Monday, September 24, 2018

A Delicious Seizing of the Day

(l. to r.) Joe Brenkle, Sean Fleming, Joey Anderson, Kyle Burnette

(l. to r.) Logan Peters, Benjamin Mudrak, Joe Brenkle, Sean Fleming, Kyle Burnette

Sean Fleming
A Delicious Seizing of the Day

By Tom Wachunas

   “... these incredible young men have found their OWN voice, found what’s worth fighting for, and found the courage to tear down the walls of rejection, fear, and failure. This story is for every kid, every adult, who has ever been marginalized, picked last, counted out, underserved, and underrepresented…”  – Jonathan Tisevich, director of the Players Guild’s production of Newsies

   You might think that with the Disney name attached to a big musical production like Newsies (Disney film from 1992; Broadway debut in 2012, with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman, book by Harvey Fierstein), you’re in for a tasty treat of warm-n-fuzzy storytelling. Heavy on sugar, light on protein. Maybe. Rest assured that for this Players Guild production, director Jonathan Tisevich certainly respects and preserves the built-in, sheer fun of the proceedings. That’s the exciting entertainment part. But he’s also acutely adept at mining the real potency within the emotional and spiritual ingredients of the narrative. That’s the equally exciting art part, and he’s served it up in powerful manner with an astonishingly talented cast of 35.

   In every way, Newsies is a delicious and nourishing theatrical feast, accompanied by the bright, briskly-paced music from the live orchestra conducted by Steve Parsons.  The towering architecture of the set, designed by Joshua Erichsen, is comprised of stacked scaffolds and ramps that suggest ramshackle tenements, and are often enchantingly back-lit (lighting by Scott Sutton) to show colored silhouettes of the urban skyline.  
   Set during the Newsboys Strike of 1899 in New York City, Newsies is the story of Jack Kelly, a 17-year-old newspaper boy (“newsie”) and talented painter living in and leading a community of fellow newsies, most of them orphaned and/or homeless teenagers.  Included in this scruffy band – or family, as Jack lovingly insists on calling his cohorts - are disabled friend Crutchie, Davey, and Davey’s younger brother Les, who both joined the ragtag clan after their father became unemployed. When the publisher of the daily World newspaper, Joseph Pulitzer, raised the cost of the newspapers (“papes”) to the boys by a dime, it’s a hardship too great to ignore, sending Jack and his troupe into vociferous conniptions of protest, culminating in a city-wide strike.  Meanwhile, Katherine Plumber is a crusading newspaper writer who sees Jack as a modern-day David standing up to Pulitzer’s Goliath. She’s intent on reporting the truth, much to the dismay of Pulitzer, who seeks to silence her.

   As Pulitzer, Jim Graysmith renders a credible portrait of the bullying corporate profiteer. In the song, “The Bottom Line,” he paces about with chilling pomp, his gristly voice intoning a callous unconcern for the welfare of those who hawk his papes. In stark contrast, Sarah Marie Young brings to her role of Katherine a singing voice that’s notably sweet and crystalline, yet never too sweet to convey urgency. It’s perfectly suited to her portrayal of genuine tenderness tempered by a steely determination to connect with the resilient newsies and tell their story.

   They in turn, as delightfully presented by this cast, are an inspired and inspiring bunch of distinct personalities at once eccentric, goofy, charming and impassioned. They include, among many others, Donathan Dillard, as the hapless, endearing Crutchie; Matt Rivera as the would-be ladies’ man, Romeo; Zachary Charlick as the impish, cigar-chomping Race; Joe Brenkle as the philosophical big brother Davey, whose impressionable and feisty little brother, Les, played by 10-year-old Zachary May, turns in some very funny one-liners and wise-cracks. In the big choral numbers such as “The World Will Know,” “Seize The Day,” “King Of New York,” and “Once And For All,” this motley crew can sound downright heroic if not angelic, soaring in tight, sumptuous harmonies.  

