Thursday, June 24, 2021

Myra Schuetter's Not-So-Still Lifes

                                                   Myra Schuetter’s Not-So-Still Lifes 


I Should Have Stopped with the Animals

Devil's in the Details

Break Out

Distortion vs. Transparency (detail)

Distortion vs. Transparency

By Tom Wachunas 

   Hopefully, we are seeing a time in our history when people are beginning to break out of their “molds” and are able to be the people they are and want to be…What helps one segment of our society helps all of us.  – Myra Schuetter  

EXHIBIT: We’ve Got Issues: Watercolors by Myra Schuetter / at the Canton Museum of Art (CMA), 1001 Market Avenue North, Canton / THROUGH JULY 3, 2021 / Facemasks required–

Visit     330.453.7666

Tuesday - Thursday: 10 am – 8 pm /Friday - Saturday: 10 am – 5 pm; Sunday: 1 – 5 pm / Regular Admission: Adults - $8, Seniors (60+) & Students (with ID) - $6 / Children (12 & under) and Museum Members – FREE / FREE ADMISSION on Thursdays

   Myra Schuetter is a native of Jasper, Indiana. For the past 40 years or so she’s been honing her considerable skills as a watercolorist working in a meticulously realistic style. Her complex and intricate compositions are executed with a commanding exactitude of details and exquisite color dynamics that are nothing short of astonishing.

   These very large watercolor paintings – you could rightly call them heroic in scale - are in one sense still lifes. They’re also allegories, populated by lots of toys and action figures. At first you might think that the paintings are children’s tales, or memories, or perhaps tailored to a child’s perspective.

   So on yet another level, the paintings are narratives. These elaborate visual stories are actually very grown-up commentaries and observations that often speak to the social and political sturm und drang of our troubled time and place. Schuetter effectively explains what inspired them in the placards posted with each painting.

   For her 2016 work, I Should Have Stopped with the Animals, the artist recalled an occasion of talking with her husband about the state of the world.  At one point in the conversation he had asked, "Do you think God ever said, 'Maybe I should have stopped with the animals’?" The various toy figures in the painting are engaged in a war, all transpiring on and around a large Bible, opened to the Book of Genesis (the story of creation and the end of Eden). Not to be irreverent, but the husband’s inspiring question does remind me a bit of Mark Twain’s glib suggestion to God that, “… the human being is another disappointment and… is no considerable improvement upon the monkey.”

   Distortion vs. Transparency is an especially intriguing work from 2012, prompted by Schuetter’s recollection of the terribly contentious public meetings in her city where her husband was once the chairman of the Utilities Services Board. The meetings were held to determine a feasible alternative to the city’s outmoded coal-fired power plant.  

   In technique alone, particularly in the way Schuetter renders a variety of colored glass vessels (a  ‘transparency” that tends to emphasize or exaggerate the words visible behind the vessels ) and the shadows they cast, the painting is a tour de force. It’s a three-tiered essay of sorts. The characters arranged in the top row represent a pompous, loud and angry faction spreading misinformation. The middle row presents more reasonable folks, sincerely seeking a viable solution, while the bottom row presents what the artist calls the trusting “silent majority.”

   In the border that frames the painting called Listen, that same word appears in 57 languages. Meanwhile the image shows a diverse crowd of confrontational characters holding protest signs. In her comments on the work, Schuetter has written, “…For all of our arguing, conflict and anger, no one is listening to the “other side,”…getting to know the other side and truly listening to them usually doesn’t happen…”  

  There are multiple voices present in this work - indeed throughout the entire exhibit - and none of them really ‘still’ (as in still life) after all. So look and read closely. But also listen. You might even hear your own

Tuesday, June 15, 2021




Buried Alive For Four Months

The Devil Beast Of Tuz Golu

The Man Who Snuffed Out Hell

Jet-Sled Raid on Russia's Ice Cap Pleasure Stockade

The Shy Killer

By Tom Wachunas 

"I learned how to compose, how to tell a story. There's no way I could have done what I did later if I hadn't had all that men's adventure magazine work." -Mort Künstler 

EXHIBIT: Mort Künstler: “The Godfather” of Pulp Fiction Illustration / at the Canton Museum of Art (CMA), 1001 Market Avenue North, Canton, Ohio / organized by the Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, NY and toured by International Arts & Artists, Washington, DC / THROUGH JULY 3, 2021 / Facemasks required–

Visit    330.453.7666

Tuesday - Thursday: 10 am – 8 pm /Friday - Saturday: 10 am – 5 pm; Sunday: 1 – 5 pm / Regular Admission: Adults - $8, Seniors (60+) & Students (with ID) - $6 / Children (12 & under) and Museum Members – FREE / FREE ADMISSION on Thursdays

