Wednesday, February 26, 2020

An Enthralling side-by-side with the Pros

   An Enthralling side-by-side with the Pros

CSO Assistant Conductor Matthew Jenkins Jaroszewicz

In rehearsal - photo Canton Repository/Scott Heckel

By Tom Wachunas

   “Education in music is most sovereign because more than anything else, rhythm and harmony find their way to the innermost soul and take the strongest hold upon it.”  - Plato

   Unlike some other MasterWorks concerts by the Canton Symphony Orchestra (CSO), there was no single, dominant musical theme or concept  uniting the selections on its February 16 program. There certainly was, however, a unifying energy working from the podium - CSO Assistant Conductor Matthew Jenkins Jaroszewicz.

   His zestful attentiveness to the most subtle details of orchestral tone, texture, and tempo was riveting throughout the entire evening, beginning with a vivacious rendering of The Merry Wives of Windsor: Overture, by German composer Otto Nicolai. Much of the overture’s melodic content was taken from Act III of Nicolai’s 1849 opera based on the Shakespeare comedy, Falstaff. Merriment indeed, the orchestra was a rollicking embodiment of magic and mischief in a forest at moonrise, fully capturing the elfin sparkle, galloping pace, and intricate harmonic twists of the music.

   For the following two works – Finlandia, by Jean Sibelius, and Crown Imperial (Coronation March), by William Walton - the orchestra was joined by 34 members of the Canton Youth Symphony Advanced Orchestra (CYSAO), which Jaroszewicz has directed since 2017. This remarkably gifted group is comprised primarily of high school students from six counties, including Stark County. Throughout the brilliant lyricism and dramatic solemnity of Finlandia, and into the swelling grandiosity of Crown Imperial, both ensembles were bright, alert, and seamlessly blended to put forth a magnificent sonority. Excellence side-by-side with excellence.  It was highly gratifying to see and hear Jaroszewicz’s passionate commitment to the CYSAO. These young artists are compelling evidence that the future of classical music, at least in these parts, is in good hands. 

   Interestingly, after all the aural power and pomp articulated by those two works, the evening concluded with a decidedly more introspective, though no less inspiring work. In the CSO’s performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, the “Pastorale,” the ensemble played as if immersed in an aura of contemplation, or singing a hymn of praise. Even in the brief thunderstorm sequence, there was the palpable sensation of serene reverence for the  rhythms and textures of nature. Beethoven called his symphony “…an expression of feelings rather than a painting in sound.” Accordingly, the masterful performance here was imbued with a gentle urgency as conductor and players united in a mutual probing of the music’s emotional identity. Not melodrama, but beautifully mellow.

Monday, February 17, 2020

A Funky Fraternity

A Funky Fraternity

Together, by Matthew George

Night Owls, by Matthew George

Figure Studies, by Matthew George

Research Facility, by Justin Pope

New Species, by Justin Pope

Bo Bo Dingle's Nightmare, by Justin Pope

Two Hearts, by Patrick Bell

Big Headed, by Patrick Bell

Torso 3, by Patrick Bell

By Tom Wachunas

   “The Old Soul is more inclined to be a lifelong learner, constantly feeding his thirst for insight through his own persistent efforts. His learning has not been forced into him through education or learned out of obligation, but has been absorbed out of curiosity and personal choice.” ― Aletheia Luna

EXHIBIT: Old Souls: Ceramic Sculpture, Prints & Painting by Matthew George, Justin Pope, Patrick Bell / THROUGH FEBRUARY 28, 2020 / KENT STATE UNIVERSITY AT STARK / THE WILLIAM J. AND PEARL F. LEMMON VISITING ARTIST GALLERY, in the FINE ARTS BUILDING / 6000 FRANK AVENUE NW, NORTH CANTON, OH 44720 / Gallery hours Monday – Thursday 11 a.m. – 6 p.m., Friday 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.