   Surely the charismatic center of the action is in the character of Jack, played by Sean Fleming. He’s a riveting presence, fraught with both vulnerability and streetwise swagger (his New Yoo-uck accent is poifect), caught between his persistent dream of moving away to Santa Fe, seeing his daunting fight against Pulitzer through to the end, and what turns out to be a predictable enough romance with Katherine, as so poignantly displayed in their second act duet, “Something To Believe In.” His singing voice is particularly mesmerizing in the way he judiciously incorporates his gently plaintive vibrato. Additionally, to his truly remarkable dancing skills he brings not just the required athletic prowess, but a balletic refinement as well.

    And that brings to mind another major “character” in this mix, which is indeed the intricate and often hilariously inventive choreography by Michael Lawrence Akers and assistant choreographer Molly Weidig. It may well be the most splendid and sprawling choreography I've ever seen on the Guild stage, implanting the entire production with an electrifying heartbeat.  The newsies were transformed into a well-oiled dancing machine (pure sweat can do that), strutting their stuff with dazzling aplomb. These fearless folks were clearly prepared not just for the occasional sprint, but for a full-out marathon that propelled them through several show-stopping numbers in an infectious spirit of indefatigable ebullience.

   In the end, you’ll find no fake news here. Only real, commanding art.

   NEWSIES, The Broadway Musical / THROUGH OCTOBER 7, 2018,  at Canton Players Guild Theatre Mainstage, Cultural Center for the Arts, 1001 Market Ave. N, Canton /  Shows at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday - an additional 8 p.m. show on Oct. 7.
TICKETS: $32 adults, $25 ages 17 and younger, $29 seniors. Order at

   Players Guild photos by Dominic Iudiciani

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Her nexus revisited...and then some

Her nexus revisited…and then some

By Tom Wachunas

“Originality is nothing but judicious imitation…” – Voltaire

   EXHIBIT:   Mixed Media Paintings By TINA MYERS . THROUGH OCTOBER 19, 2018 at The Malone Art Gallery (MAG) - inside the east entrance of the Johnson Center, located on Malone's campus at 2600 Cleveland Ave, N.W., in Canton, Ohio /  Gallery hours are Monday – Friday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., or by appointment. /
Sunset Gathering

November Sunset

Heads Together


42nd Street

NV (top) / Greeter

                                                         ARTIST STATEMENT
“Making time for art and creative expression has always been an essential part of my well-being. I find that many colors, shapes, and textures are soothing or fascinating to me, and I am thrilled when those elements work together to form something pleasing to the eye. I enjoy the freedom and sense of adventure that abstract art offers, and I generally like to create without a lot of conscious intention. Each piece will usually morph several times, as I test my own ability to create form and space. I love to see how spectators experience and interpret my finished work, and am especially impressed when a piece prompts someone’s imagination or speaks to them in a way I never would have considered or planned.”

   Déjà vu all over again? Yes and no. I’ve commented in a positive way on the work of prolific painter Tina Meyers more than a few times here over the past several years, and her current exhibit at MAG does nothing to diminish my favorable disposition towards her work. That said, this show does in fact bring up a few thoughts and questions about the overall direction of her aesthetic. In presenting them, though, I think it could first be useful – necessary, actually - for to you to read (or re-read as the case may be) my review of her 2016 solo exhibit at The Little Art Gallery. This way, I’m hoping you’ll appreciate what I consider to be foundational in assessing Meyer’s work. Your mission, should you decide to accept it (surely not an impossible one) is to click on this the link to the 2016 review:

   What I wrote in 2016 remains appropriate and relevant to what is now on view at Malone. This isn’t in itself a bad thing, though it might suggest that in the last two years, Meyers has remained steadfast in her pictorial comfort zones. Again, this certainly isn’t a bad thing. Still, I don’t think I’m alone in wondering about painters who appear to have settled into a routine formula for replicating predictable variations on the same themes. After all, if it ain’t busted, why fix it, right? This is the sense I initially had here when viewing her portraits and cityscapes – more of those quirky riffs on Cubist and Expressionist modalities. Robust as they are, it seemed to me that she’s continuing to simply operate comfortably in her long-established signature style.

