Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Rhapsodic Fusion of East and West


A Rhapsodic Fusion of East and West

By Tom Wachunas



    Exiting Umstattd Hall after the January 24 “East Meets West” MasterWorks concert by the Canton Symphony Orchestra (CSO), I briefly noticed wide-eyed wonder on the face of a woman just ahead of me as she looked at her companion. I heard her gush, “Oh, those strings, those glorious strings! I had no idea!” And I thought to myself ah ha… another convert.
   She was probably voicing her pleasure at the orchestra’s remarkable performance of the last work on the program, Brahms’ Symphony No. 4, memorably rendered here with sharply majestic and passionate grace. Still, her glowing assessment could just as well have applied to the entire evening, beginning with Grieg’s Holberg Suite, with its rollicking pizzicatos from basses and cellos in the first movement, the delicate lyricism of the fourth movement, and bright dance energy of the fifth movement. Those glorious strings…con brio indeed.
    But it was the second of the three program selections that delivered a delightfully more expansive sense of string power to these proceedings. Pipa Concerto No. 2, composed in 2013 by Zhao Jiping, was commissioned by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and co-commissioned by the CSO for world-renowned pipa soloist, Wu Man, who was the featured guest artist for this Ohio premiere of the work.
    The single movement concerto is an adventurous pastiche that deftly weaves together modalities both traditionally Chinese and distinctly Western in flavor. Given Jiping’s distinguished history as a film score composer, it’s not surprising that this work would have a cinematic sensibility. At times it subtly evokes the spirit of John Williams’ most extravagant orchestrations, and the folkloric poeticisms of Aaron Copland. In all, a lyrical merging of power and gentleness.
    The real thrust of the work, however, lies in the astonishingly dexterous hands of Wu Man. You’d think that a four-stringed wooden instrument as ancient and delicate as the pipa would be swallowed up by lavish orchestral sonority. But a well-placed microphone was all that was required for Wu Man’s artistry to be heard in perfect balance with the orchestra.
    For all of her consummate technical facility in achieving a considerable array of timbres – from percussive and twangy to silken and liquid – Wu Man is as much a magician. She conjured textures and moods at will, joyous and pensive, here fanning the strings in lush cascades of staccato notes, there drawing out lilting melodic lines, or strumming furious, rhapsodic rhythms. She wasn’t just playing the instrument. She was making it sing, whether in soaring unison with the orchestra, or in dramatic counterpoint. Particularly savory were Wu Man’s various dialogues with other soloists in the orchestra, like gilt threads running through a plush tapestry – a shimmering frolic with the harp or violin, a haunting call and response with the cello.
    Through it all, Wu Man’s demeanor suggested the serenity of a Buddah, occasionally flashing a coy or knowing smile. When she wasn’t clearly caught up in the sheer sweep of the music, she looked closely at Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann, perhaps not so much for cues or prompts, but as a mutually poignant embrace of a lovely or potent moment. They, and the orchestra, were wholly on the same page in a sustained musical meditation.
   Late in the work there is a cadenza that seemingly explodes with an intensity reminiscent of brash Russian Romanticism. Yet the work ends not with a bang, but an airy whisper, a harkening back to ancient quiet. The audience clamored for an encore. The magician responded generously with a traditional, electrifying Chinese piece that left us standing in slack-jawed amazement.

    I include here a link to a video of Wu Man talking about the pipa:


Monday, January 19, 2015

A Jubilant Confluence






A Jubilant Confluence

By Tom Wachunas
 

   “… in both life and art, we register only those details that actually matter to us. What, then, are the roles of seeing relationships, accidents, morphologies, systems? Do we communicate what we see in metaphors? Allusions? Parables? Abstractions? Structures? What, indeed, are the processes of thinking and wondering that make science and the arts work?”  - Jack McWhorter

 

    EXHIBIT: Simply Burning – Paintings by Jack McWhorter, THROUGH MARCH 8 at Gallery 121, 121 Lincoln Way West, downtown Massillon. Hours: Monday – Thursday 11:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m. / Friday – Saturday 11:00 a.m. – midnight / closed Sundays


    If you’ve not ventured into downtown Massillon in the last several months, don’t be too deceived by the name of the venue now hosting a solo exhibit by painter Jack McWhorter. While Gallery 121 isn’t exclusively an art gallery per se, from the outset the owners of this new upscale nightspot for food and cocktails were seriously committed to sating aesthetic appetites as well by providing a very long white wall, brightly lit and fitted to hang original art.

