Saturday, March 31, 2012

Communicable Complexities

Communicable Complexities
By Tom Wachunas

For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. –Deuteronomy 4:24 –
“If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” - Woody Allen -

In these troubled times, nothing can bring a civilized discourse among intelligent folk to a grinding halt (if not a violent altercation) quite like the volatile mix of politics and religion. Our moral and intellectual righteousness can be so easily stoked into raging fires of confrontational rage that, in the wake of our most impassioned arguments, we leave each other vexed, perplexed, or worse, literally breathless.

While the narrative scope of “The Near East”, the play by Alex Lewin that had its regional premiere on March 30 at The Players Guild Theatre in Canton, fits squarely within this ideological framework, neither its content nor its intent should be regarded as strident preaching or didactic editorializing. And yet, for all the uncompromisingly explosive questions it so boldly presents (offering little in the way of hard and fast truths or answers), the play is as gently edifying as it is enlightening.

Here’s a synopsis. American Jewish archaeologist and atheist, Ken Schneider, reluctantly agrees to assist on a highly controversial and secretive mission in Saudi Arabia headed by Arab woman scholar, Aisha Ghazali, to uncover the legendary Umm al-Kitab, the “Mother of Books”, believed to be written by the hand of God, and pre-dating the Koran. Aisha’s brother, Umar, is secretly gay, distrusting of Ken, fiercely protective of his sister, and possibly aligned with a radical Islamic group. Amid his dealings with these and other characters in the story, Ken, already struggling with the death of his son and loss of his wife, communes with the ghost of an Egyptian boy who acts as a kind of spiritual guide as he confronts his pain and his beliefs in an unstable landscape of faith and mysticism, love and loss, terror and hope.

The play is a co-production of Northern Michigan University’s (NMU) Forest Roberts Theatre and the New Play Conservatory program of the Canton Players Guild. It is directed by Ansley Valentine, NMU Director of Theatre, who brought his NMU cast to Canton (with the exception of Michael Gatto, who plays Hasan, Aisha’s stern and loyal bodyguard) for this all- too- short run. Valentine has clearly accomplished a masterful feat in sharpening his actors’ capacity for getting inside their characters and delivering electrifying performances, startling in their intimacy and credibility.

As Ken, Ryan Sitzberger is at once cocky and insecure, convincingly authoritative yet uncomfortable in his own skin. When he and Aisha, played by Taylor Kulju, butt heads and souls, the palpable emotional sparks have far-reaching consequences. Kulju’s portrayal of the outlaw scholar is equally dualistic – powerfully self-assured yet painfully vulnerable. Her dialogues are often fast, furious, and fueled by a readiness to be a martyr not for Islamic fundamentalism, but human dignity. Michael Skrobeck, playing Umar, her gentle-hearted timid brother, is similarly riveting and even frightening as he urgently seeks answers and assurances that never seem to come. His situation is made all the more murky and dangerous by his intimate relationship with the duplicitous British diplomat, Michael Kennedy, played with a chilling sort of relish by James Porras II.

In fact all the cast members here have completely immersed themselves in their characters with astonishing intensity. Nowhere is that immersion more convincingly bittersweet and endearing than in the character of Ahmed, the ghost of a 13 year-old boy who was horrifically abused and executed while his father did nothing to save him. In that role, Luke Woolley is nothing short of magical.

Regardless of your religious affiliations or political leanings, you’d have to be hopelessly cold-hearted and/or ruthlessly cynical to be unmoved by the searing pathos of this story and its utterly human characters as they struggle to embrace their cultural and spiritual dilemmas. It’s hardly a simplistic or stereotypical Arab vs. Westerner scenario. Still the play reminds me, as someone with far more than a casual interest in Christian theology, that if our plans can make God laugh, they can just as well make Him cry.