   Maybe it’s my personal journey as an artist that’s really at the core of these considerations, having recently navigated a daunting crossroads in my own work, prompted by a nagging desire to venture beyond the material niche I had created for myself. Making art had become a repetitious mechanical task, a set of all-too-familiar procedures. Each new piece was becoming essentially an imitation of the previous one -  a rote packaging of the same ideas, over and over again. I had boxed myself in and it was time to find a way out. But I digress. Back to Tina Meyers.

   It was only after a more intentional, concentrated look at her 32 pieces in this exhibit that I noticed an evolution of sorts, beginning with one of the largest acrylic paintings, “Sunset Gathering.”  It’s a delightfully festive, even frantic work with a strongly tactile incorporation of various collage materials. Similarly, it’s the collaged textures in “42nd Street” that provide a jocular if not surreal spirit to a cityscape traversed by pedestrians who look like they’re visitors from a classic Saul Steinberg cartoon.

   Additionally, there are nine paintings executed on small corrugated cardboard cartons, among those “NV” and “Greeter,” both incorporating paper and cardboard collage elements. The charged surfaces of these works, protruding from the wall somewhat like relief sculptures, bring a refreshingly playful dynamic to Meyers’ oeuvre.  

   While there’s no telling yet how far she might pursue the possibilities of such expanded dimensionality, here’s to her aesthetic thinking outside the box.

Friday, September 14, 2018

A Curious and Bounteous Harvest

"Father Neophytes, Sinai" by Micha Bar-Am

"After Micha Bar-Am" by Marti Jones Dixon

"The Wooden Shoemaker" by Brenda James

"Elevated" by Heather Bullach

"Kaiyukan Aquarium" by Len Jenshel

"The Emperor" by Bobby Rosenstock

From Waterline Portfolio, by Arno Rafael

"The Dichotomy of Creativity" by Erin Mulligan

Untitled, by Myron Davis

"Immersion" by Michele Waalkes

"Man Handing Chair Into Woman..." by Robert Doisneau

Untitled by Ashley Mary

"Audrey Hepburn, Wedding Day, 1954" by Ernst Haas

"Vestal Virgin" by Patricia Zinsmeister Parker
A Curious and Bounteous Harvest

By Tom Wachunas

   “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life's coming attractions.” ― Albert Einstein

   “Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.” ― Erich Fromm

   EXHIBIT:  Double Exposure, THROUGH OCT. 27, 2018, at The Joseph Saxton Gallery of Photography, 520 Cleveland Ave. NW, in downtown Canton / Gallery hours are noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Curated by Craig Joseph / Participating artists are: Tim Eakin, Kevin Anderson, Michele Waalkes, Margene May, Maria Hadjian, Beth Nash, Matthew Doubek, Annette Yoho Feltes, Erin Sweeney, Clare Murray Adams, Tim Carmany, Steve Ehret, Hugo Nadelbaum, Ashley Mary, Patricia Zinsmeister Parker, Bobby Rosenstock, Jesse Ewing, Kari Halker-Saathoff, Scot Phillips, Tom Wachunas, Marcy Axelband, Heather Bullach, Erin Mulligan, Sally Priscilla Lytle, Tina Myers, Kat Francis, Rich Pellegrino, Marti Jones Dixon, Jessica Bennett, and Christopher Triner.

   Curator Craig Joseph assigned each of the 30 artists in this exhibit a rarely or never before exhibited photograph from the Saxton Gallery archives. He then asked simply that they respond to the photograph by making a work of art in a medium of their own choosing. There were no other restrictions. In assessing the outcome, he tells us in his statement for the show, “…Some of them have re-created; some have gone in a totally different direction. Some have devised narratives; some have abstracted the source. But all of them have started a dialogue that we hope you’ll be a part of.”

