Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Gifts from the Gifted

Gifts from the Gifted

Born From Stardust, by Oxana Dallas

Boston Bricks II, by Diane Belfiglio

Gauss, by David Kuntzman

An Imperfect Art, by Patricia Zinsmeister Parker

School Shootings School Bus Cape, by Judi Krew

The Rider, by William M. Bogdan

Grey Matter, by Steve Ehret

Birch Bramble, by Catherine M. Cindia

By Tom Wachunas

   EXHIBIT: Stark County Artists Exhibition / THROUGH JANUARY 26, 2020 / at The Massillon Museum, 121 Lincoln Way East, in downtown Massillon, Ohio /

http://www.massillonmuseum.org/    330.833.4061

   As the end of 2019 draws near, I’m sincerely grateful. Thank you, Massillon Museum, for continuing the tradition of this important annual juried exhibit – a gift to anyone who savors contemporary art. Thank you, participating artists (a total of 47 individuals out of 79 who entered) for your marvelous giftedness. I feel honored, indeed humbled, to be in your company. Really. The fruits of your creative labors have made this year’s Stark County Artists Exhibition truly the strongest I’ve seen in many years, remarkably rich in formal and conceptual diversity.

   And to all of you ARTWACH readers, give yourselves the gift of viewing the work by these artists: Seth Adam, John B. Alexander, Diane Belfiglio, Todd Bergert, William M. Bogdan, Peter Castillo, Catherine M. Cindia, Therese Cook, Oxana Dallas (Best in Show), David L. Dingwell, Laura Donnelly, Steve Ehret (Second Place), Megan Farrabee, Kathleen Gray Farthing, Gerald Fox, Sharon Frank Mazgaj (Honorable Mention), Robert Gallik, Coty J. Giannelli (Honorable Mention), Jared Hartmann, Charity Hockenberry, Judith Girscht Huber, Judi Krew (Honorable Mention), David Kuntzman, Sam Lilenfield, Timothy Londeree, Priscilla Sally Lytle (Honorable Mention), Nicole Malcolm, Robyn Martins, Tom Migge, Michelle Mulligan, Clare Murray Adams, Benjamin R. Myers, Tina Myers, Robert Nicoll, Patricia Zinsmeister Parker, Mark V. Pitocco, Anna Rather, Jacob Redmon, Erika Katherine, Israel Robinson, Priscilla Roggenkamp, Hilda Sikora, Sari Sponhour, Rosemary Stephen, Alex Strader (Third Place), Tom Wachunas (Honorable Mention) and Pat Mather Waltz.

   My gratitude is made all the more sweet by the award of an Honorable Mention for my piece, “Deus ex Machina #3.” Here’s a link to some pictures and a few brief thoughts on the work, if you’re interested:

   Additionally, I’m thankful for not being one of the jurors asked to assess levels of excellence and assign awards.  In an exhibit of such high caliber as this one, it’s an unreasonably challenging ask, if not a futile, perhaps even silly one. As it is, the jurors (Ken Emerick, former Artist Programs and Percent for Art Director at the Ohio Arts Council; Sarah J. Rogers, Director at the Kent State University Museum; and Stephen Tomasko, Akron artist and photographer) who assembled this superb collection saw fit to distinguish “Born From Stardust,” a textile work by Oxana Dallas, with the Best in Show award. There’s much to commend this beautifully sparkling, cosmic night vision of a statuesque woman encircled by people in postures of allegiance or adoration, or maybe supplication. The tactile intricacy of the weaving technique alone is hypnotic.

   Diane Belfiglio’s brighter, more earthbound oil pastel on paper, “Boston Bricks II,” is equally hypnotic, and no less beautiful, no less fascinating in its technical acuity. The gently bristling surface of overlaid chromatic textures is infused with sunlight, with the elegant simplicity of the brick pattern seemingly imprinted by subtly translucent crossings of dark shadows. 

   Speaking of elegant structure, David Kuntzman’s acrylic “Gauss” is a meticulously composed symphony of geometric abstraction. The overlapped grids in bright, pulsing colors create a spatial dynamic that breathes.

