Friday, June 21, 2013

Ravishing Retro

Ravishing Retro
By Tom Wachunas

    EXHIBIT: Flemish Pearls: 35 Paintings in the Flemish Technique, at The Little Art Gallery, located in the North Canton Public Library, 185 North Main Street, North Canton, THROUGH JULY 13

    “These are pictures with a pulse, drawing us deep below their mirror-smooth surfaces. We become delightfully lost in their ethereal subtleties…”

    That quote is from a review of painter Frank Dale’s work posted here back in 2009. Here’s a link, and I respectfully ask you to click and read before proceeding any further:  And as long as I’m playing the role of taskmaster, just for good measure, go ahead and read this one from 2011:

    One adage that I have come to understand over many years is this: You’ve got to give it away to keep it. It’s a philosophical gem that can apply to everything from contentment and spiritual healing to practical wisdom and knowledge. And it’s in the realm of knowledge, passed on from a teacher to his students, where this show resonates in a most edifying way.

    Frank Dale’s aesthetic spirit is passionately immersed in the Flemish painting methodology and the demands that come with it. Among those are impeccable drawing skills along with the application of transparent oil paint glazes to produce  luminosity so heightened that colors don’t so much rest atop the painting surface (usually glass-smooth wood panels) as they seem to breathe underneath it.

    This compelling exhibit includes several of Dale’s works. They offer us stunning evidence of his utterly empyreal handling of the Flemish technique. He presents the method quite concisely in the guide book he authored, A Search For Beauty, which is available for purchase directly from him at or through gallery curator Elizabeth Blakemore at . The lion’s share of this exhibit, however, belongs to 30 of his students (he’s been giving private lessons since 2002).

    Within that group there is a considerable range of ages and artistic experience. The same can be said of pure skill levels. Which is to say that yes, some painters are more successful than others in the discipline of drawing (what the exhibit juror, Dino Massaroni, prefers to call “shape control”) and nuanced paint application. But overall, there’s plenty of evidence here that Dale is an effective teacher. And what is most wondrously apparent in his students’ portraits, still lifes, florals and landscapes is the achievement of an ineffable candescence – surely a magical lustre – so characteristic of the technique.

    One of the more accomplished still lifes is Reflection by Murli Narayanan (Best In Show). The lavishly detailed textures of wood, stone, galss and metal are a masterful demonstration of trompe l’oeil illusionism. Similarly spectacular is Josette Meade’s charming Memories of a Special Night (Third Place).

    Amid the many traditional subjects addressed in this show are some images that have a relatively more modernist theme. There’s at once a Baroque and Surrealist theatricality about Erin Mulligan’s fanciful creatures (part bird, part cat) in Poetry of Deception (First Place). The Eye of God, by Mary Lange, is startlingly like a glossy photograph of a feathery stellar cloud or cosmic explosion, with diaphanous colors that are nothing short of…heavenly.

    Though The Bridge, by Gregory Giavasis, is one of the smallest entries in this collection, the artist manages the picture plane in an expansive way, with a remarkable sense of variation in textures and mark-making in his brush work. In some ways the piece is an elegant suggestion of Monet’s garden paintings, and even more remarkable when considering that Giavasis is all of nine years old. Talk about precocious youth… 
    While it was the 15th century Northern Renaissance masters who perfected and left us an unearthly gift of their vision and methods, it’s gratifying to know that Frank Dale is more than a solitary inheritor of an important legacy. Call him a torch bearer, generously lighting the way for those gifted artists such as we see here. Hopefully they will continue Dale’s practice of giving that legacy away so we can keep and cherish it.

    PHOTOS, courtesy Elizabeth Blakemore (from top): Girl with a Pearl Earing (after Vermeer), by Frank Dale; The Bridge, by Gregory Giavasis; Memories of a Special Night, by Josette Meade; Reflection, by Murli Narayanan; The Eye of God, by Mary Lange  

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Suspended Animations

Suspended Animations
By Tom Wachunas

    Exhibit: Eco – New Work by Steve Ehret, at Translations Art Gallery THROUGH JUNE 29, 331 Cleveland Avenue NW, downtown Canton. Gallery hours are Wednesday Noon to 9 p.m. / Thursday-Saturday Noon to 5 p.m.

    In the past, the scenic content of Steve Ehret’s paintings was that of a fantastical, surreal world typified by bizarre landscapes wherein bonhomie and malevolence seem to coexist. It is a world where bug-eyed biomorphs reign supreme as they mingle (and occasionally collide) with other beings both goofy and goulish. While these characters could elicit our laughter at their theatrics, they could just as often conjure nightmares.

    In this new crop of 12 very imaginative oil landscapes on wood panels, however, there’s not a monster to be found. Nor, for that matter, are there any beings, benevolent or otherwise, who might be identified as residents of the otherworldly panoramas Ehret depicts here.

