Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Finding Treasure in the Trash

 Finding Treasure in the Trash
                                         By Tom Wachunas

    The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn't understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.”  - Eric Schmidt
    “Censorship is saying: 'I'm the one who says the last sentence. Whatever you say, the conclusion is mine.' But the internet is like a tree that is growing. The people will always have the last word - even if someone has a very weak, quiet voice. Such power will collapse because of a whisper.  - Ai Weiwei
    It's been my policy to view the Internet not as an 'information highway,' but as an electronic asylum filled with babbling loonies.”
- Mike Royko

    While the frenzy over the release of Sony Pictures’ The Interview has not sparked my desire to see the film, it nonetheless reminds me of a much older comedy film title, It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. According to media polls and pundits, even those folks who are neither fans of The Interview cast, nor frightened by cyberthreats from so-called Guardians of Peace, have resolved to see the film on “principle alone.”
    The principle? Freedom of speech. It has come to be an ever-broadening justification of human expressivity in general, including all kinds of “entertainment.” Courageous citizens have died to preserve and foster such liberty. Ain’t America grand? This freedom flag we fly so valiantly covers a multitude of blessings - and sins – and is jointly hoisted (foisted?) by peoples the world over. For all of that, I dare say that those citizens who originally articulated our constitutionally assured right to free speech would today be more mortified than gratified by many of its contemporary applications.
    These days, the most accessible and far-traveled vehicle for exercising our rites of free expression is the ubiquitous internet. The world wide web. And what a tangled one it has become. Sony Pictures decided to fight fire with fire in a crowded theater, so to speak. Whether we regard the decision as a purely monetary one or in the altruistic light of standing firm against censorship, it’s interesting and not surprising that the company would circumvent the initial refusal of major cinema chains to present its precious film by making it available (to paying patrons, of course) on the internet, the same instrument that threatened violence against those who would show and watch it. It’s a mad world.
    Cyberspace is a sprawling empire unto itself. This marvel of technology is a virtual mirror, a reflection of all the magnificence and malevolence in our “real” world. Like it or not, for better or worse, most of us have become naturalized citizens of this empire to one degree or another. Listen. Can’t you hear its sassy anthem? Why, it sounds just like Peter Pan and the Lost Boys of Never Land singingI Won’t Shut Up.”
    So be it. We say what we want when we want – no matter how feckless, vapid or vain - if only because we can. In the process, we’ve created a digital landscape that is a confounding, chimerical labyrinth. Much of it is a monumental testament to human mediocrity and depravity. Yet, in as much as we choose to traverse its dark, barren valleys strewn with ideological garbage, with equal frequency we can see illuminated peaks of decency and grace. We have a choice as to the treasures and trash we pour into our lives, even if navigating the internet can be much like dumpster diving. There are gems in the junkyard.
    Here’s one from around A.D. 61: Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. (Phillipians 4:8)
    Oh, the delicious irony of it! Finding God’s voice in the cacophonous cloud of our own.
   Choices, choices. It’s a mad world. But must it be?  Happy hunting, and Happy New Year.  

Friday, December 26, 2014

Remembered in Stone

Remembered in Stone

By Tom Wachunas

    “Collectively, Kiderman’s works are indeed imbued with a quiet magic of sorts. Some conjure serenity and ecstasy. Others speak of darker, more vexing things. Stone will do that. It’s nature’s perfect reliquary of time itself, the countenance of history. And the very act of sculpting it can reasonably be seen as a metaphor for revealing and facing the history of…us.”

    Artwach, October 19, 2012                      

    The above link is to my 2012 review of the Alice Kiderman exhibit at Canton Museum of Art. She recently contacted me with an update on her latest work. While an exhibition time and location for these works is yet to be determined, the direction of her work has prompted me to think…
     Memory is a fragile, at times corruptible thing. Without it, the present is a groundless theory, a fleeting idea, the stuff of blind wandering (and wondering) about who we are, where we came from, and where we want to go. Without it, there is nothing to praise or celebrate, nothing to mourn, nothing to love, hate, dream, hope or long for.
    I know of no more potent a cultural memory preservative than art. We remember our most iconic artworks for their capacity to declare and connect us to each other across time. Art is our response to, and ongoing dialogue about our existence and all that it presents to us, be it joy or despair, mystery or discovery, mayhem or magic.
    That said, the most impassioned appreciators of art history that I know have always been other artists. Our memory keepers. I think sculptor Alice Kiderman is such an appreciator as she has undertaken a series of marble works that are inspired by classic masterpieces, including works by da Vinci, Picasso, Modigliani, Dali and Grant Wood, among others. In the past, artists have often sourced works of a previous era or style. Picasso’s versions of works by Manet, Velasquez and Delacroix come to mind, for example.  
    In a similar spirit, Kiderman’s take-offs aren’t meticulous facsimiles or exact duplications of the originals. Rather, she’s found a way to let the stone suggest just enough visual kinship with the original so that we can recall and hopefully savor, or see in a new way, its conceptual or spiritual essence. A particularly intriguing aspect of these pieces is that they transform 2D originals into 3D objects. This in itself recalls how we memorialize ideas or events with stone monuments.  For that matter, she even has plans to interpret musical works by Rachmaninoff and Ravel.
     Whether we regard such manifestations as challenging “updates,” personalized reinterpretations, or playful commentaries, I think it fair to see them in the larger sense as a relevant and poetic homage to (with apologies to Salvador Dali) the persistence of memory.