“The Near East” – 2 remaining shows are tonight, March 31 at 8 p.m. and tomorrow (Sunday April 1) at 2:30 p.m. in the Players Guild Theatre, 1001 Market Avenue N., in Canton. Tickets $10
Call the Box Office at (330) 453 – 7617, or

Photo: Luke Woolley as Ahmed

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Near East Comes to Canton

Regional Premiere of “The Near East” at Canton Players Guild Theatre
By Tom Wachunas

The New Play Conservatory program of the Canton Players Guild Theatre will present the regional premiere of “The Near East”, written by Alex Lewin, on March 30 – April 1, at the Players Guild’s William G. Fry Theatre. The play was awarded the Quest for Peace Prize in 2008 at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. It is co-produced here with the theatre department of Northern Michigan University (NMU), where it was performed in February under the direction of NMU Director of Theatre, Ansley Valentine. In collaboration with Players Guild Associate Artistic Director Jeremy Lewis, Valentine is bringing his NMU cast to Canton for three performances.

This is the story of American archaeologist Ken Schneider, hired for a controversial and secretive mission in Saudi Arabia by Arab woman scholar Aisha Ghazali, to assist in finding the elusive Umm al-Kitab, the “Mother of Books”, believed to be written by the hand of God, and pre-dating the Koran. In his dealings with Aisha and the other characters in the story, Ken, already struggling with the death of his son and loss of his wife, must confront his own beliefs in a volatile context of faith and mysticism, love and loss, terror and hope.

In a phone interview on March 21, I (T.W.) talked with Ansley Valentine (A.V.) about the production. Here are some excerpts.

T.W. What in particular do you find most significant or powerful about this play?

A.V. For me, the most powerful thing about it is that it deals with issues of faith and the Middle East in a way that’s not typical or stereotypical of ways that they’re presented in America. I think we often characterize Islamic people as ‘the bad guys’ and we don’t really get into the notion that these are people who are deeply religious and have their convictions and faith just like anybody else, and these are people who struggle and are conflicted about the best thing to do, just like anybody else…It’s a beautiful and complicated play. There are no simple answers, and the playwright doesn’t give any simple answers. He raises a lot of questions, on a lot of subject matter, and I think he does it for people to think about these things and how they’re applied to their own lives.

T.W. So there’s no overly- preachy or pedantic agenda here?

A.V. No, I don’t think so. He (playwright Alex Lewin) has been so smart about the people he’s picked to play opposite each other. The characters are points of view so that you can say, ‘I completely understand why this person would feel the way that they do.’ No one character is monolithic, or just presenting one side. Everybody goes on a journey in this play. And so between Act 1 and the end, for the most part I think you really can see why they do that, and you can ask yourself, ‘What would I do if I were confronted with these things?’

T.W. Was there anything especially challenging or daunting about bringing this to the stage?

A.V. We have a big theater and we actually did this play in our studio theater [note: the Canton production will likewise be in a black-box setting]. So it was a big challenge for my actors to bring down their performances to a very real level, trying to make what feels like a big play fit credibly into a small space. I think the benefit is that as the audience, you’re right there, and you definitely feel the emotional impact of what happens to these characters much more so than if we were in a huge theater where you have distance from all that.

T.W. What do you think we might take away from encountering these characters and their journey?

A.V. The characters do get into a very interesting religious debate about how each perceives the other and how they ultimately don’t really understand where each other is coming from. That, to me, is what is so interesting about the play. It’s not just that we’re looking at this from the American point of view, or that the American approach is ‘correct’… We have to get past our prejudices and preconceived notions and then confront each other as people, person-to-person… The character of Ken starts the play as an atheist and by the end he’s come to embrace his faith… For me, and for the audience as they watched it here (at NMU), I think it was a very satisfying and impactful moment. That’s the positive – that for all the things that happened - and happened to him in the play - he realizes that the answer is a higher power or something outside his control. Really, all the characters become different people,…and for me, that’s affirming – to think you can start with one idea and through conversation and experience end up at a different place.

T.W. How was the NMU audience response?

A.V. People who were able to come to the show have all had a very positive response to it even as they were challenged by the material… Obviously from the outset you don’t want to tell people everything that happens in the play, and I think some were a little leery of coming to see it. But those that did come walked away with a new perspective and were really appreciative of the experience.

