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,
jmcwhort@kent.edu   / 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.

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