Among Friends: The May Show at Lakeland
In the afternoon before the opening of Lakeland Community College’s May Show, the poster that would later greet visitors was covered in brown paper to keep the identity of the Best-In-Show winner a secret.
During a walk around the galleries that afternoon, it was impossible to ignore Mark Giangaspero’s imposing pastel portrait in grays and blues, Altered Identity. The image of a young girl gazing out is a startling example of hyper realism in near monochrome. The only elements not on the gray scale are her cold eyes and their visual echo in the blue background. The child is the grand daughter of a friend. We weren’t confronting the horrific national embarrasment of immigrant children being separated from their parents at the border on the day this show opened, but as it comes to a close, it is hard to remove that awful treatment of people from this girl’s powerful gaze. Surrounded by the cold blue, wearing just a T-shirt, she looks to be steeling herself against the world. It’s not a surprise at all that this portrait is what was hidden behind that the brown paper, the Best In Show winner.
Not that it didn’t have plenty of competition. For someone who actively follows the Cleveland art scene, visiting the galleries each week, walking through the 2018 May Show is like being in a room with friends. Walls are filled with works by many of the region’s most active artists—especially painters. Not only is it a broad representation of people on the scene, but it shows significant examples of many of those artist’s works. In several cases that means not only works that are strong examples of the artist’s practice, but also that several are impressively large.
Judith Brandon’s triptych Whispers of Make Believe fills a wall with her characteristically atmospheric handling of ink on paper. The title sounds gentle, but the piece is a stormy-looking seascape with dark clouds in turmoil, waterspouts and all manner of drama. There are few cases wherein the handling of a medium portrays a mood so well as in Brandon’s weather-scapes, and these are great examples of her work in that style. Brandon has long dealt with environmental concerns in her work, and her portraits of storms require no commentary to call to mind climate change and the dynamic relationship we have with these powerful forces.
Across from that is an equally impressive ‘scape: George Kozmon’s Approach (White Mountains) is painted on a wood panel, about the size and proportion of a door hung horizontally. The wood panel is left bare as the ground for the piece, the pattern of light and dark working as clouds in the sky. Beneath, a snow-capped mountain with barren rocks are rendered in graphite and acrylic with superb skill.
John Sargent’s This Wheel Turns is another ethereal ‘scape, but rendered in oil. Clouds are a significant part of Sargeant’s painting practice, and at one level they are simply, straightforwardly beautiful works, showing masterful technique. It is true that oil and water don’t mix, but in his hands, oil paint is a dead ringer for water vapor and the surrounding sky. However, every bit as much of this practice is the random spatter of paint over these surfaces–pock marks on otherwise unblemished beauty. The spattered paint sets the mind reeling with possibilities—intentional damage to undercut the natural grace of clouds, or even to defile it. Or to comment on what humankind has done to the planet. Sargent says the spatters are there from several reasons, including “a desire to merge the visceral activity of painting traditionally with more post modern conventions of materialism,” to which in a quick message via Facebook he adds “BLAH BLAH BLAH.” He also says it is “partly about making the act of painting Fun again, [and partly] a way to express frustration and hope and fear for Humanity and the existential consequences of our existence, and partly — I have no idea why, it just occurs as necessary.”
Judy Takacs has two pieces in the show, large paintings of nude women with details that begin to tell a story. Her well known “Chicks with Balls” series portrayed strong women with a wink and a nudge and some sporting equipment. These paintings don’t have the pun, but they are just as much about powerful women, and the elements included give them another kind of depth. In Winged Victory, for example, the woman holds behind her back two old-fashioned rug beaters—wire loops on a handle, bent in tear-drop shapes for whacking the dust out of rugs, a clear allusion to old school domestic work. Even without its title, the position of the tools as wings is plenty for the painting to speak for itself of the woman, or at least her spirit, in triumph over the situation.
Also allegorical, and a whole lot darker, is a painting by George Kocar, Fool’s Parade. It’s a cartoon parade of fat-nosed men led by Uncle Sam in a pointy KKK hat, followed by a pig financier, a brown suited bean counter or attorney, gagged with tape and wide-eyed, and marching along behind him on a star-spangled and red striped white horse, a military man with a broken sword. Horned blue devils look on, and behind all that the world burns.
There were 121 pieces by 80 artists in this show. James March offers a vividly colorful, dynamic abstraction in “Splash.” David King brings a heartfelt, nostalgic scene in oil on canvas, “Voyeurs.” There are outstanding, “alternative technique” photo prints by Christopher Kaspar, Greg Martin, and Will Slabaugh—the latter a street scene dominated by a teeming mass of photographers, the digital print made velvety rich by the fact that it is printed on hand-made, mulberry paper.
The Galleries at Lakeland are a beautiful set of rooms, intimate in the way they feel, but with plenty of wall space, including for pieces large and small. And they are well programmed, too: between her From Woman project and the May Show, Galleries at Lakeland director Mary Urbas has built connections and solidarity, and steadily highlighted great work. Lake County is fortunate to have its own May Show, and as a resident of western Cuyahoga County, I can only say I wish it were closer for more frequent visits.
The May Show at Lakeland
The Galleries at Lakeland Community College
7700 Clocktower Avenue, D Building
May 17-July 13