The regional premiere of “The Near East”, produced in connection with Northern Michigan University, will be for one weekend only, at the Players Guild Theatre, 1001 Market Ave. North, in Canton. MATURE CONTENT. Shows at 8:00 pm on Friday, March 30 and Saturday, March 31, and at 2:30 pm Sunday, April 1. All tickets are $10. Box Office (330) 453 – 7617, or online at

Photo: NMU cast members of “The Near East” / playwright Alex Lewin

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


By Tom Wachunas

The March 22 Aultman PrimeTime concert in Cable Recital Hall was yet another reminder of how the combination of youthful brio and masterful technique make any encounter with the Canton Symphony Orchestra (CSO) a memorable one. This concert spotlighted four CSO principals in string quartet mode: violinist Lauren Roth, newly appointed CSO concertmaster; second violinist Janet Carpenter; violist Zsche Chuang Rimbo Wong; and cellist Michael DeBruyn. The three works on the program - Puccini’s "Chrysanthemums", Haydn’s String Quartet in G Major (Opus 54, No. 1)), and Smetana’s String Quartet No. 1 in e minor – provided a richly satisfying experience of tonal colors, textures, and mood shifts.

Puccini’s haunting "Chrysanthemums" (an 1890 elegy to the Duke of Aosta) is a single, continuous movement that was originally written for string quartet, though it is more commonly heard these days as an arrangement for string orchestra. Here, the quartet interpreted the work with inspiring, fluid dignity, drawing out its lush, mournful emotionality without being overly lugubrious. Additionally, the performance quickly established the well-honed balance of timbre and volume among the instruments that remained warm and consistent throughout the concert.

Not surprisingly, the Haydn work was an invigorating romp through pure, airy brightness. Both as an eminently tight unit and as individuals executing the piece’s many ornate passages with superb virtuosity, the quartet served up a deliciously authoritative reading of all the lyric vitality and lilting, even mischievous charm we’ve come to associate with “The Father of the String Quartet”.

What was somewhat surprising to me at first, however, was the work’s placement in the program. With all its happy buoyancy, it surely would have been an appropriate enough conclusion to the proceedings, sufficiently enthralling the audience in the warm glow of its upbeat energy.

Smetana’s String Quartet No. 1, then, though no less rich in variations of tempo and texture, is a comparatively dark, pensive, more emotionally raw and volatile experience. The composer described the work as painting a “tone picture” of his life, and that the four instruments “…should converse together in an intimate circle about the things that so deeply trouble me.” Clearly, the four CSO artists here took Smetana’s words to heart as they deftly rendered this work’s early images of intimate, whispered optimism which soon enough become overshadowed by a heavy sense of foreboding.

As audience, we became privy to a deeply mesmerizing musical conversation about the composer’s yearnings for romance, the hopeful days of his youth, falling in love, dashed dreams, and the onset of total deafness that afflicted him late in his life. The gravitas of this sad development was translated to great effect late in the fourth movement. An abrupt break in the music is followed by a tremulo, above which the solo violin plays an extended, stark and piercing high E note, ultimately signaling the climactic fade to silence. “It is the fateful ringing in my ears,” Smetana wrote of that moment.

So while many concerts are often conventionally designed to leave the audience all atwitter over sonorous panache and aural pyrotechnics, this one ended in a decidedly somber, albeit dramatic spirit. We in the audience didn’t exit the hall with raucous howls of giddy celebration. Yet as I heard the growing murmurs of real approval around me, I can tell you we were nonetheless greatly touched by the compelling and passionate finesse, the quieting caress, of true musical artistry.

Photo, courtesy CSO: Top (left) – Lauren Roth, Janet Carpenter / Bottom: Zsche Chuang Rimbo Wong, Michael DeBruyn (330) 452 - 2094

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Ludwig and Wolfgang: Birds of a Feather?