   All representational photographs (i.e., pictorial likenesses to actual persons, places, events, or things) are, by their very nature, contrived compressions, or extreme distillations, of three-dimensional “realities” on to a two-dimensional picture plane. Even at their most mimetic or illusory, photographs are in that sense essentially abstractions. So it’s fair to say that each invited artist here has constructed an abstraction of an abstraction, either physically, conceptually, or both. Think of Craig Joseph’s curatorial invitation as you would a sower casting seeds across a fertile field – artists’ minds. The seeds grow, nurtured by that enigmatic, metaphysical phenomenon we call creativity - a quickening of memory, intuition, and inspiration. So this exhibit is a reaping that yields a veritable cornucopia of formal genres and styles - a lavish feast to sate all manner of aesthetic appetites. 

   Most interesting to me is is how, for the most part, the pieces made for this show don’t depend solely upon their photographic prompts to be interpreted or appreciated as discrete, engaging works of art in their own right.  

   Some of them are compositionally faithful to their photographic sources while enhancing or emphasizing a particular emotional or psychological perspective. Marti Jones Dixon’s painterly “After Micha Bar-Am,” for example, significantly intensifies the spiritual drama of Micha Bar-Am’s black and white portrait, “Father Neophytes, Sinai.” 

   Other works have extracted and expanded upon a specific visual component of the photograph, such as in Heather Bullach’s “Elevated,” a hyper-realistic oil painting of a haute couture high heel shoe. It’s a slick, sleek and spectacular divergence from the photograph by Brenda James, “The Wooden Shoemaker.”  And in a delightful take on a photograph by Len Jenshel called “Kaiyukan Aquarium,” Bobby Rosenstock’s tantalizing color woodcut, “The Emperor,” focuses on a single penguin.

   The connections between call and response in this context can range widely between edgy whimsicality - as in Kevin Anderson’s wonderfully giggle-inducing interactive sculpture “Some Rules Are Meant To Be Broken…” -  and the tenuous if not arcane. In that regard, the photo by Arno Rafael Minkinnen, “From Waterline Portfolio,” is strange and dream-like enough on its own terms. Perhaps not surprisingly, Erin Mulligan’s “The Dichotomy of Creativity,” an oil painting rendered in her signature fantastical/surreal style, is stranger still, but certainly no less intriguing.

   Maybe you could call Michele Waalkes’ “Immersion” an example of Romantic Minimalism. It’s a highly reductive sculpture in translucent blue resin forms that suggest the ocean waves you see in the untitled Myron Davis photo of a couple kissing in the surf.  Reductive, too, is the untitled acrylic abstract painting by Ashley Mary, in response to Robert Doisneau’s black and white “Man Handing Chair Into Woman In Newstand.” Yet for all of the painting’s smallness of scale, those electrifying colors exude an uncanny largeness. 

    Patricia Zinsmeister Parker’s mixed media painting, “Vestal Virgin,” morphs the sophisticated, elegant film star, Audrey Hepburn - seen in the Ernst Haas photo, “Audrey Hepburn, Wedding Day, 1954” -  into a visceral, even lurid likeness of someone far less refined. Oh, the impudence! I could almost hear Parker’s lippy dame intoning, “The rine in spine falls minely in the pline.” Sassy.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Digging Through, Seeing In

Digging Through, Seeing In

By Tom Wachunas

   “I feel a strong parallel between the making of a painting and the building of a wall, or a structure, an edifice. Each involves construction and deconstruction, and provides refuge, a haven. In the case of my interest in religious architecture, there is the element of sanctuary and sacred geometry.”  - Carol Diamond

   “What does the artist do? He draws connections. He ties the invisible threads between things. He dives into history, be it the history of mankind, the geological history of the Earth or the beginning and end of the manifest cosmos.”  – Anselm Kiefer

