The Geometry of Tigers
William Scheele’s Kokoon Arts Gallery, with its low bank of windows and curved metallic partition wall at 78th Street Studios, is a mixture of worlds. Past meets future here, in a two-level room that’s a cross between the bridge of a starship and an eighteenth century wunderkammer – with an emphasis on the “wunder.” Scheele’s stock-in-trade is really his openness to long views of earth’s species, including utopias and dystopias of every stripe, and sculptural objects that seem like the artifacts of lost worlds. Darkling interior ‘scapes map the infinities of the soul at Kokoon, surrounding a core collection of superb depictions of wildlife. Everywhere a shamanistic poise and promise is flanked by the variety of the natural world’s rollicking, roaring drama.
Displayed in conjunction with periodic group and solo exhibits, haunting images and startling presences lurk, semi-permanently installed in Kokoon’s corners. Still more are spread out along desktops and tables as if marking the limit of a psychological tide. Some, like several large examples of Gary Spinoza’s ceramic and mixed media sculpture, seem to start forward from the gallery’s walls with hallucinatory power. Spinosa’s priestly figures have a particularly ancient, alien aspect, but everything at Kokoon is infused with deep history and far-flung cosmologies. Scheele specializes in artists who have their own style of memory, recalling the long ages of the earth and the impenetrable geometries of the human mind.
The gallery’s art-fauna has its own deep history. Scheele’s father was the influential director of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History during its glory years in the 1950s and 1960s. A creative innovator in the aesthetics of museum culture, William Scheele Sr. was also an accomplished painter, part of a circle of Midwestern artists like Paul Travis and William Summer whose depictions of landscape and animal life were steeped in transcendental energies. Scheele recalls his childhood as a woodland romp, interrupted by field trips to the fossil beds of the American West. If that didn’t instill enough wonder, for a few historic years in the late 1960s he worked as a road manager for Bob Dylan and the Band, thereby adding yet another layer of philosophic and experiential stardust to a temperament already grown cosmic.
Spirit and Matter is the title of the current show at Kokoon, on view through September 14. It’s as much a reconfiguration of the art that eddies through the gallery as it is an actual group show. Several notable contemporary artists are given pride of place, in particular Cleveland-based painter Susan Squires, who is known for her subtly powerful abstract encaustic on panel paintings. Inspired in part by a recent trip to Italy, her works at Kokoon are layered with references to Renaissance scientific and artistic advances. Patchy, semi-opaque waxen siennas and pale celestial blues bathe a floating vision of indistinct geometric forms and astronomical notations, floating them in the warm hues of Florentine art at its zenith.
Elsewhere in the gallery, small sculptures shaped and smoothed from white limestone or erratic chunks of smooth black igneous rock are the work of Ohio artist Charles Herndon, also featured in the exhibit. Produced in his studio on Kelleys Island, Herndon’s objects adapt the contours and veins of stones collected on Lake Erie’s largest island, which is an exposed, high-lying chunk of ancient Devonian shelf, grooved by receding glaciers. With titles like “Passage Through the Snow Cloud,” or “Folding,” and “Washed in Night Waters,” Herndon’s abstractions evoke the vast stretch of planetary time (like the island’s famous glacial grooves) as well as the magic implicit in changing states of matter. Solid returns to liquid, or bends, almost dancing, with an improbable pliability. Herndon’s sensuous objects are at once remote and mystifyingly intimate, promising private revelation.
Andrea LeBlond, whose ceramic work is also on view in Spirit and Matter, sometimes makes puzzle-like trays consisting of multiple, gracefully organic pieces and partitions. But her large bowls shown at Kokoon are far more thought-provoking. Looking like oversize flowers, these non-utilitarian objects are crowded with concentric rings of ceramic petals. Resembling free-form mandalas, they seem to expound upon the same “sacred geometry” seen elsewhere in Spirit and Matter, in the drawings and paintings of Charles Gilchrist and the late Ernie Horvath, both of whom forge visionary pathways or weave nests of soft energy.
And if the symmetry of Horvath or Gilchrist, however harmonious, doesn’t necessarily clutch at your soul, that fearful array of animal flame known as a tiger can always be found lurking in the gallery like revelation itself, stalking through the paintings of Paul Travis, or brooding in splendid oil on canvas works by the great American artist and illustrator Charles Knight.
Spirit and Matter
May 17 – September 14, 2013
Kokoon Arts Gallery
1305 West 80th Street
Cleveland, Ohio 44102