Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Deus ex Machina, Part 2

Deus ex Machina, Part 2

Deus ex Machina #2

   “What the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. Whether I’m online or not, my mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”
― Nicholas G. Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains

“We refuse to turn off our computers, turn off our phone, log off Facebook, and just sit in silence, because in those moments we might actually have to face up to who we really are.”
― Jefferson Bethke, Jesus>Religion: Why He Is So Much Better Than Trying Harder, Doing More, and Being Good Enough

“Spirituality is committing suicide. Consciousness is attempting to will itself out of existence.” ― Jaron Lanier, You Are Not a Gadget

   Shameless self-promotion. Hey, it’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it. Let’s review.
   You may recall my post from April, wherein I wrote about my sculpture/ 3D drawing called Deus ex Machina (accepted into the annual juried May Show at The Little Art Gallery in North Canton). Here’s the link in case you want to refresh your memory (ain’t the Internet grand?).

   So now, here’s my invitation for you to see my latest work, a variation on the same theme, cleverly titled Deus ex Machina #2. What I said about the May Show entry still holds for the latest version: … The imposed scribbles, smudges, symbols, and scripts constitute a calligraphy of sense and nonsense, truth and fiction. A 3D essay on confounding dualities. My intent is not to posit answers so much as to raise questions. So what indeed have we wrought? A treasure chest of incalculable riches, or a Pandora’s box of unspeakable ills? Digital Deity. The god of our age. 

 I’m pleased to report that #2 was accepted into the upcoming juried exhibit, A View from Within, at Summit Artspace in Akron. Please join me at the opening reception this Friday evening, May 31. The exhibit will be on view THROUGH JULY 6. Gallery hours are Thursdays and Fridays, 12 – 7 pm / Saturdays 12 – 5 pm.


Summit Artspace welcomes summer with a juried show that throws open the doors on May 31 to artistic interpretation as an evolving relationship between the viewer and the creator.

The show opens with a free reception with the artists and juror on Friday, May 31, 5-8 p.m., in the main gallery at Summit Artspace on East Market, 140 East Market St., Akron. Winners will be announced at 7 p.m. by juror Christopher Hoot Professor of Art, Univeristy of Akron Myers School of Art.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Treading Water, Valiantly

  Treading Water, Valiantly

(l. to r.) Daryl Robinson, Michael Jeffrey Lucas, Todd Cooper, Jim Graysmith

Heidi Swinford, Allen Cruz

Andrew Bolden, Sarah Marie Young

(l. to r.) Alexis Wilson, Kaelin Curran, Morgan Brown

Michael Jeffrey Lewis, Sean Fleming

By Tom Wachunas

“…And the night was alive/ With a thousand voices /Fighting to be heard /And each and every one of them /Connected to me...”

- lyrics by Maury Yeston from “The Night Was Alive” for Titanic – The Musical

   A confession: At this writing, I am overcome with mixed feelings in a sea of sad ironies. Not the least of those is that opening night of the Players Guild production of Titanic – The Musical came so soon (May 17) after the sudden passing on May 9 of 55 year-old Scott Sutton.

   Through decades, his work as lighting designer and sound engineer brought  magical dimensionality to hundreds of Players Guild productions, including the spectacular artistry of his final project in April, Jesus Christ Superstar. It’s not unreasonable to think that processing the loss of such a vital and beloved member of the Guild family might profoundly affect how the cast members - directed by Jonathan Tisevich – would rise to the challenge of insightfully focusing their hearts and minds on navigating the Titanic narrative (story and book by Peter Stone, music and lyrics by Maury Yeston). And that’s another irony. For here is a story - an operatic voyage, really – about unexpected tragedy, the promise and fragility of human dreams, and mortality itself.

   So in one sense, perhaps the emotive core of this show is to be found in the genuinely valiant efforts of the performers to somehow bind the weighty pall of their personal bereavement to the hopes, aspirations, and worldviews of the people they’re portraying. Still, the energy pouring from the stage is a wandering one, feeling oddly sporadic and numbing at times. It’s as if all these characters can do is to dutifully tread the cold water of circumstance.