Ludwig and Wolfgang: Birds of a Feather?
By Tom Wachunas

In 1787, 16 year-old Ludwig van Beethoven traveled some 900 miles from Bonn to Vienna with the hope of training under Wolfgang Mozart, who was then 31. The evidence that such a meeting ever really took place is anecdotal and otherwise highly disputed. But just thinking of the possible scenario (Oh, to be a fly on the wall of Mozart’s study!) was enough to inspire two local writers – Frank Motz and Rochelle Haas – to pen an eminently credible story that grew from their dedicated research on the two geniuses, considered by many to be the greatest composers of all time.

The resulting two-act play, “Ludwig and Wolfgang”, which Motz directed, had its world premiere at the Kathleen Howland Theatre on March 23. I can tell you unequivocally that it’s a truly sublime work, impeccably crafted to exude all the joy and humor, as well as the brooding pathos of its subjects. What’s more, you need not be a classical music aficionado to be thoroughly entertained by the story’s engaging warmth and accessibility.

The play opens with the character of Franz Joseph Haydn (historically regarded as “The Father of the Symphony”) addressing the audience from the anteroom of the Concert Hall of Vienna University in March of 1808. The occasion is a concert celebrating his 76th birthday. Leave it to local stage veteran Don Jones to transform himself so convincingly for this role, right down to his cracked, frail voice and the ashen skin of old age. Throughout the evening he narrates the proceedings with genuinely charming, often funny observations and recollections of his distinguished career as it intersected with that of Mozart and Beethoven. Jones’ delivery is well- tempered with the gently sad if not resolved spirit of a great man who, sensing his immanent passing (he died in May, 1809), wonders how he will be remembered just when what he regards as two genius misfits are on the rise.

Another accomplished veteran of local theatre, John Scavelli, plays Mozart with what at first appears to be a weary, somewhat jaded energy – no doubt a consequence of the composer’s well-known penchant for late-night carousing and the burden of unpaid debts. But it’s an energy that evolves soon enough into a more vigorous spunk as he spars with the young Beethoven, whom the older composer admits is an easy target for his barbed wit. Scavelli’s performance is a remarkably facile one that, while successfully embodying Mozart’s impish amusement, bemusement, and exasperation with Beethoven’s somber self-absorption, nonetheless conveys an authentic empathy for his troubled visitor.

And in the role of the introspective, prim and proper, upstart Beethoven, 15 year-old E.J. Dubinski is himself very impressive indeed - exhibiting at once a self –assurance beyond his years and a boyish vulnerability. It is a duality that becomes ever more compelling as he reluctantly speaks of his abusive father. This in turn fuels his disarming, sometimes searing observations about Mozart’s father, Leopold, causing Wolfgang to feel defensive and vulnerable in his own right.

Rounding out the cast is Jay Spencer. Late in the second act he appears as a messenger, informing Mozart that Beethoven was called back to Bonn to aid his ailing mother. Before that, we encounter Spencer as the hilariously sonorous, insulting voice of a man banging on Mozart’s door, demanding payment of a debt. In one scene, Dubinski is delightful in his portrayal of the righteously incensed Beethoven paying the debt from his travel allowance, but only after extracting a begrudging apology from the disrespectful collector.

For all the apparent personality contrasts and conflicts between ‘master’ and would-be student here, between extrovert and introvert, the two composers do find common ground in their agreement to seek what joy they can in their art. In one particularly effective scene during the second act, Wolfgang leads Ludwig back to his library (appearing as a long row of books visible above and behind the rear wall of Mozart’s study), and instructs him to climb the ladder to the top shelf. Ludwig in turn demands that Wolfgang join him. Only their heads are visible, nearly touching the ceiling as they speak. Kindred minds soaring. It’s an endearingly metaphorical vision, really – Haydn’s misfits in a moment of mutually heightened awareness, as it were. Like birds in flight.