    I think it useful if not necessary to introduce those of you not yet familiar with McWhorter’s work by directing you to a review I wrote in 2012:  http://artwach.blogspot.com/2010/02/molecularities-and-other-quarknesses.html 

    In many ways, what I said then is still apropos to this collection of 16 paintings, most of them from 2014. McWhorter continues to explore the confluence of art and science – a remarkable formalization of intuition. The push-and-pull dynamic between organic and geometric shapes and structures still constitutes his visual syntax. And the paintings continue to evoke cosmological and/or biological diagrams, models, or paradigms that scientists use to delineate the workings of esoteric physical phenomena and ephemeral forces in flux.   
    Yet these recent works are invested with a distinctly more intensified painterly panache than in the past. Even when a layer of paint gets scraped away or thinned, the overall character of the markmaking exudes a rigorous confidence. Coupled with a brighter, more elevated palette, many of these newer pieces pulse, seethe and crackle with what can only be called jubilant energy in the way they describe excited interactions of rhythm, pattern and motion – systems or processes simultaneously matured and nascent, static and morphing.
   A particularly effective component of the exhibit are the small reproductions of line drawings with text notes mounted alongside the paintings. The drawings appear to be the germs of ideas for structuring the picture plane, i.e., establishing a pictorial architecture. The notes – streamings of single words and brief phrases – often read like a lyrical flow of consciousness, as in this example accompanying the painting titled Sudden Change : Living system/ rendering examples of time / choices symbolic / outside, inside/ impossible to draw / dwell within  
   Think of these combined elements – sketches and text - as conceptual guideposts or prompts for interpreting nuances of meaning in the paintings. And in the process, you might consider how it is indeed possible to articulate intriguing poetry with a paint brush.


    PHOTOS, from top: Fire and Purity, oil and graphite powder on paper, 20x26 inches, 2011 / Fire Water, oil on canvas, 54x60 inches, 2014 / Aggregate, oil on canvas, 54x60 inches, 2014 / Sudden Change, oil on canvas, 34x40 inches, 2014 / Desire and Change, oil on canvas, 34x40 inches, 2014

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Cut, Color and Clarity Most Excellent






Cut, Color and Clarity Most Excellent

By Tom Wachunas 

    Exhibit: Printmaker’s Paradise – The work of Bobby Rosenstock, presented by Translations Art Gallery at Julz by Alan Rodriguez, 220 Market Avenue N., downtown Canton, THROUGH February 28, Tuesdays-Fridays 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays 9:30 a.m. – 3 p.m.


    Canton art lovers have seen works by printmaker Bobby Rosenstock featured in past group shows at Translations Art Gallery. This show, however, launches Translations as a roaming presenter, or “mobile, pop-up entity,” as curator Craig Joseph called it when he announced plans to vacate his Cleveland Avenue location. So this time around, Rosentock’s woodcut prints are mounted in a wholly alternative setting – Julz by Alan Rodriguez, a world class jewelry store in downtown Canton.
   While this site does have its limitations as an exhibition space when compared to more traditional, airy galleries (though it has been a Canton arts district exhibitor of original wall art for about eight years), Rosenstock’s extraordinary stylizations seem nonetheless right at home in this context. They suggest to me a symbolic kinship with the powerful appeal of diamonds.
    Cut, color, and clarity. Just as these elements are combined to craft exquisite diamonds, so too Rosenstock has mastered a centuries-old methodology to produce his images. They’re all the more savory when considering the meticulous, demanding nature of the relief printmaking process, so named for the uncarved surface of the woodblock – the surface in relief – that gets inked. The process is not a “right-reading” one. It requires backward thinking, so to speak - seeing in reverse. The artist must duplicate the original drawing/design by carving or cutting its mirror image into the woodblock. And usually, for every color we see in the finished print, a separate block was made.
    Whether in music posters, whimsical portraits or fantastical scenes, Rosenstock’s aesthetic is imbued with the patina of other eras, recalling vintage book illustrations and sometimes, as in his renderings of Dante’s Inferno, medieval manuscript illuminations (sans gold leaf). He articulates his figures and textures with impeccable precision while maintaining a remarkable fluidity of line, and his deftly balanced palette of softened hues often evokes a spirit of enchantment.
    Like elegantly sculpted diamonds, these images are gems of pictorial allure.

