Saturday, September 2, 2017

Let's Be Candid

Let’s Be Candid

By Tom Wachunas

   EXHIBIT: Caught Off Guard: A Candid View / works from the Canton Artists League, THROUGH SEPTEMBER 17, 2017 / at Massillon Museum Studio M, 121 Lincoln Way East, downtown Massillon, Ohio
   330.833.4061 /

   Over the past decade or so, prior to every occasion of viewing a Canton Artists League (CAL) group exhibit, I engage in a sort of preparatory mental ritual, a meditation. I’ve adopted this practice with the full expectation of encountering an uneven mélange of works ranging from the innocuous and insipid to the truly excellent. “Calm down, breathe, and don’t be an irascible critic,” I tell myself. My meditation usually concludes with a mantra, sung to the tune of Whistle While You Work: “Don’t be a snooty fart, just open up your heart…”

   I still often remind myself that amateurism should never automatically imply artistic mediocrity. After all, amateurs are simply individuals who love doing what they do. And in the end, what artist isn’t, first and foremost – regardless of “professional” standing - an amateur? That said, CAL is a particularly egalitarian fellowship of amateurs. As such, it’s not so unreasonable to expect some less-than-remarkable art in its group shows. Yet for all of CAL’s persistence in presenting the harmless visual rhetoric of the hackneyed and ordinary – so much costume jewelry, if you will - there are always precious stones to be found. 

   One such gem in this exhibit is “Emily”, a colored pencil portrait by Sharon Frank Mazgaj. Beyond the Mazgaj magic of bedazzling technical bravura, the portrait is an astonishing embodiment of gentle sensuality exuding a graceful, contemplative spirit.

   A subtle sensuality is also at work in Cynthia Capestrain’s softly rendered oil painting,The Kiss. Call it a G-Rated appropriation of August Rodin’s 1886 marble sculpture of the same name. Capestrain gives us innocence with just a touch of impending adventure. 

   An odd but refreshing kind of paint-by-number sensibility is evident in how Kevin Walton has constructed some of the nuances of shape and shadow in his oil painting, “Calling the Shots.” The family playing croquet on a thick green lawn is generously bathed in luscious, dappled sunlight. Particularly intriguing is how those perfectly light blue splotches of the sky are sitting on top of, not peeking from behind, the tree foliage.

   Considering Frank Dale’s history of impeccable works in the tradition of the Flemish masters, his entry here has a surprisingly loose, unfinished look. Still, his “Hapless Ring Bearer” manages to effectively capture an endearingly awkward moment in the otherwise upright pomp of a wedding procession.

   Anna Rather’s marvelous abstract acrylic “Diary Portrait 38” seethes and writhes with all the primal intensity of a mystical, tribal dance. There’s an uncanny sensation of a figure being simultaneously swallowed up by, and leaping out of, a flurry of interwoven angular shapes. 

   Isabel Zaldivar’s “A Jug Falling Off at the Bottom of the Pond” is a tantalizing piscatorial playground rendered in sparkling, sumptuously liquid colors. It also poses something of a humorous conundrum: How exactly does a fishbowl “fall off” the bottom of a pond, and where exactly does it go? I guess it must look something like this…  
  The delicate serenity of an exquisite floral expanse in Claudia Mullane’s acrylic painting, “Wait. What?”, seems to be shattered when a cartoonish bunny pops into view. Despite this Disneyesque incongruity, this stylistic non-sequitur, the painting left me smiling. And wondering…was Mullane whistling while she worked?

   PHOTOS, from top: Emily (photo from artist’s web site), by Sharon Frank Mazgaj / The Kiss, by Cynthia Capestrain / Calling the Shots, by Kevin Walton / Hapless Ring Bearer, by Frank Dale / Diary Portrait 38, by Anna Rather / A Jug Falling Off at the Bottom of the Pond, by Isabel Zaldivar / Wait. What? by Claudia Mullane

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