Wednesday, November 17, 2021

When Paint Dances


When Paint Dances 

Moon River

Bright Landscape III

Full Moon on a Quiet Field

Spring X

Red Hat

By Tom Wachunas 

  “Exactitude is not Truth.”  - Henri Matisse

   I try to construct a picture in which shapes, spaces, colors, form a set of unique relationships, independent of any subject matter. At the same time I try to capture and translate the excitement and emotion aroused in me by the impact with the original idea.   Milton Avery

   “A dance between the intense and the subtle, the strong and the fragile, and between control and spontaneity… I want to create paintings which are both familiar yet unknown and I hope the work attracts the viewer with beauty and simultaneously prompts curiosity.”  - Katharine Dufault

   EXHIBIT: BETWEEN EARTH AND SKY - new paintings by Katharine Dufault. Dufault’s work reflects her deep love of nature and landscape, nurtured by a childhood spent in the English countryside and, more recently, by her current home at the edge of an estuarial nature reserve in Westchester, New York. On view through November 30th, 2021, in The Lemmon Visiting Artist Gallery, located in the Fine Arts Building at Kent University at Stark / 6000 Frank Avenue NW, North Canton, OH  / Gallery Hours Monday – Friday 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (not open Nov. 25, 26)

    One efficacious way to see a Katharine Dufault painting, as suggested in her statement excerpted above, is as a dance. Think of painting as a performative act in time and, in that sense, a form of choreography.

    Dufault constructs pas de deux, i.e., duets. She organizes partnerships wherein her deft manipulations of paint become engaging pairings of things opaque and translucent, solid and liquid, weighty and atmospheric, permanent and ephemeral.

   Her landscapes aren’t ostentatious illustrations brandishing trompe l’oeil illusions. The brushwork is never so forced or fussy, but rather quietly gestural, like poised arabesques, or balletic glissades gliding across, or floating in undulating pools of luscious color. These are elegant, reductive abstractions, yet nonetheless loaded with emotional and psychological affect. Memories of the past made eminently present.

   A vigorous expressivity is also abundantly evident in Dufault’s figurative works. Of her portraits, she writes: “The abstract faces appear to be calmly resting or deep in thought yet, there is a deliberate emotional ambiguity to the work: the serene expressions may conceal an inner world of strong emotions. I move swiftly, with almost calligraphic brush strokes, to capture the essence of my subjects. Wide brushes loaded with paint in my quest for simplification of form and smaller brushes for necessary detail. The process is part of the finished painting…”

Altogether, Dufault’s painterly actions exude an immersive, poetic lyricism. Alluring dances indeed.

Monday, November 8, 2021

Eloquent Countenances

                                                            Eloquent Countenances 

Veiled Radiant Joy

The Gardener

Wind in the Flowers

Gilded Hope Rising

Wisdom of Silence

The Ancestor

The Phoenix Rising

By Tom Wachunas


   EXHIBIT: Facing Humanity – work by Jonathan Kipp Becker / at Vital Arts Gallery Through December 18, 2021 / 324 Cleveland Avenue NW, downtown Canton, Ohio / Gallery hours: Wednesday 4 – 8p.m., Thursday-Saturday 6 – 10p.m., Sunday 10a.m. – 2p.m. 


“Nothing is more real than the masks we make to show each other who we are.”   ― Christopher Barzak, from The Love We Share Without Knowing

"I would say masks are stories, they're the story of their maker, they're the story of the person who encounters them, and they're the story of the universal human condition…” – Jonathan Kipp Becker

    It’s certainly interesting that this exhibit opened on Halloween, our culture’s season of the mask. In our ritualized annual parade of peculiar personae, which witch were you? What ghoul, goblin, ghost? What hero, villain, savior, or scoundrel? A Disney damsel or a Marvel mutant? Angel or alien? And so we go our merry if not mischievous way.

  For the moment though, let’s flip this street theater paradigm over. Let’s step away from silly disguises, and into revelations. What if masks can be more than false faces, more than ornamented mendacities? What if masks can be visions of our active truths, our authentic identities, our genuine personhood?

