Monday, December 25, 2023

Making a list, checking it twice...


Making a list, checking it twice…

bare feet, by Jessica Morton

Bad Believer,  by Alex Strader

Under Siege, by Sally Priscilla Lytle

The Last Cowboy, by Todd Bergert

Nap-caftan, by Judi Krew

Empty Table, Filtered Light, by Bruce Stebner

(PART 1)

By Tom Wachunas 

“All aesthetic judgment is really cultural evaluation.” – Susan Sontag

“Any great art work… revives and re-adapts time and space, and the measure of its success is the extent to which it makes you an inhabitant of that world – the extent to which it invites you in and lets you breathe its strange, special air.” – Leonard Bernstein

“Judging art is like caging a bird. Instead of seeing it soar, you can only watch it flutter.” — Ron Brackin

“Taste is the best judge. It is rare. Art only addresses itself to an excessively small number of individuals.” — Paul Cezanne


EXHIBIT: Stark County Artists Exhibition / at Massillon Museum Aultman Health Foundation Gallery, THROUGH JANUARY 14, 2024 / 121 Lincoln Way East, downtown Massillon, Ohio / Phone: 330-833-4061 / Tuesday through Saturday 9:30am - 5:00pm, Sunday 2:00pm - 5:00pm

   After attending the November 30 opening reception for this hallowed annual rite, my initial take-away left me feeling just a bit more naughty than nice. Despite the show’s giddy diversity of styles, content, and media, and its sheer number of pieces (very crowded with 74 works, selected from 221 entries submitted by 91 artists), there was something uneven if not mediocre about the overall quality of the exhibit.

   What was I missing? What was I really doing there anyway? Was I a humbugging critic once again looking for stuff to complain about? Guilt raised its nagging voice and left me to ponder how my first observations of the show were perhaps too cursory.

   Long story short: I returned to the gallery two more times for a much slower, closer look. Of course there are indeed some truly remarkable pieces in this exhibit, and certainly well beyond just the works chosen by the jury to receive awards (as questionable as they may be to some of us).

   Consider this ARTWACH post as Part 1 of 2. So for this first part, here’s a look the jurors’ award winners. I’ll be posting Part 2 before the New Year begins.

Best in Show: bare feet - mixed media by Jessica Morton

Second Place: Nap-caftan – muslin, paper napkins, Sharpie, buttons – by Judi Krew

Third Place: Empty Table, Filtered Light – oil, by Bruce Stebner

Honorable Mentions: The Last Cowboy, oil on board by Todd Bergert / Under Siege, mixed media, by Sally Priscilla Lytle / Bad Believer, Digital, by Alex Strader

[This year’s jurors were Cleveland artist Davon Brantley; Melissa Stallard, Associate Professor, Photography Area Coordinator, The University of Akron; and Steve Mountz, artist/art instructor, Salem, Ohio.]

The 52 Stark County artists exhibited here are: Claire Murray Adams, Rosemary Anderson, Rodney Atwood, Alexia Avdelas, Todd Bergert, Charles Bonakoski, Chris Borello, Lou Camerato, Peter Castillo, Paul B. Codispoti, Therese Cook, Ron Copeland, David L. Dingwell, Laura Donnelly, Tim Eakin, Steve Ehret, Linda Faulkner, Shea Flaherty, Robert Gallik, Timothy Hirst, Bruce Humbert, Christine Janson, David Jentgen, Erika Katherine, Annabelle Kim, Judi Krew, David L. Kuntzman, Susan Kurtz, Ted Lawson, Sam Lilenfield, Amy V. Lindenberger, Sally Priscilla Lytle, Miranda Marsh, Sharon Frank Mazgaj, Susan McClelland, Mal McCrea, Daniel McLaughlin, Jessica Morton, Emily Orsich, Natividad Lopez Ortiz, Patricia Zinsmeister Parker, Mark V. Pitocco, Brian Robinson, Priscilla Roggenkamp, Kathryn Skidmore, Sari Sponhour, Bruce Stebner, Alex Strader, Chad Troyer, Pat Mather Waltz, Jo Westfall, and Gail Wetherell-Sack.

Thursday, December 14, 2023





   Here is my 2023 Christmas painting/card to all of you. It’s called, simply, Good News. And with it, I pray always that the seeds of God’s Word - His Promise, Hope, and Peace - sown into the heart of the earth – all of humanity – take root and flourish into abundant Good Fruit. Be Blessed.

