Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Mesmerizing Suk, Fiery Dvořák from the Canton Symphony Orchestra


Mesmerizing Suk, Fiery Dvořák from the Canton Symphony Orchestra

By Tom Wachunas 

    Given that the theme for the February 22 Canton Symphony Orchestra program at Umstattd Hall was “Czech Mates,” one would reasonably expect selections by Czech composers. So it’s interesting that the first work on the program was by Mozart, something of a country unto himself. His Symphony No. 38, “Prague,” is anything but Bohemian in character, and fit the bill if only because it premiered in the Czech capital to great acclaim in 1787.
    That said, the three-movement work was quite effective in warming this audience on a very frigid afternoon. Call it a slow but steady burn. The lengthy first movement is just that, with its unfolding of several contrasting melodies. Heartrending lyricism from the strings and winds in the somber second movement further raised the emotional temperature until the Presto finale seemed to erupt into a lighthearted rollick.
    Not surprisingly, conductor Gerhardt Zimmermann was genuinely exuberant when he introduced Josef Suk’s Scherzo Fantastique. He noted that the work, never previously performed by the orchestra, is “…a wonderful piece, a fabulous piece.” That’s an understatement.
    Fantastique indeed, this symphonic poem is a wholly enchanting musical gem. Through all of the zesty dance rhythms from the woodwinds, the lilting waltzes and solemn hymns from the cellos, and the riotous, untroubled joyousness of the blazing finale, the orchestra articulated the work’s shimmering lyrical facets with astonishing authority, clarity and grace.  During one magical moment, Zimmermann halted his characteristically subtle hand movements altogether and simply stood gazing at his violin section. There was on his face a look of arrested ecstasy. The Maestro was clearly caught up, like we in the audience, in the achingly sweet poeticism of mesmerizing melody.
    That same spirit of being caught up and captured was powerfully evident  in guest artist Joshua Roman’s performance of Antonin Dvořák’s beloved Concerto for Violoncello and Orchetra in B minor. There must be an old soul behind Roman’s boyish countenance, for he played as if at one with the passionate heart of Dvořák himself.
    Among the many remarkable aspects here was the uncanny sense of cellist and orchestra being inextricably united without one ever overpowering the other. Yet Roman was at once the inspired, fiery leader and accompanist. At times he eyed various sections of the orchestra between his solo passages, listening and looking intently, encouragingly. And those solo passages? Whether in soaring legato mode or in his crisp arpeggiations replete with thrilling instrumental effects, Roman’s technique was so breathtaking that he often appeared to visibly swoon over the music’s dramatic sweep, its melodic eloquence and lush harmonic colors.    
   You’d think that after such a fierce exposition of soulful abandon that Roman would be utterly spent. But he regaled the enthralled house with an encore best described as a spontaneous combustion of styles, performed with all the intensity of a rock guitar soloist. This was a dazzlingly fast, improvisatory romp through folksy fiddling, furious strumming and chording, and staccato percussive effects I never thought possible with a cello. Was that smoke I saw rising from his bow?     

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Beyond the Plane, Outside the Box




Beyond the Plane, Outside the Box

By Tom Wachunas
 

   “Collage is the noble conquest of the irrational, the coupling of two realities, irreconcilable in appearance, upon a plane which apparently does not suit them.” –Max Ernst
 
    EXHIBIT: Ohio Collage Society 9th Annual Exhibition, at Massillon Museum, THROUGH MARCH 15, 121 Lincoln Way East, downtown Massillon, 330.833.4061   www.massillonmuseum.org

    Originally, the modern art technique of “collage” (French, for a pasting or gluing, as in applying wallpaper) was introduced by Picasso and Braque very early in the 20th century as they began adhering newspaper clippings, bits of wallpaper, bottle labels and other relatively flat ingredients to their canvas paintings. At the time, the practice was something of a revolution not so much because it broke the two-dimensional picture plane in any seriously appreciable way, but because it signaled an early embrace of found materials. The precious academic conventions of high fine art painting had been breached (some thought sullied) by the inclusion of “non-original”, prefabricated materials. Now, of course, the technique is a tradition in its own right, and as commonplace as the stuff artists find to glue down to a flat surface.
    This is not to say that this large group exhibition is ordinary or unremarkable. Yes, the show does have its fair share of mediocre and otherwise flacid exercises in appliqué. But as a whole, within its generous array of styles, there is ample enough inventiveness and tantalizing content to make the viewing experience a rewarding one.
    That said, it would seem that the Ohio Collage Society allows for its members to exercise a very broad interpretation of gluing things to a two-dimensional plane. Definitions notwithstanding, interestingly (and ironically) enough, many of the works I found most intriguing here aren’t in the strictest sense collages at all, but fully sculptural in nature, either in- the- round or in high relief.
    Among these, some have the look of folk art narratives, such as Tracy Buckley’s whimsical wall piece, Natural Enablement , with its wiry stick figures on top, “rescuing” (via a vine ladder) other similar figures climbing a vertical wall of flat stones and spindly branches. Others are more elegantly refined, as in the two marvelous entries by Leo Miller, Backyard Time Machine and Claudia’s Closet. Both are ornate, free-standing objects made from all sorts of shimmering, found bric-a-brac.
    American Surrealist Joseph Cornell called his shadow box constructions “poetic theaters.” His spirit is alive and well here, as in Sharon Wagner’s eerie Unheard/Unspoken – a wooden box on a pedestal, with partial human faces, made of earthenware, peeking out from three slots. Similarly spooky is Terry Klausman’s Skeleton Key – another wooden box, like a Victorian vanity cabinet, embellished with fancy metal trimmings, a real animal skull, and a working door knob. Turn it and open the door carefully, and inside there’s a startling surprise, a… You’ll just have to see for yourself.
    Granted, as mentioned before, technically these aren’t collages. So ok, for you nitpickers out there, they’re assemblages. But in looking at the big picture of 20th century Modernism, the emergence of collage quickly paved the way for the introduction of found objects - a logical next step in expanding the parameters of what we would come to regard as fair game for art making.
    And speaking of the big picture, one of the stronger “straight collage” entries here, Forest, by Al Aitken, reminds me in a way of everything that made 20th century Modernism so playful, challenging, and enigmatic all at once. Look carefully at these subtly varied infrared photos of a forest - the intricate, dense meshing of branches amid shifting light tones, and the camouflaged block letters laid over the fragmented panorama. A metaphor.
    You can indeed see the F-O-R-E-S-T for the trees. Just so, all of the formal diversity of this exhibit – from tactile pictures under glass to full-out 3D configurations - makes for an engaging homage to Modernist practices in general.