    PHOTOS, from top (courtesy Alice Kiderman): American Gothic Revisited; I-Scream (after Eduard Munch); Modigliani’s Muse; Fluidity of Time (after Salvador Dali)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Brader Perspectives

Brader Perspectives

By Tom Wachunas

    “The Canton Museum’s goal with this exhibition is to give more depth and understanding to Brader’s importance in capturing a snapshot in time of our local and regional history…His skill at depicting minute details weave together an amazing story of the late 1800s in Northeast Ohio and Pennsylvania – and illuminate Brader’s importance as an artist and chronicler of the time and place…”
    - Max Barton, Executive Director, Canton Museum of Art

    EXHIBIT: The Legacy Of Ferdinand A. Brader: 19th Century Drawings of the Ohio and Pennsylvania Landscape, on view at the Canton Museum of Art (CMA) THROUGH MARCH 15, 2015 / 1001 Market Avenue North, Canton / (330) 453-7666  ALSO SEE >

    Companion Exhibits: at the Little Art Gallery, located in the North Canton Public Library, 185 North Main Street, North Canton, THROUGH JANUARY 8, 2015 (330) 499-4712 x312 / AND at The McKinley Presidential Library and Museum, 800 McKinley Monument Drive NW, Canton, THROUGH DECEMBER 24, (330) 455-7043

    Among my fondest early childhood memories are summer Sunday drives through rural Stark County. I never tired of our casual family ceremony of piling into Dad’s two-tone ’54 Pontiac for no reason other than to venture beyond our small hometown of Alliance and enjoy the country. It never seemed to really matter where or even if we stopped for the always-promised ice cream cone (Minerva? Sebring? Homeworth?). It was the ride that was sweet. We cruised through miles of manicured farmlands dotted by slate-roofed houses with their deep covered porches, stately barns, towering silos and grazing horses, cows, and sheep. It was another world to me. At once mysterious and inviting, simple and…exotic.
    This CMA exhibit of more than 40 large (30”x40” and larger) graphite pencil drawings by Ferdinand A. Brader (1833-1901), guest-curated by eminent Brader scholar Kathleen Wieschaus-Voss, is a potent evocation of that world, even if it is from the late 19th century. Between 1879 and 1896, Brader, an itinerant Swiss folk artist, made more than 600 extraordinarily detailed drawings (in his lifetime output numbering at least 980) that constitute a wholly impressive chronicle of family businesses and farms in various counties of Pennsylvania and northeast Ohio. Viewed as a record of local and regional family livelihoods and heritage, the beautifully mounted exhibit is a veritable gem of historical information.
   Likewise, as folk art, Brader’s drawings of rural residences and properties are meticulously, even lovingly rendered and panoramic in scope. His pencil technique was so exacting and controlled that his pictures often suggest the minute linear textures of embroidered tapestries.
    Evidently, Brader was not an academically trained artist. This might arguably explain the quirky mixed viewpoints apparent in many of the drawings. A consistent vantage point for Brader was clearly aerial in nature. Yet he seems to have broken the formal rules of relative scale and multiple-point linear perspective so that the illusion of spatial accuracy is somewhat skewed. Call it a gentle awkwardness. For example, we might be looking down at a structure while simultaneously seeing its surrounds at eye-level. That said, such inconsistencies, while a bit technically naïve, actually bring a mesmerizing charm to the scenes.
    Brader’s capacity for capturing naturalistic likenesses was nonetheless substantial enough, and no doubt the result of his background as a mold carver for his family bakery in Switzerland. In the manual discipline required to make raised relief decorations for baked goods, I think it reasonable to assume he acquired a sort of muscle memory that effectively played out in his facile repetition of human figures, animals, objects, tree shapes and patterns that generously occupy his drawings.
    Muscle memory. From decorated Swiss pastries and cakes to elaborate, enthralling American landscapes. All of this brings me right back to those countryside excursions of my childhood. And like them, this exhibit is a sweet ride indeed.

