Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Combobulated Abstractitudes and Bruised Fruit


Combobulated Abstractitudes and Bruised Fruit 

Moonlight Mile, by Joe Ostrowske

Calm Like a Bomb, by Joe Ostrowske

Through the Eyes of Ruby, by Joe Ostrowske

Can't You Hear Me Knocking, by Joe Ostrowske

by Jo Westfall

by Jo Westfall

Blow In It, by Jo Westfall

The Queen's Astronomer, by Jo Westfall

By Tom Wachunas 

   “Forget your ideas about art. Make a shopping list of everything you like about what you've done. Include qualities that you've seen in your life, in the world, and possibly in art that you like. Take this list and make a work that satisfies all of the things on your list without caring if it looks like art.”  — Joseph Kosuth

   “Art is an experience, not an object.” - Robert Motherwell

EXHIBIT: Joe and Jo – works by Joe Ostrowske and Jo Westfall / at Cyrus Art Gallery, 2645 Cleveland Avenue NW, Canton, Ohio / Meet the artists at “A Second Look”  party on January 20 at 6:30 p.m.– exhibit ends on JANUARY 30, 2023 / 330.452.9787 / Gallery Hours are Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

   This provocative, intriguing and otherwise spectacular exhibit of paintings and assemblages has left me transfixed for weeks after first seeing it.  

   Joe Ostrowske has said of his highly expressionistic acrylic canvases that he is addressing “…the way that we all maneuver through the overlapping obstacles of life to find our way.”  Finding our way indeed.

    So what’s the destination? What specifically is being symbolized? That’s an open-ended proposition to be sure. If all else fails, slap your imagination in the face. Hard. Wake it up. Look long, and listen. Art expects nothing less. I’m willing to bet that if you ask 10 different people what any one of these pictures means or does exactly, you’ll get at least 20 different answers. Art can be like that.

   I read these paintings as a collective travelogue. They’re abstract extracts from a journey down the rabbit hole of a volatile nexus – a rough-hewn crossroads, where consciousness and subconsciousness (the artist’s and our own), along with unrestrained intuition coexist. The paintings are suffused with a dizzying diversity of stratified marks and scattered shapes amidst broad, amorphous bursts and rhytms of sizzling bright colors. There’s a palpable sensation of quick physical gestures, motion and transformation. An in-the-moment immediacy. Ostrowske’s style is a painterly stenography of sorts - shorthand explanations of the very actions and processes that brought the paintings into being.  Smudge, scratch and scribble; drip, doodle and delete; rub, rinse and repeat; expose, explore and erase; forget, flounder and find; initiate, improvise and illuminate; wail softly, whisper loudly and wonder always. Life can be like that.

   Meanwhile, versatile Jo Westfall has characterized her 2D and 3D works as “resource art.” Among her many fascinating entries in this exhibit are small, “portraits” of bruised, decaying fruit and vegetables, painted on grainy pieces of wood. In some ways they evoke the ancient aesthetic trope of memento mori – images made as warnings that life is short. Yet there’s nothing fearfully hideous about how these natural resources are depicted in their states of imperfection. Westfall’s exquisite technique imbues them not with the idea of death so much as a gentle savoring of their beautiful fragility.

    The caption accompanying the website (posted above) photo of Westfall describes her as “Designer of adornments, Delver of semi-conscious concepts, Explorer of seams.”  I would add, “Rescuer.” She’s a saver of found, castaway objects and various tactile materials. For her 3D pieces, she skillfully joins together seemingly unlikely candidates for the weaving process into elaborate assemblages that are a fascinating twist on conventional “fiber art.”  

    Read the list of ingredients for The Queen’s Astronomer: Repurposed fabrics and yarns, computer keyboard cables, drum tuners, piano parts, chair springs, zip ties, and phone cable. Or for Blow In It: Pneumatic hose, game controllers, phone cable, piano parts, coated wire clothes hangers, and AV cables. Here’s the sinewy meshing of ordinary computer guts, the common hardware innards of modern industry, or information and communication technology. But now, the original functionality of those components has morphed into a kind of metaphysical circuitry, transmitting a more purely aesthetic experience beyond the mundane and prosaic.

   So here’s to the warp and weft of 3D poetry.