Ludwig and Wolfgang shows at 8:00pm Friday and Saturday through March 31, in the Kathleen Howland Theatre, 324 Cleveland Avenue NW, downtown Canton. Tickets are $10. To order, call (330) 451 – 0924, or visit

Photo: (left) E.J. Dubinski as Beethoven, John Scavelli as Mozart

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Drawn to the Light

Drawn to the Light
By Tom Wachunas

“Every Portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.” – Oscar Wilde

“The countenance is the portrait of the soul, and the eyes mark its intentions.” - Cicero

“Without atmosphere a painting is nothing.” – Rembrandt

First, some venting. Imagine my surprise at learning that “GCB”, the name of a newly unveiled ABC television ‘comedy/drama’, stands for “Good Christian Bitches”. Is this bold marketing or what? I know I’m not alone in thinking there’s something amiss, skewed, and otherwise disturbing here. With absolutely no interest in ever watching the show (yeah, on this one, I’m perfectly content to remain forever closed-minded), it still reminds me of just how easily disenchanted I feel these days at the general state of us.

‘Surprise’? More like saddened bewilderment. We continue to settle, not soar. Like so many shocked survivors of a tsunami, we wander (wonder?) among the chaotic remnants of ruined life, rummaging for nourishment, comfort, and some sense of direction. But our compass has been broken by the torrent of modern “thinking”.

Here in the 21st century, nowhere is the sheer weight of philosophical pluralism and moral relativism more unwieldy and disorienting than in our arts and entertainment – always a bellwether of societal “trending”. In the world of contemporary fine art alone, we seem to have taken great pride in our aesthetic tolerance, our inclusiveness, our willingness to reveal and revel in ALL things human, which would by definition include the nihilistic, the lurid and loathsome, the salacious, the dark. So it has become an increasingly wearying venture to sort out and latch on to something truly edifying, encouraging, hopeful and – if there is anything left resembling agreement among us on such matters (alas, probably not) – beautiful.

This is certainly not to say that ALL our art represents society’s brazen descent into moral or ethical depravity. There are certainly artists in our midst whose work I have found to be authentically and consistently uplifting in its celebration of human (and Natural) beauty, integrity, dignity, and grace. One of those is Lynn Digby. Her oil canvases are constructed with gently tactile, facile brushwork – each stroke rendered with all the careful, even loving thoughtfulness of a poet choosing just the right words without ever seeming too heavy or labored.

Quite by accident I recently came upon a small exhibit of her work currently at the Fountain Gallery, located in Malone University’s Johnson Center. While this mini-show includes an accomplished, Impressionist-style landscape and a wondrously glimmering seascape, it’s the four portraits in particular that best exemplify the aforementioned aesthetic qualities to great effect. There is certainly ‘dark’ content in “Disconnect”, “Connect”, and “Denial”, but neither horrifically nor threateningly so. Rather, these brooding, night backdrops serve more as necessary, atmospheric contrasts to the haunting (yet inviting) light on the subjects’ faces – a light coming from outside the picture plane. It’s as if we, the viewers, along with Digby’s own gazing, and perhaps even an implied Divine source, are the providers of light. And as such, the depicted subject emerges from the dark and is literally drawn toward and into our attentions.

It’s a small dose of Digby that’s nonetheless large on lovely.

Photos: Top – “Disconnect” (left side), “Connect” / Bottom – “Radiance, The Inner Light” / by Lynn Digby, on view to April 20 at Fountain Gallery, Malone University Johnson Center, 2600 Cleveland Ave., Canton

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Gallery As Curiosity Shop

The Gallery As Curiosity Shop
By Tom Wachunas

In some ways, the 39th Annual Faculty Exhibition at Kent Stark’s Main Hall Gallery has all the feel of a sparsely-stocked curio emporium. That’s not to say this collection of artful bibelots by 10 Kent Stark faculty members is a forgettable one, or without some genuinely engaging works –alternately whimsical and charming, visceral, spiritual, and cerebral.

