Forms of Nostalgia

If you looked at Paul O’Keeffe’s plexiglass constructions at William Busta Gallery last week and if you were stymied in your attempts to figure out what the brightly colored forms mean, then you’re on the right track. The show, a distant silence, is up through March 22.

Paul O'Keefe

Paul O’Keefe

O’Keeffe’s constructions of beautifully machined plexiglass juxtapose colors and shapes in mostly rectangular layers. Light from the front windows sets the cold forms glowing, red, yellow, blue from certain angles. From other directions they suck in the light and don’t give up any. No matter how you look at them though, you can’t read them. In a statement for an earlier show at Busta’s, O’Keeffe wrote, “Color, form, and materials are used in such a way as to defy the viewers’ desire to make meaning of the work apart from the immediate encounter with the form.” That holds just as true with his most recent group of wall-mounted pieces. Actively and by design, they seem to repel any attempt to read meaning into them. By now that’s almost a quaint idea, which reached its zenith in the late modernist 70s. The artist was a kid then. Those were the days. It’s funny in a paradoxical kind of way, the nostalgic longing for late modernism.

Sara O’Keeffe writes that the pieces start with shapes from “prosaic objects” — a mirror, a perfume bottle, a vase–but you couldn’t read that into any of these objects without some guidance. And that’s the point. They are dramatic objects, to be sure. It’s mystical, the way they hold the wall without sending any kind of message.

Both O’Keeffe’s wall-mounted sculptures and Greg Donley’s photo prints (Place/Time, also through March 22) are about form, but in polar opposite ways.


photo print by Greg Donley

photo print by Greg Donley

Donley’s color photo prints and their extremely horizontal, panoramic form came from an old film printing project: He had advanced frames of film partially through the camera to create overlapping double and triple exposures. The filmstrip panoramas endeavor in two dimensions to go a little farther toward fully capturing the depth and all the other details of a given memory. He prints the entire, long, skinny film strip as a single strip of photo paper. These days, he makes the images digitally, overlapping and combining photo frames into long strips, then sending the files to the lab for printing. They evoke nostalgia not only through the form of the old medium, but in the attempt to capture more of a memory, to to squeeze in more pictures than will fit on a roll of film.

Place / Time installation

Place / Time installation

One effect of such long skinny prints is that I don’t have a good way to show them. At 3″ tall by 34″ wide, any full-width photo that fits across your laptop would reduce the height of the individual scenes of the panorama too small to appreciate. Neither could you read them, which is important, because Donley has added stories to the scenes, comic book style, adding snatches of conversation in tiny type. With titles like “Hopes expressed at the Cleveland Museum of Art, June 27, 2011,” and “Academic discourse at the Cleveland Museum of Art, 2010,” he attempts to capture the dimensions of memory of the Museum’s popular Solstice parties. There’s also scenes from travels around the world, from hikes and bike rides, and motoring drives along the Blude Ridge. The snatches of conversation are funny, observant of the mood and the diversity of the crowd in those scenes.


Walk All Over Waterloo and the East Meets West Express

I counted about 250 steps along Waterloo last Friday night, within which no less than five galleries now are presenting art shows. They’ve all got a DIY spirit that clearly welcomes invention and risk taking. And most of the galleries themselves are newcomers within the last year, or even the last few months. These days–apart from 78th Street Studios and a few other venues that house multiple galleries under one roof–this stretch and its first-Friday, Walk all Over Waterloo must be the most densely packed art walk in town. And none of Northeast Shores’ Development Corp’s Lotus project venues (a Zygote Press annex, Loren Naji’s Satellite Installation Space, and perhaps a museum dedicated to the late outsider artist Rev. Albert Wagner) have even opened their doors.

Michael T. Meier at Waterloo Arts Gallery

Michael T. Meier at Waterloo Arts Gallery

Starting at the West end of the strip, it’s remarkable that Waterloo Arts (formerly Arts Collinwood) could be the grand daddy of anything, but it is by a long shot the longest running venue on the street. Friday night they opened a show of large paintings, small watercolors and drawings by Michael Meier. I found the smaller works most compelling: about the size of the photo prints you used to get at the drug store, their composition also has a lot in common with those snapshots: they are scenes of everyday life–a family watching a dog at play, for example, with some of the action cropped out of the frame. They look like moments captured casually, in an instant, but of course they are carefully drawn and painted, and took a bit longer than that.

