Thursday, July 23, 2020

Porcelain Parables

Porcelain Parables

A summer Breeze and a Golden Necklace

The Future Is Bright

These Are Barren Times

Our Collective Existential Crisis

The Taste of Fleeting Success

Black Bear Thoughts

By Tom Wachunas

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven… - Ecclesiastes 3:1

“I create narratives using personal experience combined with animal interactions and semiotics…I strive to reveal human realities by exposing both the light and shadow parts of life…”   -Taylor Robenalt

   EXHIBIT: SYMBOLIC NARRATIVE: CERAMICS BY TAYLOR ROBENALT / at The Canton Museum of Art (CMA), 1001 Market Avenue N. / THROUGH AUGUST 2, 2020 / Hours: Tuesdays-Fridays 10a.m. to 4p.m. / FREE ADMISSION THROUGH AUG.2 /  330.453.7666 / visitors should pre-schedule their viewing time and reserve tickets at

   From Merriam-Webster, definition of semiotics: a general philosophical theory of signs and symbols that deals especially with their function in both artificially constructed and natural languages and comprises syntactics, semantics, and pragmatics.

   Though I’m fairly certain that this exhibit was planned well before the onset of the Covid crisis, it nevertheless resonates with our time -  this protracted season of intense societal flux. We’re living in a complicated, dystopian era, poised at a volatile nexus of viral anguish and consuming desire for healing and redemption.

   Taylot Robenalt is a storyteller. Viewed collectively, her porcelain objects are a compelling sculptural treatise on the human experience of life’s dichotomies, life’s challenging dualities. Her exquisitely crafted pieces  merge figure, flora, and fauna into intriguing metaphors. These are codified narratives – symbols, totems, shrines, memorials. They’re emotive reflections on embracing the human spirit - at once fragile and robust, vulnerable and indomitable - as it navigates all manner of existential circumstances.

   To be fully alive is to be touched by the inevitability of cycles, of change - to experience a journey into light, into darkness, and back again.  There are stories here rendered in the dulled colors of mourning, of corruptibility and mortality, such as These Are Barren Times, or Our Collective Existential Crisis.

   There are also brighter episodes of purity, or hope, or joy, such as in A Summer Breeze and a Golden Necklace. Yet, look closely at the woman’s face (the artist’s self-portrait?). She appears about to cry. Is her golden crown on the verge of falling off? Even the graceful white swan looks like it’s snarling, as if to say this moment won’t last. Likewise, in The Future is Bright, there’s still an abiding sense of the temporary, of precarious balancing. The woman’s expression is subtly serious, even stern, locked in concentrated determination to savor all that delicate, beautiful fertility atop her head before it becomes...what? And so it goes, this circle, this yin and yang of being.

    Through all their intricate forms, sumptuous textures, and lustrous hues, Robenalt’s porcelain musings exude a strange charm, unsettling and disarming at the same time. Here are eloquent parables about the eternally changeable seasons of being alive.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Dazzling Devotions

Dazzling Devotions

Merv Corning, Ancient Warrior 

Merv Corning, Baker's Table with Brass and Silver 

Merv Corning, The Bath

Merv Corning, October - Wyeth Farm 

J.D. Titzel, Harmony Church 

J.D. Titzel, Nuthatch 

J.D. Titzel, Remnant Tractor 

J.D. Titzel, Orchard Truck

By Tom Wachunas

“Painting is possessed of divine power, for not only does it make the absent present, but also makes the dead almost alive.” - Leon Battista Alberti

   “There are no half measures when it comes to watercolour. Watercolour demands constant devotion.”  -Pierre Tougas

   EXHIBITS: Reflections: The Artistic Spirit of Merv Corning / Patient Work: Watercolors by J.D.Titzel / at The Canton Museum of Art (CMA), 1001 Market Avenue N. / THROUGH AUGUST 2, 2020 / Hours: Tuesdays-Fridays 10a.m. to 4p.m. / FREE ADMISSION THROUGH AUG.2 /  330.453.7666 / visitors should pre-schedule their viewing time and reserve tickets at

   The following two paragraphs are excerpted from CMA Exhibition statements:

   “… In fact, the NFL first contacted Corning (American, 1926-2006) in 1966-67 for watercolor illustration work; their relationship would span 30 years, with Corning becoming, as the NFL put it, "football's pre-eminent artist”…This major retrospective exhibition honors Merv Corning’s importance as an American master of art—particularly watercolor…Reflections showcases not only works from CMA's Merv Corning Collection, but also works from private collections and museums around the country…”

   “Largely self-taught watercolor artist, J.D. Titzel, has drawn and painted since high school. He began his college career as an art major at Wittenberg University but found he couldn’t connect with the largely popular abstract movement…When he paints in watercolor, Titzel builds color slowly in very thin layers of paint. Some areas are 2-3 layers while others are attained in 10 or more layers. This gives the painting more nuances and depth than a single color can achieve…”

   Once upon a time, in a confused mentality far, far away, I was often too cavalier in dismissing watercolorists in general as so many dabblers, casual amateurs, Sunday-painter hobbyists. Mea maxima culpa.

   Due largely to CMA’s ongoing and admirable commitment to collecting and exhibiting significant American watercolor works from the 19th century and forward, I’ve come to savor the medium’s unique character. Many painters, accomplished and otherwise, can attest to its unforgiving nature, its daunting technical demands, and the skills required to meet them effectively. In the disciplined hands of masterful painters such as Merv Corning and J.D.Titzel, the medium is magical.

