Art review: Artists of Rubber City

By Dorothy Shinn
Beacon Journal art 
and architecture critic

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"The Blues" a photograph by artist Don Parsisson for the Artists of the Rubber City members show in the Box Gallery at Summit Artspace.

Once a year Artists of Rubber City holds its members’ show. It’s an unjuried show, and members enter up to two pieces each, with one guaranteed to get in.

“If there was room to hang a second work, then we would,” said Don Parsisson, who is Summit Artspace’s building manager and a member of ARC with work in the exhibit.

This year 49 members entered 59 works. The show remains on view in the Box Gallery until April 19.

As might be expected with an unjuried exhibit, it’s an uneven one. Most of the works are well done and would make it into any well-juried exhibit. However, around a fourth need some TLC. (We won’t name names. You know who you are.) There are also a handful of works that are simply superb, and those do deserve a mention.

But before we get to that, something needs to be said about the art of assemblage.

Increasing numbers of area artists are taking up assemblage as a medium; there’s hardly an exhibit here or in the Summit Artspace Gallery downstairs that doesn’t have three or four of these kinds of works.

It’s basically a magpie’s medium with the best containing exquisitely placed, metaphor-laden ephemera that, taken as a whole, manage to make astute, often wry or playful observations on our society, nation and the world.

Such assemblages are difficult to pull off. Unhappily, many pieces fall far short of that goal. Instead of making insightful observations or commentary, an increasing number of assemblages seem instead to have been put together with little more in mind than making a tasteful-looking piece.

To combat this tendency, I think it’s time for assemblage artists to cease placing so much emphasis on antique-looking pieces, and on works that have little else going for them than trying to look clever and inscrutable.

Parsisson has an interesting suggestion: Rather than collecting old, semi-antique furniture parts and discarded toys of bygone eras, begin concentrating on contemporary castoffs — the detritus of our current civilization. That is what the Cubists and Surrealists did. Their assemblages only look old to us because they are.

Now, on to the good stuff.

James Leslie has two impressive ceramic pieces in this exhibit — Deep Sea Twister and Driftwood Pool — that look every bit as difficult to make as they probably are. (Leslie also has a ceramic sculpture, Red Mesa, in the Fresh Art exhibit in the Summit Artspace Gallery downstairs.)

Leslie, I’m told, is an expert scuba diver and has been to the Great Barrier Reef off Australia. The exotic sea life forms he’s seen there are where he gets much of his inspiration.

Allysa Marie Weekley’s color photograph, 5-10 Series # 813, is an intriguing, puzzling and cleverly composed photograph, but of what, we don’t know.

It could be lichen growing on cracked and blackened rock; it could be an eroded mountaintop seen from an aerial perspective; it could be a dried-up mineral geyser at Yellowstone; it could be a manipulated image.

Because she’s carefully excluded any context in this photograph, there’s no way to know for sure. Instead, we are left to wonder, conjure up our own vision or let our imaginations wander. Which, we may assume, is the point.

John Freiman has a truly masterful work in this show, The Little Box, a small, exquisite bronze sculpture made to look like a slightly worse-for-wear cardboard box. This work is beautifully crafted as well as quite endearing, with its slightly crumpled fold-over lids and the edges that are carefully made to look as if there’s actually a piece of corrugated paper in between two stiff outer shells, just like real cardboard.

Michael Nevin submitted East Fourth, Cleveland, a photorealist acrylic of one of the side streets near the Cleveland State University campus.

The area Nevin has chosen to depict is part of a neighborhood that caters to university students, seen in the types of stores that line the sidewalks: Campus Supply; a Rathskeller; a Woolworth’s sign, although without any hint of an actual 5 & 10 in sight; a jeans store; and a sign for a “jewelry” store suggesting that the proprietor within also buys.

It’s meticulously painted, and its subject matter is just the sort of cityscape we should see more of — a telling cross-section of not only a metropolis, but also of the attractions, necessities and pitfalls of today’s higher education.

Parsisson’s The Blues is a handsome and deceptively simple photograph. Without any background information, the viewer might be excused for reading too much into it, assuming for instance that the “blues” in question are the blue shadows naturally cast by yellow objects — in this case the yellow walls.

But no, there’s no convoluted art-historical reference going on here. Says Parsisson: “What I had in mind were all the little blue taped spots where I mark all the nail holes with blue tape so I know where to patch.”

Well, that’s what you get for overthinking things.

Parsisson described how he manipulated the work in Photoshop to get those yellow walls, and how he had so much trouble lining up all the verticals that he decided he liked the skewed angles and trimmed the photograph to echo them.

It just goes to show that it’s not necessary to have a big, complex backstory on every work of art. Straightforward simplicity will do just fine, if you’ve got the touch. And Parsisson definitely has the touch.

Connie Bloom’s mixed-media fiber work, The Tribal Dance of the Ferns & Fireflies, is an excellent example of how a good artist is never slave to her materials.

The free-form quilted work is done on fabric that, Bloom says, is a manufactured copy of a hand-dyed fabric taken straight off the bolt. She chose it because she thought the colors were lovely, and it contained an area of blue that she immediately fell in love with.

Using a yellow thread, she drew outlines of ferns in the upper register of the piece, then went in with fabric markers to enhance the shapes.

Bloom created the fireflies by sewing free-form spirals that from time to time sprout fingerlike appendages. “That’s a metaphor for the making of this piece,” she said. “It comes from the fingers, not the brain.”

She writes: “My objective in making this very large piece (about 24 by 39 inches long) was to demonstrate the power and versatility of the line in a lesser used medium, thread. And although it is machine stitching, my machine is not computerized, so the threadwork is entirely freehand — it is the equivalent of any drawn line that might come from an artist’s pen. I am continually compelled to demonstrate that works in thread and fabric aren’t necessarily all that different from the more familiar forms such as pen and ink or paint and canvas.”

Terry Klausman has submitted a heartfelt homage — and a fine one at that — to the late, great Akron artist Miller Horns.

The work is Twins (for My Friend Miller), an electrostatic photograph that’s as fine as any created by Horns, who had virtually cornered the medium.

It’s a double portrait of himself and Horns. So effective is his effort to twin himself with Horns, that until you look closely, especially at the difference in the eyes, you may not realize it’s of two different people.

Klausman and Horns hung out quite a bit, and Klausman’s not slow to say that Horns was not only a great mentor to him, but also a great friend and teacher.

Mary Sandman’s A Bit Tipsy declares itself proudly to be an “unaltered digital photograph,” and one that is both delightful to look at and clever to contemplate. She has created portraits of a red table and a companionable yellow Adirondack rocking chair that simply sparkle against the green, green grass of some lucky person’s back yard.

Oh, for Adirondack days in the yard. Will we ever see warm weather again?

Dorothy Shinn writes about art and architecture for the Akron Beacon Journal. Send information to her at the Akron Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640 or

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