Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Urban Scintillations

Urban Scintillations

By Tom Wachunas

   “We become intoxicated with color, with words that speak of color, and with the sun that makes colors brighter.”  - AndrĂ© Derain

   EXHIBIT: PAINTINGS by Christopher J. Triner / in the Fountain Gallery /  on view THROUGH DECEMBER 10, located in the Johnson Center on the campus of Malone University, 2600 Cleveland Avenue NW, Canton, Ohio / Gallery open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m.– 6 p.m., and closed when there are no classes in session.

   On one level, there’s something delightfully retro about the seven recent paintings that comprise this exhibit by Christopher Triner. Think of France in late 1905, and the reactionary Salon d’Automne in Paris. There, AndrĂ© Derain and his illustrious co-rebel, Henri Matisse, showed some of their radical new paintings. The innovation of those works was lost on the critics, one of them curtly dismissing the paintings as “les Fauves,” i.e., “the wild beasts.” Still, the name stuck, and Derain and Matisse were soon recognized as establishing yet a new, vivid painting style in those already eclectic times, thenceforth dubbed Fauvism.

   Wild indeed. The landscapes, portraits, and urban scenes by the Fauves were veritable explosions of untamed colors. They made even the most experimental of Impressionist works feel conservative in comparison.   

   Similarly, Triner’s acrylic architectural landscapes here were designed to dazzle. His hues are so saturated and luminous that the canvases themselves can seem like they’re extruding real sunlight.

   Much more than a simple throwback to the Fauvist aesthetic, however, the luminosity of Triner’s paintings is not an opaque one. Through the layered translucency of his colors, the canvas surfaces are alive - gently excited with a rich array of painterly underpinnings.  There, undulating shapes, patterns, and subtle textures all contribute to a sense of liquid depth.  Familiar structures and skylines – some of them local - are morphed into mesmerizing, crystalline etherealities. In this beautifully painted urban milieu, architectural materiality becomes palpably, even joyously…spiritual.

   If you’ve not seen the exhibit yet (my apologies for this late posting), I highly recommend a visit. And bring your sunglasses.

   PHOTOS, from top: Fountain Gallery installation / Stark County Courthouse / Graphic Canton / Graphic Cleveland / Graphic North Canton

Monday, November 27, 2017

Compelling Nondescriptions

Compelling Nondescriptions

By Tom Wachunas
   “A photograph is an instantaneous evidence, a mechanical capturing; but, painting is evidence through layering and materiality.   Painting is an accumulation of marks and a series of decisions. And it is the evidence through time and labor that pushes the portrait beyond a fleeting moment and develops a unique personal relation between the model, the artist, and the painting.”  -Melissa Markwald

   EXHIBIT: New Chapters – Paintings by Melissa Markwald / in the Malone Gallery /  on view THROUGH DECEMBER 10, located in the Johnson Center on the campus of Malone University, 2600 Cleveland Avenue NW, Canton, Ohio / Gallery open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m.– 6 p.m., and closed when there are no classes in session.

     Here’s part of what I wrote in February, 2016, about Melissa Markwalds’s immense (the largest being 90” x 72”) oil portraits in her solo exhibit at Massillon Museum: ...these works are pleasantly intrusive invitations to consider portraiture beyond the merely cosmetic incidentals of “individuality.” Instead, you might consider seeing them as allegories of a society far too fond of enlarging itself, of building and celebrating the predictable and superficial (think about all the megalomaniacal clutter on Facebook) in the name of declaring – almost desperately so – a uniquely meaningful identity…
(for the full review of that show, click on this link -  

    While you may or may not agree with that particular read on the sheer hugeness of the faces, the larger-than-life aspect of Markwald’s work is still present in her current show at Malone Gallery. For all of her big paintings’ association with photography, it wouldn’t be accurate to consider them as Photorealist in the purest, formal sense of the term. From a distance they certainly do appear to be startlingly faithful imitations of human countenances. But this convincing mimeticism is momentary, soon enough giving way to the ubiquitous presence of the artist’s hand. What we actually see is the brilliant instrumentality of Markwald’s brush as authoritative blender of so many accumulated and harmonized marks. Their kinship to photography is essentially superficial – superfacial, if you will - resting primarily in the uniformity of smooth, flat surfaces.