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Soulful Entrées


Soulful Entrées 

Requiescat in Pace, by Tom Wachunas

Naame (Reputation), by Chad Troyer

Coat of Sheer Empowerment, by Judi Krew

Seeing is Hearing, by Rodney Atwood

Birth of Matter, by Janis Salas

Fractured Light, by Emily Orsich

By Tom Wachunas 

“Art is a step from what is obvious and well-known toward what is arcane and concealed.”   - Kahlil Gibran

A work becomes a work of art when one re-evaluates the values of nature and adds one's own spirituality. — Emil Nolde

EXHIBIT: Annual Stark County Artists Exhibition / at Massillon Museum, THROUGH JANUARY 15, 2023 / 121 Lincoln Way East, downtown Massillon, OH / (330) 833-4061 /

70 works of art by 49 artists (selected from 225 works submitted by 85 artists). More info, and participating artists, listed here:

   While 2022 was for me - as for many of us, I suspect - an exceptionally daunting year in multiple areas of living, through all of it I have remained grateful for the ability to still make and look at art.  And in these fragile, conflicted times, some of the most moving works in this exhibit resonate on deeply spiritual planes with art that embraces and feeds the reality of the human soul. That said, I’m elated that my most recent artwork was accepted into this eclectic congregation of artists offering their responses to being alive. If you care to read more about my piece, click this link to my short blog post from July:  

   Meanwhile, here are a few entrées I found particularly savory.

  Fractured Light, an aptly-titled acrylic/ mixed media canvas by Emily Orsich, is a startling storm of scribbled marks and frenetic painterly gestures all aswirl in an exploding field of gritty textures. An apocalyptic encryption, it’s an epic war of opposites: light vs. darkness, good vs. evil. The world swallowed up and spit out.

   Far less ominous, the mixed media work on paper by Janis Salas, called Birth of Matter, is a mesmerizing sort of calligraphy. Look inside. Subtly nestled in the meticulous repetition of all those thin, black-white-grey curling lines, are wispy dots and dashes of other colors. Words, whispered across the waves, on the cusp of declaration, as in a divine command: Let there be… blue sky and fertile earth.

   Which brings up an intriguing question: Can we hear a painting? We’ve all at one time or another uttered that age-old response to a powerful image along the lines of, “Wow, that really speaks to me.” What, then, might we hear when looking at Seeing is Hearing, a large acrylic on canvas abstraction by Rodney Atwood?  What is this bold, teasing simplicity? An object lesson in synesthesia? The sound of one hand clapping? Maybe it’s a distressed pink dolphin, flapping noisily on a purple urban shoreline, bleating the words of Wassily Kandinsky, from his 1911 book, Concerning the Spiritual in Art: “Color directly influences the soul. Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another purposively, to cause vibrations in the soul.”

   Judi Krew’s Coat of Sheer Empowerment is a sculptural figure of a standing woman bedecked in a delectable coat of translucent, ornate fabric remnants. The work is more than just a uniquely spectacular woman’s garment. Here’s a radiant celebration of impactful personhood, inscribed with the embroidered shapes of written words, such as Believe, Kind, Praise, Faith, Motivate, and Forgive. To read them, you need to walk around the figure and let your eyes trace the flow of the fabrics as they wrap their way up, down, and through the entire form. It’s not a matter of cursory glances at bits of pretty patterns so much as a process of discovering an empyreal wholeness. Like finding treasure.

   Speaking of reading and treasure, there’s Chad Troyer’s somewhat enigmatic tapestry and wood piece, strangely titled Naame (Reputation). A woven banner of burlap-like texture hangs in air, suspended from a wooden crossbar cut in the shape of a yoke. Questions abound. Is this a memorial to, or a symbolic portrait of, someone named Wally? Is/was Wally yoked to God? Look inside Wally’s name sewn (or could we say… sowed?) into the tapestry – his implanted soul, if you will - and see the tiny interwoven pieces of paper printed with Bible texts. The work reminded me of the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 11:29-30: “… Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”   

   Making and looking at art is often a matter of probing the metaphysical, and just as often raises more questions than answers. So be it. Allow yourself this tired old conceit: It’s always about the journey, not the destination. So feast your eyes, feed your soul. Happy New Year and bon appétit!