Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Adieu, Yellow Brick Road

Adieu, Yellow Brick Road
By Tom Wachunas

    “Lazar Tarzan is blessed – or cursed – with a sharp, roving eye for the dazzling and the unique. His eponymous gallery is not so much a typical white-walled showplace, as it is a phantasmagorical salon.”

    I wrote those words for dialogue magazine during the Paleolithic age of my writing about the Canton gallery scene, such as it was. OK, so it was in September, 2000. But back then, the downtown “Canton Arts District” was some years away from becoming part of our cultural vocabulary.

    Speaking of vocabulary, my choice of “phantasmagorical” to describe the interior of my good friend’s business, Creative Framing and Lazar’s Art Gallery (located since the late 1960s at the corner of Woodlawn Avenue and Hills and Dales Road), was one that Lazar still chuckles about. While the focus of the dialogue commentary was the fine collection of figurative works by Clyde Singer that Lazar had acquired, I had already been a regular visitor/shopper at his establishment all through the previous decade, and have remained so to this day.

    It’s something of a sad day at that, as I’ve just learned that Lazar is planning to retire and close up shop by the end of July. So much for procrastination on my part. I never got around to suggesting that he seriously consider changing the name to Lazar’s Phantasmagorium. Then again, he’d be the first to tell you that the last thing I need is to have my ego fed.

    In November, 2006, I wrote again (for the short-lived Jackson Observer) about the business that Lazar took over circa 1991 from his father, artist Lazar Tarzan Sr. When I wrote that article I was still very much enthralled by the gallery’s expansive mélange of fascinating objects by hundreds of accomplished artists from around the country. I likened my viewing experience to that of Dorothy, in The Wizard of Oz, as she stepped for the first time into the riotous brilliance of Munchkin Land.

    Unabashedly sentimental? Maybe. But the place never lost its lustre and has always been that special to me.

    And so it is that there’s still time to visit this emporium most excellent (beginning May 30, to the end of July) and lighten Lazar’s inventory by indulging in the discounts. A bittersweet parting, to be sure.

    As The Bard would say, eyes look your last, arms take your last embrace. Wrap ‘em around some phantastic stuff.
    Creative Framing and Lazar’s Art Gallery, 2940 Woodlawn Avenue NW, Canton (330) 477-8351

Monday, May 27, 2013

Like Savory hors d'oevres

Like Savory hors d’oevres
By Tom Wachunas

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

    “Ah! Portraiture, portraiture with the thought, the soul of the model in it, that is what I think must come.” –Vincent van Gogh

    EXHIBIT: Works from 50 Portraits by Heather Bullach at Malone University Fountain Gallery, located in the Johnson Center for Worship and the Fine Arts, 2600 Cleveland Avenue NW. On view Mondays through Fridays during regular business hours THROUGH AUGUST 9, 2013.

    Heather Bryson, Gallery Curator at Malone University, was kind enough to send me the press release on this show of portrait studies by Heather Bullach (as well as the concurrent Adjunct Faculty Exhibit, which will be the subject of a post here in the near future).  The following is reprinted from that release:

     Fountain Gallery will feature Works from 50 Portraits by Heather Bullach from May 6th through August 9th. The exhibit shows pencil and watercolor studies from Heather, a Malone University alumnus (2011), who earned her bachelors degree in art with emphases in painting, drawing, and graphic design. The studies are for a series of 50 finished oil portraits of individuals who have been influential within the Canton Arts District on which Heather is currently working. The portraits will debut in an exhibition at Translations Art Gallery in February of 2014. Her portraits are characterized by high attention to detail, both in capturing the likeness and the personality of the subject. Her awards include the Outstanding Senior in Visual Arts from Malone University, the Mary Ellen McFadden Award for Excellence in the Visual Arts, and The Ohio Watercolor Society 2010 Scholarship. She currently resides in Dalton, Ohio. More information on Heather and her work can be found at

    This show of 18 pencil drawings and watercolors is, then, an especially lively hint of things to come. To some extent it reminds me of being sated with tantalizing appetizers long before the main course is served.

    These are indeed marvelous studies. They’re a strong witness to Bullach’s uncanny ability at observing and mapping detail (based on photographs of her subjects) - i.e., drawing on a surface with sure-handed fluidity. Yet at the same time she draws out that ineffable something which gives us the sense we are encountering real personhood, even as we may not personally know the people depicted.

    That said, I have the advantage of having met and spoken with all of the individuals shown here, some on many occasions over the past several years, and have come to greatly appreciate the essence of their energies - their contributions to and influence on the Canton Arts District. In this context, I’ve always found the cliché of how well a subject’s character or spirit is “captured” by the artist to be an inadequate measure of a portrait’s quality. The best ones release that spirit. I can tell you with confidence that the samples presented in this exhibit do exactly that. 

    And even at this rudimentary point in her process of developing finished oil portraits, Bullach has mastered the cartography of personality.