The two abstract digital prints that comprise Emily Sullivan’s “Pantone Colors for Home and Fashion” have a cold precision about them. Their dull, commercial patina is offset by the playful arrangement of angularities and visual textures, including a dominant zig-zag pattern comprised of minute words that might be the names of designer colors. Playful, too, but much warmer, is Erica Raby’s small, mixed media abstract called “hope…” There might be a story here of gentle tension between biomorphic marks transcending the loosely linear divisions of the picture plane. A similar spirit of transient, ephemeral structures in liquid, muted colors is at work in Jack McWhorter’s oil on paper painting called “Eaten by Chlorphyll.” Transformation at the cellular/molecular level.

Grace Summanen’s untitled entry is a very tactile, cocoon-like bauble made from paint-soaked yarn and plastic practice golf balls. There’s something quietly humorous about how the blue spheres emerge from (or are absorbed by?) the gnarled mass of green. Perhaps a play on “holes-in-one”, or balls swallowed up by the woods? Mark Twain’s assessment of the game of golf crossed my mind: “…a good walk ruined.” There’s also humor afoot, as it were, in Kim Eggleston-Kraus’s “The Millipede Ate My Olives”, one of her three earthy and elegant stoneware vessels here (two from her Primordial Platter series).

Both Chad Hansen and Carey McDougall take us into American history with their works here. Hansen’s Walnut ink drawing, “Treehouse I”, presents a vintage style family tree of presidents, with a somewhat tense-looking George Washington at the center. For a closer look at Hansen’s revisionist history “illustrations,” I refer you back to my post here (archive) from February 4. McDougall’s “Shaker Portraits II” is a Shaker-style Maple pedestal table with five opened oval cherry boxes (those being a treasured Shaker craft tradition) on top. Each box contains a graphite line drawing rendered on white encaustic (wax). It’s a preciously crafted piece that doesn’t exude a sappy sentimentality, but is rather a gently haunting memorial to rural simplicity, purity, and serenity.

I can’t say I know exactly what to make of Christine Gorbach’s “Punchlines” beyond the visual pun of the title. For all of its attention-getting, hot colored ground, the work is strangely disenchanting. I couldn’t help remembering John Cage’s famous, “I have nothing to say and I am saying it.” Thin, multi-hued yarn has been adhered (‘punched’ into) to the canvas in the form of written rows of disconnected if not nonsensical sentences, the last of which declaring, “I think.” More odd than funny, maybe it’s simply a glib exercise in patterned linearity and color relationships. Interestingly enough, the piece is hung next to two black and white photographs - by Jeannene Mathis-Bertossa - of Occupy Wall Street scenes. One of the pictures shows a clearly self-satisfied (and somewhat smug-looking) young couple holding a sign that reads, “We’re Here. We’re Unclear. Get Used To It.” So take THAT, you snooty intellectual types.

My own contribution to the show, called “Drawn to Him”, is a fairly recent extension of my mixed media Spirit tableaus – a kind of sculptural ‘writing’ with tactile, Christocentric symbols…I think.

Photos: (center) Untitled by Grace Summanen; (top) “hope…” by Erica Raby; (bottom) “Shaker Portraits II” by Carey McDougall. On view at Kent Stark Main Hall Gallery (lower level of Main Hall on the Kent Stark campus) THROUGH MARCH 31 (closed for Spring break March 19th – 25th). Gallery hours are Monday – Friday 11a.m. to 5p.m., Saturday 10a.m to Noon.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Tchotchkes Transformed

Tchotchkes Transformed
By Tom Wachunas

“I’m afraid that if you look at a thing long enough, it loses all of its meaning.” – Andy Warhol –

The premise of the recently opened group exhibit – “Thrift Store Masterpieces” at Translations Gallery in downtown Canton - is essentially a cliché: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. As mentioned by curator Craig Joseph in his statement for the show, artists have embraced the notion for a very long time. On one level you could call the exhibit a collective dusting off of an ideological trifle, not unlike rediscovering a forgotten attic memento. Nonetheless, it does resonate interestingly with our ever increasing attentions to correcting our wasteful consumerist ways.

Each of the 17 selected artists were asked to take a 2D or 3D piece of thrift store art (“or something from my grandmother’s attic,” as Joseph explains in the exhibit statement) and alter it while still keeping some aspect of the “original”. In that regard, some works here are very clear in the visual connections to their source, others considerably more subtle.

