Sunday, February 27, 2011

"Paintings" by Carol Mendenhall at MassMu

There is a long standing theory in education that teachers are born to teach, not taught how to do it. If one has ever sat though an Educational Psychology 101 class, you would agree. Teaching is not just the putting forth of information in hopes that those sitting in front of us will absorb it. I used to tell my own students that “art by osmosis” doesn’t work.  Teachers are also superb organizers, detail oriented, able to see the big picture while picking up on nuances of emotion; they are counselors, parents, wardens and wizards while still being able to have a life of their own. Carol Mendenhall is just such a lady, a veteran teacher with 35 years logged in classrooms across our area including Walsh, Malone and Akron U. on the college level and Perry and McKinley at the high school level. Needless to say, many students have been touched by her expansive knowledge of art.

Her work now occupies Studio M at the Massillon Museum through April 3rd.  Simply entitled “Paintings”, one will find that a little less than fully descriptive of the wonders to be found within each of the 19 pieces on view. 18 are in the actual gallery space and one is in the teaser spot upstairs. The posted statement explains that she does not draw out her ideas, but rather manipulates the surface searching for the write elements of “color and space, light and dark, movement and stillness”. After 35 years of seating charts and grade books, it is no wonder she embraces the joy of working without preconceived guidelines.

A recent news release called her work “non-representational” which is the big sister of “abstract” in that the former has no references to anything symbolic or pictorial, it is all wild and free, whereas the latter is more restrictive, harboring recognizable and or associative imagery. I am far from an expert on such matters, but I did find more imagery than expected so I beg to differ with the paper and call her work abstract instead. Yes, we could do a whole narrative on the definition of each but lots of books have done that already so go buy one and keep Borders out of the red if it is that big a deal.

When taking in the overall show, keep in mind that Carol is well versed in seeing the big picture. At first you may think she used whatever frames were on hand then made the art to fit. In which case, you will miss out on one of the nuances of her work. Each frame is part of the overall piece, not just encasing it, but enhancing it, repeating elements of the work therein. They lend a classical elegance to the rich surfaces; if framed in traditional metal as is most contemporary painting, the effect would be totally different not just for the work but for the vibe of the whole show.  The majority of the pieces are from 2010 and 2011 so her current voice is quite evident. On panels and canvases, under glass or heavily varnished, each work is worth time to explore. Personally, I was partial to those not under glass because I could connect with the surfaces better and enjoy the play of light against the impasto.  Her show will be a delight for the many school children that pass through the Massillon Museum because it can become an hour’s long treasure hunt for stamping, photos, scrapping, collage, staining, large strokes and small ones, added elements and printed ones, letters, numbers, animals, colors and even a hidden figure or two. 

I have couple of favorites to point out. “The Midas Touch” has toppings of gold leaf that one could equate to the snow capped mountains of a topographical map. “War” has an entanglement of red threads and so many surfaces it becomes overwhelming which is perhaps the point.  “Aviary Sanctuary” and “Super Nova” are what made me realize these are not completely non-representational when I found the first bird. “Predator” shows one how she excavates her imagery from the elements of her art, exactly as her statement explains. In an opportune twist of hanging, the painting above it entitled “Up” has a blue dagger-like form that plunges visually down into the “Predator” piece connecting them as one unit, the above water landscape and the underwater world. Intentional or not, you won’t miss it now that I’ve mentioned it. My favorite however is “Take the Plunge” that absolutely captures the disturbance of water when something plunges into it, both by light and by form, as well as by  its orientation, this work is spot on successful.

For the life of me, I could not make a successful piece of abstract or non-representational art.  In my notes I wrote down that it looks as if she took 35 years of accumulated art lesson plans, cut them into strips, pulled 10 out of a hat and had to make a piece of work which used all of them. Then I realized that no, that is what I would have to do. Carol has the instinct gene which I lack. She knows what to add and when to take away, how far to go without making a mess, what is to be emphasized and what is to be  left in a supporting role….all things which truly cannot be learned by textbook, only by experience. Which is the same way one becomes an award winning teacher like Carol, through experience and instinct, and lots of hard work so make it a point to visit the Massillon Museum (and sign the guestbook !!).

Friday, February 25, 2011

Send in the Clouds!

Yes, my blog had been really quiet lately. It is not that there are any issues which have not ticked me off enough to write about or that there are art shows to go see…but the problem is that I love grey, cloudy, crummy NE Ohio weather because I get tons of stuff done! My creativity level reaches a manic high when the skies are closed over and the surrounding air is filled with liquid or solid sunshine.  Why? Because if the sun is out, then I have to be out too. Remember those photos from National Geographic (no…not those photos….) the ones of people in Siberia and other tundra covered locations, that stand outside half dressed in 40 degree weather whenever the sun comes out? I am like that. Because we see the sun so little around here, I feel guilty working inside during daylight hours. Then the daylight hours are longer when the sun season finally arrives so absolutely nothing gets done in my home studio. By the time it gets dark, cocktail hour arrives and art is done for the day.

