Thursday, October 25, 2018

Poetic Journeys Home

"Brown House" by Shari Wilkins

"Winifred's House" by Shari Wilkins

"Ivy House" by Shari Wilikins

"4499R" by Laura Ruth Bidwell

"6564U" by Laura Ruth Bidwell

By Tom Wachunas

   “… Reality has always been interpreted through layers of manipulation, abstraction, and intervention… Every photograph has many truths and none. Photographs are ambiguous, no matter how seemingly scientific they appear to be. They are always subject to an uncontrollable context…”  - Taryn Simon

   “You come to the photograph as an aesthetic object with no context... Then you step in and read the text and then out again to revisit the image in a completely different way. I'm interested in that space between text and image. The piece becomes the negative space between the two.”   - Taryn Simon

   EXHIBIT: Art as Journal: Laura Ruth Bidwell and Shari Wilkins / THROUGH NOVEMBER 4, 2018, at STUDIO M in the Massillon Museum / 121 Lincoln Way East in downtown Massillon / Tuesday through Saturday 9:30am - 5:00pm, Sunday 2:00pm - 5:00pm / Phone: 330-833-4061 /

  Please note: I apologize for being so late with this post on the fascinating inaugural exhibit at Massillon Museum’s beautiful new STUDIO M Gallery. Last day for viewing this show is Sunday, November 4.

   Of all the myriad forms that a work of art can be, now more than ever photography remains the most challenging if not problematic to me. What makes a photograph a work of art? What distinguishes it from the plethora of photographic images that seemingly assault our daily lives? What separates it, for example, from all those terribly ordinary snapshots stuffed into social media? One unfortunate by-product of the photosaturated culture we’ve created for ourselves is the sheer ease with which we can sate our gluttonous appetites for the mundane. Fast-food for the eyes.

  Ansel Adams’ dictum comes to mind: “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” The notion of a photograph being an intentionally creative act on the part of the photographer is a prickly proposition, arguably implying that reckoning a photograph as art is simply a matter of determining how effectively its visual components adhere to certain aesthetic principles of formalistic excellence. But it’s rarely that simple.

   I included the above quotes from contemporary multimedia artist Taryn Simon because I think they offer an avenue to appreciating the photojournalistic or documentary character of the pictures in this exhibit. As discrete two-dimensional images, their essentially quotidian subjects are captured in a straight-on fashion, which is to say they’re unembellished by any really fancy special effects. But as Simon reminds us, embracing context is key. To that I would add the vital importance of presentation. So read the artist’s statements posted on the wall to better grasp their motivations and meanings. Therein you learn this about Laura Ruth Bidwell’s “The Great Tangle” series:

   “When we moved from Peninsula to Cleveland, the one thing I truly grieved for was the great abundance of forest and tangles surrounding our property and in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Once I started walking around my urban neighborhood with camera in hand I could see how much lush foliage and tangles existed among the houses and buildings around me. This show has given me the opportunity to pair up what I call The Great Tangles from my rural and urban lives.”

And of her works here, the “Promised Land” series, Shari Wilkins has written: "Shot primarily on miniature instant film, this project portrays images of homes built in my father's hometown of Cairo, Illinois… It is a mythological place in my family's collective memory… After a twenty year absence, I visited Cairo and was struck by the abandoned town that I visited often as a child. I set out to find my grandmother's home as my first step in documenting some of the remaining homes, some abandoned, some not…”

   The fronts of every house in Wilkins’ miniature pictures are seen from enough of a distance so that no matter how close you come to the actual picture, the details remain slightly blurred and fuzzy, though still clear enough to show varying degrees of decrepitude or abandonment. Especially interesting is how the photos are uniformly presented, all seeming to float under glass on wide-margined matts framed with very plain (pine?) wood. Like so many preserved museum specimens of extinct life, or fossils, the pictures have become objects - reliquaries of urban entropy. There’s something distinctly poetic in how they exude a saddening narrative about the historic diminishment and shrunken dimensionality of a once promising place. It’s a story certainly not unique to Cairo, Illinois.

   Though not so overtly mournful in scope, the narrative contained in Laura Ruth Bidwell’s photos is no less engaging than Wilkins’, and equally well-presented. In the journey of leaving her home in a richly sylvan environment to live in a more urban setting, Bidwell tells us how her missing the natural richness surrounding her former home was relieved by finding ample enough evidence of the same around her new one. Consequently her unframed photos, most of them capturing various densities of lush foliate textures, shapes and colors, and each uniformly mounted on a white birch panel, are presented in pairs, suggesting a before-and- after scenario. Interestingly, though, the pictures have no titles. They’re coded only with strange numbers, so we don’t know which home is which. Her memory of the first beloved locale has become intermingled and ‘tangled’ with her connection to  the second. Whatever anxieties Bidwell may have initially experienced in her moving from one place to another, her handsome photos represent the discovery of a comforting kinship between the two.  