   To be fair, the undermining flaws in this production are, for the most part, not the fault of the clearly gifted cast (though there are some distinctly off-pitch singing passages), but rather in the decidedly flaccid songwriting. While the live orchestra conducted by Steve Parsons plays superbly enough (as it always does), the music as a whole is not particularly remarkable.  The melodies themselves are largely impotent, doing little to evoke palpable urgency or suspense, despite some impassioned delivery from accomplished singers. Though too few and far between, the moments when the music is at its most powerful are those featuring choral singing from the full company, magnificent in its sheer aural opulence of thunderous, soaring harmonies.
    There are some compelling dramatic scenes here that keep this “ship of dreams” afloat long enough for us to savor intervals of authentic anger, pathos, tenderness, and exhilaration. Daryl Robinson is a quietly riveting  picture of brooding obsession as he plays Andrews, the designer of the Titanic who never stops looking at his blueprints. As Captain Smith, Jim Graysmith is a cold figure, stern and aloof in the night atop his bridge, seemingly uncaring about the safety of his passengers. Similarly uncaring, Todd Cooper is sinister hubris and unbridled pride personified in his role of Ismay, Titanic’s owner, insisting that his property set a new trans-Atlantic speed record. In a startling song titled The Blame, the three of them engage in a chaotic flurry of insults and vicious finger-pointing as the ill-fated vessel begins to sink.

   On a gentler note, Heidi Swinford is all impish charm in her role of Alice Beane, a second-class passenger humorously swooning over and idolizing the wealthy first-class celebrities on board, all bedecked in flamboyant period costumes designed by Stephen Ostertag (oh! those ridiculous ladies’ hats!). Kaelin Curran, Alexis Wilson, and Morgan Brown are deliciously animated as a giddy trio of young, third-class Irish women, each named Kate, each dreaming of the good life in America. Meanwhile, Sarah Marie Young as Caroline, along with Andrew Bolden as Charles, are thoroughly captivating as they look forward to married life. Their duet, I Give You My Hand, is especially commanding.  Another most tender and endearing duet, The Proposal / The Night Was Alive, features Sean Fleming playing a stoker named Barrett, and Michael Jeffrey Lucas as Bride, who works in the ship’s teletype room. As Bride taps out Barrett’s dictated marriage proposal to his distant girlfriend, the two men are joined in a mesmerizing moment of contrapuntal harmony. 
   The set designed by Joshua Erichsen is a transfixing apparition of steel ramps, scaffolds, railings, and columns superimposed with projected mechanical drawings. It effectively captures the metaphorical spirit and epic scale of the historic vessel, described in the song In Every Age as, “…a  human metropolis... A complete civilization! Sleek! And fast! At once a poem and the perfection of physical engineering...”

   A complete civilization indeed. Sleek, fast, destined for disaster. Perfection? To a point, yes, as in…perfectly ironic.

Titanic: The Musical /  Through June 2, 2019, on the Players Guild Mainstage, Cultural Center for the Arts, 1001 Market Ave. N, Canton, Ohio  / shows at 8 p.m. on May 24, 25, 30, 31 and June 1 / shows at 2 p.m. on May  26 and June 2  / TICKETS: $32 adult, $29 seniors 65 and older, $25 for 17 and younger / at   and 330-453-7617.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Retinal Poetry

Retinal Poetry

"Fourier" (detail - courtesy Canton Museum)

"Archimedes" (detail - courtesy Canton Museum)


"Boole" (top), and "Cachy"


"De Laplace"

By Tom Wachunas

   “The eye can travel over the surface in a way parallel to the way it moves over nature. It should feel caressed and soothed, experience frictions and ruptures, glide and drift. One moment, there will be nothing to look at and the next second the canvas seems to refill, to be crowded with visual events.”   - Bridget Riley

   EXHIBIT: Organized Ambiguity – Gridworks of David Kuntzman / On view through July 21, 2019 at The Canton Museum of Art, 1001 Market Avenue North, Canton, Ohio / 330.453.7666 / Viewing hours: Monday – Closed; Tuesday - Thursday - 10am-8pm; Friday - Saturday - 10am-5pm; Sunday - 1pm-5pm /

   In the mid-1960s. the emergence of Optical, or Retinal painting (named “Op Art” after the first major New York show  by Cleveland-based Julian Stanczak in 1964) signaled a dramatic shift in thinking about the presence of the painter’s hand – the unique, expressively charged mark – on a two-dimensional plane. This new genre of abstraction essentially eschewed the visceral, individualized painted gesture in favor of smooth surfaces and tight compositional rigidity that often suggested associations with science or technology. More importantly, Op Art embraced the physicality and psychology of the very act of seeing. Op paintings are often quite hypnotic in their playfulness, their sheer illusionism, their delightful tendency to tease and disorient our perceptions.

   In that capacity, David Kuntzman is an inveterate trickster, a gamesman of the highest order. His acrylic canvases, named after mathematicians, are  multifocal gems of pictorial ambiguity rendered with alluring exactitude. These are elaborate, complex fields – at once dense and airy - of variably scaled grids that intersect, collide, or otherwise overlap in contrasting angles. Vibrant patterns that dance, tilting and teetering in elegant pirouettes.

