Sunday, July 28, 2013

Different Strokes

Different Strokes

By Tom Wachunas

    “Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.” –Henry David Thoreau

    “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” –Albert Einstein

EXHIBIT: Adjunct Faculty at Malone University, McFadden Gallery, located in the Johnson Center for Worship and the Fine Arts, 2600 Cleveland Avenue NW, Canton. Open for viewing during regular business hours Monday through Friday. Works by Liz DeBellis, Todd Biss, Heather Bryson, Laura Donnelly, Li Hertzi, Richard Hugget, Susan McClelland, Michele Waalkes, Sarah Winther Shumaker, THROUGH AUGUST 9

    Some of you faithful readers may have noticed that of late I’ve not been my usual prolific ARTWACH self. Never before has so much time passed (nearly three weeks!) between posts. The previous one doesn’t really count as it’s not my own writing. No, I’ve not been “on vacation” –  I’ve forgotten what that means anymore. That’s certainly not a complaint, mind you.

    I’m remembering that sobering scene in Dances With Wolves when a trail guide, peering down at a human skeleton that Kevin Costner discovered in the sun-drenched prairie grass, smirks and comments, “Somebody back East is sayin’, ‘Why don’t he write?’” I’ve simply been very committed to other projects which, as life would have it, tend to occasionally collide and greedily feast on my time.

    One casualty of my critiquing hiatus was the most recent group show at Translations Gallery, Those Who Can. While I greatly enjoyed the viewing experience – a thoroughly engaging range of work – I was unable to record here any thoughts. I think that’s been the only show I’ve missed writing about from that important gallery since its inception, and I really do apologize. Tempus fugit.

    Speaking of thoroughly eclectic content, though, there’s still a little time (Monday to Friday during business hours) to take in the excellent Adjunct Faculty Exhibit at Malone University’s McFadden Gallery. I saw the show shortly after it was installed in May, and I mention here just a few of the fine works that have persistently clamored for comment before the show ends on August 9.

    In the past, I found some of Sarah Winther Shumaker’s earlier mixed media explorations, in varying degrees, to be somewhat formally awkward and unresolved. But here, in her sleek stoneware and encaustic wall piece Amalgamation, there’s no such shortcoming. All the variations in texture, pattern motifs, and color work together toward an elegant geometric harmony. It’s a beautifully designed, tactile gem of gleaming symmetry that is at once pristine and earthy.

    Growth, by Liz DeBellis, is a gently crinkled, printed “curtain” of sheer fabric that is more a conjuring of fleeting sensations than it is a solid object. Both veiled and revelatory, its gossamer texture evokes a duality - the cycles of life in bloom and decay.

   Most intriguing about Heather Bryson’s Conscious/Unconscious- An Ode to Mark Rothko is how it manages to embody the serene, often somber ethereality of Rothko’s large oil canvases in such an unlikely, counterintuitive fashion. While Rothko immersed us in visual mysticism via fields of subtly undulating color, this intimately scaled homage by Bryson is in pencil – a studied meditation in moody dark grays and soft, misty mid-tones. Mysticism indeed, it’s a haunting picture of the unpicturable.

    On a lighter (though not insignificant) note are the three acrylic ink on canvas entries by Richard Hugget - the refined freneticism of a highly playful imagination. You’ll be reading more about his work in my next entry, I assure you. And I won’t be letting three weeks pass before posting it.

PHOTOS, from top: Amalgamation by Sarah Winther Shumaker; Growth by Liz DeBellis; Dish Rags by Laura Donnelly; Conscious/Unconscious- An Ode to Mark Rothko, by Heather Bryson    

Friday, July 26, 2013

Something New

    I just received this from Craig Joseph, curator of Translations Art Gallery and co-founder of The Parallax Ensemble. I’m passing it on as received. Thanks to all for your attention.
Hello, Friends

    As you may know, this past year was Year One for a theatre group I'm a part of called The Parallax Ensemble.

    We introduced ourselves to the public with the Ohio premiere of a new play by LA-based writer, Anna Carini, called SWEET CONFINEMENT.

    We entertained audiences and raised lots of money for anti-bullying initiatives with a production of the Broadway hit, GOD OF CARNAGE.

    For the past few months, we've been producing live performances of original radio dramas - complete with sound effects and music - for First Friday crowds; this initiative is called THE SOCIAL ANXIETY HOUR.

    We're tackling our most ambitious project yet. A totally new piece, developed by our ensemble, modeled on Thornton Wilder's OUR TOWN and based on interviews we've collected with people around Canton, Ohio

    We'd love if you could help us out in two ways.  Check out all the details at the link below and if you feel so moved, please contribute.  ANY amount helps.  Then, if you'd be so kind, tweet and post on Facebook and share the link wherever you can to let the community know that we're developing a piece all about them.

   And THANKS so much!  Feel free to contact me with questions



   Craig Joseph, Curator

   Translations Art Gallery

   331 Cleveland Ave NW

   Canton, OH, 44702

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Natura Reformati

Natura Reformati

By Tom Wachunas

    “The artist and the photographer seek the mysteries and adventure of experience in nature.” –Ansel Adams

  “Art not only imitates nature, but also completes its deficiencies.” –Aristotle

   “I am at two with nature.” –Woody Allen

   EXHIBIT: Lux Botanica: The Photography of Doug McLarty, at the Canton Museum of Art, THROUGH JULY 21, 1001 Market Avenue North, Canton  330.453.7666   

    Part whimsy, part high drama, the botanical imagery of photographer Doug McLarty is wholly enthralling. The wondrous theatricality of his configurations brings to mind this observation from Guillarme Apollinaire: “Without poets, without artists, men would soon weary of nature’s monotony.”

