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  

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