Monday, November 26, 2012

Canton Artists’ League Fall Show : Stark State College 2nd Floor Main Building

Had Their Tubes Tied    40 x 30 Acrylic on Canvas 2011

Currently on view is a collection of pieces by members of the Canton Artists’ League who provided one or two pieces to be displayed during the next several weeks at Stark State College in Jackson. No jury was in place to accept or edit works, but 2 local non-affiliated artists served as jurors and awarded ribbons.  Yes I am a member, yes I put two pieces in the show, no I did not get a ribbon, and no that has nothing to do with what is written here just for the sake of full disclosure. I went early because the official opening conflicts with other events going on right now so I will not be a spoiler of any surprises. 

                There are some spectacular pieces in the show, a term I do not use lightly, and there are some clunkers….there are pieces by people I have never heard of and pieces by old timers (as in having been a member for awhile) that surprised me in pleasant ways.  There are some tired looking works in that process and outcome have become formulaic, and there are some old fashioned methods that still produce some incredible results. I was a bit confused by the hanging or display choices but considering how little space there is to work with, the number of pieces included and some unavoidable obstacles called plaques and signage, to even mount a show of this variety can be daunting without thousands of people walking by, or tables and trashcans to deal with. Suffice to say, consider how much more powerful the red of Carolyn Jacob’s photo “Longing for the Old Country” would have looked placed next to Liz Scarps “Felines” or Carol Mendenhall’s “Magic Carpet”, the red would have popped right out rather than get lost down the hallway, overwhelmed by its neighbors. But I am not being critical because I sure as heck don’t want to come down there and hang it. Yes, I have a few more observations along these lines, but shall keep them to myself.  One really good pairing however is Gail Wetherall-Sack’s “Under the Yum-Yum Tree” placed next to Carolyn Jacob’s “Impressions of a Rose” as the pieces seem to reach out to each other and compliment the colors and movement within each respectively.

                Because many of those reading this may have yet to see the show or plan to attend on Wednesday’s opening from 6-8pm, I will use my remaining word count to call attention to some must-see pieces!! Let us start with the Yum-Yum Tree mentioned above. Gail’s piece expands upon her collage and mixed media works to become less about what “is” and more about what “is not” as in allowing the negative places and spaces to become as much a part of the imagery as the elements of a tangible nature. Everything is in harmony with this work, from the frame to the lacy organic shapes within a rectilinear format. I see less of Russ Hench, but he is still lurking about her world just a bit.

                Another stunner for sure is Claudia Stimer Mullane’s “Poppies Popping”, a larger piece identified as a watercolor but which appears to be more of an ink on perhaps a vellum paper. The manipulation of the surface with creasing, scratching, pooling, blotting and some gauche (just guessing here because I don’t really know for sure) makes for a lush surface that has depth created by light, not by manipulations or formulas or even happenstance. She has designed her work with intent and executed it with both aggression and restraint.  That is why I found it so….as my notes say…gorgeous, not something seen that often.

                Nancy Michel’s “Standing Proud and Tall”, another floral watercolor, would have stood out more (taller and prouder?) over next to Jim Grand’s “White Iris” as I almost missed her piece. His is crisp and clean as well and nice to see him display in this show. 

                Don’t miss Liz Hertzi’s “Ember Hynm Nipper” of which I have no idea what that means, but I sure did like the work! I guess it is a mixed media doll, which is what some passing kid called it, but I think “totem” is a better fit. She (the figure, not Liz) hangs like an offering to lost childhood, perhaps one signifying past abuse and survival…the brass crown and missing foot, wild yarn hair and glassy eyes are captivating to not just me, but whoever has already purchased it from the show.

                Be sure to check out the small works in the display case. Yih Yee Wonz submitted a bead and shell necklace called “The Fibonacci” and Michelle Mulligan has a small work called “Hot Pepper, Hot Dance” that would have made my ribbon list. Again, the framing is all part of the presentation in a way that works rather than overwhelms. As I tried to figure the best way to describe why this little gem is successful, the style of another local artist who shall remain nameless but whom we see only twice a year at the same shows each time with work that never changes came to mind, Judi L knows who I am talking about. Michelle’s piece is like a punch line to those other larger images, all the best and needed parts without the clutter of the set up, delivered in a straightforward manner and to the point. 

                Others may find the need to point out the weaknesses of a group like ours, but no such words shall pass here. This group struggles to remain viable and active and relevant in an art scene that is becoming increasingly about cartoons and monsters, computer manipulation and digital creation. The skills of drawing and painting and an appreciation for beauty and technique seem to be fading with the passage of time from one generation of artists to the next. Yes there are exceptions where subject matter may be “different’ but the methods of rendering remain faithful to the masters.  This trend is not just in art, new movies cannot compete with the actors and storylines of the silver screen from  the late 1930’s to the early 1960’s when actors did not have to be good looking, they had to know how to truly act without a bunch of action masking a lack of skills. But that is a topic for another day.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Margo Miller Sabbatical Exhibit at the Crandall Gallery of Mt. Union University

Margo Miller with one of her pieces dated April 1990.

