Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Rites of Renewal


Rites of Renewal 

By Tom Wachunas


“Man reading should be man intensely alive. The book should be a ball of light in one’s hand.” – Ezra Pound

“The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story. —Ursula K. Le Guin

“The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.”—Samuel Johnson

“You can make anything by writing.”  -C.S. Lewis  


   A curious phenomenon – this consciousness of inspiration in making art. Inspiration. An indwelling idea, an implanting of…what? A force? A truth? A spirit? A person? Inspiration for me is all of that.

    Most of my art of the past 20 years has been a response to Divine prompting - my response to a presence that pursues, reveals, counsels. That presence becomes all the more real when I read the Bible. The words therein are indeed a voice – his voice, the Creator’s voice - that holds me in its thrall just as a steady wind would fan the pulsing glow of embers from a fire. Inspiration.

   So from inspiration to realization. The making of something. An arrival. My most recent arrival is called Rites of Renewal, a mixed-media painting/drawing on a wood panel, 16” (h) x 12” (w).

   The piece is a convergence of multiple recollections and reflections. Among those is my memory of a homework assignment from my Catholic school days, requiring me to copy, in my very best penmanship, on unlined white paper, the complete biblical text of 1 Corinthians, chapter 13 (which the good Sister and her cohorts always called “The Love Chapter”). I can still recall having an uncanny sensation, though I didn’t then know exactly what to call it. Looking back, I know it was a key moment when reading and writing had joined to become for me a singular action, a potent rite of discovery and spiritual renewal. The words printed in my Bible, those “little black marks on wood pulp,” became a living form, and not just on paper. My very being had been imprinted.

   Further, I was fascinated to read that Pope Francis recently held an inter-religious prayer service near the the ancient Ziggurat at Ur, in Iraq. This sacred structure is a towering, stepped pyramid (though not a tomb; think of the biblical Tower of Babel story) dating back to the ancient Sumerian civilization (c. 2100 BCE), which was the first to evolve a writing system, pre-dating Egyptian hieroglyphs, called cuneiform. Not an alphabet per se, cuneiform is comprised of pictograms - symbolic drawings - of observable realities. Hence my inclusion of brown cuneiform marks – my homage to the beginnings of writing itself. They appear to mingle with my green handwriting of a passage from The Love Chapter (1 Corinthians 13:8-13). To read my imperfect scrawl, you would need to hold the painting up to a mirror. In lieu of that action, I offer it to you here:  

 …Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.  When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.  Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.  And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

At the Corner of Hither and Yon


At the Corner of Hither and Yon 

Somewhere near Do Not Be Afraid

Somewhere on a Walk with Addie and Jon

Somewhere, Sunshine

Somewhere, after SOS

Somewhere Turning Twenty-Three

Somewhere I Almost Remember

By Tom Wachunas 

“You need to bring your awakening into city life. Bring it into fast-paced complexity where it thrives.”  - John de Ruiter

“The city is a fact in nature, like a cave, a run of mackerel or an ant-heap. But it is also a conscious work of art, and it holds within its communal framework many simpler and more personal forms of art. Mind takes form in the city; and in turn, urban forms condition mind.”  - Lewis Mumford

matrix (noun) - ˈmā-triks :  something within or from which something else originates, develops, or takes form.

EXHIBIT: Somewhere - paintings by Lizzi Aronhalt / curated by Alaska Thompson, at Vital Arts Gallery, 324 Cleveland Ave NW, downtown Canton, Ohio / Through April 24, 2021 – gallery hours are Thursday-Saturday, 6:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.  

From Vital Arts web page at  :

"As much as we feel we know a place, time passes, places change, and we as people do as well. Eventually those places are held in memories: sometimes with fading sweetness and sometimes with feelings of regret."

Lizzi Aronhalt's recent series of paintings "Somewhere," created during the covid-19 pandemic, explores the physical locations she has inhabited, whether for a few moments, many months or only in her imagination…


   Lizzi Aronhalt’s acrylic cityscapes are bright and bold, luminous and loud.  Just as cities can be regarded as matrixes in flux, her painterly scenes are themselves matrixes - intriguing urban simulacra, both literal and abstract. These somewheres, if you will, are intersections of the tangible and the ephemeral, announcing themselves like so many neon signs flashing in the light of day.