   A grid motif is also apparent in the mixed media painting by Patricia Zinsmeister Parker, “An Imperfect Art.” Here, though, the pictorial structure is not a neatly delineated scheme, but rather a raw, visceral arrival – a gestural rumination that emerged through time. Parker makes art that wags a wry finger in your face and rattles your expectation of “finished” aesthetic protocol. Her work is seriously engaged in the mindful play of pure markmaking and often brings to mind the sassy kid who refuses to color inside the lines.

   On a more somber and cautionary note, two works: “School Shootings School Bus Cape,” by Judi Krew, and “The Rider,” by William M. Bogdan. Krew’s piece is a compelling, thoughtfully constructed remembrance of a tragic reality in American society, as she explains with heartbreaking statistics in the chalkboard panels mounted on a music stand next to the yellow-caped mannequin: “…Since 1840, there have been 471 recorded incidents of a gun being used at an institution of education to wound or kill another person or one’s self…” Even more arresting, she writes, “…Unfortunately, this is a work in progress…”

   Bogdan’s stark woodcut print is an apocalyptic montage of sorts. His expressionism isn’t rendered with refined precision so much as scratched, clawed, pounded into being. No picture of noble intent or victory here. The horses’ hooves are like anvils. Those helicopters in the sky are like hovering, fattened vultures. That ghostly figure at the lower right is appropriated from Nick Ut’s shocking 1972 photo of a naked young Vietnamese girl, terribly burned and fleeing her village after it was bombed with napalm. But this is more than a jarring remembrance of that,…of then. Like Krew’s sobering notes on a work in progress, Bogdan’s print is a potent connection to a horrific still now, and with it, a haunting reminder that nothing changes if nothing changes. 

   Let’s shift gears for a moment into some surreal shenanigans, some unfettered fun. With a punctilious polychromatic palette, Steve Ehret masterfully manipulated “Grey Matter” – a spectacular, slick oil painting on panel (Second Place award) – into a fantastically fastidious panoply of protoplasmic phantasm. A mind-morphing loony landscape.

   If you consider this exhibit as an essay on the state of Stark County visual arts, Catherine M. Cindia’s encaustic (beeswax) painting, “Birch Bramble” is yet another of many exclamation points. It’s a sylvan scene that’s so dimensional, so sumptuously tactile, that it could be fairly called a relief sculpture. 

  But wait, there’s more, much more. The most meaningful award you can bestow on any of the artists here is your presence. Your time, your intentional looking, your willingness to come and actually see. They’ve earned it.

   Merry Christmas.  

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Unwrapping the Christmas Presence

Unwrapping the Christmas Presence

"Amended Big Bang Theory" - acrylic, fabric, paper, found object

By Tom Wachunas

   …The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth…  John 1:14

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see…   Hebrews 11:1  

   Did the practice of giving and getting gifts (i.e., “presents”) at Christmastime begin with the simple notion that it was the wise thing to do, as in a grand identification with those three “wise men” traveling from afar to worship a new king? They were probably astrologers – readers of tiny, distant cosmic lights.  So when did remembering the “magic of Christmas” morph into the ritualized retail mania, the elaborate ceremonies of rabid consumerism which so much of our society engages today? 

   What light are we following? Have we become so enamored of Christmas presents that we’ve become insensitive to the Christmas presence? Immanuel, God incarnate, with us, here and now.

   It wasn’t until around 2001 that my artwork developed into a materiality of a Christocentric nature - a codified language of the heart. Back in 2008 I made a piece I called “A Brief History of Everything.”  Stark and simple, the work was comprised of nine crumpled index cards, painted in blotches of black and white, and mounted horizontally on a narrow board in a sequential row to suggest stages of opening up into an all-white field. It was inspired by the Big Bang Theory, science’s best explanation of how the universe came to be.

   I recently made a variation on the same theme, this one called “Amended Big Bang Theory,” measuring 48” tall, 10” wide, 4” deep, pictured above. The theory states that the cosmos began as an unimaginably small singularity, a less-than-microscopic mass of immeasurable density, which exploded some 14 million years ago into all manner of cosmic pieces still speeding away from us. Of course there’s no definitive scientific accounting for the origins of that singularity. No explanation of how, why, or for that matter…who. We simply assume that “it” was always…there.