Since another snowy gray day has arrived (thanks for the 5:30 am phone call that school is canceled Mr. Robocaller Guy)…)I have a full slate of projects lined up! Ever since de-hoarding (okay, de-pack-ratting) the storage area, too many ideas are clouding my brain. I may have to store some outside in the cold where the cloudy cells can commune with their cloudy cloud friends… put’m on ice as the saying goes.

As far as blogs and show reviews go, I hope to make as many as possible but March is “mom month” so who knows where I’ll be. Well…I know where I’ll be you don’t’ need to. Yes, it will be tough doing my Scout Leader duty supervising teenagers in the waters off of Key West, but someone has to guide the youth of America in their quest to catch a fish in the deep blue sea. In the meantime, off to work while the sun don’t shine!!

Carol Mendenhall has a show opening tonight at the Massillon Museum 6 – 8 pm (Lincolnway is downhill going west so if you swing south at the right moment, the ice will be your friend). Diane Belfiglio has her show in Youngstown (it is only raining over there today….).  My show is open in Cleveland but nobody is going that direction today! The internet has lots of shows on them. I am in touch with an emerging young artist from Vietnam who has connections to the Canton area so if you want to “travel” to a warm spot, check out her website but use the Google translator button because I don’t think most of us speak the language.  otherwise, go hide in your studios and create! 

As far as blogs, I actually have several unpublished ones because my editor in chief says they are too depressing to post. See what happens when a 60 degree sunshiney day pops up in the end of February? Stay warm my friends.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Customer Service

Let’s discuss customer service shall we?  The two root words of that sentence should give you some clue as to what the expected course of action should be in a venue that relies on people to purchase products. Now I know the economy is hurting so fewer people are being hired to work and fewer people are out shopping so one problem compounds another. I also understand the “last hired, first fired” mind set which hurts those who are younger (and perhaps can still muster up some interest in their job performance).  Unfortunately some retail areas are retaining their “more experienced” workers who by now just don’t give a damn.  Yes, they are probably tired and overworked because the company won’t hire any more help but for those who are still standing behind the counters and cash registers, it would behoove you to try and keep us coming back or you too may be parked upon your sofa eating cheetos out of the bag.

If I am standing in a line, holding a precious piece of paper with a number on it (that happens to be #2) and the person before me is long gone…..could any of the three people on the other side of the formica please look up and notice me? Now I am not one to shout out ”hey you” to anyone to get their attention away from a computer screen or just a stack of inventory, I prefer to wait patiently drumming my fingers, jangling my keys or “coughing” until I can fix one with a steely gaze of contempt.  However, when the attention finally falls my way, would it be too hard to say “how can I help you?” rather than just an irritated “yes?” If I did not need the products in my hands, I would have replied “no” and left them on the counter. But I did need the stuff, so I smiled oh so nicely and made my request for yardage.

I wanted to ask a question on my way out about servicing a machine for which this location had a leased department that dealt with my product. A woman was staffing the location and working on a project but I knew she worked there (nametag gave it away) so I said “excuse me”. She did look up and I explained what I wanted to know.  I got a nice one word answer of “no” and she looked back to her project. I then had to ask if she knew anyone or anyplace that could (figured she would know her own product line…) and got a snippy and irritated reply that let me know she may work there, but she is clueless. Now I am the queen of snarky retorts which I have learned to keep in check so I walked away rather than up her one better. I wonder if all the unreleased responses are building up in my brain and causing some rather significant headaches lately. Sinus pressure is only a lame label for Snarky Suppression Syndrome.

Finally making it to the check-out line which has now become more of a cattle corral in most places, I waited again for the one of the two manned cash register stations to become available. The other 7 or so must have cooties because only the distance ones were occupied probably so the checkers could chat with each other while working on my transaction. The inevitable question of “did I find everything I needed” is always politely answered with “yes” out loud and a seething “no, I could not find customer service, a pleasant and helpful employee, or grrrrrrrrrr….”  And yes, I will try and have a nice day now that I am free of your establishment.

Off to lunch with a friend. Not a soul in the place which was nice so we could sit anyplace we wanted to for a quiet chat. However, just like at the movies, the only other group to show up has to sit in a booth right next to us. I guess the other 30 tables and booths have cooties too. They were loud and conducting business and one guy had probably just come from the gym….which did not make my lunch companion very happy as he was on her side of the table. A hostess would have made sure that two groups were seated a reasonable distance apart, but the women who had that job was parked at the bar and did not bother looking up, just called out “sit wherever”.  To her credit, she did do a good job once money was involved.