   Made during this vexing time of scattered closures, lockdowns and “social distancing,” it’s interesting to notice what’s missing in these depictions of the urban milieu: people. For the most part, there’s a real scarcity of shoppers strolling by storefronts, or pedestrians crossing streets, or folks leaning out of apartment windows, or neighbors chatting on sidewalks and front stoops. So where are the essential social components of this matrix we call citizens?

   Here’s a thought: We have met the citizens, and they are us. Art viewers. In looking at these paintings, we become residents of the matrix. Aronhalt’s visions – whether memories of places she inhabited, visited, or simply imagined – aren’t about distancing or diminishment so much as they are immediate, in-your-face realities. These places aren’t disintegrating or fading away. With all their electrifying color dynamics, their exuberant rhythms of lines, marks and generously brushed shapes, they become our dwelling space, at least for the time we make to really see them.

   Stretch of your imagination a bit and try thinking of these pictures as having the heartbeat of a medicine woman, a healer. Or think of the artist as shaman and celebrant, practicing sympathetic magic. “If I paint where I dwell in this manner,” the healer thinks, “that place can remain alive.” And so can we.   

Thursday, March 4, 2021




Backwoods Escapade, by Justin Brennan

Untitled, by Andy Thomas

Untitled, by Andy Thomas

Untitled, by Andy Thomas

Untitled, by Andy Thomas

Pale in Comparison, by Justin Brennan

Misplaced Trust, by Justin Brennan

100 Miles per Hour, by Justin Brennan

By Tom Wachunas 

“All painting is an accident. But it's also not an accident, because one must select what part of the accident one chooses to preserve.” - Francis Bacon

“Clay is a very interesting and fundamental material: it's earth, it's water, and - with fire - it takes on form and life.”  - Rithy Panh 

EXHIBIT:  Figural Allusions - BY JUSTIN BRENNAN (PAINTINGS) AND ANDY THOMAS (CERAMICS) / at The Malone Art Gallery, located inside the east entrance of Malone University’s Johnson Center, 2600 Cleveland Ave, N.W., in Canton, Ohio /  THROUGH MARCH 30, 2021 / Gallery hours are Monday – Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., or by appointment.  The gallery is free and open to the public.  Face masks, social distancing, and limited occupancy (18-person maximum) are required.

   An intriguing tension permeates this gathering of abstract works by Cleveland-based painter Justin Brennan. There seems to be a deliberate bait-and-switch dynamic at work here. You might well imagine the painter initially setting out to make a portrait – a painting of, and/or about, a person. An expectation. But then, somewhere in the process, changes happen. A different narrative inserts itself, desired or not. Unexpected memories surface. Unplanned events or random circumstances alter the painter’s state of mind or heart. Pesky serendipity. Making a painting can often be a chance operation. Slowly, abruptly, or both, the painter arrives at a painting about… painting. Questions abound.

    These paintings are certainly departures from the conventional niceties of portraiture. They’re frenetic, ambiguous glimpses - interrupted moments of careful rendering. The disciplined act of making illusory likenesses of an actual person’s face has given way to unleashing all manner of tactile painterly marks and gestures. Brushed, piled, poured, slashed, scraped, or sprayed, the paint insists on telling its own story. Does this image depict a face emerging from behind a veil, or being erased? Does that one show a person coming into being, or fading away in rushes of smeared, dripping colors? A spirit of the unpredictable, the spontaneous and even the accidental prevails. It’s a dichotomous spirit, fraught with opposing energies. Yet here they are, coexistent in a fascinating if not quirky equipoise. Casual, playful, glib, disquieting, disarming. All at once. And lifelike after all.

   Technically, the untitled objects by Andy Thomas in this exhibit are clay vessels (i.e., hollow containers) that appear to be made of stone. Yet when considering how they subtly suggest the contoured form of the human body, we can also regard them as sculptures in-the-round. These vessels transcend a strictly utilitarian function of decorative receptacles.

   The fact of their hollowness is not to say that they’re empty. There’s a preternatural sense of something active inside them, as in a body. Something contained, yes, but also pushing forward, animating the tight, stony skins of the outer surfaces with elegant undulations and the nuanced look of muscles flexed or breathing.

    Whether intended by Andy Thomas or not, there’s an aura of the primeval about these ceramic abstractions, evoking an ancient narrative - the Genesis account of creation. You know… the story of the first human, made from the stuff of earth. Clay given a pulse.