Making Paint Sing
by Tom Wachunas
|La Muerte de la Madre
“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.”
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 évocateur 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.
exploding, rushing from the pocket of the heart…Come look and sing. Empathy,