   The truly “New Chapters” in this exhibit, however, are to be found in the groupings of much smaller (8” x 10”) paintings on panels. If the scale of those large canvas paintings could arguably be construed as a commentary on our social obsession with celebrity or standing out from the crowd, then there’s a fascinating irony at work here. Markwald’s “Anonymous” portraits in oil, despite their nondescript character and relatively tiny size, do indeed stand far apart from their monumental counterparts. Yet in their smallness, they shout their individual identities with remarkable intensity. 

   This is not Markwald the deft illusionist, but rather the equally adroit abstractionist, wholly surrendered to the real essence of her craft – the skillful manipulation of paint across a flat plane. I’m not even sure that “portrait” is the most appropriate designation for these intimate, raw, highly tactile visions. To the extent we can call them faces, they’re alternately dreamlike, disquieting, even alien. Perhaps any one of them could just as well be called a haunted still-life, or ghosted landscape. In their bold distortions or denials of the familiar, they’re nonetheless eminently true to themselves.

   PHOTOS, from top: all “Abstract Anonymous Portraits,” oil on panel, 8” x 10” / courtesy

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Listening to the Land

Listening to the Land 

By Tom Wachunas

   "I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees." - Henry David Thoreau
   “Memory is the fourth dimension to any landscape.  - Janet Fitch

   EXHIBIT: Landscapes Lost and Found – Paintings and Drawings by Emily Vigil / at The Little Art Gallery, located in the North Canton Public Library, 185 North Main Street, North Canton, Ohio / THROUGH DECEMBER 3, 2017

   There’s a river flowing in every artwork of this exhibit by Emily Vigil. I’m speaking neither of sparkling streams in verdant woods, nor torrents of water rushing through fertile valleys. You won’t see spectacular illusions of majestic geography. Don’t look to be wowed by huge, hyper-realistic renderings of breathtaking panoramas.

   It’s another sort of fluid continuum that courses through these works, varied as they are in materiality, scale, and iconography. Call it a steady narrative current of memory, discovery, and desire. Vigil tells us in her statement: “…I finally allowed myself to reach toward other places, not always physically experienced, but imagined, present in our culture. My questions about place evolved into questions about time…” The spirit of this exhibit is equal parts nostalgic and forward-looking.

   Vigil’s expressionist painting style has a gestural earnestness that imbues even her most delicate observations of nature with visceral immediacy, as in her mixed media “Duet.” Accompanying the painting is a thoroughly charming poem (written in a style recalling the syntactic playfulness of e.e. cummings) describing her serene encounter with a damselfly and bee that we see in the paining. Vigil is a painter with the soul of a poet.

   Further evidence of her considerable writing gifts can be found in the booklet placed on a pedestal for viewers to read, titled “Echo, our home.” In it, Vigil lovingly relates how she came to name her northeast Ohio home - the land upon which she resides with her family. At the end of the tale, she writes, “That is how I describe our home – this land: a relationship – the wetland and the valley, filtering back an echo of my words…our words…Ever diminishing, they never quite disappear.”  Painter and poet…always listening.

   Some of the most alluring pieces here - including several acrylic transfer prints that have the grainy patina of old photos taken in diaphanous light – are remarkably small in scale. The smallest of her all-acrylic paintings, such as “Presence (Towpath Trail),” “Broken River,” and “Dreaming,” are intimate, elegant microcosms of painterly textures. 

    Collectively, these images describe a journey at once deeply personal and yet approachable – a geography both private and familiar, stilled and in motion. One of the larger paintings, “The Paths Inward,” is perhaps  an invitation for us as viewers to literally reflect on our own relationship with nature. It’s executed on a mirror, with only a few slivers of glass still visible, punctuating the scene with little flashes of light as you move around it. Sparks of life and changeability.   

   Think of the exhibit as a confluence of people, places, and things remembered, longed-for, or presently real… of ephemerality side-by-side with permanence. Here, the ever-diminishing is juxtaposed with the never-quite- disappearing.  And all of it is situated in an enchanting flow. Like a river.

   PHOTOS, from top: Presence (Towpath Trail), acrylic on fabric; Duet, mixed media; Broken River, acrylic on panel; Dreaming, acrylic on aluminum; The Paths Inward, acrylic on mirror; Broken Forest, oil on paper

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Tchaikovsky Fireworks from the Canton Symphony Orchestra

 Tchaikovsky Fireworks from the Canton Symphony Orchestra

By Tom Wachunas

   A particularly edifying component of the MasterWorks Concerts from the Canton Symphony Orchestra are the “Performance Preludes,” presented one hour before the program. Traditionally, these 30 minute-long sessions are lectures by guest speakers, often accompanied by pre-recorded segments of music used to elucidate aspects of the upcoming program. 