     Now on view through December 9th is a wonderful exhibition of good old fashioned “art”. And what does that mean you ask? Well, in our local art scene (which encompasses Stark, Summit and bits and pieces of other counties), there are currently 4 shows, if not more, featuring works made from stuff. Assemblages, sculptures, collages, even crafty things currenty occupy many of our exhibition spaces. In stark contrast, Marge Miller has mounted an exhibition that shows only paintings and drawings in their truest form. Personally, I can relate to this type of thing because I know where she is coming from so to speak, literally as well as figuratively, as Margo and I were painting and drawing majors together back in late 70’s and early 80’s at the University of Akron, long before the fancy-schmancy buildings that house the current art department.

     Sabbatical exhibitions are mounted after a professor takes a leave of absence to reconnect with their own inner muse as well as allowing them to reach out and explore what is going on elsewhere in the art world. Free from the pressures of teaching and administrating, the artist within is allowed to roam free once again. What made this show so fascinating to me was to explore it with knowledge of what her earlier works were like. But since only I know that, you get to walk through it with fresh eyes so come along….. oh wait, I should point out that she and I were out of touch for about 20 years so how her work evolved from point A (as in U of A) to point B (as in bifocals territory) is unknown to me. 

     The space itself is a wonderfully lit and a well laid out traditional exhibition space. Long white walls and a decent width allow pieces to be hung with plenty of breathing room.  Upon entering the exhibit from the correct side, the lobby of the building itself, one will find a timeline of her process undertaken during the sabbatical semester. Where she worked, what she saw, what influenced different images and pursuits, and so forth, enhances the understanding of the different pieces and media found here. I learned a new word too, “trony” which is Dutch for an anonymous subject. As working professional artists, we are often faulted by those in the gallery biz if we have more than one media of focus, or a divergence of  subjects, media, and or techniques, because supposedly that shows we are not “serious” artists… which I say, balderdash (because my other two words are not blog appropriate).  Margo has tossed that notion out the window as well with her exhibit of oil landscapes, charcoal portraits, and oil portraits as well as a couple of other subjects included too. The “style” varies as much as anything but what “they” tend to forget is that underlying a true artist’s hand is a structure of technique, mark making and even pallet which cannot be avoided, disregarded or denied. This is the intangible “gift” of visual creators as well as athletes, musicians, actors and so forth, one either has “it” or they don’t. 

     Okay, enough philosophy, let’s look at some art! 16 canvases are in the main room along with a continuous loop video of her sketchbook, a must see for anyone who does not understand how ideas get to canvas.  The nine 24 x 24 inch portraits show that much planning went into them before the brush hit the canvas and then “wham!”, she applies the paint in bold, direct, confident markings of color that are both logical and then completely unexpected. Square formats present a unique set of circumstances to a painter as far as composition and refinement of the markings in order to deal with the edges of the space allowed for the image. Traditional 1/3 placement goes out the window and the image becomes less about the portrait and more about the “picture” plane.  These faces contain much more then the eye sees on a first viewing however. Though some stare directly at you, others bend away, necks stretched at equine angles….and here is where the early Margo meets the modern Margo….the signature pieces of her early career focused on horses rendered in aggressive strokes and swirls, whose markings are now echoed in the hair, bone structure and poses of these Tronies. Those which look back at us do so with eyes raised on the canvas and noses featured prominently, much the same as when one looks at the head of a horse from a normal human height. The ease at which she can paint a nostril is worth some study by every art student. The most difficult of the facial structures to depict with convincing reality, in this case, a few simple brush marks and careful color choices create the necessary depth, especially in “Scent”.  Notice too how green is used throughout the series as highlights and shadow, as a substitute for white (“Great Teeth”) or to define a lip line (“Shades”) and to set off eyes as a contrast to reds  (“Blue Eyes” and “Baby Face”) creating an almost uncanny glow to the paintings.  Lips also play a prominent role in these images which may harken back to the days when her personal signature look was to wear bright hot pink lipstick. 

     In the larger oil landscapes, one will also find instinctive and characteristic markings that undeniably connect to her equine past as well. At trails end in several of the pieces, one can find negative spaces with horse-like shapes, seemingly ghosts from her own subconscious. In “River Road #2”, a face appears on a rock formation created from sunlight filtering through the trees and clearly by happenstance as I had to show the image to Margo so she would believe me. The abstract and aggressive “Sprawl” also contains such things which I will leave for the viewer to find.

     Not to be overlooked in the front part of the gallery are 15 drawings beautifully mounted as simple sketchbook studies.  These facial portrait sketches, some identified and some purely from within, are rendered in different charcoal techniques. From a light handed directional drawing to a more loose and humorous rendering, these studies are not to be passed by as mere appetizers for they are every bit as refined in concept as the more bold oil portraits mounted in the next room. 

Margo Miller is the Director of the Crandall Art Gallery as well as an Associate Professor of Art at Mt. Union. for hours and directions