Friday, July 26, 2019

What I Did on a Summer Afternoon

What I Did on a Summer Afternoon

 Vaughan Williams

By Tom Wachunas

   “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” 
- Philippians 4: 8

   And now for something completely different. I suppose it would be noble and right and praiseworthy to be outdoors on this, one of the most perfectest summer days to come along in quite a while, tending and trimming any number of terribly neglected garden spots on my sprawling Perry Township estate.

   Instead, I’ve been busy at my desk, fulfilling my commitment to the Canton Symphony Orchestra (CSO), researching and writing program notes for the upcoming 2019-2020 season. My deadline is looming, and I’ve hundreds of words to write before I sleep.

    But something unprecedented has transpired today. It’s something that has left me in a kind of ecstasy – staggered, slack-jawed, stunned, and still marveling at a light far warmer and more bright than the shining sun itself on this gorgeous afternoon. So there’s no garden dirt on my sleeve today. Just my heart.

   As part of my research on a piece that the CSO will be performing on March 21, 2020, I watched and listened to a YouTube video of Andrew Davis conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra in an absolutely transcendent performance of a 1910 work by English composer Vaughan Williams, called Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis. I offer this link for you to click in the hope that you can, regardless of your musical tastes, take the time to pause, breathe deeply, and hear with all your soul. Let your gardens and errands and chores wait. Relax, and be willing to be illuminated:

   Also, if you’re interested in the history of this work, here’s a link to a superb overview by Chris Myers:

   I simply can’t contain my awe of this glorious work. To keep it, I have to give it away. So call me giddy with gratitude – gratitude for the CSO, Thomas Tallis,  Vaughan Williams, the opportunity to share with my readers, and most of all, God. Amen.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Spoken from the Inside

Spoken from the Inside

"When You Wake You Will Have Cake" / 2019, cast paper

"Im Reading Them Again, the Ones You Didn't Burn" / cast paper

"Born in a Diaspora" / 2018, cast paper

"Beast of Burden" / 2018, bronze

"We Would Have Listened If We Had Known" / 2019, bronze and cast paper

By Tom Wachunas

   “…The birds are infused with my experience of prison, but not in the sense that birds are free. Flight for birds is not freedom; they fly to avoid death…” - Treacy Ziegler

   EXHIBIT: States of Waiting - work by Treacy Ziegler / at Massillon Museum Studio M, THROUGH AUGUST 11, 2019 / The Massillon Museum is located at 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.

   Ziegler writes the online art journal, "Broad Street Review," which can be read at:  

 Her website is

 and the website for the prison work is 

   I viewed this sculpture exhibit weeks ago. It’s been haunting me ever since. Like a persistent sort of psychospiritual stalker. Many times I’ve asked my relentless pursuer, “what is it you want of me?”  Each time the answer is the same: “Your wonderment.” And so here I succumb.

   Treacy Ziegler describes an intriguing progression in her statement for this show: from seeing a science display of birds mounted in glass cases, to making drawings of those birds, and then on to bronze sculptures of the birds. “…I wanted to hold this round form in my hands,” she has written, and further on, “…I did not know why, but shortly after seeing the birds, I felt compelled to go into prisons…”

   That would lead to her teaching art in prisons, and establishing Prisoner Express, a through-the-mail entity affiliated with Cornell University which has enabled her to create projects for prisoners throughout the U.S. She receives approximately 20,000 letters from prisoners annually. This in turn led Ziegler to make additional sculptures in paper, cast from those letters. Rather than throwing the prisoners’ missives away, incorporating them into her sculptures of animals is, as she states, “…more respectful to the loneliness, hope, despair, and gratitude often reflected in the letters.”

   Yes, there’s much to wonder about here, much beyond the pale of comfortable certainty. What are we to make of those big sheep forms made from the paper of prisoners’ letters? Sheep. Docile, dominated, destined to be shorn. Or slaughtered? In “When You Wake You Will Have Cake,” 24 sheep heads are lined up on long shelves along two walls of the gallery. This stark procession of creatures with mouths clenched shut and eyes like unfathomable caverns might well be a metaphor for the societally-sanctioned subculture of institutionalized apartheid and diaspora that we call prisons.