   Their pictures are representational in nature, speaking a language most would categorize, understandably enough, as realism. But as with any language, there can be differing dialects, accents,  inflections. And that’s evident here. While both artists engage the same vocabulary and basic grammar – identifiable subjects from the visible world – there are subtle but distinct differences in the artists’ syntactic practices.

   Among the most captivating elements in the works by both of these painters is the uncanny illusionism of tactile surfaces. The precision of nuanced detail is at times astonishing.

   But those details can be rendered in different kinds of light. The way Corning laid in his crystalline illumination often gave his colors a surprising solidity and brilliance. The light in Titzel’s works tends to be a bit more diffused, though certainly no less captivating. His visions feel wrapped in a softness, a meditative quietude.

   Looking at these works induced in me the sensation of reading the artists’ personal narratives. Here are stories of their passionate devotions to closely observing their surrounds, their willingness to be immersed in what they were looking at. Here is the joyous eloquence of the practiced, indeed patient hand, and the unwavering eyes that can find profound poetry in even the simplest of things.

   So these aren’t just pictures. They’re vessels of transportation. They can take us to that spellbinding place where we too can be immersed in our own act of seeing.

Monday, July 6, 2020



Magic Circle Variation 6, by Rogan Brown (2015)

Heart of the Son, by Michael Buscemi (2016)

Tsunami-Oblivious, by Bovey Lee (1982)

Coringa, by Margaret Griffith (1981)

Collective Portrait #8..., by Amy Oates (1987)

(top) Cabron, (bottom) Untitled (Irises), by Gabriel Schama (2015)

Between the Lines, by Mounir Fatmi (2010)

By Tom Wachunas

   “With this exhibition we can see that the long history, tradition, and art of paper cutting now find a rich synergy with our contemporary art world. The process and art of cutting—complex, delicate, beautiful, tedious, consuming, frustrating, and awesome—can be seen as a metaphor for life itself and the acts of creating: in art, work, and family.”  - Excerpted from curatorial statement prepared by Carrie Lederer, Curator of Exhibitions and Programs at the Bedford Gallery.

   EXHIBIT: Cut Up / Cut Out, at Massillon Museum, in the Aultman Health Foundation Gallery / THROUGH AUGUST 23, 2020 / 121 Lincoln Way East in downtown Massillon, Ohio / Phone: 330-833-4061 / HOURS: Tuesday through Saturday 9:30am - 5:00pm and Sunday 2:00pm - 5:00pm

     More info at:
   These recent months of navigating the torrid seas of societal mayhem have radically disrupted my sense of time passing, of place and destination, of purpose and productivity, and otherwise my expectations of “normalcy.” It’s all been a rude reminder that expectations are often resentments waiting to happen.

   But enough with such frustrations. My experience of walking through the doors of Massillon Museum on the first day of its re-opening (June 26) was a therapeutic one. Healing, in fact. After such a protracted period of involuntary fasting, seeing actual art again - in real time, in an actual, physical place designed to exhibit it – viewing Cut Up/Cut Out was just like partaking of a lavish feast.   
   This travelling exhibition, featuring the work of more than 50 national and international artists, was organized in 2016 by Carrie Lederer, Curator of Exhibitions at the Bedford Gallery in the Lesher Center for the Arts, located in Walnut Creek, CA. Her inspiration for the exhibit came from her avid interest in the art of paper cutting, historically an often decorative practice with roots dating back to 6th century China, the birthplace of paper as we know it.

   The very eclectic range of content in this splendid exhibit transcends the immediacy of ornamentation - dazzling as it often is - into compelling symbols, narratives, and metaphors.  In the hands of these artists, the skilled act of cutting a tangible surface or plane (and not just paper here)of severing, penetrating, perforating, reshaping – is not simply a finely-crafted diminishment or removal of material for decoration’s sake. Rather, the cutting reveals things beyond the apparent. The entire exhibit is an exhilarating reminder that much of the power and beauty of art is in its capacity to transform worldly materials and mundane processes into metaphysical realities…to make the spiritual somehow tangible.  

   The sheer intricacy of minute detail in many of the works can induce a  hypnotic hold on your attention. Look long at the labyrinthine clusters of tiny shapes (hand and laser-cut paper) in Rogan Brown’s aptly titled Magic Circle Variation 6. There’s a practically microscopic intensity in the way the work evokes diving deep into a bleached coral reef.

   Equally mesmerizing and meditative is Michael Buscemi’s Heart of the Son (hand-cut archival paper). All those curvaceous foliate shapes seem to emit their own radiant light, bursting from the center like tongues of white flame.

   Tsunami-Oblivious (Chinese rice paper), by Bovey Lee, tells a riveting story about the power of churning wind and waves. [Please note: The photograph of the work I’ve included here is from the artist’s web site. The piece in the Massillon show is mounted under glass on a dark blue ground.]  Considering the chaotic nature of the disaster unfolded before us, the piece is rendered with an uncanny delicacy.

   Coringa is a commanding and mystical floor-to-ceiling installation by Margaret Griffith, made with all-black hand-cut paper. The piece suggests something at once architectural and floral, posing some intriguing associations. Is it a silhouetted scene from nature at night? Or the animated shadows of sculpted arabesques on an ancient gateway or temple? It dances in space.

    For her Collective Portrait #8: All the people I encounter each day (hand-cut paper hung with monofilament), Amy Oates constructed a fascinating crowd of seemingly transparent figures that appear to float in and out of their own shadows. It’s a delightfully spirited memory of real people, or maybe a fleeting encounter with friendly ghosts. 

   So let me return for a moment to my sense of this show being a feast. I came hungry. I savored the lavish menu for its wild variety of tastes – some savory and sweet, others packing a tangy wallop. I left gratefully nourished. It’s a grand table indeed, set to serve any famished soul.