  Returning for a moment to the idea of photographs as fast food for the eyes: If a more gourmet cuisine, as it were, is what you seek, be thankful for real art galleries. In this case, the featured entrees at Studio M are particularly savory.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

In a New York State of Mind, Part 2

Sauntering, by Randi Reiss-McCormack

Bush with Sky, by Robert Solomon

RED HERRING, by Gerri Rachins

Domain, by Thomas Berding

A Darlington Square, by Anthony Cuneo

Recollection No. 94 (Los Angeles)
In a New York State of Mind (Part 2)

By Tom Wachunas

   "Quite simply, I was in love with New York. I do not mean 'love' in any colloquial way, I mean that I was in love with the city, the way you love the first person who ever touches you and you never love anyone quite that way again.” — Joan Didion

   EXHIBIT: Mutual Aid – a group exhibition at The Lemmon Gallery, Located inside the Kent Stark Fine Arts Building, 6000 Frank Avenue, North Canton, Ohio / THROUGH OCTOBER 26, 2018 / Gallery viewing hours are Monday – Thursday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m, and Friday 11 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  RECEPTION on Thursday Oct. 18, 5 – 7 p.m. /  Contact: Professor Jack McWhorter,   / Office: 330 244-3356

   Since resettling in Stark County in 1992 with a vague hope of connecting with a thriving contemporary painting and gallery milieu, I still often miss breathing in the crackling atmosphere of painters regularly engaged in bold experimentation, and experiencing the scope and depth of their probative visions that made my life in New York for 14 years so inspiring and enlivening.  In these parts, while there is certainly a noteworthy contingent of such adventurous painters, they’re a relative minority. A majority of local artists exhibit a comparatively constricted aesthetic identity, with a propensity for the pretty, the already tried and true, the tepid and the quiet,…stuff safely ensconced in the more predictable, quotidian conventionalities of traditional artmaking.

   With this visitation from city that never sleeps, Mutual Aid is another gratifying example of how the gallery exhibitions at Kent Stark are so consistently compelling in drawing a bead on the rich and sprawling vista of contemporary art beyond our immediate region. If you’ve not yet read the background / thematic statement for this show, posted here on October 3 (Part 1), I think it important you do so. Here’s a link:

    Also, another key to appreciating the artists’ motivations here can be found by reading their statements in the exhibition’s excellent digital catalogue, so here’s that link:

   In appreciating the thematic parameters for this show as laid out in the exhibition statement, I found one application of the ‘mutual aid’ concept to be particularly resonant when appreciating the sheer diversity of the artists’ approaches. It’s the idea that mutual aid “…is an acknowledgement that paintings create a relationship between two things or situations that suggest ‘multi-directional conversations.’”

   Think of conversation here as a call-and-response dynamic. Painters can be great conversationalists, which is to say they’re initiators of, as well as respondents to not only ideas, feelings, chosen models, or memories, but also the process itself of manipulating paint. A mark, a brushstroke, a shape, or a color can activate, or ‘call’ another into being, and another, and another, and so forth. The painting itself becomes a codified map or journal of protracted thinking, actions, and reactions through time. The entire exhibit is a wholly engaging dialectic on the often complicated relationships between intuition and intention, conscious design and chance occurrence, harmony and dissonance, mimesis and deconstruction.

   Here’s just some of the many works I found especially arresting: The frenetic flirtation with intricacy and chaos in Randi Reiss-McCormack’s Sauntering; the runic simplicity and indeterminate space of Robert Solomon’s Bush with Sky; the enigmatic playfulness of Gerri Rachins’ RED HERRING; the sumptuous textures and motion in Thomas Berding’s Domain; the ghosts under the geometry in Anthony Cuneo’s A Darlington Square; the reductive, monolithic flatness of that looming black shape in Barbara Marks’  Reflection No. 94 (Los Angeles). What is that thing anyway? A tree? An alien vessel landing? A tornado touching down? Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Canton anymore.

   Levity aside, it’s in that challenging place of not always knowing precisely what we’re looking at - of allowing for the intrigue of unanswered (or unanswerable) questions - where much of the allure of this show is to be found. There’s meaning in the mysteries if we can grasp that paintings, and the processes of making them, are essentially metaphors for not just the celebration of the familiar and the understood, but for navigating all manner of existential conditions, including life’s most vexing conundrums.

   So if a painter can let a painting emerge and simply be on its own terms,  we as viewers, in the spirit of mutual aid, can often return the favor by not overthinking it. Then maybe Descartes’ classic philosophical tenet of Cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am) could give way to the much more scintillating Miror, ergo vivo -  I wonder, therefore I live.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

An Electrifying Bernstein Tribute from the Canton Symphony Orchestra

An Electrifying Bernstein Tribute from the Canton Symphony Orchestra

By Tom Wachunas

    I was all of ten years old when I read Leonard Bernstein’s The Joy of Music for the first time. It was a cathartic experience, igniting in me a profoundly passionate appreciation of classical music. That inspiring book also fueled my regular viewing of Bernstein’s beloved Young Peoples Concerts on television for the next several years.

