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.

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