doors, offset lithograph by Bonnie Maclean (courtesy

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Scene and Herd: Are We Having Fun Yet?

Scene and Herd: Are We Having Fun Yet?
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 Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way…” - Charles Dickens, from “A Tale of Two Cities” –

And now for something completely different: some thoughts on why I’ve chosen NOT to review a well-hyped local theatre production.

The cover of The Repository Ticket Section on Friday, February 10, was an eye-popping exercise in sanguine sensationalism. A photo of two actors, one holding a bloodied chain saw to the neck of the other, was accompanied by the boldface headline, juxtaposed with photo- shopped blood drips, “A Different Kind Of Musical Comedy” (referring to the upcoming production of “Evil Dead: The Musical” at Kent State University Stark).

I think it’s interesting that we often perceive a division between ‘high’ and ‘low’ when it comes to the time we spend in our diversionary activities, as in “arts and entertainment.” As if our entertainment needs to escape from what we might regard as the too-profound or lofty content of fine art, or that our art is somehow less legitimate if it’s seen as too merely entertaining.

But let’s not forget that ‘entertainment’ as a descriptor has a deeper meaning and application: that which we maintain and/or cherish in our minds, as in to entertain an idea. Of course some ideas are better than others. Come to think of it, some ideas are just plain bad, as is the case with the musical in question. Deliberately forgetting about whatever real performance or technical excellence the production might have to offer (guess I’ll never know, huh?), I decided that it was a bad idea for me to see this particular show that carries this caveat (prompting in turn a few more general considerations about the state of our contemporary entertainment offerings, artful or not): “Viewer discretion for this production is strongly advised due to gratuitous profanity, gore, and adult subject matter.”

It’s not that I think spoofing the horror genre is an inherently problematic idea, though in this case I suspect I’m being more than generous. And I wonder if the musical’s song titled “What The F____ Was That?” is an unintentionally self-inflicted skewering of its bawdy fecklessness (I admit to seeing a few You Tube-type short clips of the show).

But “gratuitous profanity, gore, and adult subject matter,” and similar warnings, have been increasingly visible red flags pitched on the entertainment landscape these days. That would include contemporary TV, film, music, theatre, and the ubiquitous internet. I’m talking about the kind of content that, with burgeoning frequency, unabashedly imitates and exploits the bizarre, violent, dark, kinkier and otherwise salacious aspects of life - so often praised as fun and funny, or real and “in the now” - rather than illuminating or expanding the truly inspiring, the sublime, and yes, the Divine.

I have often heard the argument, for example, that profanity and filthy street language are acceptable everyday indulgences that bring “authenticity” and “honesty” to our expression of who we are and what we think. But I think this is a jaded, insidiously complacent attitude that denies a deeper, more disturbing symptom of a cultural malaise when it comes to what we should be consistently supporting and seeking from ourselves and from our artists/entertainers. The language and subject matters of our entertainment are mirrors and barometers of the condition of our focus, the state of our minds and hearts. As it is, I sense that a growing societal tolerance of, and consent to, our baser instincts has been eating away at our ability to discern between depravity and dignity, between self-absorbed hedonism and nobility.

And underlying all these considerations is the pervasive climate of ideological pluralism and moral relativism that has defined our era. As I grapple with the fact that my aesthetic standards may not be yours, I choose to remember that as a Christian, I have in fact been graced with the wherewithal to focus, in all things, on the mind of Christ that dwells in me (my failures to always do so notwithstanding), including how I use my time and where I place my attentions.

So I’ll leave you for now, once again, with these Divinely inspired words from Paul to the Philippians (4:8-9): “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of Peace will be with you.”

Photo: Detail – right panel from the triptych “Garden of Earthly Delights” by Hieronymus Bosch

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Stark Realities

Stark Realities
By Tom Wachunas

If a thematic link is to be found among the 12 works that comprise the current show called “Stark Realities” at Main Hall Gallery on the Kent Stark campus, it’s not in the show’s title. That might suggest, on the face of it, a compilation of works that commonly share something stiff, bleak, harsh or perhaps forbidding. This show is anything but.

The title of my latest curatorial project, then, is simply a reference to the 12 participants being local, Stark County artists. So there is no conceptual theme other than my intent to mount an exhibit that indicates, to a reasonably interesting degree, the substantial depth of creative activity in these parts. To that end, I certainly realized that this space could never contain an exhaustive presentation of media variety or roster of accomplished local artists. As it is, on view are individuals I greatly respect and have written about in the past, and their works in this show are of their own choosing. I’m thrilled to report that this group stepped up to the invitation with flying colors, as it were, making for a truly eclectic gathering of visions that alternately intrigue, entertain, and edify. A mixed bag of challenge, chutzpah, and charm.

Kevin Anderson’s mixed media wall piece, “Hold On,” is a stunningly crafted memento/fantasy of sorts – a child-like model rocket ship under construction with the promise of flying away to a dream destination.

Dream-like, too, is Nancy Stewart Matin’s shimmering watercolor collage, “Moonstruck,” a vibrantly hued night landscape emerging from a subtly tactile ground.

And speaking of vibrant color, Sherri Hornbrook’s acrylic abstract, “Warded,” reminds me of a 1970s Artforum magazine marketing promotion with the text, “I love it. What is it?” Warded, as in one amorphous figure guarding the other? Or warded as in the intricate construction of lock mechanisms? Fascinating.

Both Ted Lawson (with his watercolor cafĂ© scene “Pranzo Incantevole”) and Diane Belfiglio (with her floral oil pastel “Sunlight on Scarlet II”) provide real gems of compositional prowess and mastery of bright sunlight and shadow.