    Faith is truly the gift that keeps on giving. Just like the physical universe described by Big Bang theorists, real faith is an actuality in a perpetual state of expanding, or unwrapping, as it were. By extension, growing from the tiniest intuition - a singularity in its own right – or the smallest seed of willingness to seek and believe what science alone can never apprehend, I have found that in matters of spirit, faith is a great and constant outward reaching of the soul which can indeed give rise to empirical certainty.

   “Amended Big Bang Theory” is a vertical sentence, or if you will, a prayer and a Christmas greeting. The white expanse at the bottom is not so much a period or an end to the sentence, but a beginning. It’s not a tiny, distant cosmic speck, but a large, tangible presence of light. It’s an echo of John the Baptist’s welcoming Jesus into the world we know, on to the ground where we stand, forever into our midst. Behold, the Lamb of God…

   My prayer for all you readers – both now at Christmas, and every day - is that you nurture the seeds of your willingness to let faith grow and bear fruit.

 Happy Holydays.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Cryptic Kisses and Other Tangible Tensions

Cryptic Kisses and Other Tangible Tensions

Lock Born

Kissing Stones

Void in Echo

Site of a Scene: in RED

Site of a Scene: in a Blue Tint

EXHIBIT: Distance Loop, a solo exhibition featuring works by Melissa Vogley Woods / ending on December 5, 2019 / at The William J. and Pearl F. Lemmon Gallery, located in the Fine Arts Building on the Kent State University at Stark campus / 6000 Frank Avenue NW, North Canton, Ohio

 / Gallery Hours for the remaining duration of the exhibit: Tuesday- Wednesday, December 3d and 4th, 11:00 a.m.- 6:00 p.m., AND Artist’s RECEPTION / Gallery Talk: Thursday, December 5, 12:30pm

    Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Canton anymore.

    What makes the Lemmon Gallery a vital and truly inspiring venue for viewing contemporary art is its singular purity of design and potent agency of purpose. Here’s a place apart - a gorgeous retreat from the commercially familiar, a challenging alternative to the locally safe and insular, a venturing away from the comfortable and provincial. The art shown here springs from a serious curatorial commitment (thanks for this installation to Andrea Meyers) to presenting fresh, provocative aesthetic visions and practices from beyond our immediate region.

   The announcement for this installation described the work of Melissa Vogley Woods - a multidisciplinary artist from Columbus, Ohio -  as focusing “…on the nature of internal and external conflict and resolution with additional interests in erasure under patriarchy and homespun methodologies against it.”  Heady stuff, to be sure.

   A recurring motif in Woods’ sculptural assemblages is the human mouth, in the form of thick, curvaceous lips made from scagliola. Scagliola is a mixture of pigments and plaster that can be fashioned to look like marble. In “Lock Born,” an oblong rod of thin steel loops out from the wall, holding up a row of 12 marbleized orifices that hang in midair like so many pendants on jewelry chains. Depending upon your viewing position, the lips appear to come at you from a distance, starting with smaller, closed mouths at the far end that progressively get larger as they open wider. There’s an eerie, indeed primal sensuality about this work (a quality apparent in other pieces here as well) which suggests something slowly emerging from tight-lipped silence into an utterance – a single word, a phrase, maybe a shout. Or is it simply an exhaled breath? 

   The four very large canvas paintings included in the installation, collectively under the theme of “Site of a Scene,” are lavish, glimmering abstractions in acrylic, marble dust, various grounds, and water-based mediums. These are magnificently complex and ambiguous panoramas wherein measured, regular patterns and structures collide with, or melt into organic pools and atmospheric pockets of rich color. Rigidity and fluidity in dramatic moments of equipoise. A visual theatre of integration and disintegration all at once.

   Other sculptural pieces here confound easy definition or categorization. They can seem alternately like garden totems, strange gravestones, or perhaps distant cousins to cairns – forms, dating to ancient times, made from stones piled up as memorials or landmarks. Memorials of what? Mended or broken relationships? Loves lost and found? All of the above?

   So I’m left in a state of inquiry, of continued looking, wondering, even guessing. But with art, it’s always the lingering questions, not the instantaneous or obvious answers, which I’ve found to be the most compelling affirmation of being alive. And besides, in the end, who doesn’t savor a really good mystery?