    But as the title of the show implies, there’s plenty of evidence that some sort of population lives in and interacts with these environs. Beyond their occasional evocations of Tolkien’s Middle-earth, these locales have a history of their own. Titles of the paintings, such as Franklin’s Cave During Autumn, or Stew’s Landing, or Blue Ridge, Years After the Landslide, give us the sense that we are traveling in an ongoing narrative.

    Greatly enhancing this sensibility is the inventive presentation of the work. The paintings are suspended from the ceiling. We don’t simply look at them in the traditionally linear way so much as visit, walking through and among them. The experience is somewhat cinematic. It’s all a wholly engaged unfolding, a magical tour of changing seasons, variable light and atmospheres, shifting geographies and whimsical architectures.

    Ehret’s technical style of fantasy naturalism isn’t overly fussy or obsessively detailed. Unburdened by picayune concerns of hyper realism or trompe l’oeil illusionism, the paintings are nonetheless convincing images of enchanting realities. These are, after all, paintings, and Ehret lets us know as much with facile, fluid brushwork that infuses his surfaces with a remarkable lyricism. 

    Exciting travel plans and vacation getaways have always been a commonly encountered subject in my summertime conversations. But personal “vacation” and “travel” in that context have been absent from my vocabulary for… years. Still, this year I’m quite content to savor an adventuresome visit to the mind of Steve Ehret.

    PHOTOS (from top): Franklin’s Cave During Autumn; Islands Of Del Mar; Snowed In At Blue Hen; installation detail  

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Personal Capitulations

Personal Capitulations
By Tom Wachunas

    “The creative process is a process of surrender, not control.” –Julia Cameron

    Exhibit: Surrenderings at Lynda Tuttle’s Art Center, THROUGH JULY 25, 209 6th Street NW, downtown Canton. Gallery hours: Wednesday and Thursday Noon to 5 p.m. / Friday Noon to 7 p.m. / Saturday 10 a.m to 3 p.m.  Participating artists: Bill Bogdan, Karen Bogdan, Margene May, Sandy Paradis, Clare Sikora, Amy Tuttle, Lynda Tuttle, David Whiteman, Nicole Wong, Charlene Snyder, Lynda Rimke.

    Lynda Tuttle, owner and curator of Lynda Tuttle’s Art Center in downtown Canton, offers this definition of surrender for her latest group show of 11 local artists, titled Surrenderings: “The act of laying down an inner desire or will for the greater choice before us. Gut wrenching and painful, glorious and freeing…” 

    The operative theme here (and for that matter the look of the art) isn’t about illustrating disastrous outcomes or the frenzied waving of white flags amid abject defeat. The art, in a wide array of media, addresses something more subtle and deeply personal – maybe even noble. Call it a submission to, or acceptance of phenomena or circumstances beyond the artists’ personal control. These works, each accompanied by a statement from the artist, are essentially confessional in nature.

    Among the more resonant works here are three self- portraits in pencil by Lynda Rimke. They’re simple yet disarmingly candid explorations of her medical condition called stereo-blindness. I get the sense that she’s not looking out at the viewer so much as carefully navigating the act of seeing. The mirror becomes her lens on an inward journey. 

    Clearly more outward-focused are the two sumptuous quilt works (collectively called Inception) by Karen Bogdan. Their surfaces shimmer with iridescent colors and metallic thread. Interlocking and overlapping organic shapes suggest waves of cosmic energy and clouds of light emanating from a central source – God in the act of creation. You might call them contemporary devotional icons, or close encounters of the divine kind.

     The large, surreal black and white woodcut print called Shadows by Bill Bogdan (Karen’s husband) is at once earthbound and ethereal. The composition is an intriguing mix of symbols which seem to embrace the notion of existential impermanence – things, ideas, and people appearing and fading away with the passage of time. The persistence of change. 

    One fascinating twist here is Bogdan’s presentation of three smaller prints below the large main image. These smaller images are actually sections pulled from the original block. Two of those sections are upside down, so that what were images of “buried” forms in the large landscape above now appear to rise upward in perhaps a reference (taking a cue from the cross on the horizon in the large print) to the cycle of death and resurrection.

    A consistent trait of Bogdan’s prints is their simplicity and rawness of drawing (cutting) along with the integration of visible grain patterns in the wood block. Another characteristic is the variability of saturation in his blacks. He hand-rubs his prints, which can result in a blotchiness that tends to give the imagery a diluted look - something I’ve regarded as mildly problematic in past pieces. Interestingly enough, though, these specific aspects work well together in Shadows, further imbuing the work with its strong sense of eerie transience.

   When you visit this gallery, you’ll no doubt notice that Lynda Tuttle has assigned a significant portion of her wall space to ongoing exhibition of Margene May’s stunning, 2-D fiber portraits. But May offers another particularly compelling work in the Surrenderings show with her first venture into 3-D portraiture.