   Each of the three artists featured in this exhibit completed his undergraduate college work at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. Matthew George is now an assistant director at Artists Image Resources, a printmaking workshop in Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, Justin Pope is pursuing his Master’s degree at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, while Patrick Bell is close to earning his at Kent State University’s main campus.

   The intriguing title of their wildly entertaining exhibit here at Kent Stark hints at something beyond their common academic past or ongoing friendship. These young “Old Souls” share a quirky psychospirituality. In some ways, the exhibit is a sympathetic nod to a much older era of artmaking that emerged during the 1960s and 70s in the form of “underground” and “countercultural” folk or pop art. Think Zap Comix, or the bizarre hilarity of Monty Python’s Flying Circus animations, to name just a few. Surreal, satirical, sobering and silly all at once.

   Half the fun here might be in making up your own narrative to connect separate works. Matthew George’s screen prints, such as his joyous “Together,” are loosely drawn and infused with bold colors that pop out from  subtle layers of implied textures. Elsewhere, are the strange birds in his “Night Owls” symbols of dream-time guardians, or sentinels of the subconscious? They stand at attention, silently watchful. Maybe they’re poised to converse with the very loud, contorted demons pictured in George’s charcoal and acrylic figure studies. Are these gargoyle-like  creatures threatening and dangerous, or are they simply laughing at their own whimsicality? 
   More untethered flights of edgy imagination continue in the works by Justin Pope. The delineated geometry on a black field in “Research Facility” (acrylic, screen print, and graphite) resembles an architect’s schematic for a shelter, or bunker, floating in outer space. A yellow light emanates from inside this cosmic outpost – a beacon, perhaps, symbolizing the artist as embedded in the limitless expanse of creative inspiration. And speaking of geometry, there’s Pope’s cheeky screen print and graphite “New Species (The Preservation).”  In parodying the mathematical symmetry of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man,” Pope’s humorously positioned figure looks as if he’s either desperately trying to become the Renaissance model of idealized anatomical elegance, or break free from it altogether. It’s a goofy sort of dance, transpiring in a vast field of undulating waves made with accumulated concentrations of obsessively tiny pencil lines.

   Patrick Bell’s approach to human anatomy is less overtly cartoonish. His ceramic sculptures are raw, somewhat jarring examinations of body parts and exposed viscera. Innards turned outward. The surface colors can simultaneously exude morbidity and vitality. This dichotomous character of clay as an art medium is most apparent in the piece called “Two Hearts.” One of the hearts is finished ceramic – fired clay made all shiny with glaze. Is this permanent, immutable statue true to real life? The other heart is simply dried-out clay, unfired, suggesting lifelessness. It’s a stark memento of mortality, of vulnerability and corruptibility, of dust to dust.

    In thinking about this show, I remembered that during the mid-20th century, painter Jean Dubuffet’s art brut was a blunt rejection of many traditional Western art philosophies and practices, favoring instead the intoxicating power of pure expression, unfettered by academic rules. At one point he wrote, “…Let reason teeter! …Delirium!...Art must make you laugh a little and make you a little afraid. Anything as long as it doesn't bore.”

   So, then…boring art? You’ll not find it here.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Maternal Meditations

Maternal Meditations

She Nurtured Both Growth and Decay, by Carole Epp

Sleep When the Baby Sleeps, by Jessica Gardner

Internalized Norms, by Jessica Gardner

Die Mutter, by Janis Mars Wunderlich

The Navigator, by Kristen Cliffel

Passages of Transformation, by Rhonda Willers

By Tom Wachunas

“Motherhood has a very humanizing effect. Everything gets reduced to essentials.”   - Meryl Streep

“The phrase ‘working mother’ is redundant.” -Jane Sellman

“Be a full person. Motherhood is a glorious gift, but do not define yourself solely by motherhood. Be a full person. Your child will benefit from that.” ― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

EXHIBIT: Crowns: Crossing into Motherhood / at The Canton Museum of Art, 1001 Market Ave. N., Canton, Ohio / Through March 8, 2020 / Museum hours: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays, 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays, closed Mondays. Free admission on Thursdays /