    A particularly memorable highlight in one of those concerts was watching the composer conduct excerpts from his own Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. I was bitten by the Bernstein bug, benevolently infected by all those mad rhythms coming at me like so many punches amid a torrent of luscious orchestral colors. Now, more than 50 years later, that watershed moment of musical enthrallment returned a hundredfold on October 6 during the Canton Symphony Orchestra’s (CSO) electrifying observance of the centenary of Leonard Bernstein.

   The evening commenced with his rarely performed Trouble in Tahiti, a one-act, two-character opera which Bernstein completed in 1951 while on his honeymoon with Chilean actress Felicia Cohn Montealegre. The timing was quite ironic if only because on one level the work is a cynical commentary on marriage. Additionally, Bernstein was acutely sensitive to America’s post-war euphoria in an increasingly affluent middle-class looking for an idyllic life in suburbia. His libretto for Trouble in Tahiti is a biting critique of materialism and a dour questioning of the American Dream itself.

    Bernstein’s score is an ingenious melding of contrasting jazz and pop idioms of the day, rendered here by a pared-down ensemble that played nonetheless in a very large way, crisply embracing the story’s emotional and psychological tensions. It is the story, superbly directed here by Craig Joseph, of one day in the life of Sam, played by baritone Dan Boye, and Dinah, played by mezzo soprano Ellie Jarrett Shattles - a disillusioned, constantly arguing husband and wife. Beneath their veneer of carefree consumerism lies a bitter yearning to reclaim marital intimacy. Boye’s throaty vocals were well suited to his character’s chilling haughtiness tempered with moments of vulnerability. Shattles was riveting as the sassy, nagging wife given to episodes of tender self-examination and confession.  In one scene, as she was alone watching a South Sea romance film called “Trouble in Tahiti,” she brought down the house with a hilarious aria that was both a tirade against the film’s silliness and a longing to escape into its magic. Meanwhile, a constant presence was the crackling jazz trio of Hilerie Klein Rensi, Scott Esposito, and George Milosh. Crooning in tight harmonies, and often sounding like goofy radio jingles about blissful family living, they were the equivalent of a mischievous Greek chorus relentlessly intoning sardonic comments.  

   The second half of the evening began with the full ensemble performing composer Eric Benjamin’s To LB: A Thank You Note. CSO Music Director Gerhardt Zimmermann has commissioned several works from Benjamin in the past – each noteworthy, to be sure – but I found this one to be the most beautiful to date. It’s an intensely personal and savory homage, inspired by Benjamin’s time spent with Bernstein in a master class at Tanglewood in 1989. Especially gratifying is how Benjamin has given us a moving remembrance of Bernstein’s spirit – the arc of his musical attitude, his religiosity – without falling into gratuitous stylistic imitation. Much of the music possesses an arresting sense of jaunty optimism and ever-emerging, triumphal adventure that at one point gives way to a sweetly contemplative melody, initiated by the piano, and blooming into a lushly romantic interlude before the breathtaking crescendo of the finale. 

   Benjamin’s marvelous piece was certainly a well-placed lead-in to the last work on the program, Bernstein’s groundbreaking Symphonic Dances from Westside Story.  These collide-o-scopic dances comprise a veritable rollercoaster of gripping rhythms, textures, and moods – at once raw and refined, punchy and poetic, and by the end, achingly poignant. The orchestra’s performance was yet another spellbinding exposition of what makes the CSO such a compelling musical entity – a treasure-trove of rapturous aural power and clarity consistently balanced with genuinely alluring lyrical grace. 
   In this work, and for that matter throughout the entire evening, Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann conducted with genuinely emotive authority. It was not an authority born of any autonomous bravado, but one clearly rooted in an understanding of what Bernstein once wrote about conducting: “Perhaps the chief requirement of [the conductor] is that he be humble before the composer; that he never interpose himself between the music and the audience; that all his efforts, however strenuous or glamorous, be made in the service of the composer's meaning - the music itself, which, after all, is the whole reason for the conductor's existence.”

   Following the ebullient standing ovation for Symphonic Dances, Zimmermann, with a conspiratorial smile, asked the house, “How about one more?” whereupon he and his magnificent ensemble lit up the place again by launching another dazzling musical rocket in the form of Bernstein’s Overture to Candide. 

   As the enchanted audience exited Umstattd Performing Arts Hall, the air was palpably buzzing with folks exclaiming their delight and happily humming the infectious melodies they’d just heard. We had been summarily transported to…somewhere. That’s the joy of music.

