Thursday, April 7, 2011

Canton Artists League and the Stark County HS Art Exhibit

My blogging bones are a bit stiff as I get back in to the swing of things once again, but with so many shows now open or opening soon, I won’t lack for material!  This forum began well over a year ago with a post about the Canton Artists League show at Stark State in 2009 to provide a second opinion about area exhibits (and some slice of life commentary as well to mix things up a bit). Artwach was my inspiration so I will borrow from his format of including quotations at the beginning of an essay though mine are not quite so esoteric. (Ha! I finally used that honors English vocabulary word.)

“You’ve come a long way baby!”  - slogan from a cigarette ad in the 1970’s
“History is destined to repeat itself” – no idea
“Everything old is new again.” – song from last century, I think.

Rather than comment on both shows individually, what I have to say dovetails into one posting. The CAL show is an exhibit of my peers, my competition and my friends. The SCHSAE is an exhibit of who I was in that as a former HS teacher, those works represent some of my old lesson plan projects still being used.
I began in the upper galleries of the Canton Museum of Art to see where my work was on display. I missed the opening as I was on a sailboat in the Keys (adding some DNA to the ocean in rhythm with the waves and rocking of the boat…..) so I wanted to check my labels for correct information. 50% correct is passable these days.  My routine to write a review is to make three passes of the show, first to get a feel for the quantity and presentation of the pieces, second to see who is included and what pieces they contributed, and finally to see which pieces make me stop and write something down.  At the risk of getting my house egged, I only wrote down six names and titles plus Tom Lehnert’s name who was one of the jurors because his piece was fresh and new to me. I do have my pet peeves and one of them is that I never enter or exhibit a work of art twice in a local show. I may put it up for sale in my own space, but I won’t allow a repeat of my work to go on view again in the immediate area if at all possible. Okay, so which six made my list? Carolyn Jacobs for “Dreaming in Green”, a photo that is more complicated that just a pretty picture. Gail Wetherall Sack for “Compelling Path” which won 3rd place, a mixed media collage that elevated from the picture plane in ways she has not done before. Teresa Schleappi for “Mountain Vista”, a refreshing take on the common landscape which uses the paint and not the paper to get her message across. Jennifer Collins for “Magpie” which is an exquisite rendering of a Magpie (duh) that is reminiscent of an authentic Audubon. Sarah W Shumaker for “Suspended Squares” which I found tucked into a corner by the windows. She has a natural esthetic for texture which I lack and can therefore appreciate in the work of others. And finally, Tom Migge for “Green Gourd” which won first place and deservedly so as the newspaper picture did not do it justice at all. This plywood sculpture is a labor of love as well as a visual exercise in envisioning the final form on the part of the artist.

Now on to the HS show and then we will return to CAL for some final comments.  

Quite a few names made my book and I will list them all in a moment, but first, a general observation. Please, please, please, can we stop with the digital photographs used to make distorted self portraits? Why? Because they all (for the most part) suffer from the same problems…..lack of depicting the human eye as it really appears with shading and reflection and life. The eyes in these pieces are alien and dead for the most part. Also, there is a lack of shading and modeling of the human form for value and contrast. Many appear flat like computer games and magazine ads which have been airbrushed. Noses are a dead giveaway. It takes contrast to make flesh appear dimensional and human. The digital camera flattens the figure and when combined with the dreaded grid enlargement process of drawing, there is no way a portrait can appear lifelike. This process also does absolutely nothing towards developing the “artist’s eye”, drawing skills or hand to eye coordination. Grids are a crutch, not a tool.

(This is going to be a long post so take a break before I proceed with the list of standout pieces…..)

Lauren Haynum from Minerva HS for “Trebejos”, a collage of a tree that at first appears simple, but layers and layers of subtle color shifts create a luscious surface that will pull you in.

Jennifer Wentling from Fairless HS for “Skeleton”, a mixed media piece that like Lauren’s, shows a depth of field, a depth of knowledge in the use of color, good use of space and good use of the surface. The work is not just “on” the plane, but “of” the plane. These factors are common to all the pieces I will mention here. 
Another teacher pet peeve was that a student needs to use the space and the surface as one unit. Don’t give me a picture on a plane…. I can do that (and do!), so take it further if at all possible.

Hayley Beres from Glen Oak HS and her Adobe Illustrator that created “Vectorize Me”, which has a little Andy Warhol going on. (Damn these kids and their easy understanding of technology!)

Cody Hypes from Marlington HS for his untitled photograph which won third place. He should visit Carolyn Jacob’s studio as they share a common vision. If it had a title, you would get a higher grade in my old vinyl spiral grade book kiddo.

Shoshana Weiner from Jackson High School for her wheel thrown clay pottery quartet entitled “4 Little Drops”.   The use of glaze and texture was quite sophisticated with the warm green used inside rather than outside.

Cassie Guiler from Perry HS for her superior rendering of folds and stripes from what I hope was  observational drawing skills (A+ for you for using your eyes) in a colored pencil piece called “Blanket” that won an Honorable Mention. 

Ethan Scheetz from Hoover HS for his two pieces (as one work) called “Anguish and Peace”  that are a complex and well composed  example of what happens when a student thinks about all aspects of his work. It (they) won an Honorable Mention. 

And finally, Joe Petrarca from McKinley HS for his mixed media sculptural piece entitled “Knowledge Hurts” that incorporates the elements of surface, texture, space and scale to create an intriguing mini environment. The little rubbery creature with his exposed brain is rather exquisite in a creepy sort of way.

So after my several passes through the lower main gallery of the museum, I revisited the upper level exhibition space devoted to CAL.  I only needed to stand at the top of the ramp to know that we (the CAL membership) are a lot older in average age. The differences between “us” and “them” were obvious.  The student work was more vibrant and raw in their use of color. Ours is more subtle and sophisticated. The student work lacks some refinement of imagery as is expected of those who have only a few years of experience versus those with careers spanning 20 or more years. However, it was the context of the work which was most striking and I fear to say leaves us in their youthful dust. Their work was about the here and now, explored their emotions and dealt with current events. It captured their self images in obscure ways and used modern media rather than old things. Our work as a whole covered the traditional spectrum of still life, landscape, animals, flowers and figures whereas the students explored graphic design and ceramics in addition to the aforementioned subjects. I don’t recall any ceramics in the CAL show. I did not see any exploration of contemporary issues….maybe we are just too old and set in our ways of making art. Perhaps we need to reconnect with what is around us in the metaphorical and conceptual sense and less on what is in our visual presence. Of course those kids could learn a thing or two about the skills of observation, the use of contrast and other basic elements of composition, and the essence of what makes a collage a “collage”.  Youth will discover that “fresh” is great fun, but “tradition” sells. 

Pairing these two shows together in overlapping exhibits is both a blessing and a curse for the lack of a better quote.  I just hope some of these talented young people will consider joining us “established” folks (beats saying “old”) in the tradition of community arts organizations. As a matter of fact, there are a lot of “established” people out there who are not members either. Subject of a future posting perhaps?

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