 330-453-7666 /

Exhibiting artists: Kristen Cliffel, Stephanie DeArmond, Carole Epp, Kate Fisher, Erin Furimsky, Jessica Gardner, Eva Kwong, Rose B. Simpson, Rhonda Willers, Janis Mars Wunderlich, and Summer Zickefoose

   In her eloquent statement for this exhibit, guest curator Jessica Gardner wrote, “Motherhood in our society is at a crossroads. The intersection of home, career and societal expectation is not a new one, but is now being examined through the unforgiving lens of social media and the rapid pace of contemporary society.”  Further, she noted that all of us are “… literally crowned by our mother’s hips as infants in the womb, and the role of motherhood might be described as a crowning moment for some…”

   The notion of “crowns” in this context might at first suggest a glorifying outcome - a woman’s perfectly realized aspirations to achieve a societally approved identity of the ideal mother. But navigating life’s complicated intersections can be a particularly challenging journey for a contemporary mother, strewn as it is with mixed promises of joyous fulfillment, angst and pain, failure and shame.  
    The eleven accomplished ceramic and mixed-media artists in this exhibit are all mothers who have probed their transformative and complex personal experiences of motherhood. All of them have made provocative works that are compelling not only in a formal aesthetic sense, but also in their emotional, spiritual, and conceptual depth.

   Many of the pieces are poignant symbols of fragility and vulnerability, struggle and searching for a reconciliation of conflicting ideas and forces. The woman’s face in Carole Epp’s “She Nurtured Both Growth and Decay” is eerily serene even as her flesh appears slashed by the passage of counted days. She wears a crown of blooming roses, like a bouquet placed at a gravestone, signaled by the gaping skull embedded in the top of her head. 

   In “Sleep When the Baby Sleeps,” by Jessica Gardner, the pious-looking woman delicately set on a teetering mound of pillows, plates and teacups resembles traditional representations of praying saints. A devotion to the incessant demands of domestic duty? There’s a similar sense of precarious balance in Gardner’s “Internalized Norms.”  An aura of peaceful determination seems to emanate from the woman’s head perched on a curvaceous pile of crinkled porcelain chips. They form a strange, unstable mountain of sorts, as if on the verge of collapse.

   The totemic figures by Janis Mars Wunderlich are  marvelously detailed, fantastical icons imbued with a primal spirituality. “Die Mutter” (The Mother), for example, is an intriguing representation of a mother’s fierce tenacity and resilience in raising children – an arresting meditation on mothers as sanctuaries, at once beloved and beleaguered.

   Kristen Cliffel’s “The Navigator” is a delightfully luminous sculpture that looks like something from a Disney cartoon. Here’s the proverbial larger-than-life Bluebird of Happiness - wide-eyed and plump – sitting contentedly on a nest of gold in a seemingly too-small boat. Ironically, this buoyant rendering of domestic expectancy might well be a cautionary tale. After all, can having babies really be so completely bright and blissful? 

    Not surprisingly, amidst the sheer diversity of styles in this exhibit, some works are bound to confound easy interpretation. None more so than Rhonda Willers’ “Passages of Transformation.”

   It’s a distinctly minimalist vision comprised of 120 ironed tissues hung from almost invisible monofilament threads attached to the wall with gold safety pins. Those pure white planes aren’t all uniformly flat, but rather undulating, as if caught by a wind. There’s a subtle tension, an enigmatic fill-in-the-blank suggestibility. Is this an allegory,  a terse metaphor for a mother’s accumulated experiences and memories?  Tissues. For wiping away tears, for comforting, for cleansing. Maybe they’re the soft, fragile pages of a life both remembered and yet to be written - variations on a theme of potentiality.

    Willers’ work is profoundly poetic in the way it embodies the overarching character of this entire exhibit. Heavy – and wondrously contemplative – lies the crown.