Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Terpsichore in Paint


Terpsichore in Paint

Winter, Midnight - 1894, by Childe Hassam

Drifting with the Tide, Venice - 1884, by Ralph Wormeley Curtis

Near the Beach, Shinnecock - 1895, by William Merritt Chase

On the Sands - 1915, by Edward Potthast

A Windy Day - 1910, by Alice Schille

By Tom Wachunas 

“For an Impressionist to paint from nature is not to paint the subject, but to realize sensations.”   - Paul Cezanne

“The pleasure we derive from the representation of the present is due, not only to the beauty it can be clothed in, but also to its essential quality of being the present.” - Charles Baudelaire

Terp·sich·o·re | tərp-ˈsi-kə-(ˌ)rē / - the Greek Muse of dancing


EXHIBIT: Dancing in the LIGHT: Masterworks from The Age Of American Impressionism / at the CANTON MUSEUM of ART (CMA), 1001 Market Avenue N., Canton, Ohio / Through March 7, 2021 / 330-453-7666 /Advance Timed Ticket Reservations Required – Visit

Hours and Admission link:

Click on these links for more comprehensive background and commentary (including videos):

Canton Museum of Art MAGAZINE:  

    This post is very late in arriving, and for that I can only offer my sincerest apologies. Still, it’s not too late - the exhibit’s final day is March 7. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly encourage you to get interactive and click on the hyperlinks above before your visit.

    This important – and in a word, magnificent – exhibit was guest-curated by James M. Keny, of Keny Galleries in Columbus. It’s a stunning selection of 51 American Impressionist works, gathered from museum collections in Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown; from museums in Michigan, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, as well as from private collections.

   The exhibit is an enthralling remembrance of one seminal passage into Modernist painting, which first emerged in a time when growing numbers of European painters were breaking free of the rigid academic standards that had been imposed on their medium for centuries.

   It’s interesting to note that the name, Impressionist, was originally a derisive reference to an 1874 Paris exhibit of paintings by 30 artists, including Claude Monet. Among his works in the show was his 1872 painting titled Impression: Sunrise, and one of many works skewered by French art critic Louis Leroy. His sardonic review mercilessly ridiculed this new style as too raw, too unfinished, too unrefined. Here’s a link, and if you read it, I think you’ll agree that Leroy’s scathing assessment was, while oddly funny, a monumental failure of perception:

   Undaunted, the style became a movement that would further impact and inspire notably eminent painters in America. Impressionism was a metamorphosis - a deeper probing and expansion of Romanticism’s spontaneity, the earthy physicality of Courbet’s Realism, the gestural fluidity of Manet. Making a painting no longer had to be a matter of duplicating or imitating the exactitude of observed nature; no longer just a varnished window framing a static illusion for the gaze of spectators standing still.

   Impressionist paintings offer an immersive sensory experience invested with a lyrical materiality all their own. You could call it a kinetic expressivity, or a visceral choreography, performed by the quick prancing of staccato brush strokes, or the broader strides of a palette knife. There’s a palpable cadence in all that gestural, painterly motion. The rhythmic placement of vibrant color harmonies transforms the tactile reality of paint into an alluring ephemerality that seems to pulse, even dance, in shimmering, transient light.

   So, Impressionism.  An art “movement” indeed. Savor the dance.  

Thursday, February 18, 2021

What I Did on Ash Wednesday


What I Did on Ash Wednesday

By Tom Wachunas


   “God utters me like a word containing a partial thought of him. A word will never be able to comprehend the voice that utters it. But if I am true to the concept that God utters in me, if I am true to the thought of Him that I was meant to embody, I shall be full of his actuality and find him everywhere in myself, and find myself nowhere.”  - Thomas Merton


   My newest artwork: Ash Wednesday, mixed media painting (fabric, acrylic, latex and graphite on corrugated panel), 18” (h) x 17 ½” (w).

   Lent begins. A solemn 40-day season of penitent prayer, self-sacrifice, holy preparation. Ash Wednesday invariably takes me to a trove of Catholic childhood memories.

   The pastor, vested in purple, rubs our foreheads with ashes, the resultant smudge often looking more like an accident than a cross. Even so, it was a mindful symbol of our inheritance: Mortality. All of us wore it like a badge of dishonor - a haunting remembrance of our ignominious expulsion from Eden. Yet there was always the promise of a glorious new inheritance to come. Resurrection.

   Once again, my piece includes cursive writing, and more challenging to read than usual (not that my handwriting was ever really easy to decipher). But at one point in making the work, for some mysterious  reason I was thinking about Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks filled with the “mirror writing” that accompanied his drawings. He wrote his words backwards, right-to-left, and one would need a mirror to read them. I’ve developed no such writing technique. So I cheated the process by writing the words on very thin tracing paper and flipping the paper over, the words still visible in reverse. Words not my own, but from Genesis 3: 22-23:  And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.”  

   Presenting the words in this manner was intended to make the experience of reading them more interactive and literally personal. I held the finished painting close to my face as I lifted it up to the mirror on my medicine cabinet. There they were, the words now readable, and I, in one reflection, framed together in the same plane. It was a humbling reminder that I am dust become a re-made child of the Lord God.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Archaeology of the Soul


Archaeology of the Soul

Eden Excavated

By Tom Wachunas


   “…In short, I had always believed that the world involved magic: now I thought that perhaps it involved a magician. And this pointed to a profound emotion always present and sub-conscious; that this world of ours has some purpose; and if there is a purpose, there is a person. I had always felt life first as a story: and if there is a story, there is a story-teller.”  - G.K Chesterton, from Orthodoxy

   My work is a continuous probing of Christocentric content that springs from being a disciple of Jesus Christ, who is both God and Man. In his story, the Bible (his autobiography, really), he tells us in the opening chapters how he created humanity in his image and likeness, forming us from the dust of the ground he made, breathing his life into us. I believe that the impulse to make art, whether an artist senses it or not, is an embedded echo or a remnant spark - a still-glowing ember of God’s first explosive utterances: “Let there be light…,” and later, “Let us make…” 

   Accordingly, I am called to make as I have been made, to somehow give a spark of life and light to my chosen materials. Most of my works are mixed media assemblages - spiritual tableaux constructed around a codified language of the heart. They are tactile narratives about excavating the merely apparent and uncovering the fully real. These metaphors for an archaeology of the soul are explorations of the boundaries between the accessible and the hidden, between the mundane and the mystical. Ultimately, they symbolize aspiration, faith, and discovery.

   My most recent piece is called “Eden Excavated” (16” x 14 ½”  x 1 ½” - wood, plaster, latex acrylic, graphite). I completed it while reading, for the third time in the last 20 years, G.K. Chesterton’s 1908 book, Orthodoxy. It is a wondrous work of writing about a journey and an arrival, and an otherwise profoundly cathartic immersion in Christian apologetics. It continues to inspire and renew my spirit.

   “Eden Excavated” actually began back in 2007 as the first in a series of several works under the collective title of “Apocalypse.” [By the way, keep in mind that ‘apocalypse’ actually means revelation.]  Re-reading Chesterton’s classic somehow moved me to resurrect, as it were, that 2007 construction which had been gathering dust in my studio, and prompted some significant alterations (or altarations, if you will), literally giving an old work new life.    

   I consider copying words, excerpted for this work from the Genesis creation story and written here in cursive, as a form of life drawing. A way of imprinting memory, a way of sealing a story into consciousness. My process examines a symbiotic duality of writing and drawing, of reading and seeing. To write is to draw, to draw is to write. And seeing art is to read a language.