   For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9: 6-8

   But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control… -Galatians 5:22-23

   Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. -Hebrews 11:1

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Making Paint Sing


Making Paint Sing 

by Tom Wachunas

                                                             Dark Was The Night

                                                      1,000 Miles From Nowhere
Woman 1

La Muerte de la Madre 

                                                              On a Sea of Forgotten Teardrops
                                                                       Exit from Eden

                                                                 Cinderella Sleeping It Off

“Take me for what I am / A star newly emerging / Long simmering explodes / Inside the self is reeling / In the pocket of the heart, in the rushing of the blood / In the muscle of my sex, in the mindful mindless love / I accept the new found man / And I set the twilight reeling…”  Lyrics from “Set the Twilight Reeling” - by Lou Reed

“I use the human form, in all its complexities and abilities – through gesture, expression, and energy, to interpret the relationship between us and our emotions. Ultimately my intention is to make the viewers aware of their existence and how they fit into the collective experience that is life, where they came from, why they’re here, and what it means to be human.” – John W. Carlson

EXHIBIT: Set the Twilight Reeling – Paintings, prints, drawings, videos and objects by John W. Carlson / at Massillon Museum’s  Aultman Health Foundation Gallery, THROUGH November 12, 2023 / 121 Lincoln Way East, downtown Massillon, Ohio / Phone: 330-833-4061 / Tuesday through Saturday 9:30am - 5:00pm, Sunday 2:00pm - 5:00pm

   Have you ever heard a painting sing? Impossible, you say?

   As absurd as it might be to consider, have you ever had the uncanny sense of a picture evoking – maybe even actualizing - a human voice caught in the throes of grieving? Have you listened to an urgent vibrato seeking respite from anger or painful loss? Or felt its tremulous probing of tragedy in a courageous search for serenity and hope, harmony and healing? Can the physical materiality of a painting make tangible the impassioned lyricism of, say, a Blues song?  

   I’ve always been an avid believer in the agency of a painter’s hand to make empathy a visceral, empirical reality. To make immediacy palpable. It’s an agency in jaw-dropping abundance at the wonderful exhibition, or concert, if you will, still happening right now at Massillon Museum - a posthumous, thoroughly loving homage to the work of John W. Carlson (1954-2020).

    For this (unfortunately) late blog post, I’m taking off my formal critic’s hat. No arcane techno-speak from me here. Instead, for those of you who may not be able to see the show before it ends on November 12, I’m appealing to your open-hearted time and willingness to do some exploratory homework. Accordingly, you can read about Carlson’s life, motivations and prolific aesthetic pursuits by clicking on the hyperlinks above.

   Vital in embracing the overall spirit of the exhibit is this important  background information wisely provided by the Massillon Museum: “John Carlson collaborated with his partner, artist Shari Wilkins, on the project titled American Emotionalism founded in 2015. A manifesto of artistic intention was created for this movement, revealing some of the ways that Carlson and Wilkins challenged themselves in their work. Spanning a wide variety of mediums—from photography and music to painting and collage—American Emotionalism was a reaction against the over-explanation of visceral work. Carlson and Wilkins’ intention was to create work that elicits emotions that arise from instinctive, intuitive feelings, leaving space for viewers’ interpretation with little to no explicit explanation.”

   Carlson’s own words are generously evident throughout the exhibit, including these: “Viewing a painting with a strong presence asks us to stop and be present with it. It reawakens us, and we remember we are alive and that things matter.”

   Matter indeed. With this stunning show, Massillon Museum has outdone itself in gifting us with such a prodigious tribute to the mind and heart of a superb artist. John W. Carlson was, and remains, an √©vocateur of the most consummate sort. He told us, “…I’m…trying to conjure an image almost like a spell.”  Let me add, like a song.

   Simmering, exploding, rushing from the pocket of the heart…Come look and sing. Empathy, anyone?

Monday, October 23, 2023

Brava Illustrata! Celebrating Grit, Grace, and Gratitude


Brava Illustrata! Celebrating Grit, Grace, and Gratitude

Water Balloons

Thank you for fixing my Hip

Where did you find that baguette?

Meet ya at Milestone

Happy Pappy

BuzzBin and the Frankenstein Ghosts

By Tom Wachunas

            “I would see this man, pushing a cart down the sidewalk, with a baguette and wearing vans daily when working @siloartsstudio . He always was smiling, and I have no idea where he was finding this tall slender bread- or the story behind his shoes. He always brought a smile to my face. No idea where he came from or where he was going…”  - Kat Francis -  commenting on her piece, “Where did you find that baguette?”