Nikki Woods, Misplaced Confection, at Pop Eye Gallery

Nikki Woods, Misplaced Confection, at Pop Eye Gallery

Just a few doors down, Nikki Woods showed a handful of medium-sized explorations of color, including this still life of flowers playing with the figure / ground relationship between her paint and the print of the bed sheet she stretched as a canvas. Her show is in the relatively new Pop Eye Gallery, a tiny, one-room, pop-up venue run by Omid Tavakoli, with Josh Usmani consulting.

Around the corner or a few doors away, two more galleries greeted visitors with continuing shows. At Maria Neil Art Project, John Farina and Adam Tully chatted with a steady stream of browsers. On the walls, the continuing show of landscapes by Eric Rippert, including four city scenes created for ODOT to hang billboards-sized, from trusses on the new Innerbelt Bridge. And at the rock and roll photography gallery Space: ROCK, Pat’s in the Flats Roadhouse Chic: Rock and Rolling Rock at the Bottom of the Hill tells the visual story of the bar’s legendary relationship with local bands. There are posters and flyers, but the highlight is a collection of band action shots taken during shows through the years.

Finally, Gallery 160 presented the eastern half of East Meets West, a group show conceived in the shadow of a scheduling coincidence there and at Loren Naji’s gallery in Ohio City. Naji and Gallery 160 proprietor Bryon Miller arranged to present the group of artists in the two locations, one on the east side and one west, and to connect them by an hourly shuttle bus. Each artist in the show is not only worthy of, but commonly seen in solo shows: Douglas Max Utter, Amy Casey, Scott Pickering, Jake Kelly, Justin Brennan, and Grace Sumanen all together in two rooms, on both sides of town at once, united by a shuttle service to take gallery hoppers back and forth.

Scott Pickering’s snaggle toothed monsters in their vivid, sweet tart palate reminded me of William Steig’s children’s book Rotten Island, which delightfully has occasion to reference both sauerkraut and double-headed toads. If you have children, buy this book and read it to them, and then buy them a painting by Scott Pickering.

"Lydia," by Jake Kelly, smoke on paper, at Gallery 160

“Lydia,” by Jake Kelly, smoke on paper, at Gallery 160

Jake Kelly showed a couple of nightmarish figural pictures I initially took for engravings. You might call them charcoal drawings. In a kind of modulated, DIY scratchboard technique, he held glossy card above a candle until the soot accumulated as a blackening on the surface. His process began by making dark areas and shadowing them with the smoke during this candle flame step. The fluid shading of smoke gives it an organic quality, which he complicates with lines made by scrunched up bristle brushes, and locks of his own hair.

"In the Round," by Grace Summanen, at Loren Naji Studio Gallery

“In the Round,” by Grace Summanen, at Loren Naji Studio Gallery

Grace Summanen brought what you might call sculptural paintings–heavily painted assemblies of recycled material, from plastic bags to pipe insulation. These grew, she explained, from accumulations of texture on the surface of paintings. She sees similarity to paint in the way the sculptural material builds up in lines and flows.

"Love," Douglas Max Utter, at Loren Naji Studio Gallery

“Love,” Douglas Max Utter, at Loren Naji Studio Gallery

Doug Utter and Dan Corrigan both brought multiple figural works, each in their instantly recognizable style, each experimenting with with the infrastructure of their paintings in some way. Utter showed a selection of paintings, some old, some newer. In most of them he composes with texture made by the behavior of materials–with latex paint in pools that crack like a lake bed in drought, or perhaps with tar smeared thick. Crucified or kissing, his figures express, you know, painful, glorious, burning, searching humanity.

Meanwhile Corrigan will paint on just about anything it seems, from cabinet doors to actual canvas, and when he does use canvas, he is prone to torturing it, stretching it across rough planks of wood, binding it with twine, or stitching together odd sized pieces. It makes a fine home for the anguished-looking souls endowed there by Corrigan’s brush.

"Merica," by Dan Corrigan, at Loren Naji Studio Gallery

“Merica,” by Dan Corrigan, at Loren Naji Studio Gallery

Amy Casey Casey showed a couple of etchings, which served as a reminder that she hasn’t had a solo show in Cleveland in quite a while now. Wouldn’t it be great to see one?


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