   This consideration forms the contemplative heart of Jonathan Kipp Becker’s stunning works. To better appreciate his background and remarkable accomplishments as a master of his craft, a teaching artist, and a performer, I strongly recommend clicking on the hyperlinks posted above, which include an interview with Ed Balint, arts and entertainment journalist for The Canton Repository.

   Working in painted gypsum plaster or neoprene (a synthetic polymer resembling rubber), Becker sculpts exquisite simulacra of countenances, many of them drawn from ancient cultures. At once archetypal and specifically personal, his objects speak of human connectivity throughout history as well as in the artist’s immediate present.

   For each piece, the artist provides a written narrative about his inspiration. Wisdom of Silence, for example, recalls the idyllic times he spent camping on the forested land owned by his Uncle, who could speak to owls, and ends with this poem by Edward Hersey Richards: A wise old owl sat upon an oak. The more he saw the less he spoke. The less he spoke the more he heard. Why aren't we like that wise old bird?

   Poetic, too, is the bold, bright dragon in The Ancestor. Becker, himself born in the year of the dragon, remembers a gift given by his grandfather to his father -  an embroidery of a dragon that his father hung in his office. “…I have felt an affinity for them my entire life,” Becker writes, “…For me… the dragon is…Courage Strength Hope Stubborn resolve Explosive anger Rage Wrath Chaos Wisdom Knowledge A Shape Shifterrrr…  

    Shape shifting – as both a visual and conceptual encounter - is an especially important component of Becker’s haunting Veiled Radiant Joy. His candid, at times searing words about the work constitute a moving meditation on the deep spirituality resonant, to varying degrees, in all of his pieces in this exhibit. He begins with, “This piece is a commentary on how it is, at times, as difficult to come out as having deep spiritual convictions as a gay man as it is to come out as gay.” He concludes his assessment with, “I often hide my spiritual convictions and that which brings me profound inner peace and joy out of a fear that it might be judged or simply pushed away as invalid. I find that rather than communicate the foundations of my convictions through words I instead create works intended to inspire and celebrate the humanity of others.”

   And so this exhibit is indeed an inspired celebration of being human. As a celebrant, Jonathan Kipp Becker invites and engages us not with decorated, inanimate vestiges, but with wondrously tangible, eloquent surfaces. Collectively, they evoke that most ineffable thing that unites us all – our soul.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Reading Beneath, Behind, and Between


Reading Beneath, Behind, and Between

Ursa Minor, Facing North / Jack McWhorter

Lunch with Picasso / Patricia Zinsmeister Parker

Partially Buried 3 / Earl Iselin

By Tom Wachunas



 November 4 – 27, 2021 / The Painting Center, 547 West 27th Street, Suite 500, New York, NY 10001, (212) 343-1060

    I was especially honored to write the catalogue essay for this exhibit.

Here’s a link for seeing artists bios and their exhibited works:

“If good art illustrates anything at all, it’s likely to be a story you didn’t even know needed telling.”  - David Salle

    In the introduction to his 2016 book, How to See, painter and critic David Salle wrote, “Art is more than a sum of cultural signs: It is a language both direct and associative, and has a grammar and syntax like any other human communication.”

   This analogy, while complex and expandable, is useful in “reading” contemporary painting. Think, then, of the three painters in this exhibit – Jack McWhorter, Patricia Zinsmeister Parker, and Earl Iselin - as writing in dialects. Each of their respective dialects is in its way a discreet synchronicity, or a dialogue, transpiring in unique terrains wherein the painter straddles the fluctuating boundaries between representation and abstraction.

   In the past, Jack McWcWhorter has characterized his process and product as “personal archaeology.” For this group of recent paintings on paper, that description remains potently apropos. Equally potent is the wide arc of his subject matter, born from his question, “How can one give form to one’s connection with the cosmos whether it be lost or hidden?” He adds this consideration: “Contemporary cosmology challenges us to look at nature in new ways and to see the inorganic world from broad areas; art, astronomy, chemistry, earth sciences and physics.”

