Art review: ‘Fresh’ at Summit Artspace lives up to its name

By Dorothy Shinn
Beacon Journal art and architecture critic

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Nathan Mayfield, Stick a Fork In It, Acrylic
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Visitors to the Fresh: 10th Annual Juried Art Exhibition are in for a pleasant surprise.

Rob Lehr, Summit Artspace’s new gallery director, decided to take the title seriously and insisted that all those who entered work into the juried show do so as well.

“They asked me what I thought about the ‘Fresh & Springy’ theme, so I voted that we do no theme and asked for the best contemporary work, in media and/or mind-set,” Lehr explained.

“To me, this mirrors what’s in Kaleidoscope, which is a more traditional show. So we had Alex Coon come to jury the show, and I must say, I think she did a wonderful job.”

Coon, executive director of the Mass­illon Museum, has indeed put in a stellar effort at choosing this exhibit. The works range from portraits to pop art, prints to pottery — all beautifully executed and presented.

Not only did area artists rise to the challenge by submitting new works that are edgier and more aware of current issues than what usually appears in the Summit Artspace gallery, but Coon also made excellent selections from the works submitted, giving viewers a wide selection of mediums and genres to appreciate and enjoy.

“There’s a few students in the show,” Lehr noted. “In fact, the first-place winner is a student. I think that’s a good sign because when there’s talent there, we need to start recognizing it more.”

Maggie Duff, who won first place with her inkjet and stone lithograph, Found Sign V, created the work from one of those “need a job” cardboard signs that people can be seen holding at various busy intersections all over town.

Duff, who lives near the Haven of Rest Ministry in downtown Akron, said she frequently finds the signs while walking her dog in the neighborhood.

“It was a piece that made sense to be made in Akron because of all the jobless people here,” she explained.

Perhaps that’s not as clear to most people as it is to Duff, who sees the large numbers of people who make their way toward Haven of Rest every day around 5 p.m.

“I would just come across these discarded signs — I didn’t have to go looking for them; they’re everywhere — and I’d pick them up,” Duff explained. “At first I wanted to get closer to those people by picking up their work, like an ode to them, but then I just picked up the signs.”

She realized that her chosen medium, lithography, is so expensive and time-consuming that it in itself set her apart from her chosen subject, those who had neither the extra time nor income to do what she does.

“That really highlighted the difference between me and these people even though I live right down the street from them,” she noted.

“Having the pick of all these signs shows where the money goes,” since the cardboard they’re written on is usually torn from a packing box gleaned from the trash receptacles of grocery and drug stores. Duff prints both sides of a sign, showing both its origin and its current use.

Thus the poignancy of the situation becomes unmistakable, especially as Duff chose not to frame her print, but simply pinned it to the wall so that viewers can appreciate the work’s intended rawness.

Another award winner, Sharon Wagner, received an honorable mention for her assemblage, Migraine, formed from things she found in the basement of her house.

The work, which consists of a terra-cotta life mask of her husband held sideways in a large wooden vise, is meant to evoke an emotion or a sympathetic reaction to pain.

A retired upholsterer of 35 years, Wagner said she always looks for items that are tool-related and the color of old wood.

“I work on six pieces simultaneously, so six different ideas at the same time,” she said.

An unmistakable affinity with the macabre exudes from her work, particularly the strange and terrifying elements often found in Edgar Allan Poe or Nathaniel Hawthorne, which ironically enough, she’s never read. But fans will be reminded of some of the scarier plots, such as Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart and The Pit and the Pendulum or Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables.

The exhibit is beautifully organized and hung, with color and motif as themes connecting various works, and for once the smaller side gallery is given as much care as the large front gallery, with works that use graphic elements or the graphic arts as a linking motif.

This is a gratifying show and best of all, truly fresh.

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 dtgshinn@att.net.


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