Another master in the mix – this one in the Flemish technique tradition - is Frank Dale, whose oil portrait, “Study of a Young Girl,” is a sumptuous and beautiful exercise in startling naturalism.

There’s remarkable naturalism at work, too, in Patrick Buckohr’s large, free-standing sculpture, “Young Camel with Cradle,” and all the more surprising when considering that it’s made completely from countless pieces of reclaimed steel – an airy mass of metal executed with astonishing craft and a playful dignity. Similarly, Joseph Close’s very tall “Moses ‘Rabbit’ White” has a dignity all its own. This seriously whimsical construction is made from found materials (largely wood) into a friendly giant of a jazz musician.

You could reasonably call Rick Huggett’s style Pop Minimalism. His precise application of acrylic silk screen ink gives his pictures a slick, commercial feel that only adds to their glib sparseness. Yet for all of the nervous, “unsophisticated” quality of line evident in his “Spigot On!” (a lawn sprinkler spewing squiggles of water into empty white space), the image is delightfully disarming in its giddy simplicity.

In the realm of photography, Stephen McNulty’s black and white “Light Study #42, Badlands, SD” is both haunting and riveting in its capture of dramatic mountain textures, rhythms, and shadows. And Michael Weiss’s digital mixed media “Free Home” is a wondrously convincing, surreal dreamscape featuring a lone man clutching a bunch of old houses like so many balloons on strings.

Finally, there’s the enigmatic “Sibling Rivalry,” a tempera, acrylic, and white pencil painting by the always surprising Patricia Zinsmeister Parker. It’s a matte blue effluence inscribed with scribbled white ‘portraits’ of two ladies with hats. The large red dot between them seems at once invasive and necessary – a mechanism or lens that points up the subtler gestural markings and variations in color saturation of the ground. Attention to tensions and fragile equilibrium. Call it a surface with psyche.

Opening artist reception at the gallery is on Thursday, February 9, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. The exhibit runs through Feb. 29. Located in the lower level of Main Hall on the Kent Stark campus, gallery viewing hours are Monday – Friday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 12:00 noon.

Photos: Top – “Sunlight On Scarlet II" by Diane Belfiglio; Middle – “Sibling Rivalry" by Patricia Zinsmeister Parker; Bottom – “Warded” by Sherri Hornbrook

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Exposing the Naughty Grain of History

Exposing the Naughty Grain of History
By Tom Wachunas

“History is our simmering, crusty cauldron of Hunters Stew, hung above the fire of hindsight. We spice it up to suit prevailing palates of the day. So even as the main ingredients remain constant, it never seems to taste the same way twice.” - June Godwit, from “Post-structuralism: Flacid, yet absurd?” –

“Here every man may be master and owner of his owne labour and land…If he have nothing but his hands, he may…by industrie quickly grow rich.” - John Smith -

“…I incorporate these different modes of narrative to mimic the way history functions: as collected bodies of knowledge – some skewed, distorted or biased – false histories that behave in a manner similar to true history…” - Chad Hansen, from his statement for his exhibit, “Revisionist Histories: America Retold” at Translations Art Gallery

In many ways, the splendid exhibit of drawings by Chad Hansen at Translations Art Gallery (formerly Anderson Creative) in downtown Canton has all the feel of a 19th century one-room school house. The artist has uniformly faux-painted the walls to resemble knotty wood planks upon which are hung dozens of his images drawn in Walnut ink – highly suggestive of illustrations from period American history books, and at times reminiscent of Harper’s Weekly political cartoons.

This is a compressed allegorical narrative of American history that begins with the arrival of English explorer John Smith (who established the English colony at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607), ensuing westward expansion, and climaxing with America’s deification of power mongers in their relentless march to corporate entity-hood. The unframed images are arranged in thematic “suites” comprised of one large drawing and several adjacent smaller drawings.

Be sure to pick up the accompanying hand-out, printed on imitation parchment, that identifies the 17 characters that populate the scenes in this fascinating re-telling of how America came to be what it is. Can’t see the show without a program, as it were. And be prepared to see this melting pot of personalities – drawn from ‘real’ history and conjoined with others from folkloric myth - in a new if not somewhat jarring light. Included among them: Ceasar, a “proponent of hostile take overs”; “real estate developers” James K. Polk, King George of England, and Thomas Jefferson; “Star Warrior” Ronald Reagan; and business man Carlo Ponzi (yes, THAT Ponzi). This is surely not a conventional history lesson.

“The Calling Suite” sets the tone, wherein we see a dragon-like creature called Money Monster placing Ceasar’s crown on the head of John Smith. From there, Hansen’s scenarios are an unfolding of unchecked imperialism, political and moral turpitude, and the apotheosis of greed. Speaking of which, Money Monster makes frequent appearances, usually rendered in green and with remarkably lavish linear detail that brings to mind the heraldic look of our meticulously engraved paper money.

Indeed, Hansen’s pictorial style in all of his drawings is saturated with remarkable embellishments of pattern and detail that suggests a kinship with lovingly embroidered antique story quilts. Yet for all of what might initially appear to be their charming “primitivism,” they collectively present an eminently modern and sobering vision. Forward, into the past.

Photos: Top – “Arriving in America Suite": Middle – “The Calling Suite" (detail): Bottom: “Industry Suite” by Chad Hansen. On view THROUGH FEBRUARY 25 at Translations Art Gallery, 331 Cleveland Avenue NW, downtown Canton. Wednesdays through Saturdays, Noon to 5 p.m.