I could go on and on with such stories (as we all could) with the state of customer compassion being what it is today. To the credit of some companies however, you have a customer for life. I don’t care if you cost more or take longer, your people are friendly, respectful, helpful, courteous, kind, cheerful…..hmmmm maybe they are all Scouts?  I am the most loyal shopper ever when I have choices. When I don’t, and must use the only option out there, could we please limit the “Service with a Snarl” attitude? And yes, that is a painting title.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Digging for Buried Treasure

I usually use that phrase for the daily process of scooping out the cat litter box (as I have said before, whoever invented clump-able litter deserves the Nobel Prize!).  However, these past two weeks of home studio renovations have unearthed some interesting mementos one could call treasures.  Now doesn’t that sound so much more sophisticated than having to admit that at some point I passed from being a mere pack rat to dancing on the edge of hoarder hell. I think most artists tend to be collectors of “things” because they inspire us and/or may become part of an art project in the future.  Knowing when to admit that the future for certain items in our procession will never get here and so it is best to let things move on to someone else’s treasure box is the hard part.

Trash piles are a no brainer. The problem lies in how to make it all fit into one trash can per the “rules” of my collection company as well as keeping it hidden at the back of the driveway. Our particular neighborhood does not allow cans or trash near the street because they are “unsightly”. We certainly don’t want anyone to know that we might actually produce “refuse” (which is the nice way of saying trash or garbage in our owner’s manual for how to survive in the suburbs).  With bags upon bags of trash as well as the oddly shaped items that emerge from the darkened corners of studios, it is possible to construct a funky sculpture of “found object junk” that appears to explode out of one lonely and overstuffed can only to be devoured by the compression truck in an act of performance art. The funny part is watching the guy pulling the can try to maneuver the massive pile down an icy driveway without dropping most of it. Two cans would have solved the problem but not been nearly as entertaining (as well as costing me 5 bucks and I am far too cheap to allow that!).

The harder decisions lie in the donation piles. What we creative types consider useful would be tossed by most people. Black bags work best so there can be no second guessing. I did not have any black ones nearby nor was I motivated to actually get them from the garage, so I used the accumulated stash of assorted plastic bags kept stuffed into a basket which had been used as a prop from an event I decorated in 1998. Most of the bags are now filled and gone, but that bag basket lingers under the table waiting to be fed again.  Right now it just contains those plastic things with zippers which hold sheets and such at the stores.

The sorting of piles into save, use, toss, share, and shove back inside are almost complete. Begin caught between old school and new technology still has me vexed. The trash man is not allowed to take the bags upon bags of art magazines (some dated from the late 1990’s) which sit waiting to have their images torn out and sorted into the picture file bins. I don’t care if Google images can bring up a reference in a matter of seconds, that screen version does not compare to the glossy pages of Art News, American Artist, Modern Painters, or any of the other rags that contain so many visual riches. I can easily solve the dilemma with a bucket of water but lingering in my mind is the fact that somebody could use those magazines. I suppose a school art department would be a good idea but being “old school” I need to come to grips with the fact that the nudes in the magazines are okay now, kids have seen worse. In 1986, no nude was a good nude and not allowed in our classrooms.

Every surface has now been painted, scrubbed, vacuumed or dusted. Did you ever know how much dust accumulates on top of the pipes in the ceiling? Don’t see that on any TV cleaning commercial. Every tea cup, coffee mug, greeting card box and jar has been sorted out down to the last pin, thumb tack, paperclip, or penny, one by one by one. No mass dumping allowed because a still usable paperclip is a thing of beauty when needed. Rogue pony beads have been rescued from the cracks in the floor and sorted into bags by color. For some reason the Shop Vac does not eat them so they have to be fished out by ….a bent paperclip! And I knew just where to find one! What is the downside to this process? Creativity flows while immersed in the mess, but once all is neat and tidy, it becomes very difficult to A) find anything ; B) want to mess it all up again; C) remember what the idea was at the time; D) stay here any longer working on a pasty prison pallor with hands swollen and bleeding.

So what buried treasures were unearthed during my excavation?  How about my Driver’s Ed certificate from 1976 signed by the principle? Bet that will come in handy should anybody question my driving.  Student ID cards when your social security number was on them.  Name tags from various jobs when all anybody needed was your name and the store logo complete with a rusty pin on the back. I don’t think lanyards had been invented yet. Scrapbooks done the old fashioned way and now falling apart (shout out to Diane Belfiglio, I found a postcard from your show at Fiori Gallery when you look about 12 years old).  The real treasures however are the handwritten letters from my Grandmother, thank you notes from children I taught who probably have kids of their own by now, recipe cards in my mom’s handwriting when such things were passed along to record favorite family meals. Letters from people who have passed on but whose words and thoughts will remain here on earth, able to be held in one’s hand.  I am afraid that our children today will not have such gifts to cherish. Who writes a letter anymore, let alone in cursive?