    PHOTOS, from top: The Property of Daniel and Sarah Leibelsperger, 1882, exhibition catalog no. 13; The Property of Peter and Nancy Yoder, 1885, exhibition catalog no. 20; The Property of Daniel and Deborah De Turck, 1882, exhibition catalogue no. 12

Friday, December 12, 2014

All Good Things...

All Good Things…

By Tom Wachunas

“…We'll still be collaborating with artists to produce exhibits that are highly conceptual, immersive, and experiential, encouraging viewers to engage with art in new and exciting ways.” –Craig Joseph

    EXHIBIT: All Good Things, at Translations Art Gallery THROUGH DECEMBER 27, 331 Cleveland Avenue NW, downtown Canton. Gallery hours are Wed. – Sat. noon to 5 p.m.  

    I recently encountered (tolerated?) a woman who came to the Canton Museum of Art and gushed how much fun it was to browse the gift shop. I asked if she had seen the Brader exhibit yet, pointing toward the galleries. “Exhibit? Oh, no,” she smiled, peering into the jewelry display, “I just come here a few times a year to look at all this great hand-made stuff.” I’m not making this up. She didn’t purchase anything on this occasion, and said she’d continue “hunting around” downtown in “those cool art galleries.” Art galleries. Hmmm. Long live retail.
    The power of place. So OK, I suppose I’m a stuffy old purist who thinks  an art gallery is for…art. It’s certainly not that I’m uninterested in buying ornamental or decorative craftworks. But more to the point, I enjoy frequenting true art galleries in the more conventional sense - environments specifically designed to let viewers focus on, think about and otherwise really see the featured art, and only the art, without any competing clutter. I savor experiencing a place seriously and consistently dedicated to presenting work that isn’t too much like incidental wall adornments, or an addendum to artsy retail bric-a-brac, or an afterthought.
     As many of you may already know, Translations Gallery is vacating its Cleveland Avenue address to become what curator Craig Joseph calls a “mobile, pop-up entity.” Have art, will travel. You can go to the soon- to- be revamped Translations website at  and read a more complete background  statement about Joseph’s plans.
    The power of place. I have no reason to believe that future collaborations and site-specific projects under the Translations name won’t remain true to Craig Joseph’s compelling vision of presenting “…exhibits that are highly conceptual, immersive, and experiential…”  Still, this gallery morphing represents, in a way, a bittersweet changing of the downtown guard insofar as Translations has been a unique and dependable shibboleth of the optimal gallery experience. Canton’s oft-touted “arts district” was substantially enriched by its Cleveland Avenue presence – a presence I will greatly miss after the current show closes.
    It features 55 artists (myself included) and two writers – all participants in past Translations exhibits. I’ll not be offering comments on any specific works except to say that this is as strong and fine a group show as I’ve ever seen there. I’ve posted photos of just some of the pieces I found most striking.
    Meanwhile, back at the museum gift shop… I suggested to the woman that she include a visit to Translations. “What’s there?” she asked. “Lots of great hand-made stuff,” I said. Happy hunting.

    PHOTOS, from top: Marriage in Silverdale, woodcut print by Bill Bogdan; Awakening, painting by Emily Vigil; St. James Court, painting by Joe Martino; Gray Isn’t So Bad, painting by Marcy Axelband; Veil #1, painting by Jim Boden    

Saturday, December 6, 2014

...And A Little Child Will Lead Them

…And a Little Child Will Lead Them

By Tom Wachunas


- Isaiah 11:1-3; 6

    I knew from about the age of nine years or so that I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. This desire was an inspired one, implanted and nourished by many hours of looking at pictures of religious paintings by the great masters. And that of course would include Nativity scenarios. Back then, I wanted to make art that engaged people the way that those images I had seen in encyclopedias and art history books had engaged me.
    I feel compelled to tell you that in retrospect, I realize that the power of those images to hold me in their thrall was not so much from the painters themselves (with all due respect to their superlative artistic skills), but from the subject matter. More precisely, I now know I was being touched, indeed even called by Christ Himself.
       My continuing prayer is that Christmas in our culture cease being just an annual “season” straddled with obligatory outward trappings and clichéd rituals. And so it is that once again I offer my annual Christmas card image (above) not for your consideration as an example of high fine art in the historic tradition of the masters (I was never so gifted), but rather in the spirit of an enthralled child, called to follow and celebrate the Way, the Truth and the Life.
    May all of you reading this ask for and receive the same, in the name of Jesus. Amen.