    There’s certainly nothing monotonous about McLarty’s delightfully unique take on plants, flowers, seeds and the like. His compositions, set against solid black grounds, often appear to be intricately sculpted entities, exuding an otherworldly aura.

    The heightened dimensionality and focus of detail, astonishingly crisp and vibrant hues, and sharp illumination of the forms are all the result of a working technique which the artist calls Scanography. His explanation of the technique is posted with the exhibit, described in part as a process “…of capturing digitized images of objects for the purpose of creating printable art using a flatbed “photo” scanner with a CCD (charge-coupled device) array-catching device.” Sheesh. Such technospeak is so far beyond my understanding that it might as well be alchemy.

    And indeed, the net effect of McLarty’s wizardly method is nothing short of magical. Several of his images are mesmerizing in a way somewhat reminiscent of the playfully surreal works by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, the 16th century Italian painter who made portrait heads comprised of fruits, flowers and vegetables.  

    One resonant function of art derived from nature has been not so much to merely imitate it as much as shape and sharpen our attentions to its power of evocation, its power to make us sense things beyond the obvious, or monotonous. It’s not about improving on nature per se (a fool’s errand if ever there was one), but improving our ability to see in the fullest sense of the word. In McLarty’s photographs, marvelously presented forms seem to vibrate as if to music, or recite wordless poetry.

    After seeing them, I’ve acquired a renewed, celebratory appreciation for the wild gathering of textures and myriad shapes that are currently dancing together in my vegetable garden.


    PHOTOS (from top): Toucan Island; Scheherazade; Supremes  

Monday, July 1, 2013

A Persistent Theatre of Self

A Persistent Theatre of Self

By Tom Wachunas 

    EXHIBIT: Snap! In the Photobooth with Warhol and Friends, at Massillon Museum, THROUGH OCTOBER 13, 121 Lincoln Way E., downtown Massillon

(330) 830-4061

    “My work has no future at all. I know that. A few years. Of course my things will mean nothing.”  -Andy Warhol

    “I have nothing to say and I am saying it…”  -John Cage

    Among the many ironies about Andy Warhol’s work is that while it was originally a deliberate undermining of traditionally lofty Western art standards and practices, it remains nonetheless present in many art museums worldwide. Of course he wasn’t the first to throw down such a daunting cultural gauntlet and garner a place not only in our most revered art institutions, but in the history books as well. For that we can look to the mischievous French artist, Marcel Duchamp, who during the early decades of the 20th century, farted in our general direction with his “readymades.”

    Prior to the time Warhol made his entry on to the art world stage, the term “pop” had already emerged in the contemporary art lexicon, thanks to critic Lawrence Alloway’s championing artists such as Eduardo Paolozzi and Richard Hamilton, who were among the founding members of the early 1950’s British Independent Group. Just a few years after, in New York City, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg were also seminal influences on what would become “officially” called Pop Art by 1962.

    Speaking of seminal influences, this Massillon Museum exhibit is a finely organized record of how Warhol melded the technology of “instant” photography with advertising design and methods which became so central to his oeuvre. Keep in mind, though, that the photo booth and Polaroid portraits gathered here aren’t uniquely or formally “beautiful” photographs in the “high art” sense of the word. And for that matter, the nature of Warhol’s portraiture in general was far more formulaic and mechanical than emotionally powerful. Additionally, his legacy is as much about his attitude as it is his manufactured objets d’art.

    Some Warholisms are posted throughout the exhibit, such as “I want to be a machine..,” and, “Isn’t life a series of images that change as they repeat themselves?” Those words are revealing enough as to his motivations and methods.

     Warholisms, by the way, are his pronouncements about life and art that have surely taken on a life of their own, and arguably more significant than many of his works. But like his works, on the surface his words still possess a breezy, even theatrical simplicity. Underneath, though, there’s a calculated gravitas, glibly disguised as banality and naïveté. Warhol was, among other things, a Dadaist provocateur who could be maddeningly changeable and ambiguous. In 1979 he amended his iconic 1968 utterance about fame to, “I’m bored with that line. I never use it anymore. My new line is, ‘In 15 minutes everybody will be famous.’” (italics added)

    Whichever version of 15 minutes of fame you prefer, to the extent that Warhol’s work was a celebration of celebrity itself – our consumerist society’s insanely elevated narcissism – his words were hauntingly prophetic. Today, we have all manner of social media stages on which to play out our lives and sing the praises of us, making our selves instantly known to countless “friends” and strangers.  

    In this context, think of photo booth image strips as a Facebook prototype of sorts. As objects, they’re generated by a machine one might call a mini-factory, bringing to mind Warhol’s legendary Factory that churned out his silkscreen “paintings” and lithographs (among many other enterprises) between 1962 and 1984. The analogy isn’t so far- fetched if you consider those who step into a photo booth as similar to Warhol’s Factory workers (dubbed in their day “Warhol’s Superstars”), collaborating in assembly line fashion to make his serial images.

     Better yet, think of the photo booth (there’s one in the Massillon Museum lobby) as a miniature theatre – an intimate, curtained stage allowing you to indulge the notion of self- image. Here you are at once director and actor. It’s a space that seems to have the intrinsic capacity for encouraging role-playing, acting out, or posing in an adopted persona, as is evident in Warhol’s self-portraits. The photo booth is a place where you can inpersonate yourself, so to speak - where you can be a legend in your own mind.

    Keep in mind another Warholism: “I’m afraid that if you look at a thing long enough, it loses all of its meaning.” Warhol the prophet speaking?  Still, your personal photo strip could be a document of your own celebrity, however fleeting it might be.

    Say… for 15 minutes?