   PHOTOS, from top: Unfathomable Tangle; Battle of the Beasts; Dante 3; Noodler; Wondrous Wonder               

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Finding Treasure in the Trash


 
 Finding Treasure in the Trash
                                         By Tom Wachunas


    The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn't understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.”  - Eric Schmidt
    “Censorship is saying: 'I'm the one who says the last sentence. Whatever you say, the conclusion is mine.' But the internet is like a tree that is growing. The people will always have the last word - even if someone has a very weak, quiet voice. Such power will collapse because of a whisper.  - Ai Weiwei
    It's been my policy to view the Internet not as an 'information highway,' but as an electronic asylum filled with babbling loonies.”
- Mike Royko

    While the frenzy over the release of Sony Pictures’ The Interview has not sparked my desire to see the film, it nonetheless reminds me of a much older comedy film title, It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. According to media polls and pundits, even those folks who are neither fans of The Interview cast, nor frightened by cyberthreats from so-called Guardians of Peace, have resolved to see the film on “principle alone.”
    The principle? Freedom of speech. It has come to be an ever-broadening justification of human expressivity in general, including all kinds of “entertainment.” Courageous citizens have died to preserve and foster such liberty. Ain’t America grand? This freedom flag we fly so valiantly covers a multitude of blessings - and sins – and is jointly hoisted (foisted?) by peoples the world over. For all of that, I dare say that those citizens who originally articulated our constitutionally assured right to free speech would today be more mortified than gratified by many of its contemporary applications.
    These days, the most accessible and far-traveled vehicle for exercising our rites of free expression is the ubiquitous internet. The world wide web. And what a tangled one it has become. Sony Pictures decided to fight fire with fire in a crowded theater, so to speak. Whether we regard the decision as a purely monetary one or in the altruistic light of standing firm against censorship, it’s interesting and not surprising that the company would circumvent the initial refusal of major cinema chains to present its precious film by making it available (to paying patrons, of course) on the internet, the same instrument that threatened violence against those who would show and watch it. It’s a mad world.
    Cyberspace is a sprawling empire unto itself. This marvel of technology is a virtual mirror, a reflection of all the magnificence and malevolence in our “real” world. Like it or not, for better or worse, most of us have become naturalized citizens of this empire to one degree or another. Listen. Can’t you hear its sassy anthem? Why, it sounds just like Peter Pan and the Lost Boys of Never Land singingI Won’t Shut Up.”
    So be it. We say what we want when we want – no matter how feckless, vapid or vain - if only because we can. In the process, we’ve created a digital landscape that is a confounding, chimerical labyrinth. Much of it is a monumental testament to human mediocrity and depravity. Yet, in as much as we choose to traverse its dark, barren valleys strewn with ideological garbage, with equal frequency we can see illuminated peaks of decency and grace. We have a choice as to the treasures and trash we pour into our lives, even if navigating the internet can be much like dumpster diving. There are gems in the junkyard.
    Here’s one from around A.D. 61: Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. (Phillipians 4:8)
    Oh, the delicious irony of it! Finding God’s voice in the cacophonous cloud of our own.
   Choices, choices. It’s a mad world. But must it be?  Happy hunting, and Happy New Year.  

Friday, December 26, 2014

Remembered in Stone





Remembered in Stone

By Tom Wachunas
 

    “Collectively, Kiderman’s works are indeed imbued with a quiet magic of sorts. Some conjure serenity and ecstasy. Others speak of darker, more vexing things. Stone will do that. It’s nature’s perfect reliquary of time itself, the countenance of history. And the very act of sculpting it can reasonably be seen as a metaphor for revealing and facing the history of…us.”

    Artwach, October 19, 2012    http://artwach.blogspot.com/2012/10/when-stone-speaks.html                      

