Thursday, December 27, 2018

A Liquid Symphony of Luminescence

Age of Aquariums

The Blue Egg

Nanu's Rubaiyat

Girl from Ipanema

Wood Sprite

Ginger Jars
A Liquid Symphony of Luminescence

By Tom Wachunas

   “With color one obtains an energy that seems to stem from witchcraft.”   - Henri Matisse

EXHIBIT: Walk on the Wild Side - work by Nancy Stewart Matin / at The Little Art Gallery, in the North Canton Public Library, through January 20, 2019, /  185 North Main Street, North Canton, OH / Monday – Thursday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

   Back in 2011, local self-taught watercolor wizard Nancy Stewart Matin said in an About magazine article that she was enmeshed enough in art history to think of painter Henri Matisse (1869-1954) as “…a personal friend.” So it is that even the title of her retrospective exhibit of 30 paintings spanning about 25 years, called Walk on the Wild Side, evokes the temperament of Matisse and some of his Paris cohorts. For a short period of several years very early in the 20th century, they were known collectively as les Fauves, French for “the wild beasts.”

   These avant-garde innovators were significant engineers in advancing a type of abstraction initiated by Post-Impressionist painters including, among others, Gauguin, Van Gogh, and Cezanne. Walking on the wild side indeed, the Fauves went a step or two farther. In augmenting the chromatic intensity of paint to unprecedented levels, they boldly liberated color from the confines of imitating the visible world.  

   This is not to say that Matin’s stylized configurations are strictly Fauvist in nature. But to the extent that her remarkably radiant palette allows arbitrary  color to establish its own pictorial space, independent of merely retinal descriptions of mundane realities, she’s certainly a kindred spirit.

   Her subjects are diverse – floral, animal, figurative, still-life, and landscape – and impeccably mounted here by curator Elizabeth Blakemore with all the skill of an attentive orchestral arranger. This show is a virtual symphony for the eyes, with the gallery itself becoming a luminous composition, replete with mesmerizing harmonies, arresting tonal contrasts, and dazzling rhythmic accents that prance about the room with invigorating energy.

   The instruments of this symphony – Matin’s watercolors – present a world-view, a perceptual gestalt that straddles the empirical and the magical, the robust and the delicate, the seen and the felt. Here’s to painting with the soul fully bared, the eyes wide open, the hand given to childlike abandon.

   Childlike, but never childish. Matin is fully cognizant and in control of her medium’s daunting 
tendencies to run too wild, to get too wet, or too muddy. Her sense of abandon is a judicious one.  An aura of delightfully disciplined ebullience emanates from her work, springing from a clarity of purpose.

   That purpose is as simple as it is profound – an unabashedly vigorous and joyful embrace of being alive. Matisse, I think, would approve.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Then, Now, and Forever

"Follow" by Tom Wachunas, 2018

Then, Now, and Forever...

“…And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts…”
- 2 Peter 1:19


Friday, December 14, 2018

our betweened selves

"divide and dissolve #1 and #2"

"not there"

"the gentle collapsing of every surface"

"a momentary impulse"

"some may have gotten halfway there, and then changed their minds"

"that he might, by force of will"
our betweened selves

By Tom Wachunas

  “Referencing the history of portraiture-as-social-mirror, I am fascinated with the connection between early photographic portraits and modern selfies. With the advent of tintypes in the 1860s we entered into a world in which, for the first time, images of the “self” were widely distributed for mass consumption. Collected, carried and viewed at any time, tintypes became a method to have a physical connection to loved ones near and far, and to imagine the lives of famous people by looking into their faces.” – from the exhibit statement by Greg Martin

EXHIBIT: seen and not seen, photography by Greg Martin / at Studio M in  the Massillon Museum, 121 Lincoln Way, East (Ohio 172) in downtown Massillon. A visit to the Massillon Museum is always free.  Call the Massillon Museum at 330-833-4061 or visit  for more information. Exhibit open through December 31 during regular Museum hours, Tuesday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Sunday 2:00 to 5:00 p.m.

    Somewhere between reading “…my work speaks to our individually curated and constructed realities in the digital world,” from Greg Martin’s artist statement, and the fascinating titles of his photographs, I got lost in thinking about the functions, instrumentality, and validity of photography as a dependable arbiter or definer of visible reality. Philosophical questions abound. After all, any photograph is an abstraction, a reduction, an illusion.

    Here, portraiture is only a beginning – a symbolic jumping off point into the betweened world we’ve made for ourselves. The faces that do appear in Martin’s pieces aren’t an end unto themselves. They seem rather to hover as marginal elements within larger, more ambiguous and frangible realms  between seeing and knowing, between the tangible and the tenuous, between intimacy and alienation.

