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.

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