    PHOTOS, from top: Skeleton Key by Terry Klausman; Unheard/Unspoken  by Sharon Wagner; Natural Enablement by Tracy Buckley    

Monday, February 16, 2015

Siren Songs?





Siren Songs?

By Tom Wachunas

    “If any one unwarily draws in too close and hears the singing of the Sirens, his wife and children will never welcome him home again, for they sit in a green field and warble him to death with the sweetness of their song.”  Homer, The Odyssey 

    EXHIBIT: Entropic Melodies – Prints by Bridget O’Donnell, at Main Hall Art Gallery, Kent State University at Stark, 6000 Frank Avenue NW, North Canton, THROUGH FEBRUARY 28 – Gallery hours are Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m. to Noon

    In Greek mythology, the Sirens were three bird-bodied, island-dwelling nymphs given to singing songs of such searing sweetness that they lured sailors to their deaths. Imagine the exquisite, mysterious madness of it - to be driven to destruction by a song: Killing Me Softly, I Fall To Pieces, or Helter Skelter, maybe?
    In some ways, there is indeed a spirit of exquisite, mysterious madness in the series of intaglio prints (etchings) by Bridget O’Donnell currently on view at Kent Stark’s Main Hall Gallery. Her abstractions have the look of hastily sketched descriptions of wrecked landscapes, or pieces of burned maps to places visited in dreams. Or nightmares.
    The apt title of the show speaks of disorder, degradation, a trending toward chaos, yet with a look toward lyricism – “Entropic Melodies.” Collectively, O’Donnell’s prints seem to comprise an urgent journaling of states of mind and heart, as if to record memories before they fade and disintegrate completely. Fragments of textures, patterns, colliding irregular shapes and voids are interspersed with musical staffs, clefs and floated words and phrases: disjoined; dislodged; I’ve grown tired; you don’t mean it; tried to tell you; ain’t nobody listenin. As I looked at these configurations, I kept hearing the tired strains of a Paul Simon lyric from many years ago, “…Everything put together sooner or later falls apart.”
    But I think these images are more than simply directionless doodles and nihilistic notes. Their small scale keeps their big ideas from being too chaotic or overwhelming. And for all of their stark black-and-whiteness (with occasional punctuation of color overlays called chine collé), they nonetheless invite closer scrutiny of their intense visual rhythms. In their often uneasy equilibrium between empty shapes, areas of changing tonality, and smaller concentrations of linear scribbling – things crossed out or partially erased – they suggest more about disruption - psychological, emotional and/or spiritual - than outright destruction.
    Here, then, is not the finality of the Sirens’ alluring anthems that sought death. Rather, the songs sung by these images, even at their darkest, most frenetic and haunted, are intriguing odes to the constancy of life’s flux.

    PHOTOS, from top: Ode to Change, etching, aquatint, chine collé; Quiet, II, etching, chine collé; Ode to Sound, etching, relief, chine collé; Walk Slowly, etching, relief, chine collé      

Monday, February 9, 2015

ANNOUNCING: 6 At 6000




ANNOUNCING: 6 At 6000

   Gallery 6000 (6000 Frank Avenue NW, North Canton), located in the University (Conference) Center Dining Room at Kent State University at Stark, is currently showing works by six faculty members of the Kent State University at Stark Fine Arts Department: Jeanenne Mathis-Bertosa, Mary Mazzer, Susan McClelland, Jack McWhorter, Bridget O'Donnell, and Tom Wachunas. 