   By the way, here's a link to another review - wonderfully written - of the same concert: 

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Saturday Mourning News

 Saturday Mourning News

By Tom Wachunas 

   I was really saddened to receive an email this morning announcing the closing of Ikon Images – The Illustration Gallery, at 221 Fifth Street NW. The Canton downtown arts district will be significantly diminished by this loss of a uniquely elegant exhibition venue and the consistently superb art it brought to Canton viewers. Here’s what Ikon owner, Rhonda Seaman, wrote:

   It is with much regret I must announce the closing of IKON IMAGES | The Illustration Gallery in the Canton Arts district. The last 3 and 1/2 years of working with artists, patrons, and the greater art community across the nation and beyond has been a joy and a wonderful experience, I shall soon not forget. But unfortunately, as most business owners are painfully aware, revenue must exceed costs or life becomes difficult at best.

     So after much consideration it has been determined to close up shop.

FINAL  gallery hours are as follows:

Today Saturday-      Oct. 6th 10am-4pm
Wednesday-             Oct. 10th 12-6pm
Thursday-                 Oct. 11th 12-6pm
Friday-                      Oct. 12th 12-6pm
Saturday-                 Oct. 13th 10-4pm

Or by appt. 330-904-1377

Our final day of operation will be Sat. Oct. 13th at 4pm.

I hope you'll always remember "Work is the bread of life, but Art... is the wine of life"

My best to you and happy collecting,
Rhonda Seaman :)

   So THANK YOU, Rhonda, and all the artists who joined your remarkable vision and dedication to engaging and entertaining Canton for the past 3 ½ years.  I include here several web links for anyone wishing to join me in a spirit of celebration and fond remembrance. The first is to the inaugural 2015 article by Dan Kane in the Canton Repository. The others are to reviews I had the privilege to write here on ARTWACH. Happy Trails.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

In a New York State of Mind (Part I)

In a New York State of Mind (Part I)

   EXHIBIT: Mutual Aid – a group exhibition at The Lemmon Gallery, Located inside the Kent Stark Fine Arts Building, 6000 Frank Avenue, North Canton, Ohio / THROUGH OCTOBER 26, 2018 /  Gallery viewing hours are Monday – Thursday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m, and Friday 11 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  RECEPTION on Thursday Oct. 18, 5 – 7 p.m. /  Contact: Professor Jack McWhorter,  / Office: 330 244-3356

    I’m doing something that for me is unprecedented as a blogger and turning this post over to words from another artist. What follows is a wonderfully articulate exhibition statement from Jack McWhorter, a highly accomplished painter himself, and Professor of Painting and Coordinator of the Kent Stark Art Department. He, along with painters Patricia Spergel and Katharine Dufault, curated this exhibit. My own take on the show will be coming in the very near future. Meanwhile, Jack’s statement merits careful attention to fully appreciate the remarkably wide, deep, and spectacular scope of these works from members of the Painting Center in New York City.


By Jack McWhorter

   The William J. and Pearl F. Lemmon Gallery is pleased to present Mutual Aid, a group exhibition of paintings by members of The Painting Center, NY. Eighteen artists were invited to exhibit up to three works that make reference to the exhibition theme: “mutual aid”. In organization theory, “mutual aid” is a voluntary reciprocal exchange of resources and services. For example, American Abstract Artists, Rubber City Prints and The Painting Center were all founded by artists to organize exhibitions of their individual works and to foster public appreciation and a forum for further discussion and investigation of matters of communal interest. In computing, we create hyperlinks to link web pages or hypertext documents. “Mutual aid” as a sharing, pattern-forming process is basic in animal life; think migration of birds and animals…”mutual aid” to hold small groups together.

   In studio practice, reciprocally generative relationships between mediums of drawing, collage, photography, painting, and printmaking are widely acknowledged and celebrated. In this instance, mutual aid is not so much a theme as it is an acknowledgement that paintings create a relationship between two things or situations that suggest “multi-directional conversations.”

   Each exhibiting artist embodies concrete ideas about mutual connections in their individual studio practice that reflect various organizing principles. For example: How does one work connect two or more things in visual problem solving? How do visual continuities between one work relate to another over time? What relationships are explored between memory, photographs, prints, collages and sketches? What is the relationship between model and artist?

   Mutual Aid encompasses work across various painting mediums including oil, acrylic, flashe, encaustic, alkyd-modified oil and black tourmaline crystals. Painting subjects come from the built environment, connections to nature, the figure, observations from multiple angles to comprehend complex structures, memories, and formal processes.

   The Painting Center is a non-profit organization dedicated to the exploration of painting in all its possibilities. It does not champion one school or tradition, but welcomes and encourages diverse viewpoints regardless of their market appeal. The Painting Center is a gathering place for painters and those who love painting. It is a democratic arena that fosters dialogue, experimentation, and community among artists.