EXHIBIT: Dear Canton – recent work by Kat Francis / at Silo Art Studios, 431 4th Street NW, downtown Canton, Ohio / THROUGH OCTOBER 28, 2023 - viewing hours Monday-Friday 9a.m to 3p.m


      As bad luck would have it, I was unable to be present at the much-heralded Friday the 13th opening of the Dear Canton exhibit of recent work by Kat Francis. By all accounts it was quite the exciting, well-attended event. And deservedly so. While I’m really sorry I missed it,  I’m all the more happy to report that Kat’s work remains viewable here for a few more days.

   So what are we seeing? A journal? A scrapbook? A love letter? An effusive thankyou note? Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

   It’s all largely in the form of her playful, meticulous assemblages, many made with thin, layered slices of wood, painted with bright, delightfully energetic illustrations of the people, places and things of Canton’s sociocultural ethos that she has come to love and value.

   Here are some excerpts from the displayed letter she wrote to all of us. “Hello City of Dreamers…I am in awe of how resilient you are…You are determined. You are unique. A city of underdogs that start successful businesses and help their neighbors succeed any time they can…I have been inspired by you…because you’re a unique, scrappy and a determined city, with so many talented, motivated and beautiful people…Thank you for being part of my story. The good, the bad, and inspiring me daily…Cheers to all you underdogs…keep creating the city that you want to live in…”

   So on a personal note to Kat Francis, let me add… may your gratitude remain infectious, your creativity contagious, and your joy ever increasing.

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Scintillating Sixth Sense Sojourns


 Scintillating Sixth Sense Sojourns 

80s Track Suit

Olives and Company

Aerial View 2 (top)/ Aerial View 1

Road Signs

Oh My

Lessons of Fatherhood 1-4

Refraction 2 (top) / Refraction 1

By Tom Wachunas 

“I make no distinction between poetry and painting.”  - Joan Mir√≥

   EXHIBIT: Departures / recent paintings by Christopher Triner / at John Strauss Studios Gallery, 236 Walnut Ave NE, Canton, OH / Gallery hours: M – F 10a.m. to 5p.m.  THROUGH OCTOBER 13, 2023 / Artist Reception on Friday, Oct. 6, 6:00-9:00 p.m.

   Prior to seeing this exhibit, my last encounter with the work of prolific painter Christopher Triner was his solo show called “Detours,” at Cyrus Art Gallery one year ago. Here’s what he wrote then about his exquisite landscapes and arboreal scenes: "We have all found ourselves looking for “detours” during the last two and a half years. Ways to pass time; ways to stay safe; ways to calm our own anxieties; and maybe even ways to escape. My detours found me traveling near and far to appreciate simplicity, solitude, and a bit more of myself."  He focused on representing nature as a beautiful, comforting refuge, rendered with a luscious palette, and pulsing with a luminous serenity.

   Here’s a link to my post about that show, in case you’re interested:

   Switch gears now, and fast-forward to more recent work featured in Triner’s current solo exhibit titled Departures. Here’s some of what he has written about these very distinctive abstractions: “…I see my work as still a type of topography or map-making of landscapes, but now, I cannot visually see the trails, the paths, and the light sources from images; only in the arbitrary occurrences that happen on the painting surfaces…”

   Departures, then? In the particular style of imagery, certainly. Yet Triner’s newer paintbrush trawlings are nonetheless tantalizing arrivals in their own right. They’re intimate, contemplative visits to…elsewhere. Sensing the seine, pith, and marrow of these abstractions is to enter a psychogenic ‘place’ – Triner’s as well as your own. So, how sharp is your sixth sense these days? To get into it, you’ll need to intuit. 

  Triner’s paintings are kinetic, performative actions. They’re not static, objectively illustrated geophysical scenes, but rather energetically encrypted expressions of a state of mind and heart. Call it a meditative choreography of moods and memories filtered, unraveled, and reconfigured as if to the beat of the painter’s brush hearing music.

   To be complete, all they need now are willing partners. Care to listen and dance along, anyone?

Monday, September 18, 2023

Tantalizing Terrains


 Tantalizing Terrains

Magical Thinking



A Glimmering Shift

A Stone from the Sky

Talk Talk

By Tom Wachunas 

“…I work in a wide range of images, sometimes recognizable and sometimes abstract. The world between the two is where most of my work resides. Narratives weave loosely through this process and… images coalesce and collapse almost simultaneously.” – Randi Reiss McCormack

“… incorporating fiber-based materials and techniques into a painterly vocabulary and dazzlingly beautiful objects, Reiss-McCormack enlivens and enriches the art world’s most exalted medium, and imbues it with hospitality, domestic tradition, diversity, and accessibility.”  - Cara Ober, May 2022

EXHIBIT: Magical Thinking / work by Randi Reiss-McCormack on view THROUGH SEPTEBER 22, 2023 / at The Lemmon Visiting Artist Gallery, in the Fine Arts Building at Kent State University at Stark, 6000 FRANK AVENUE NW, NORTH CANTON, OH / Gallery hours Monday – Friday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

   During and after looking at this mesmerizing exhibit of 14 abstract works by Baltimore-based painter and fiber artist, Randi Reiss McCormack, a thought kept returning like a chant, embedding itself in my memory. It is this: The picture wants what the picture wants.

