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.         

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