In the former category, Christine Brenner has re-painted the original (and decidedly generic) pictures of a red covered bridge and a red barn for her “Rural Life Seen Thru 3D Technicolor Glasses”. Her alterations are lurid, psychedelic exaggerations of color that make her images even more unabashedly kitschy than the originals.

Photographer Jon Conklin’s inkjet print - “What Becomes of Desire?” – clearly incorporates the original antique wedding photo. But in Conklin’s arresting, melancholic montage, the aged source photo appears as the faded (fated?) end of a once flaming romance, now discarded like so much trash.

A sad spirit resides, too, in the oil painting by that inimitable Queen of Eerie, Erin Mulligan. The source of her convincingly off-kilter vision is a faded picture of a misty lake (swamp?) and sky aglow at either sunrise or sunset. Mulligan has morphed the scene into a night time phantasm called “Why Are All My Children Born Mummies With 8 Legs?” Much of the murky surface is inscribed with tiny black text. It’s a rambling, surreal story that, despite a line deep into the narrative that ironically counsels the viewer not to read it, held me spellbound.

Somewhat surreal, but far more bright and serene, is “The Woman Who Knows”, a painting by Michelle Mulligan (Erin’s mother). The title (really the only element taken from the original – a theatrical scenery panel) is painted into the landscape wherein a woman’s head rises from a stream that nourishes a tree bearing the Fruit of the Spirit. Words from Scripture are written on paper in her open mouth (is she consuming them or speaking them, or both?), and her beatific expression declares that she indeed knows…peace.

Not so peaceful is the startling “Secuestro (Kidnapping)” by Hugo Jimenez. His statuette of Michelangelo’s heroic giant slayer, David, has been painted black and rendered as a prisoner – bound, hooded, tortured.

There’s no immediately apparent visual similarity between the given original picture of a pastel-colored conch shell matted in gold leaf and Kelly Rae’s small mixed media painting called “The Red Line”. The title refers to a wispy straight red line in her painting that might be a reconfiguration of the meandering curvy pink accent in the original. This is an enthralling, painterly jewel of architectonic abstraction that is in some ways reminiscent of the incandescence in Richard Diebenkorn’s iconic “Ocean Park” series of heroically-scaled oil paintings from the 1960s-1970s. And yet Kelly Rae has made this relatively miniature homage to soft light, geometric planes, and intensely tactile surface treatment distinctly her own.

In a similar vein of miniature homage, Don Parsisson's “Jim Was Uncomfortable With How Ursula Had Placed Him On A Pedestal” is something of an ‘inside joke’. His source was a woodcarved statuette of a man in a full-length robe, holding a staff. Parsisson’s elegant take on the object was to render the statue as headless and handless, sans staff, and paint the robe in the Pop style of Jim Dine – himself a modern master of appropriating the “already done”. It’s a clear reference to Dine’s series of “invisible men” in bathrobes. The statue rests on a cedar pedestal that is in turn a variation on the organic/abstract cedar beam sculptures of Ursula von Rydingsvard.

What I think makes this show as a whole so intriguing is its reflection of the unpredictable, unconstrained workings of free association that can prompt or inspire an artist to respond, each in his/her unique way, to a given (or found) object, no matter how intrinsically unremarkable or “low brow” that object might be. Most of the works here, in varying degrees, are at least as much about engaging personal processes and decisions as they are about crafting a finished product, and are otherwise successful in transforming the ordinary into the uncommon.

The other participating artists are: Amanda Gaumer, George DiSabato, Carey McDougall, Rosemary Hayne, Laura Donnelly, Annette Yoho Feltes, Brennis Booth, Sally Lytle, Anna Rather, and Christian Harwell.

Photos, courtesy the artists: “What Becomes of Desire?” by Jon Conklin, and “The Red Line” by Kelly Rae. On view through March 31 at Translations Gallery, 331 Cleveland Avenue NW, downtown Canton, Wednesdays – Saturdays, Noon to 5 p.m.