 BACKGROUND, excerpted from CMA MAGAZINE: “Mort Künstler is recognized as America’s premier painter and chronicler of authentic American history, especially noted for his incomparable renderings of Civil War events. The artist began his career, however, as an illustrator during the golden age of pulp fiction books and magazines… In a sense, he became “The Don” of illustrated pulp fiction, a title that alludes to that prodigious writer of pulp fiction, Mario Puzo, and his illustrious novel The Godfather. Puzo had a work ethic akin to Künstler’s, and the two collaborated on many assignments during their years working for Magazine Management Company, Inc. Künstler created the original visuals for Puzo’s Mafia saga, which influenced future depictions of Vito Corleone, including Marlon Brando’s iconic portrayal of The Don in the 1972 Oscar-winning film The Godfather…

   Mort Künstler: “The Godfather” of Pulp Fiction Illustrators features more than 80 original illustrations by Künstler that enlivened the covers and pages of American paperback books and magazines such as True, Argosy, Stag, For Men Only, Male, Adventure, and Saga, throughout the pulp heyday of the 1950s and ‘60s. Most of these illustrations are being exhibited publicly for the first time, and their subjects are wide-ranging and unabashedly action-packed: military conflicts, criminal heists, Cold War espionage, man against nature, and much more. Nobody captured hardboiled action better than Mort Künstler. His illustrations embody the very essence of the pulp era.”

   Let’s start with considering three quotes. First this, from American photographer Aaron Siskind (1903-1991): “In any art, you don't know in advance what you want to say - it's revealed to you as you say it. That's the difference between art and illustration.”  Next, from American writer and comic book artist Brian Stelfreeze:  I think there's art, and then there's illustration. Art comes from a deeper place.” And then this, from American painter Frank Stella: “…But, after all, the aim of art is to create space - space that is not compromised by decoration or illustration, space within which the subjects of painting can live.”

   Folks have been yakking about the supposed difference between “fine art” and “illustration” for centuries. In the quotes I cited here (and there are myriad others that I could have chosen as examples), there’s the snarky hint of illustration thought to be merely something. Something diminutive and inconsequential, something shallow, something weightless. As if to categorically declare, from the highbrow pulpits of aesthetic snobbery, that art is art and illustration is illustration and ne’er the twain shall meet. To that I say balderdash and baloney, fiddle-faddle and flapdoodle, humbug, hooey, hogwash and hokum. And lest I forget, piffle and poppycock and thank you very much Merriam-Webster.

    Illustration can signify many things to many people, depending upon taste and context. In the context of painting, for example, it seems to me that the practice of illustration has been too easily stigmatized as commercial entertainment. Perhaps the most laughable dismissal of illustration as art lies in the idea that illustrators lack originality because their imagery is nothing more than a translation of a written story. Tommyrot and twaddle. On that basis, why shouldn’t we write off countless representational painters through the entirety of art history - including all those beloved Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical painters of old, for example - as mere hacks?

   Consider one more quote, from British illustrator Quentin Blake: “I suppose illustration tends to live in the streets, rather than in the hermetically sealed atmosphere of the museum, and consequently it has come to be taken less seriously.”

    Ironic, isn’t it? Here we are, in a museum, seriously filled with “mere” illustrations. Paintings. Most of them show a marvelous mastery of the gouache medium (opaque watercolor).  Mort Künstler’s compositions, drawn from stories, are exciting visual adventures rendered with stunning precision and a compelling flare for the theatrical. Come look. If you find them “entertaining,” more power to them, and to you. It’s an offer you shouldn’t refuse.  

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Radiant Recall


Radiant Recall 

Merry go round

In the Garden

Sunshine Corner

Up on the Roof

All the Way to China

Mom's Prom

By Tom Wachunas 

“Memory is a complicated thing, a relative to truth, but not its twin.” -Barbara Kingsolver

“One lives in the hope of becoming a memory.”  - Antonio Porchia

“A memory is what is left when something happens and does not completely unhappen.”  - Edward de Bono

“…The intention is not to fix or memorialize time, but instead excavate a specific memory, perpetuating movement and inviting participation. The work depicts the slippery efforts of the mind's eye to pause and preserve disintegrating memories..." – David King 

EXHIBIT: Time Travel – Paintings by David King, at Vital Arts Gallery /  324 Cleveland Ave NW, downtown Canton, Ohio / Through June 12, 2021 – ONLY A FEW DAYS REMAINING !!  Gallery hours are Wednesday 4:00 to 8:00 p.m., Thursday-Saturday, 6:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.