  Think of the initial gestures of placing formal elements (lines, shapes, colors, textures) on a surface as a realization of the artist’s will to voice a message, feeling, or story with a particular visual vocabulary.  Yet as time progresses, the distinctive grammar of the curious creature we call abstract art is such that another agency can often enter the process of picture-making, spontaneously investing the vocabulary with new nouns, verbs, objects. This agency is the most ineffable of motivators. The closest term that comes to mind in describing it is intuition. Something other than pre-learned or overt consciousness.

   You might also call it magic, or enchantment. It has a will of its own, even a desire, to be heard. It can push, pull, compel, or constrain, as if conversing with the artist’s hand. The picture wants what the picture wants, and seemingly instructs the artist.

    In responding to this uncanny coalescence of wills, Randi Reiss McCormack is equal parts bold, resourceful speaker and responsive listener. She expands the parameters of painting beyond actions of the brush with an array of impressive skills that include fiber techniques such as rug tufting, needlepoint, embroidery and punch needle. Spinning yarns, weaving tales… and sew it goes indeed.

   Her resulting imagery is an elaborate, practically sculptural balancing of dualities at once earthbound and ethereal. The entire exhibit is a sumptuous  tactile metaphor, or allegorical suggestion of forces and forms inspired by nature, all in constant, simultaneous states of becoming and dispersing. Here is a gripping confluence and an alluring dialogue between matter and spirit in flux.

   The enticing bravura of Randi Reiss-McCormack’s artistry is wonderful to behold. And be held, as in… touched. And so I confess to tasting the forbidden fruit of art show etiquette by letting not only my eyes but also my fingers gently saunter over the luscious and intricate diversity of these touchable terrains. I simply couldn’t resist. I feel only a little guilty. After all, Reiss- McCormack started it. She made me do it. She’s something of a shaman, you know. A magician.

Friday, August 25, 2023

X Marks the Spot


X Marks the Spot

Skeleton // XXIII/II

Skateboard decks

Drella / II / 10.22

Frank Sinatra // XXI

Exploding Star // XXIII - X

By Tom Wachunas

“Follow your inner moonlight, don’t hide the madness” - Allen Ginsberg

"In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes." -Andy Warhol

“Billy Ludwig’s mixed media pieces are meant to look as though they were just cut off a downtown wall covered in guerrilla marketing and/or artwork that was once hanging in an establishment like a museum that has been abandoned — the structure set to be torn down after years of it and its contents being vandalized, these pieces have been rescued from demolition. Along with signature accents, each piece is embellished with various information about the subject - significant numbers, latitude/longitudes, quotes and more. The devil really is in the details…”  - from Billy Ludwig, at

EXHIBIT: SKULL & BONES -The Artwork of Billy Ludwig / THROUGH SEPTEMBER 7th  at Cyrus Custom Framing and Art Gallery, 2645 Cleveland Ave. NW, Canton, Ohio / Viewing hours: Monday - Friday 10am ish – 6pm / Saturday 11am - 3pm /Closed first Saturday of the month and Closed on Sundays / (330) 452-9787 / CLOSING RECEPTION FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 8, at 6:30 p.m.

   What does the name of this monotonal exhibit – “Skull and Bones” – suggest to you? Pirate flags and plundered booty? Mortality? Decay?  Aaargh, me mateys…

   The entire gallery space is saturated in a somber palette. Collectively, Billy Ludwig’s black-and-white mixed media works on wood or canvas exude a palpable solemnity and, perhaps, a funereal pallor. The visual un-glitziness of these pieces, given the nature of their subject matter, is weirdly ironic, yet somehow still intriguing and provocative.

   That subject matter is largely built upon appropriated photos of famous people and characters. Celebrities. Here are artists/entertainers, influencers, real as well as fictional, who have become (for better or worse) luminous pop-culture icons. Treasured objects of our worldly attention, affection, admiration. Presences now or once so bright we call them… stars.

   Yet their light, as rendered here, often feels faded. Their likenesses are printed in glib shades of grey. Sometimes they’re engaging, like a magazine glamour pic. And sometimes they’re also quite mundane, like photos on a driver’s license, a passport, a mug shot.