   By employing the highly meticulous wet plate collodion method of making a one-of-a-kind photograph (a process invented in the 1850s), Martin implies an arresting contrast with the immediacy of digital image-cloning that saturates today’s social media. And so it is that his photographs (several of them being mixed-media, 3D shallow-relief objects, in a way) do exude something of an antique aura. But that aura is often juxtaposed with modernity via abstract configurations or superimposed obstructions – multiple transparencies, shadowy layers, or ghostly planes that can include painted geometric shapes integrated with patterns both regular and pixilated.

    Those abstract components are effectively metaphorical proxies for digital photo-technology’s capacity to obfuscate the corporeal world. As if to push the point further, Martin encourages viewers to engage his pieces from up close and far away with their cell phone cameras – those indispensable tools for selectively “curating” and miniaturizing complex dimensionalities into so many compressed imitations.

   In the earliest days of photography, tintype photographs must have surely seemed to be innocent, even magical totems of connecting with and memorializing the familiar and yes, the beginnings of commodifying celebrities of the day – “portraiture-as-social-mirror,” Martin calls it. I’m reminded that photography’s ubiquitous presence in today’s social mirroring increasingly morphs simple memorializing into elaborate facades of marketing and advertising. 

   Troll the internet, meet the memes, wander the web, cruise the cloud. See all those selves, those faces floating somewhere between fact and fiction.     

Monday, December 3, 2018

Seizing the Fugitive Moment

"Open Door" by Sue Collier

"Woman in the Hallway" by Sue Collier

"Couple on a Bench" by Sue Collier

"Couple on a Swing" by Sue Collier

"Odyssey" by Sarah Schuster

"Shallow Waters" by Sarah Schuster

"The Lovliest of What I Left Behind" by Sarah Schuster

"Below the Surface" by Sarah Schuster
Seizing the Fugitive Moment

By Tom Wachunas

“To see we must forget the name of the thing we are looking at.”
- Claude Monet

EXHIBIT: RECENT WORK by Sue Collier and Sarah Schuster, at The Lemmon Gallery, located inside the Kent Stark Fine Arts Building, 6000 Frank Avenue, North Canton, Ohio / THROUGH Dec. 7, 2018 / Gallery viewing hours are Monday – Thursday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Friday 11 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  

   Mea maxima culpa. With just four days remaining to see this superb exhibit, I can only offer yet another abject apology for such a late posting. It is nonetheless very worth your time to plan a visit before 5 p.m. on December 7. 

   Most of Sue Collier’s oil paintings in this exhibit were painted en plain air – on site, outdoors. A few others are scenes of interiors. With all of them, I had the sensation of being present in an intensely personal moment - hers and mine. At times I felt like I was standing right next to her as she labored to grasp something fleeting, to make the ephemeral somehow permanent and solid. Her memories of, or encounters with, her subjects, whether foliate or figurative, became my now.

   There’s a tangible vitality and intimacy to all her images. They aren’t polished and static, but rather dynamic. The images pulse and breathe, appearing to actually move through the picture plane with a visceral, all-at-once immediacy. The brush strokes have a heartbeat. Suffused as they are with the sensual tactility of generously applied paint, there’s the uncanny sense that it’s not Collier’s eyes alone that are doing the seeing. Her act of looking is a concordance, a concert of responses to perceived relationships. Eyes, hand, and brush are caught up in a beautiful, seemingly still-evolving dialogue - an intuitive harmony of staccato and lusciously protracted markings. Most of the works are imbued with singularly enchanting tonalities of light, as if spontaneously, even urgently painted before something changes, or departs altogether.

    While Collier’s expressive, ornate abstractions maintain substantial connections to the recognizable, natural world, most of Sarah Schuster’s entries here are comparatively non-objective and enigmatic in nature. That said, they’re a collectively intriguing complement to Collier’s specificity. And they’re no less compelling or real in their palpable sensation (especially in her very large-scale canvases) of motion either imminent or indefinitely suspended. Her palette is bold to the point of being electric, giving the works a wildly decorative and celebratory spirit.

   What’s being celebrated? Spatial ambiguity, evanescence, explosive transience. The anti-gravitational architecture of uncertainty. Patterns and organic forms are in flux, floating on tenuous grounds both liquid and atmospheric. In one series of smaller paintings, color fields comprised of accumulated wispy lines and specks of paint reach a central crescendo, clustered into a gorgeous, flickering luminescence. 
    In the really big paintings, those hair-thin lines have become tangles of thicker squiggles and swoops, looping back and forth as if they were a map of  meandering roads that lead to nowhere in particular. After all, the moment of looking is its own destination. Carpe diem.