   I often marvel at the magic of human memory. Our ability to remember the people, places and things we experienced in the past is a powerful and, make no mistake, mystical one.

   To recall and recollect feelings, states of mind, and even physical sensations, is a treasure. And yet it’s also a treasure confounding in its fragility and transience. Over time, even our fondest memories accumulate so abundantly into the mass that is our being that they can be crushed under their own weight, like gemstones pulverized and dispersed into glistening dust.

   So if a memory, especially an old one, can be said to be a magic show, it is nonetheless a fleeting encounter. Such memories might require a grand sleight of mind and heart to activate and preserve them. And interestingly enough, it is often the very potent work of a skilled painter – a prestidigitator in his or her own right - that can do the trick.   

  For this eye-popping exhibit of oil-and-acrylic works on canvas, Cleveland Heights artist David King was inspired by family movies and photos some 50 to 60 years old. While his imagery is narrative in a general sort of way, it isn’t a stylistically meticulous, literal realism at work here. Think of these loose, painterly remembrances more as a lateral poeticizing. Memory in motion. Yes, there’s something of a nostalgic spirit about them - a dreamlike if not surreal charm - but never one that gets too mired in gushy sentimentality.

   What makes the sense of spontaneity and freshness in these works all the more present is King’s intensely charged palette. There’s a not-in-Kansas-anymore quirkiness in the way his hot fluorescent colors irradiate the scenes with a dynamic energy, transforming so many thens into utterly new nows.

   I could be wrong, but I’m thinking that for David King, looking at all those old movie reels or photos must surely have been an incipient experience. A personal epiphany. So he celebrated it by wielding his paintbrush like a magic wand.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Diaphanous Realms


Diaphanous Realms 

Soft, early

the forever of stars

distant disturbances (detail)

distant disturbances

refracted shimmer

deep into

Rock Cloud and the Skywalkermothergoddess (detail)

Rock Cloud and the Skywalkermothegoddess

By Tom Wachunas 

EXHIBIT: Suspended Animations / work by Rebecca Cross, at STUDIO M in Massillon Museum / 121 Lincoln Way East, downtown Massillon, Ohio, THROUGH JUNE 16, 2021 / Tuesday through Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Sunday 2:00 to 5:00 / 330.833.4061


   “…I was compelled to draw elements of these invented biomorphic figures because I was curious about drawing on dyed silk fabric with equally ethereal pastels. But I also sought in these pieces the immersion of slow work over time. Placing these drawings within dyed waterscapes brought together my concerns about environmental catastrophe with the vast Lake Erie horizon, which I regularly contemplate as I think.”  -Rebecca Cross

   This marvelous exhibit (of seven large wall pieces and one sculptural installation) is among the most enthralling unions of elegant craft and compelling concept I’ve seen in recent years.

   Rebecca Cross’s large colored wall pieces (4’ x 5’) – from her recent Horizons series - are chalk pastel drawings on dyed silk. Cross writes about their intriguing translucent surfaces in her statement for the show: “… what complicates the immediate apprehension of these drawings is a reflective feature of silk organza called moiré: the curvilinear effect on the surface of the finely woven silk created when the silk is sized through caliendering presses when processed into fabric.”

   These drawings have uncanny depth, at once real and illusory. Each one appears to be comprised of two individual planes with a only a tiny bit of physical space between them – the result of draping the large piece of silk over a rod attached to the gallery wall, like a translucent curtain.

    Aqueous and ethereal, Cross’s abstractions aren’t static objects to be viewed in any casual manner. They’re not pictures in the conventional sense so much as interactive, indeed spiritual experiences. Animated moments in time. To look at them is to see into them, to partner with them, as if engaging in a kind of slow dance. As you move, they move, buoyant and breathing in a pulsing response to your relative position in space. How far away are you standing, or how near? Look up, then down. Look to the left, then right. As you alter your perspective, you become increasingly absorbed in shimmering gossamer expanses of luminous, undulating color. Look closer still, and individual linear marks come into sharper focus: flecks and squiggles, specks that wriggle into organic shapes. Ghostlike traces. Remnants. Fossils. Memories of living things.

   A similar sense of immersion in the ephemeral is even more palpable in Cross’s stunning installation called Rock Cloud and the Skywalkermothergoddess. It’s a metaphorical moment of frozen flux. Here is a consideration of nature’s mutability in the form of contrasted modes of being – solids and air, hard and soft, substance and shadow, present and past. Gravity itself seems to have been inactivated. All those weighty white stones float in a suspended state of equanimity with their blue silk counterparts that look like bubbles or tiny clouds or maybe the shed skins of former stones. Call it all a mesmerizing Erie meditation.