   The exhibit runs through March 27, 2015. Viewing hours (weekdays only) may vary depending upon other events scheduled in the Dining Room. Visitors to the exhibit should call 330-244-3300 in advance to confirm available viewing time.

   There will be an ARTISTS RECEPTION, open to the public, on WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 18, 5:30 - 7:30 P.M.  Please RSVP to Lori Caughey at 330-244-3518 or lcaughey@kent.edu

   About the Artists:

   Jeannene Mathis-Bertosa is a freelance photojournalist who is passionate about understanding other cultures and using photography to tell their stories.

   Mary Mazzer illustrates tensions between feminine strength and fragility. Her drawings and paintings express feminine identity adjusting itself in the arena of social networking.

   Susan McClelland says of her mixed media/sculptural piece in this show, “…Life’s events, whether minor or major, positive or negative, accumulate and form a skin that surrounds and defines. This piece examines and celebrates the memories that influence and build our individual identity.” 

   Abstract painter Jack McWhorter explores the thinking processes and structures that make science and the arts work. His vibrantly colored, excited visual rhythms and patterns are intuitive evocations of physical phenomena and ephemeral forces in motion. ALSO PLEASE NOTE: My recent commentary on Jack’s work, posted here on Jan. 19,   http://artwach.blogspot.com/2015/01/a-jubilant-confluence.html
 
   The recent works by printmaker Bridget O’Donnell are comprised of, in her words, “…aggressive or consuming marks that build tension to create a chaotic beauty cultivated by chaos and a slow process of deterioration…” ALSO PLEASE NOTE: Her solo exhibit in Kent Stark’s Main Hall Gallery, “Entropic Melodies”, opens with a reception and artist talk at 5 P.M. on Thursday, Feb. 12 

   The mixed media assemblages by Tom Wachunas are tactile metaphors for various dualities: hiding and revealing, illusion and reality, spirit and physicality.

    PHOTOS, from top: Coiling Back On Itself, oil on paper, by Jack McWhorter; Veil, acrylic and ink, by Mary Mazzer; Poetic Justice, intaglio print, by Bridget O’Donnell

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Scene and Felt


Scene and Felt

By Tom Wachunas

 

    “Painting from nature is not copying the object; it is realizing one’s sensations.”  -Paul Cezanne

    “Paint the essential character of things.”  -Camille Pissaro




    EXHIBIT: Landscape, Horses, and Beyond, work by Margo Miller, THROUGH FEBRUARY 15 at Journey Art Gallery, 431 4th Street NW, downtown Canton / Gallery hours are Tuesday – Saturday Noon to 6 PM / or by appointment  330.546.7061  www.journeyartgallery.com


    In the genre of landscape painting, it’s all too common to encounter artists overly enamored of nature’s exterior look while missing “the essential character of things.” With consummate skill they might meticulously render nature’s skin yet fail to grasp its anima, its soul. When technique - paired with imitation of the obvious - becomes and end in itself, even the most outwardly ornate and expertly detailed visions can seem generic at best.
    But there’s nothing ordinary about the group of 14 paintings (oil, gouache, and acrylic) by Margo Miller currently showing at Journey Art Gallery. Eschewing wide-angle panoramas, or heroically scaled vistas, her loosely painted surfaces are simpler, intimate pictorial enclosures. Yet they can nonetheless reveal nature’s subtle and ephemeral architecture, in a manner similar to that of Paul Cezanne, while exuding a sense of discovery.  They’re true to their subjects and true to painting.
    The acrylic on paper painting called Chestnut with Blaze manages to depict both the gentleness and strength of a horse with just a few sure swipes of the brush – the arc of the neck, the muscular flanks, a leg poised for motion. Miller brings that same gestural confidence of painterly mark making to her gouache works, such as Porch View #3, with its broad verticals of tree trunks set among irregular daubs of surrounding foliate shapes. And there’s an almost musical sensibility to the stunning arrangement of interwoven textures, lines and rhythms in her two larger oil landscapes, River Road #1 and #2 - at once a dense and airy journey into the woods.
    There may well be an implied narrative throughout this exhibit. When you enter the gallery, first go to the main wall ahead and to the left corner of the gallery, near the window. “Read” the show from left to right. Imagine yourself walking up the thickly wooded path, and passing through lush pastures of grazing horses until you arrive at…Yellow House. This marvelous oil painting is a compelling invitation that appeals to the teacher in me. Maybe I should require my students to see it, as it masterfully employs many of the most fundamental and effective compositional devices at a painter’s disposal. Look long and carefully.
     See, someone’s home, perhaps the artist, her light blue sedan parked outside on the russet dirt in the foreground, a deep echo of the coral-colored second story rooftop floating farther back. Savor the harmony of directional lines and analogous color relationships and rhythms (sky-to-house trim-to car, for example), the asymmetrical geometry set in elegant counterpoint to the organic foliage shapes and textures that frame the central focal point of the warm yellow house, its perspective taking you back into the picture plane along its side porches.
    Though the skin is a charming sylvan house, the soul is enchantment itself.   

    PHOTOS, from top: River Road #1, oil on canvas; River Road #2, oil on canvas; Yellow House, oil on canvas

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