  Kuntzman is a remarkable colorist. His fully saturated hues can produce a sensation of electrified oscillation. And for all their architectonic precision and geometric solidity, the repeated motifs have an uncanny life about them, a pulse. They breathe. All those intricate planes are joined into retinal matrices of fascinating rhythms. They seem to float in and out of focus in an implied infinity, as if carried on a cosmic wind. Even his monochromatic paintings are imbued with subtle vacillations in illusory light, reflected and refracted amidst indeterminate spatial depth.

   Despite appearances, I don’t think the ultimate goal of Kuntzman’s paintings was limited to something so prosaic as meticulously painted grids.  Beautiful as they are, the grids are simple portals to a more transcendent aesthetic experience. In the end, it’s an experience rising from an unfettered desire to be enthralled by the act, the event, of seeing. Kuntzman has articulated that experience with exquisite finesse.  

Friday, May 3, 2019

Looking Beyond Anemic Nostalgia

Looking Beyond Anemic Nostalgia

"Rumspringa" by Russ Hench

"Saccharin" by Jake Messinger

"I Can Resist Anything Except Temptation" by John Bruce Alexander

"Sisters" by William Bogdan

"Elevated" by Heather Bullach

"Summer into Fall III" by Diane Belfiglio

By Tom Wachunas

   “A painting requires a little mystery, some vagueness, and some fantasy. When you always make your meaning perfectly plain you end up boring people.”  - Edgar Degas

   EXHIBIT: The 77th Annual May Show, at The Little Art Gallery, THROUGH JUNE 1, 2019, located in the North Canton Public Library, 185 N Main St, North Canton, OH / viewing hours are  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. (closed Sundays Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day)

   In years past, I’ve appreciated the Annual May Show at The Little Art Gallery in the same way some folks enjoy the sparkling effervescence of very fine champagne. Though it pains me to think it, the current group of 53 works chosen by jurors Andrew Richmond and Cris Dugan from 81 submissions has, for the most part, all the zest of homogenized milk.  

   This year’s exhibit is a numbing overdose of strictly representational imagery. My intention is certainly not to categorically denigrate the historic precedents for this kind of art (portraiture and figurative, landscape, animal and floral, still lifes). Still, I miss seeing work from some of our region’s accomplished practitioners of non-objective abstraction.

   My overall disappointment, however, isn’t with representational art per se so much as with the largely prosaic and impotent character of the content on display here. Throughout the show there seems to be a reigning spirit of nostalgia for tried and true academic aesthetic traditions, but it’s a clichéd and anemic one. If the gallery were a restaurant, you might feel hard- pressed to find a gourmet-quality meal. That said, there are a few savory entrées (and I’m not referring to the jurors’ award winners) in this hodgepodge of otherwise generic side dishes.

   Russ Hench’s spectacular acrylic on paper, Rumspringa, is a bubbly whoosh of mesmerizing, hyper-tiny textures and patterns – a liquid, kaleidoscopic  dream. And speaking of dreams, there’s the enigmatic surrealism of Jake Mensinger’s oil on canvas, Saccharin. The strange theatricality of it is a salient reminder of the magnetic power of sheer mystery.   

   A more jarring theatricality is in play with John Bruce Alexander’s dizzying mixed media collage, I Can Resist Anything Except Temptation. The work is an explosive rush of maniacal memes and topical tropes about the contagion of societal ills that plague us, all floating inside a glass box like an emergency alarm. A mad jigsaw manifesto written in Hell?

   Don’t be too quick to dismiss the stark simplicity of William Bogdan’s black-and-white woodcut, Sisters. Are these grainy, striated figures floating into, or out of, fragile memory? It’s a fascinating ambiguity at work here, at once alluring and startling in its graceful rawness.  

  Heather Bullach’s oil painting, Elevated, is a super-realistic rendering of a haute couture high heel shoe. Look long and hard at the distribution of light and shadow, at those tiny accents of jewel-like primary colors that shimmer along the expanse of golden tan. Her impeccable painting technique seems impossibly subtle. More than just a sleek picture of a common worldly object, this is contemplation itself, stunningly nuanced. Similarly compelling, Diane Belfiglio’s oil pastel, Summer into Fall III, uses electrifying color and superb composition to turn an ordinary floral motif into a palpable sensation of unmitigated joy. Elevated indeed, both of these artists deftly achieved  transcendence from the quaint to the quintessential.