    The above link is to my 2012 review of the Alice Kiderman exhibit at Canton Museum of Art. She recently contacted me with an update on her latest work. While an exhibition time and location for these works is yet to be determined, the direction of her work has prompted me to think…
     Memory is a fragile, at times corruptible thing. Without it, the present is a groundless theory, a fleeting idea, the stuff of blind wandering (and wondering) about who we are, where we came from, and where we want to go. Without it, there is nothing to praise or celebrate, nothing to mourn, nothing to love, hate, dream, hope or long for.
    I know of no more potent a cultural memory preservative than art. We remember our most iconic artworks for their capacity to declare and connect us to each other across time. Art is our response to, and ongoing dialogue about our existence and all that it presents to us, be it joy or despair, mystery or discovery, mayhem or magic.
    That said, the most impassioned appreciators of art history that I know have always been other artists. Our memory keepers. I think sculptor Alice Kiderman is such an appreciator as she has undertaken a series of marble works that are inspired by classic masterpieces, including works by da Vinci, Picasso, Modigliani, Dali and Grant Wood, among others. In the past, artists have often sourced works of a previous era or style. Picasso’s versions of works by Manet, Velasquez and Delacroix come to mind, for example.  
    In a similar spirit, Kiderman’s take-offs aren’t meticulous facsimiles or exact duplications of the originals. Rather, she’s found a way to let the stone suggest just enough visual kinship with the original so that we can recall and hopefully savor, or see in a new way, its conceptual or spiritual essence. A particularly intriguing aspect of these pieces is that they transform 2D originals into 3D objects. This in itself recalls how we memorialize ideas or events with stone monuments.  For that matter, she even has plans to interpret musical works by Rachmaninoff and Ravel.
     Whether we regard such manifestations as challenging “updates,” personalized reinterpretations, or playful commentaries, I think it fair to see them in the larger sense as a relevant and poetic homage to (with apologies to Salvador Dali) the persistence of memory.

    PHOTOS, from top (courtesy Alice Kiderman): American Gothic Revisited; I-Scream (after Eduard Munch); Modigliani’s Muse; Fluidity of Time (after Salvador Dali)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Brader Perspectives




Brader Perspectives

By Tom Wachunas
 

    “The Canton Museum’s goal with this exhibition is to give more depth and understanding to Brader’s importance in capturing a snapshot in time of our local and regional history…His skill at depicting minute details weave together an amazing story of the late 1800s in Northeast Ohio and Pennsylvania – and illuminate Brader’s importance as an artist and chronicler of the time and place…”
    - Max Barton, Executive Director, Canton Museum of Art

    EXHIBIT: The Legacy Of Ferdinand A. Brader: 19th Century Drawings of the Ohio and Pennsylvania Landscape, on view at the Canton Museum of Art (CMA) THROUGH MARCH 15, 2015 / 1001 Market Avenue North, Canton / (330) 453-7666  www.cantonart.org  ALSO SEE > www.braderexhibit.com

    Companion Exhibits: at the Little Art Gallery, located in the North Canton Public Library, 185 North Main Street, North Canton, THROUGH JANUARY 8, 2015 (330) 499-4712 x312 / AND at The McKinley Presidential Library and Museum, 800 McKinley Monument Drive NW, Canton, THROUGH DECEMBER 24, (330) 455-7043

    Among my fondest early childhood memories are summer Sunday drives through rural Stark County. I never tired of our casual family ceremony of piling into Dad’s two-tone ’54 Pontiac for no reason other than to venture beyond our small hometown of Alliance and enjoy the country. It never seemed to really matter where or even if we stopped for the always-promised ice cream cone (Minerva? Sebring? Homeworth?). It was the ride that was sweet. We cruised through miles of manicured farmlands dotted by slate-roofed houses with their deep covered porches, stately barns, towering silos and grazing horses, cows, and sheep. It was another world to me. At once mysterious and inviting, simple and…exotic.
    This CMA exhibit of more than 40 large (30”x40” and larger) graphite pencil drawings by Ferdinand A. Brader (1833-1901), guest-curated by eminent Brader scholar Kathleen Wieschaus-Voss, is a potent evocation of that world, even if it is from the late 19th century. Between 1879 and 1896, Brader, an itinerant Swiss folk artist, made more than 600 extraordinarily detailed drawings (in his lifetime output numbering at least 980) that constitute a wholly impressive chronicle of family businesses and farms in various counties of Pennsylvania and northeast Ohio. Viewed as a record of local and regional family livelihoods and heritage, the beautifully mounted exhibit is a veritable gem of historical information.
   Likewise, as folk art, Brader’s drawings of rural residences and properties are meticulously, even lovingly rendered and panoramic in scope. His pencil technique was so exacting and controlled that his pictures often suggest the minute linear textures of embroidered tapestries.
    Evidently, Brader was not an academically trained artist. This might arguably explain the quirky mixed viewpoints apparent in many of the drawings. A consistent vantage point for Brader was clearly aerial in nature. Yet he seems to have broken the formal rules of relative scale and multiple-point linear perspective so that the illusion of spatial accuracy is somewhat skewed. Call it a gentle awkwardness. For example, we might be looking down at a structure while simultaneously seeing its surrounds at eye-level. That said, such inconsistencies, while a bit technically na├»ve, actually bring a mesmerizing charm to the scenes.
    Brader’s capacity for capturing naturalistic likenesses was nonetheless substantial enough, and no doubt the result of his background as a mold carver for his family bakery in Switzerland. In the manual discipline required to make raised relief decorations for baked goods, I think it reasonable to assume he acquired a sort of muscle memory that effectively played out in his facile repetition of human figures, animals, objects, tree shapes and patterns that generously occupy his drawings.
    Muscle memory. From decorated Swiss pastries and cakes to elaborate, enthralling American landscapes. All of this brings me right back to those countryside excursions of my childhood. And like them, this exhibit is a sweet ride indeed.