Only a few files remain to be sorted as part of round one (round two is to go back through all the bins and boxes organizing their contents for clarity). However, much like my solution to accounting class way back when, once the final numbers are done and it still does not balance, toss it all into “petty cash” and order a pizza. That plan worked well enough to get me an A- in the class (probably because the Prof just wanted that annoying art major out of his front row). I plan to establish a “petty cash” bin later today for the stuff that is not trash, not treasure, and not categorized. I can deal with it the next time I need to dust the pipes…..say another 19 years from now……?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Are Spiders Deaf?

I think they must be or else the first time one sets off the fire alarm, it would realize that the neighborhood is a bit too loud and move on to another residence. But no…..the little bugger in question decided to do it again and again and again….. long story short, knowing one’s correct deactivation code is priceless, using the former deactivation code (now the “OMG we are begin held hostage by armed gunmen code”)…SWAT (not) so much.  And in case you are wondering, the firemen who really show up at your door are not as cute as the ones in the freebie bar calendars.  If I could draw this story out in a small booklet and add it to the current exhibit at Anderson Creative, I would do so, but I am sure the recent Ice-Ageddon that is Stark County will provide enough interesting images to fill the participation project in HOME: Ruminations on Place(ment) opening tonight and on view through Feb. 26th.

Erin Sweeney of New Hampshire and Bobby Rosenstock of Marietta, Ohio have teamed up to create one of the most  delightful and interactive exhibits to date at Anderson Creative. These two artists are former grad school teammates (Canton being a sports town may appreciate that word more than collaborators, contemporaries or cohorts) who share a light-hearted point of view, an appreciation for the traditions of hand labor, and an expansive knowledge of their craft. 

The first thing a viewer will encounter is a large banner spanning the width of the gallery that includes the artists’ statement and curator comments. No more having to peer over the shoulders of other patrons or wait in line to get close enough to read. I offer a Wile-E Coyote award to Craig Joseph for that one. Next is a display of the tools needed to create some of the woodblock prints and screen prints used to make the pieces in the show.  An assortment of business cards, postcards and flyers are here as well providing pocket sized snippets of their work for the taking.  Too bad the kids are back in school because this show is perfect for some art education with the munchkins. It is truly an exhibit based on storytelling as it explores ways to define the meaning of “home”.  Hence the booklets available on a table complete with drawing tools for either coloring (right brain books) or writing (left brain books) or perhaps you wish to do both, adding them to a house shaped structure midway along the wall. Your contribution can be returned at the conclusion of the show if you so wish by filling out one of the envelopes provided. Several of us took some home to be returned later (homework so to speak). Warning, mine may contain one dead spider!

Because I am such an advocate of how children can and should appreciate art exhibits, rather than going on about the extraordinary skills these artists exhibit in their respective techniques of wood cut prints, letter set printing press, bookmaking, screen prints, needlework and so on, let us instead go on treasure hunt. This exhibit is set up perfectly to excite the imaginations of young people while entertaining the adults with its obvious humor. Nobody likes that aspect more than me because I would so pick up that cupcake (now you have to go see the show to have any idea what I am talking about!) unless if it fell on that spider in which case I would subject him to death by butter cream. Okay, back to the show. If you remember the game of Where’s Waldo, then use that as an incentive to find dental charts, crazy cats, funky doodles and fanciful machines. How many floors in the house? How many different modes of transportation? How many pieces in the show contain the same pattern (a result of the screen print process)? How many different textural surfaces contain the same printed pattern? What is the meaning of the words and how many different styles (or fonts) of letters can you find in one printed message? Why do you think some are lighter than others? Do you think the machine depicted would really work? Such are the types of leading questions I used to ask when teaching at the Cleveland Museum (and in the process of de-hoarding, I found some photos somebody took of “Miss Judi” in the Armor Court…nothing like being surrounded by small children and lots of sharp objects). I was most taken by Ms. Sweeney’s large sculptural figures. They are life-sized recreations of a child’s view of an adult. You see, children tend to draw adults with long arms, long legs, a big head and very little body. Why? Because kids are short and when an adult leans over to speak to them (which we often do), the torso disappears and a child will see a big head, long arms and long legs which appear to come right out of our shoulders due to perspective.

As my husband pointed out, the show is well laid out, very integrated and “just enough”. Then he proceeded to shrink it by one piece as we purchased a woodblock print by Bobby Rosenstock.  I highly recommend that this show be on your First Friday list tonight and then go back and see it when there are less bodies in the room so you can truly enjoy the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of these two talented young artists. Where else in town can you see a show that uses obsolete techniques, impractical labor and can make you laugh?  Oh wait a minute……I guess using a snow shovel on 2 inches of ice would be the equivalent.