   And what of those birds? Guardians, or hunters? Overseers of dreams and messengers of freedom, or harbingers of despair and futility? There’s a riveting conflation of opposing forces, of conflicted states of living, resonant in Zeigler’s pieces. They exude a kind of timeless, primal rawness and spirituality that reminds me of ancient totems, effigies, or idols.

   ‘States of Waiting,” Ziegler has titled this arrested (and arresting) body of work. Yet again I wonder: waiting for what, or whom, exactly?  And who’s doing the waiting? The artist? The prisoners she encounters? The artworks themselves, seeking our gaze? Can ‘waiting’ be more than merely serving time, and instead become a creative act - a potentially fruitful prelude to catharsis, to transformation?

   Or maybe it’s us, the viewers, who are ultimately the ones waiting. In all of its metaphorical symbolism, in all the questions or enigmas it may raise in our minds and hearts, this is truly compelling art. Looking at it is indeed to enter a state of waiting.

   So we wait. We wait and watch. And we watch until our surrender to the simple act of willful seeing becomes a state of…wonderment.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Expanding the Parameters of an Ancient Medium

Expanding the Parameters of an Ancient Medium 

"Something Stinks" by Lesley Baker

(l. to r.) "Sand", "Stash", "Headlights", by Lesley Baker

"Royal Pain" by Lesley Baker

Installation (detail), by Future Retrieval

Mallets 1, 2, 6, & 7, by Future Retrieval

"Beon Cloud Scoop" by Malcolm Mobuto Smith

"Hetet Cloud Scoop" by Malcolm Mobuto Smith

By Tom Wachunas

      EXHIBIT: DRAFTING Dimensions – Contemporary Midwest Ceramics / On view through July 21, 2019 at The Canton Museum of Art (CMA), 1001 Market Avenue North, Canton, Ohio / 330.453.7666 / Viewing hours: Monday – Closed; Tuesday - Thursday - 10am-8pm; Friday - Saturday - 10am-5pm; Sunday - 1pm-5pm /

   “…Artists who make work with ceramics often find themselves pigeonholed by the material. Pre-conceived notions of what the purpose or use of what an object is or might be abound. The motivation behind this exhibit is to push beyond the traditional thought process for clay and to embrace a more modern approach of using the material as a way to communicate a message or form more than any purpose or use….”  - Anderson Turner, curator of the Drafting Dimensions exhibit at the Canton Museum of Art

   An especially edifying aspect of this exhibit is that it’s not an ordinary display of ceramic statuary or utilitarian vessels set on pedestals or tables. The context here is much more engaging and complex than you’d encounter at a typical crafts show or art fair featuring works in clay.

   One way to think of the exhibition is as a visual essay on the artists’ respective processes of arriving at the particular objects we see. Those processes embrace a wide spectrum of ideas, decisions, and influences – both historical and contemporary – all nurtured by varying studio disciplines (drawing, painting, and other methods of design and manufacture). So if the exhibit as a whole is an intriguing essay on modern ceramic practices, then the actual clay objects you see (porcelain, stoneware, etc.) could on one level be considered as comprehensive, summary paragraphs.

   Lesley Baker’s ornate pieces recall an old tradition in the world of ceramics manufacturing – the mass production of decorative souvenir plates or figurines to recall a place or a time. Her objects are intricately detailed with sumptuous textures, vivid color glazes, and printed images (digital decals). But these exquisitely crafted pieces aren’t merely trite mementos of idealized flora and fauna. Threaded through them is a distinct sense of social commentary, such as in her porcelain plate, “Something Stinks.” Is that skunk poised to flee from, or spray on, the towering construction crane invading an otherwise idyllic landscape? Nature disturbed.

   “Patterns on wares sometimes tell a story,” Baker tells us in her statement. Referencing a recurring visual motif in several of her pieces here, she continues, “One recognizable image pattern is called ‘Willow,’ a Chinese export created for the European market. I see this pattern, a made-up love story, as a symbol for world trade, sometimes to the potential detriment of the fragile environment.”

