Painting In Space

Polymer Clay works
by James Lehman


What shall we label Rubber City show?
Wide variety in nice exhibit that illustrates need for good labeling

By Dorothy Shinn
Beacon Journal art and architecture critic

Akron Beacon Journal
Sun, May. 16, 2004


What shall we label Artists of Rubber City show?

One of the essential features of a group show such as the one staged annually by the Artists of Rubber City is the wide variety. From approaches to formats to mediums to styles, there's something for everyone here.

The show has grown not only in size, but in seriousness. There's one art work in this show that carries a $12,000 price tag. Sixteen are priced at $1,000 or more.

Serious money. Which means other things have to be taken a lot more seriously than they were in the past.

When I first began writing art reviews for the Akron Beacon Journal 25 years ago, I was told that in Northeast Ohio there was still great resistance to the idea of photography as fine art.

Things sure have changed. In the Artists of Rubber City 14th annual Juried Show, at Charles Mayer Studios Inc., through May 28, there are 25 photographic images in a show of 92 objects.

This is good. It means that hardly anyone in the area is still questioning the right of photography to be called art.

I would like to question one thing, however: the practice of inadequate, and in some cases perhaps misleading, labeling.

In most of the major photography shows, here and elsewhere, almost everyone now insists on distinguishing digital images from film images in the labels.

Not that it's all that difficult at this juncture to tell the two apart. But it will become more and more difficult as digital cameras and printers (not to mention the computers where they're processed), become increasingly capable of producing images in which the presence of pixels is practically undetectable.

They aren't quite there yet. It's still possible to see with the unaided eye the small irregularities along the edges of forms that are the telltale signs of digital images and inkjet printing. Also, there's a certain flatness and lack of nuance in digital photos that isn't found in film photography.

Nevertheless, it's so much easier to produce spectacular results digitally than it is with a traditional film camera (not to mention images that would be impossible in film), that it's only fair that digital images should be labeled as such.

For that matter, I think it's vital, when using a computer to produce works of art, that this information is included in the label, along with the name of the software used to produce it.

I have a printmaker friend who has been using a computer to make spectacular botanical-type prints for several years, who disagrees. She says it would give away too many of her secrets.

But when printmakers exhibit their work, they say on the label whether the print is, say, an etching, engraving or aquatint, as well as how many of a certain image were printed in the edition. Likewise, artists who specialize in drawings tell us whether they used graphite, charcoal, chalk, ink or colored pencil.

In all these instances, the artist is informing the viewer of the mediums used to make the art work -- information that's needed so the work can be evaluated, not to mention stored, protected and preserved by museums and/or potential buyers. The same should hold true for images produced on a computer.

If an image bought as an art work is labeled merely ``photograph,'' instead of ``digital photograph, inkjet print,'' the patron who buys it may feel cheated should he or she discover its true nature. That only has to happen once to cast a pall over an artist's reputation, and in the art world, as in most businesses, reputation is everything.

Several of the works in this show have been given less-than-helpful labels.

For instance, Jerry Domokur's Come Ride with Me, one of six works awarded an honorable mention, is said to be made with ``pigmented ink,'' a designation that covers a host of mediums, some more desirable than others.

A close inspection of Domokur's work indicates that it has apparently been drawn using a variety of artists' markers (descended from the ubiquitous Magic Marker but nowadays coming in a much wider choice of colors and much more expensive).

If this is the case, it should be so labeled, not only because it's kind of obvious anyway, but because the person who buys this work needs to know so the work can be displayed safely.

Robert Wood's first-place winner, Chiasmus, is properly labeled as a digital print, but not how it's printed.

Wood has three images of a similar style in the show -- Chiasmus, Palimpsest and Narcissus (Stained Glass Veil) -- all of them created in a digital environment, using the various structures of the digital medium itself as compositional elements.

These are sophisticated, ultimately abstract, Modernist works, because Woods has reduced the medium (the computer) to its essential ingredients then created nonobjective works of art about them.

About Chiasmus Woods writes that the title ``(referring to an intersection) alludes both to the `meeting at the crossroads' in the Oedipus myth (on the thematic level) and to the way my own creative activity interfaces with digital technology (on a formal and technical level).''

He said he violates the rules of programs by ``introducing `corruption' into the visual file.''

What we see in Woods' images are pixelized forms shown for their own sake, almost as if we were staring down the rabbit hole of the Matrix itself, but instead of that deadly green, we see pinks yellows, aquas and oranges, random letters marching across the composition, forms like bar codes, black slashes and long-haired stick figures, layered with great care and precision. Then, if we're observant, we find actual images.

These really are superb works. They only need more careful labeling.

There's another work in this show that's almost as stunning as Woods' three entries, but which received only an honorable mention. That's James Lehman's The Visible Portions of Frank, a work that consists of cut and folded photocopied patterns arranged as small, identically shaped three-dimensional pyramids in ranks and rows side by side, mounted on Foamcor.

The effect is quite startling, and, since the black-and-white patterns chosen by Lehman are meant to disturb the retina, also quite disorienting, causing considerable eye fatigue when observed from a certain distance.

It's Op Art taken to the next level, extremely well done, sophisticated and effective, and it should have earned a top prize. It is, after all, the one with the $12,000 price tag.