    PHOTOS: Top (clockwise from upper left) – Marcy Axelband, Elec Simon, Sarah Shumaker, Robb Hankins; Middle – Patrick Buckohr (left), Dan Kane; Bottom – Tim Belden (left), Craig Joseph

Monday, May 20, 2013

An Extraordinary Convergence

An Extraordinary Convergence
By Tom Wachunas

    EXHIBIT: 71st ANNUAL MAY SHOW, THROUGH JUNE 2 at The Little Art Gallery, located in the North Canton Public Library, 185 North Main Street, North Canton.
    “My selections are not meant to illustrate the breadth of the capabilities of Stark County artists but instead to create a conversation about what I saw to be the most interesting achievements to date.”   - painter Jack McWhorter, juror for the 71’st Annual May Show-

    First, here’s a thumbs-up to fellow artist/blogmeister Judi Krew for her critique of this juried show (link provided here - ). Therein she included a photo of her wildly ornate and tactile piece from her Hoard Couture series, which garnered First Place honors in the Three-Dimensional category, and also a photo she took of me sniffing the brilliant oil pastel bloom by Diane Belfiglio (Second Place winner in Drawing) at the opening reception.

    Krew’s review also reminded me about disclosure. So yes, her photo of that whimsical moment also shows my own work (Second Place in Mixed Media) on the wall next to Belfiglio’s. I’m elated, grateful and, frankly, humbled to be in the company of so many truly remarkable artists.

    Unexpected circumstances in the jurying of the show were such that a single individual – Jack McWhorter, Associate Professor of Painting at Kent State University at Stark - judged the entries. There were 124 submissions from 75 Stark County artists. McWhorter selected 50 works for the show. 

    The resultant ensemble is a striking mélange of styles and media, and unquestionably the most exhilarating May Show I’ve ever seen at this venue. Elizabeth Blakemore, Little Art Gallery curator, has once again proven her considerable skill at hanging diverse collections such as this. It’s an art in itself, to be sure, to present “traditional” imagery with works of relatively more contemporary content in a way that is sensually and intellectually engaging throughout the exhibit.
   Particularly alluring, for example, is the placement of Sherri Hornbrook’s  acrylic painting, Quest (First Place in the Oil and Acrylic category), next to Eleanor Kuder’s oil, Rose Hips (Second Place in the same category). Hornbrook’s is an electrifying and enigmatic abstract work. Its bold blue diagonal lines are vectors that seemingly invade clusters of red and orange organic (vaguely floral) shapes, all floating on a misted background. Kuder’s boldly contoured recumbent figure on opaque blue, surrounded by loosely rendered blossoms, evokes the raw, dreamlike imagery of Marc Chagall. Both pieces employ very bright palettes that effectively play off each other, and both exude a mystical sort of tension.

    First Place in Mixed Media went to Randall Slaughter for his elegant abstract collage, Long Way Home. It’s an impeccably balanced arrangement of shapes, spontaneous-looking marks, colors and surface textures that has a distinctly vintage feel about it – abstraction in the “classical” sense. Similar in sensibility, though I think more compelling and muscular, is Lynn Weinstein’s acrylic abstraction, More Organized Than Usual.

    If there could be such a thing as an “Endangered Species Award” in painting, Frank Dale would surely win it for his oil portrait, Girl In A Rosewood Chair. Dale is a master of the Renaissance Flemish Method, and his technique is utterly enthralling. The sophisticated woman in his painting is set against a background of purple so intoxicatingly deep that it feels like infinity. Have some fun and make up a story. Imagine the expression of self-possessed taunting on her illuminated face as if it were directed at the young man on the opposite wall of the gallery in Erin Wozniak’s portrait, Morning (Best In Show).

    This flawless and captivating portrait is a subtle blending of pastel, colored pencil and graphite that goes far beyond photorealism. With astonishing, meticulous naturalism - right down to the wispy (almost invisible) blue veins under pale flesh - Wozniak delivers a lyrical gem. Her image of a haggard man doesn’t appear to be drawn “on top of” the paper at all. Instead it seems to magically emerge from within the white ground, like waking up from a deep if not troubled sleep. 

    I wonder if some (maybe many?) viewers might be somewhat perplexed at the awarding of First Place in Watercolor to Daniel Chrzanowski for his Critic with Neolithic Skull. In these parts, watercolor painting is a tradition so longstanding and revered that it’s practically sacred. While the ten other watercolor entries here are all certainly noteworthy for various reasons, Chrzanowski’s is a jarring departure from the more conventional pleasantries we normally associate with the medium.

    Call it more of a study than a complete, resolved “picture.” Better yet, the monochromatic gestures of a painter rendering watery nuances of a face. Not a scene, but perhaps a paragraph. Comprised of related phrases. Each one a variation on the theme of making marks and shapes. A watercolor painting about watercolor painting. 

    In any event, the painting reminds me of what I find so exciting about this show. It’s a thoroughly egalitarian gathering of visions as stimulating to the mind as they are tantalizing to the eyes.

