Friday, January 3, 2020

Transumanza Extravaganza

Transumanza Extravaganza

Eons of History

Eons of History (detail)

Welcome to the Games

Touchdown Town

Touchdown Town (detail)

Big Betty - One Swell Lady

Big Betty-One Swell Lady (detail)

By Tom Wachunas

   “… I deeply believe in the symbiotic relationship between history and art. Both subjects are of the ultimate importance to our  understanding of the world today.”  - Carole d’Inverno

   EXHIBIT: Transumanza: Massillon, Ohio / work by Carole d’Inverno, at Studio M Gallery, in the Massillon Museum / THROUGH JANUARY 26, 2020 / 121 Lincoln Way, East, downtown, Massillon, Ohio / 330.833.4061 /

   Carole d’Inverno is a self-taught artist who grew up in Italy and Belgium, moved to the U.S. in 1979, and currently resides in Brooklyn, New York. Immediately after her proposal for this exhibit - titled “Transumanza: Massillon, Ohio” - was accepted, she immersed herself in researching the history of Ohio, and more particularly, Massillon.

   Loosely translated from Italian, ‘transumanza’ means crossing the land. As d’Inverno explains in her statement, “…Transumanza is, for me, both an action and a metaphor that can be applied to the historical changes that have shaped the United States: our shared history of crossing lands, breaking boundaries, accessing and losing territories, and our comings and goings.” 

   In one sense, d’Inverno is a cartographer, a maker of maps. While her very large paintings (up to 14’ in length) are not the precisely measured geographic or topographic delineations of the sort you’d find in an atlas, they’re nonetheless fascinating navigational documents. Made with vinyl paint on unstretched linen, they hang on the wall from metal grommet rings like unfurled scrolls, or sails, if you will, charting Massillon’s zeitgeist - its cultural milieu. These paintings are a visual storytelling, presenting a collective history, condensed and codified in deeply imaginative panoramas embedded with all sorts of symbols, gestures, and markings which are indeed an immersive mapping of a communal identity as it evolved through time.

    With each of the four major works here, d’Inverno has generously provided a key – a written guide for identifying and interpreting her dazzlingly complex configurations. You can consider Massillon from an archaeological perspective, for example, when looking at “Eons of History.” Those sketches on the lower left represent fossils from a prehistoric era when Ohio was under water - a tiny part of a vast inland sea. Then, in the same painting, travel into the future as it were, and find signs of ancient Native American ceremonial mounds, a Quaker church, an Underground Railroad hiding spot, factories, football, and even a look at the tent in Massillon Museum’s famous Immel Circus installation.

   “Welcome to the Games” remembers the oldest known Native American team sport in North America – the game that became refined by European settlers and known as Lacrosse. Linked to images of early native sticks and nettings are images of Massillon Tiger football players. A fittingly raucous homage to local football is “Touchdown Town,” along with an equally elaborate tribute to the Massillon steel industry, “Big Betty – One Swell Lady,”  the title recalling the nickname given to the massive furnace in The Central Steel Company of Massillon.

   Looking at these works should rightly be anything but a sedentary encounter. If you get close enough to read the aforementioned guides (which I highly recommend), then you’re close enough to begin really savoring, to begin traversing the sheer length of their intricacies -  their diverse rhythms and juxtapositions of shapes, lines, and very bold colors – one slow step at a time. Call it a metaphorical, or metaphysical, walk through local history. Treasure hunt, anyone?

   Beyond these inspired references to Massillon per se, the overall stylistic sensibilities evident in d’Inverno’s paintings resonate with other histories and cultures as well. Her iconography is a rich interlacing of organic and geometric markings – often like so many runes and glyphs - that merge into sprawling sequences of decorative patterns and narrative motifs. It’s an abstract  iconography that harkens to considerably more ancient artistic practices such as those found in Incan tapestries, or Aztec manuscripts, or Australian aboriginal art, or Aegean art, or rock carvings from northern Europe, or Tibetan mandala sand paintings, to name only some.

   So there’s an exuded aura, an exuberant spirit of contemplation and meditation in d’Inverno’s scrolls. They actually transcend the specificity of Massillon history and arrive at a potent connection to – and celebration of –  the many cultures across all of human history which have embraced the power of an abstract visual language to tell the story of a place, a people, a time.

    Additionally, I’m happily reminded that abstract art has been with us since the beginning of…art.    

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