    PHOTOS, from top: The Property of Daniel and Sarah Leibelsperger, 1882, exhibition catalog no. 13; The Property of Peter and Nancy Yoder, 1885, exhibition catalog no. 20; The Property of Daniel and Deborah De Turck, 1882, exhibition catalogue no. 12

Friday, December 12, 2014

All Good Things...






All Good Things…

By Tom Wachunas
 

“…We'll still be collaborating with artists to produce exhibits that are highly conceptual, immersive, and experiential, encouraging viewers to engage with art in new and exciting ways.” –Craig Joseph
 

    EXHIBIT: All Good Things, at Translations Art Gallery THROUGH DECEMBER 27, 331 Cleveland Avenue NW, downtown Canton. Gallery hours are Wed. – Sat. noon to 5 p.m.  

    I recently encountered (tolerated?) a woman who came to the Canton Museum of Art and gushed how much fun it was to browse the gift shop. I asked if she had seen the Brader exhibit yet, pointing toward the galleries. “Exhibit? Oh, no,” she smiled, peering into the jewelry display, “I just come here a few times a year to look at all this great hand-made stuff.” I’m not making this up. She didn’t purchase anything on this occasion, and said she’d continue “hunting around” downtown in “those cool art galleries.” Art galleries. Hmmm. Long live retail.
    The power of place. So OK, I suppose I’m a stuffy old purist who thinks  an art gallery is for…art. It’s certainly not that I’m uninterested in buying ornamental or decorative craftworks. But more to the point, I enjoy frequenting true art galleries in the more conventional sense - environments specifically designed to let viewers focus on, think about and otherwise really see the featured art, and only the art, without any competing clutter. I savor experiencing a place seriously and consistently dedicated to presenting work that isn’t too much like incidental wall adornments, or an addendum to artsy retail bric-a-brac, or an afterthought.
     As many of you may already know, Translations Gallery is vacating its Cleveland Avenue address to become what curator Craig Joseph calls a “mobile, pop-up entity.” Have art, will travel. You can go to the soon- to- be revamped Translations website at  www.translationsart.com  and read a more complete background  statement about Joseph’s plans.
    The power of place. I have no reason to believe that future collaborations and site-specific projects under the Translations name won’t remain true to Craig Joseph’s compelling vision of presenting “…exhibits that are highly conceptual, immersive, and experiential…”  Still, this gallery morphing represents, in a way, a bittersweet changing of the downtown guard insofar as Translations has been a unique and dependable shibboleth of the optimal gallery experience. Canton’s oft-touted “arts district” was substantially enriched by its Cleveland Avenue presence – a presence I will greatly miss after the current show closes.
    It features 55 artists (myself included) and two writers – all participants in past Translations exhibits. I’ll not be offering comments on any specific works except to say that this is as strong and fine a group show as I’ve ever seen there. I’ve posted photos of just some of the pieces I found most striking.
    Meanwhile, back at the museum gift shop… I suggested to the woman that she include a visit to Translations. “What’s there?” she asked. “Lots of great hand-made stuff,” I said. Happy hunting.

    PHOTOS, from top: Marriage in Silverdale, woodcut print by Bill Bogdan; Awakening, painting by Emily Vigil; St. James Court, painting by Joe Martino; Gray Isn’t So Bad, painting by Marcy Axelband; Veil #1, painting by Jim Boden