   Fame and celebrity can be fickle, feckless and fleeting - a dazzling, death-defying skateboard trick against inevitable gravity before the wheels fall off. Exhibited in this context, a few of Ludwig’s dramatically stark abstract paintings might be metaphorical reminders that fame and celebrity, like stars, explode. They end, leaving behind only scribbles, splotches and shadows of their former glory.

    To what degree are all of us pirates, insatiable consumers, ever searching for and seizing the latest greatest biggest bestest pleasure treasure the world has to offer?

   To the devil in the details, here’s a tasty tidbit of ancient wisdom, from Ecclesiastes 1:8-9: All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

   Aaargh, me mateys.

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Mesmerizing Synchronies


Mesmerzing Synchronies 

Suspended Between

Plying Together

Out Of The Box

Imaginative Space Evoked

Lattice Woven

X Blue Hue

By Tom Wachunas 

Just look around: in modern life, the grid is everywhere… The grid is the net that connects art with the increasingly ordered qualities of day-to-day life. As Rosalind Krauss wrote, “logically speaking, the grid extends, in all directions, to infinity.”  - Nessia Pope, ARTSPACE curator, from “How the Grid Conquered Contemporary Art” (2014)

I think it's really useful to create parameters. The term you use can be forwarded into something more like a grid, a rubric, a system that you apply to all environments, and in so doing you create a situation in which you can locate local color, local differences within new environments.  - Kehinde Wiley 

liminal: of, relating to, or situated at a sensory threshold ; of, relating to, or being an intermediate state, phase, or condition : IN-BETWEEN, TRANSITIONAL

synchrony: the way in which two or more things happen, develop, move, etc. at the same time or speed

EXHIBIT: LIMINAL – paintings by Mary Crane Nutter  / THROUGH AUGUST 18, 2023, at Strauss Studios Gallery   / 236 Walnut Ave NE in downtown Canton, OH / M – F 10a.m. to 5p.m.

Background / Bio info and images:

 EXCERPTS: Mary Crane Nutter lives in Walla Walla, Washington, where her studio is located at her home/small farm with a traditional wood barn. Several years ago, she partnered with her sister, Sarah Crane, a graphic designer and photographer to create a neighborhood art and performance experience for the local community at the farm. In creating that experience, she began to make color blocked paintings on panels that were inspired by Pennsylvania Dutch barn star artwork… “If it had not been for that experience, I would not be making the paintings I am making today”, she explained. “It is here in Walla Walla, while immersed in quiet country living… that my mind travelled back to fond memories of my late Grandmother Doris and the many hours I spent as a child watching her create beautiful quilts.

   Think about what Mary Crane Nutter has called her immersion in “quiet country living” as an initial motivation - and a conceptual foundation – for making her mesmerizing acrylic paintings on wood panels. Most of her works in this exhibit are layered geometric abstractions rendered with mellifluous  chromatic harmonies and a vigorous linear precision.

    Interestingly enough, there are few instantly familiar rural or agricultural tropes, much less any stereotypical scenes of what we would readily identify as bucolic, pastoral or backwoodsy. In that sense they’re not prosaic illustrations of specific localities so much as poetic implications. I’m thinking of them as metaphorical pictographs. Poetry for the eyes.

   A central formal element in Nutter’s intricate compositions is the inclusion of intermingled grid motifs in varying dimensions and positions. Here are grids within grids. They can suggest any number of life’s recurring physical patterns and topographies, like meticulously stitched patchwork quilts; like houses or barns or whole neighborhoods – themselves typically constructed on wooden grids; like the fields on which those structures stand, fields often scored and furrowed with crisscrossed lines left by by plows or lawn mowers or rows and rows of crops; like woodlands with their networks of vertical tree trunks and horizontal branches.

    Embedded within many of these grid configurations are circular forms. Such bold emblems might suggest everything from windows and magnifying lenses, to shimmering, multi-colored bubbles reflecting a changing sky, or the organic textures of soil and wood.

   In any case, they serve perhaps as arresting encouragement for viewers to fully look a-round at Nutter’s intriguing ciphers. And really, the only requirement for decoding them is to immerse yourself in the grid – the country, if you will – of your own imagination.  

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Novus Ordo Seclorum


Novus Ordo Seclorum 

By Tom Wachunas 


   My most recent work is a collage on canvas (20” x 16”), called Scars and Stripes.

   OK, so I’m a word-play maniac. Maybe think of this piece as a crime seen, or State of the Contusion address. Let me explain:

In the course of human events, in order to form a more perfect  fight, we the people, in our twilight’s last perilous gleaming, give proof through the night of bombs, bursting what so proudly we hailed. Oh say!  Can you yet see, o’er the ramparts, a new order of the ages?