   EXHIBIT: Kent State University at Stark is pleased to begin the 2018-19 exhibition season in our new gallery space – The Lemmon Gallery -  with a solo exhibit, Threshold: Selected Works by Carol Diamond /  on view through September 21st, 2018. A reception will be held on Tuesday, September 11th, from 3:30-5:00pm. Located inside the Kent Stark Fine Arts Building, 6000 Frank Avenue, North Canton, Ohio / Contact: Professor Jack McWhorter, / Office: 330 244-3356

[Excerpt from the Kent State University at Stark announcement: Originally from Cleveland, Diamond received a BFA in painting from Cornell University and continued her studies at the New York Studio School in Manhattan. Settling in Brooklyn in the late 1980’s, Diamond became active in the vibrant Williamsburg-Bushwick art scene. She continues to exhibit in group and solo shows in New York City, Upstate New York and nationally... Since 2000 Diamond has taught at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn where she is an Associate Professor.]

   There are several methodologies or modalities present in this impressive collection of works spanning (I’m guessing) at least several years: Large-scale abstract paintings, mixed media works on paper, relief collages, plein-air drawings of architectural sites, and sculptural assemblages of found debris.

    Radiating from most of this formal diversity is an aura of vintage Modernism. It’s a visceral kind of tenor - alternately gritty and refined, delicately ornamental and muscular, literal and symbolic - which binds all these works together into a collective embodiment of a distinctly urban sensibility. These are fascinating explorations of facades, spaces, structures, and metropolitan detritus, comprising something the artist knows intimately - something you could call big city zeitgeist.

   Some of Carol Diamond’s most compelling pieces, such as “Fences” (digital photo, pastel and charcoal) and “Abonica” (oil on canvas) are complex integrations of bold lines and color rhythms with textures (illusory and actual) and shapes (both organic and geometric) configured in multiple perspectives, converging and dispersing in various spatial vectors. There’s a sense of suspended kinesis, as if these elements are simultaneously being disrupted, worn away or broken down, and then reconstituted. The low-relief elements of real concrete and a bit of metal trash in “Factory” bring to mind an interesting question: What thriving city isn’t indeed a factory in the perpetual business of making, or unmaking, itself? What gets built, what gets thrown away?

   The tactile materiality of Diamond’s many small mixed media collages on wood panels, her found-object sculptures (grouped on three pedestals), and the fossilized look of her plaster mosaic plaques, all suggest the contemplative notion of artist as archaeologist, unearthing and preserving industrial artifacts and/or seemingly whimsical shards of city bric-a-brac. But these aren’t so much a display of a specific, ancient history. Think of them perhaps as personal, poetic remembrances of a metropolitan now.  

   It’s a poeticism that infuses the entire exhibit with tangible spirituality, particularly evident in two drawings - her crayon and pastel “Fire Escape,” and her graphite drawing, “125th Street Arches.”  Both drawings exude real reverence for traditional linear perspective while at the same time transforming otherwise common structures into something soaring and cathedral-like. Static form becomes a fibrous matrix, a gossamer network of conjoined lines and shadows, seeming to breathe as a single organic entity. Architecture with a pulse.

   At its most cryptic or dense, Diamond’s imagery certainly can present the city as a complex, intricate space, to be sure. That said, her city is not depicted as a dark, menacing bastion of sociological chaos or mind-numbing worldly excess. Her artist statement (click on her web site link above)  is a useful inroad to appreciating her aesthetic, wherein she refers to her interest in “sanctuary and sacred geometry,” and further: “…A synthesis of layered meanings and connections is occurring, including metaphors of introspection and the relationship between the conscious and the unconscious mind.”

   Here metropolis is an engaging metaphor for meditation, and urban architecture becomes an intriguingly ruminative redoubt.

   PHOTOS, from top: Abonica / Fences / Factory / Fire Escape / 125th Street Arches