   At the core of his aesthetic is a persistent navigation of tensions and harmonies within symbiotic dualities. His compositions, which he calls “live surfaces,” are clusters or matrixes of lines, shapes, and patterns that juxtapose accumulations and singularities, gatherings and dispersals. Like an explorer’s field notes on remembered sights and sites, places and spaces, his pictures often entwine a then with a now, as if remembering their own beginnings even as they are transformed by his imagination into new visual moments.

    Live surfaces to be sure, they’re drawn with a vigorous, gestural immediacy, combining marks made in broad and loose ways with more concentrated movements of the hand that we might associate with calligraphy.

   Additionally, McWhorter’s exuberant palette imbues his imagery with a numinous energy, bringing to their spatial dimensionality a sensation of rhythmic pulsing. Rising from evanesced fields of personal history and the memories held there, his transfixing configurations have a heartbeat.

   Similarly, visceral gesture, remarkable chromatic dynamics, and personal history are prominent in Patricia Zinsmeister Parker’s works. Recently she wrote “I have always believed that abstract art and representational art are one and the same. It’s just a matter of scale and particularity.” Her pictures are invigorating records of spontaneous actions – an immersion in the primacy of painterly impulse and intuition.

   In a spirit of equanimity, Parker presents her canvases here in pairs, suggesting a continuum, or conversation, between a non-objective work and one of a relatively more representational nature. For example, Girl in White Tutu sits beside My Leaky Fawcet, while Wallflower attends Lunch With Picasso. Two pictures reading as a single entity, these pairings are unified by one or more formal commonalities, such as a recurring color, shape, or pattern motif.

    There was a period in Parker’s career when she deliberately painted with her “untrained” left hand. Consequently, the representational elements in her works regularly possessed a distinctive awkwardness. She has recently commented that her leftist approach, if you will, is a thing of the past. Her current paintings signal a re-emergence of her trained right hand - what she calls her “… return to figurative work and draughtsmanship skills - those skills being undermined and buried for decades by the use of my left hand.”

   Parker’s drawing acuity is especially evident in her renderings of female forms. They seem to emerge from under surrounding scruffy veils or rough layers of paint in a fluid, even graceful manner, deftly capturing the subtlest of bodily attitudes.

      Insightful and inciteful, Parker makes art that wags a sassy finger in your face and rattles your sense of “finished” aesthetic decorum. As the sardonic titles of her paintings suggest, such as Caught in the Act of Painting, she’s a painter seriously engaged in mindful play, and generous enough to provide us refreshing cause to chuckle.

   Meanwhile, for Earl Iselin, the act of painting is in many ways an ongoing inquiry into the very motives and meanings of creativity. Metaphor is certainly an active force in his iconography. “In five of the paintings I have offered,” he writes, “I’ve used isometric perspective, which has the penchant to lift, in essence to ‘sky’ the painting, as if to give flight to imagination.”

   Those five paintings share a title, Partially Buried, named after Robert Smithson’s 1970 land art installation, Partially Buried Woodshed. Made on the grounds of Ohio’s Kent State University when Iselin was living there, it was a site he visited, occasionally sitting inside, and which he remembers as greatly obscuring his view of the blue sky, itself a symbol of pure, limitless possibility.

   That sensation has prompted some intriguing philosophizing about history and existence itself. What he calls ‘skying the painting’ is his way “…of defying the past and escaping its definition.” Thus his paintings present the shed not as something dead, collapsed by gravity and entropy, but as a bright-colored geometric structure, maybe a house, free-floating in an open field dotted with suggestions of dirt piles or bodies of water.

   Meanwhile, his series of paintings under the collective title of Stack, is a further probing of history. These smaller individual pieces, some executed in lavishly-hued impasto, are attached to each other to make large modular grids, evoking a variety of modernist painting genres such as Color Field, Minimalism, Expressionism. The Stacks are intended by Iselin to symbolize and encourage imagination – his, and ours – and to create an energy for really seeing our present.

   And again, Iselin’s words describe that energy best: “It is…a creative force… to move me beyond the limitations of my own gravity, beyond myself, that gives purpose to the painting, a purpose that has everything to do with you. Your sky is as blue as mine.”

   Jack McWhorter. Patricia Zinsmeister Parker. Earl Iselin. To you, the viewer…enjoy the flight.