   The prelude to the all-Tchaikovsky concert on November 4, however, broke that mold. It featured the Canton Symphony Chorus, directed by Dr. Britt Cooper, in a thoroughly informative live performance. Singing in Russian, the chorus gave us five excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s 1878 a cappella choral settings of texts from the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the most celebrated of the Eucharistic services in the Eastern Orthodox Church. This stunning performance revealed an important aspect of Tchaikovsky’s musical passions arguably unfamiliar to many, and one that went far in deepening my appreciation of his eclectic spirituality.

   It was certainly a spiritual eclecticism that was brilliantly surveyed in the program that followed, beginning with the Polonaise from Act III of Tchaikovsky’s 1878 opera, Eugene Onegin. The music describes the moment when Onegin is smitten at the sight of the beautiful Princess Tatianna entering the palace ballroom and the ensuing dance. From the exhilarating trumpet fanfare at the beginning, through the delicate, spritely central theme for winds and an airy cello melody, and an emphatic dash to the thrilling final notes, the orchestra was simply dazzling in delivering some of Tchaikovsky’s most charming and decorative music.

    Tchaikovsky’s Concerto No.1 for Piano and Orchestra is music of a much more compelling sort, likewise the artistry of guest soloist Norman Krieger. The work opens with a dramatic, brassy fanfare, which quickly blossoms into one of classical music’s most instantly recognizable, iconic melodies. Interestingly enough, while it’s the full orchestra that initially pours out that eternally inspiring theme, the strident chords from the piano are initially only an accompaniment, albeit a lively one. When the piano does play the melody, it’s less stentorian and more intricate in character, setting up the call-and-response dynamic between orchestra and pianist that is threaded through the entire concerto.  

   Both the orchestra and the soloist were deeply sensitive to this dynamic - a chemistry of dualities wherein moments of heroic grandiosity (though never issued in an attitude of gratuitous bombast) alternate with gentler episodes of rapturous poignancy. Krieger’s technical prowess was unassailable. While his pounding cadenzas were surely a breathtaking melding of muscle and accuracy, he played throughout the work with real reverence for the music’s poetic spirit. This was especially evident in the delightful prestissimo passages of fast, frolicking fingerwork during the achingly beautiful second movement. 

   Then, con fuoco! Did someone yell fire? All of Krieger’s remarkable gifts of power, precision, and graceful lyricism launched together flawlessly during the third movement’s coda into a wondrously ascending race to the exuberant final chord. And as if to gently set us down from those blazing heights, he answered our boisterous call for an encore with a gorgeous, heartfelt performance of Chopin’s Nocturne, Op. 9, No.1.

   More fire was to come in the form of Symphony No. 4. A truculent brass fanfare opens this Romantic epic, and the orchestra effectively embodied the seriousness of the moment. This was, after all, as Tchaikovsky told in his original program notes, the arrival of Fate itself, the “ineluctable power of destiny” poised above our heads and poisoning our souls.

    Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann’s seemingly magical capacity for eliciting palpable emotion from his exciting orchestra has never been more authoritative. With an economy of gestures, he deftly sustained the ensemble’s aural depth, clarity, and radiant sonority - no simple task, considering the structural and thematic complexities of the work. The intensity of the first movement left us in an agitated, stormy atmosphere. An exquisite oboe solo opened the second movement - a contemplative, wistful journey punctuated with lush warmth from the strings and seductive solos from clarinet and bassoon. The piquant third movement was an intoxicating, dreamlike interlude – a mesmerizing episode entirely saturated with crisp, pizzicato strings.

   An urgent sense of impending victory pervaded the beginning of the turbulent final movement. Later in the proceedings, the Fate theme made a rude re-appearance, bringing an abrupt halt to what had just been a mood of optimism. But then, from this moment of gloomy, nearly total silence, a glorious crescendo commenced and accelerated at breakneck speed to an explosive, celebratory conclusion. 

   Further elevating the adrenaline levels in Umstattd Hall, a jubilant Gerhardt Zimmermann then led the orchestra in an electrifying encore  performance of Russian Dance from  The Nutcracker ballet.

   PHOTOS, from top: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky / Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann / Pianist Norman Krieger