   Future Retrieval is the name of the studio collaboration of Guy Michael Davis and Katie Parker. Here’s what they tell us of their work on their web site (hyperlink posted above): “The pieces created utilize three-dimensional scanning and digital manufacturing of found forms that are molded and constructed in porcelain, mimicking the history of decorative arts and design. Our process addresses the conceptualization, discovery, and acquisition of form, to make content-loaded sculptures that reference design and are held together by craft. We incorporate an interdisciplinary approach to our work, striving to make influential historic objects relevant to today.”

   The magnificent centerpiece of their contribution to this exhibit is like a panoramic period room. In this immersive tableau, an impressively rendered porcelain Rhesus monkey is perched atop an antique wood table, flanked by three ancient-looking vessels. Behind is a wide, curved wall depicting a lush, sprawling landscape. It’s a kind of technicolor paradise, meticulously constructed entirely from hand-cut painted paper. Future retrieval indeed, the monkey is posed like a serene king, surveying a world where nature has finally won out.

   Writing about his stoneware “Cloud Scoop” pieces, Malcolm Mobuto Smith explains, “My work is guided by improvisations that merge volumetric form with graphic flatness.” His playful and somewhat enigmatic configurations are in turn sparked by his interests in graffiti art and comic book graphics, along with his passion for Jazz and Hip Hop. The clay forms - which suggest amorphous teapots – are placed on small shelves against flat, brightly colored cloud-like shapes. Those fluid, organic shapes look as if they could have been ladled out on to the wall from the clay “scoops.”  

  Smith’s combinations of 2D shapes and 3D forms make a fascinating harmony. It’s a harmony which effectively echoes the overarching spirit of this exhibit - pushing traditional parameters of the ceramic medium beyond everyday functionality and into more purely contemplative realms.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Re-visited Reflections from a Discombobulated Patriot

 Re-visited Reflections from a Discombobulated Patriot

The United State of McMerica (2010)

Broken English Readymade (2016)

The Untied State of America (2017)

By Tom Wachunas

“Everybody has their own America, and then they have pieces of a fantasy America that they think is out there but they can’t see…So the fantasy corners of America…you’ve pieced them together from scenes in movies and music and lines from books. And you live in your dream America that you’ve custom-made from art and schmaltz and emotions just as much as you live in your real one.”
― Andy Warhol

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”  ― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

   Ah, Independence Day. Celebration. But these days, more intensely than ever before, I feel bothered, bewildered, befuddled by the spiritual malaise that has settled across our land - a viral cloud of discontent, disagreement, even despair. Discombobulation. My country, ‘tis to thee we bring our proud plethora of time-worn logos, promos, memes, and mottos. Yet despite the sheer weight of corrupted values and confused, conflicting voices that threaten to crush us once and for all, we’re still standing. Terribly wounded and divided, yes; morally destitute, starved for solutions, hungry for purpose and meaning, yes. Utterly splintered, yes.

   But amazingly, still standing. What could account for this? To whom do we owe our thanks for continuing to somehow survive our myriad self-made disasters and depravities? If this isn’t evidence of God’s merciful patience with his disconnected creation, I don’t know what is. Frankly, I’m mildly surprised we haven’t yet altered those promising and profound words on our coins and currency – “In God We Trust” – to read “In Us We Trust.” Would that be independence, or simply arrogance?

   Still standing. And here in 2019, I’m still standing by what I shared here back in October of 2017. You regular readers have seen this art of mine before.

   So I repeat what I wrote then, with this added thought: Nothing changes if nothing changes.

   …“Political” art? That’s too easy and convenient a descriptor. Try ‘spiritual exercises,’ or ‘meditations,’ or even prayers.  The pleas, the please, of a hurt heart. An S.O.S. – Save Our Soul. …One nation, under God?

   The American flag, abstracted on grocery bags. Grocery bags – containers of consumables, sustenance, nutrients, sanitation necessities. Grocery bags – containers for disposables, things unwanted, trash. White stripes scratched with letters. Detached syllables. Words and phrases once familiar, now fragmented, foreign, fraught.

   What do we stand for, and when? In whose presence? Untied, we kneel. The American Scream. Forgive us, Father, for we know not what we do.

   Not yet, anyway.