    Her Surrender is a sculpture comprised of two pre-formed mannequin heads collaged with beautifully patterned pieces of black and white fabric. Prompted by the challenges faced, so to speak, by a single parent raising a child, the work depicts a mother and daughter. As in her wall pieces, May achieves a remarkable degree of subtle facial expressivity with her materials.

    Notice, then, the faces. Mother is quietly somber, yet neither disconsolate nor hopeless. Her eyes are fixed in a gently contemplative, downward gaze, as if measuring her forward progress into uncertain territory. Daughter looks ahead with the slightest hint of a smile crossing her lips, secure and serene for the time being.

   Sweet surrender indeed. It is a moment most exquisite. 

    PHOTOS (from top): Surrender by Margene May; Inception, quilt by Karen Bogdan; Shadows, three woodcut prints by Bill Bogdan                                           

Thursday, June 6, 2013

A Magnificent Response to Living

 A Magnificent Response to Living
By Tom Wachunas

    “If painting wasn’t a kind of joyous experience, I wouldn’t be doing it. When you are painting, nothing else counts…” –Joseph O’Sickey
    “This above all: to thine own self be true…” –William Shakespeare

EXHIBIT: Joseph O’Sickey: Unifying Art, Life and Love, Canton Museum of Art, THROUGH JULY 21, 1001 Market Avenue North, Canton, 330-453-7666

    In the twenty years I’ve been writing about shows at the Canton Museum of Art (CMA), I don’t recall a retrospective exhibit more comprehensive, more thoughtfully presented, or more visually exuberant than this one. Curated by Christine Fowler Shearer, CMA Development Director, the nearly 160 paintings and drawings here represent joie de vivre made exquisitely palpable.

    On May 15, O’Sickey, unarguably among the most important artists to ever live and work in Ohio, received the prestigious Ohio Governor’s Award for the Arts in the individual artist category. It is an honor long overdue, and beautifully evidenced by this show of works spanning seven decades.

    A suggestion to you would-be viewers: give and you will receive. Which is to say, to the extent you allow yourself ample time in the galleries (this show warrants far more than casual hunt-and-peck, over-the-shoulder glancing), to that extent you’ll be drawn into Joseph O’Sickey’s profoundly invigorating vision and be the richer for it. This exhibit is a breathtaking testament to a lifetime of impassioned seeing. 
    You may want to start by picking up a copy (at the museum) of the premiere issue of @Canton Museum. It’s a new magazine that the CMA will be publishing three times a year. In this issue you’ll find informative excerpts from Shearer’s excellent biographical essay on O’Sickey – now in his 94th year - taken from the gorgeous full color exhibition book, which also features an astute formal analysis of O’Sickey’s oeuvre by Stephen Litt. 

    The most significant unifying ingredient throughout all of O’Sickey’s work is the uncompromising discipline of drawing/sketching from life. He is passionately committed to the conscious act of looking. That act prompts his seemingly instinctual response of transcribing his observations via his uncanny sureness of hand, an ease of gesture, a sense of essence.

    Regardless of subject matter, the visual thrust of both his sketches and finished paintings is representational in nature. While the art world was caught up in the thrall of Abstract Expressionism during the 1950s, O’Sickey opted to draw and paint sensory reality and has remained ever true to what he loves most about the visible world. 

    That said, for as much we can identify these images as being of a person, animal, place, or thing, they are also highly engaging records of perceived relationships between visual components in “nature,” translated on to the picture plane. Two-dimensional configuration in its purest sense. Lines, shapes, textures, and colors are distinct and separate elements that can resonate in harmonious balance, independent of cognitive content. We can see and appreciate their relationships…abstractly. And yet they work toward a gestalt of sorts – an elegantly resolved, unified representation of the familiar.

    So these are indeed familiar, even “traditional” realities, but far from ordinary or labored imitations of the obvious. Nowhere is the merging of visceral, abstract mark-making and mesmerizing homage to the recognizable more vibrant and compelling than in O’Sickey’s very large oil canvases, particularly the garden paintings. Call them his Giverny.

    Yes, there are influences – Monet, Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso, among others. But as a beneficiary of their legacy, O’Sickey has invested his inheritance with an optimism and unfettered joy uniquely his own.

    Sumptuous visions such as Table and Flowers on Lawn, Golden Garden, or the monumental triptych, August Hollyhocks, are at once tightly structured and filled with illuminated air. The syncopation of varying brush stroke rhythms with lavish crescendos of saturated colors evokes an intense musicality.

    As if dancing. Joseph O’Sickey has partnered with his Muse in a loving embrace of perception. Being thus led, he leads us. A mutual partnering. For viewers, to see is to join the dance.

    PHOTOS (from top): Blue Hill – October Rainment; Maine Porch; Table and Flowers on Lawn