PHOTOS (from top): Rose Hips by Eleanor Kuder; Critic with Neolithic Skull by Daniel Chrzanowski; Morning by Erin Wozniak; Quest by Sherri Hornbrook

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Connect the Dots, Fill in the Blanks

 Connect the Dots, Fill in the Blanks
By Tom Wachunas

    EXHIBITION: Blind Date at Translations Art Gallery, THROUGH JUNE 1, 331 Cleveland Avenue NW, downtown Canton. Hours are Wednesdays Noon to 9 p.m., Thursdays through Saturdays Noon to 5 p.m.

    “Even at their most artful and compelling, written words are essentially drawings which rely on remembered words to become meaningful. But the most compelling or meaningful images or pictures are those which require no such reliance.”
-June Godwit, from Adventures in Greymatter Doublespeak-

    It’s baaack. Blind Date, third edition, this time with 16 writers and 16 visual artists. For a review of the overarching concept at work here, I give you the following link to my commentary on the previous incarnation of this exhibit -  (which seems to be on its way to becoming a Translations tradition). Kindly read the first four paragraphs, as my “old” thoughts are, I hope, clear enough, and still largely applicable to the current show.

    On my first visit to the current show, I made a mind game of it by looking at the visual entries and formulating my own “narratives.” My second visit was devoted more exclusively to the written entries (some being considerably lengthy). The show seems to invite just that sort of vicarious participation on our part as viewers, and I was curious as to what extent I might be on the same page, as it were, with the artists’ interactions with each other.

     And as often as connecting the dots between image and words can be comfortably achieved, there are just as many “duets” here that are substantially more challenging, requiring some creativity on our part to fill in the blanks.

    For example, one of the most enigmatic entries is the pairing of “Georgiana,” written by Tyler Mowry, with an exquisite machine-stitched fabric work by Mary Ann Tipple called “Monday.” Mowry’s text is in one way a surreal parable. The life of a poor immigrant woman is placed side-by-side with a fictional document titled The Houghton Report, a government assessment of a 1962 Russian nuclear attack on American soil. While the two-part written presentation is something of a head-scratcher, it does include a fleeting image of laundry hanging on a line, which is central to Tipple’s intricately textured wall hanging.

    Another very fine Tipple work in the same medium, Mom G, is paired with a poem, To Have and to Hold, by Julie Winters. Here, the relationship between the poignant text and image is considerably more edifying.

    So too the joining of two particularly ambitious visions here: The Story of Gail and Garth, a short story by Moriah Ophardt, and Not Fade Away, a very large scale painting on simulated brick and louvered café doors by Jeff Pullen. Ophardt’s story is a breezy read about Gail, an 80 year-old woman. She moves into a neighborhood of townhouses and lives with her dog Garth, a rambunctious, profusely drooling Mastiff. Pullen’s sunny, expansive view of the townhouses is magnetic one, seeming to attract questions about what goes on in and outside these homes – questions delightfully entertained in the text.

    This same kind of elegance – an efficacious balance between literary and visual meaning – is present in several other engaging works. The emotionally potent writing about an absentee father in The Passing Whisper by Ingrid De Sanctis is accompanied by Waiting for William, a beautifully haunting photograph by Mandy Altimus Pond. Elsewhere, there’s nothing really extraordinary about Boathouse, John Radigan’s photograph of a boathouse and red-leafed trees, gently distorted and reflected in a lake. But the “reflection” becomes more weighted after reading M.J. Albacete’s eponymous contemplation of a lakeside encounter with nature. The liquid ripples of the photograph then take on a new significance when we read Albacete’s description of how rain falling on his eyeglasses blurs his vision and stirs a sense of angst.

    Especially dramatic in successfully embodying the concept behind this exhibit is the poem Hurricane Sandy by Cheryl Henderson, mated with Thinking About Hurricane Sandy, a vertical diptych painting by Dr. Fredlee Votaw. The rhythmic scheme of the poem has the feel of a strident march or dark singalong, childlike and chilling. Here’s the opening of the poem: “Closed eyes./ Paralyzed./ Worst fears realized./ Left alone to wonder why./ As wind and waves go rushing by.” The top half of Votaw’s painting is the ghostly image of a youthful face, eyes seeming to peer far beyond us, fixed in a state of eerie calm (or shock?). Below is the impressionistic suggestion of blue seas in an atmosphere seething with rhythms of tiny white dots - snow, or dust, or pulverized debris.  

    What is at work in this Henderson/Votaw meeting (as in others throughout this exhibit, some to lesser degrees of effectiveness) is a coactive chemistry. Image and text come together in equal measure, each being an agent in fully realizing the other. It’s a highly intriguing match-making enterprise. 

PHOTOS (from top): Not Fade Away by Jeff Pullen; Thinking About Hurricane Sandy by Dr. Fredlee Votaw; Monday by Mary Ann Tipple