Tender – An Installation by Sean Merchant at the Pearl Conard Art Gallery

Tender: An Installation by Sean Merchant
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Standing in the doorway of the Pearl Conard Art Gallery at The Ohio State University, Mansfield, I am not sure whether I am in a barn or a church. An old growth oak beam is canted from floor to ceiling, seemingly supporting the cupola front and center. To the left is a structure reminiscent of a picket fence, then a series of 2by4s on shelves built into the walls. At first, it is a barn, rural and crafted out of wood.  But as I walk deeper inside, my feet echoing off of the hard floor, the high ceiling, the dim lighting, and I find myself sitting on one of two wooden benches staring at the “stained glass” windows that look out over the backwoods of the campus. Continue reading

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Encountering the King of Drama at Kingwood

 

An opera review by Mark Sebastian Jordan

 

As fine as the local arts scene has been for some time, there was one particular void that was only filled a couple years ago, when Mansfield native Joel Vega returned to town and created Mid Ohio Opera. Opera is one of the most complicated, difficult, and ambitious of art forms, so seeing it in Mansfield seemed an unlikely dream. But with his extensive studies, professional background, and limitless enthusiasm, Vega has the ingredients to make something wonderful. The final key ingredients are the strong support of local businesses and arts-funding organizations, and the local enthusiasm for exposure to a rare but vibrant art form.

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Artistic director Joel Vega welcomes the overflow crowd at the Mid Ohio Opera’s concert performance of Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera at Kingwood Center. (Photo by Mark Jordan.)

Kingwood Center, the elegant estate of Mansfield industrialist Charles Kelly King, made for a fantastic backdrop Sunday evening in the Mid Ohio Opera’s last performance of a touring concert production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera (A Masked Ball). Other performances included Liberty Park in Mansfield, and dates in Wooster and Worthington. This was a concert performance, without costumes and staging, but it was a wonderful opportunity to hear music not often encountered in these parts, that of the king of operatic drama, Verdi. The performance delivered much moving music in fine performances from high quality vocalists.

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Pilate: Myth and Liberation, a review of Thorn Monarch’s solo exhibition

“I am innocent of this just man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” With these words the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate turned Jesus of Nazareth over to the religious authorities of the Jewish Sanhedrin for crucifixion. I’m intrigued by Monarch’s decision to title his show “Pilate,” as there’s no explicit Christian iconography amid the clowns, bloodied boxers, and the mythic American cowboys.

In “Pilate” Monarch combines an illustrator’s sense of character development, storytelling, and clean line work with the brooding and atmospheric impasto work of an expressionist painter. The effect is a midwestern folk aesthetic that nods respectfully to Thomas Hart Benton. In keeping with Benton, Monarch’s Boxer and Cowboy compositions appear presented through a fisheye lens, the figures are exaggerated and the environment askew. Monarch’s figures, however, are not overly rendered in the manner of Benton, but are hashed out loosely in a manner I’d describe as George Bellows-meets-Francis Bacon.

This is where I see the biggest improvement in Monarch’s work of late, in his loose and gestural application of paint. There are still moments in the work where the surface falls flat, but overall the surfaces of his paintings are vibrant and compelling. Narrative content aside, I found myself sidling up to his work, nose to canvas, becoming lost in the color and brushstrokes.

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Connecting to the world, one thread at a time: Eric Sparks’ “Madelline”

A film review by Mark Sebastian Jordan

 

What does it mean to be well? For the title character of Eric Sparks’ new film Madelline, the answer might simply be “not lost.”

 

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Audience members gather at the Mansfield Playhouse Thursday, August 9, 2018, for the world premiere of Madelline, a film by Eric Sparks. (Photo by Mark Sebastian Jordan.)

The work was premiered Thursday evening at the Mansfield Playhouse, a venue venerated for its live theater, but one not associated with a project like this. The good-sized crowd was welcomed to the venue by Playhouse board president Doug Wertz who expressed enthusiasm for Sparks’ project and how the Playhouse was glad to support other artistic genres by serving as venue for a premiere. Another showing will take place Saturday evening, at 8 pm.

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Art in the Alley: When Art Isn’t Your Job; It’s Your Calling

The evening was idyllic, and I wove through the crowd, beer in hand, feeling quite right about the world. Later this night would be Neos Dance Theatre’s performance of Ballet @ the Brickyard, an annual summer performance outside in Mansfield’s Brickyard performance area. (Read Mark Jordan’s coverage of the event here.) But before that, while the sun still sizzled our shoulders, Mansfielders walked from tent to tent at Art in the Alley.

KenArthurAt many booths, artists were creating work while envious crowds looked on. I saw watercolors coming to life, pastels, and at one booth, paper forming from what seemed to be just a bin of dirty dish water. Ken Arthur stopped me there, and convinced me to set down my beer long enough to make some paper of my own.

Ken — funky hat, old T-shirt, chainmail necklace — helped me fill a framed screen with pulp. He was working at MP Marion’s booth. She is a paper artist who wanted to not only show her art, but to also share the act of creating it with the crowd. Her pieces are vibrant, abstract stories told in paper pulp. Ken, himself, is an artist of found objects and repurposed materials. His pieces are big, dark, heavy, and every one winks at you until you get it or move on. Continue reading

Neos Ballet fires up the Brickyard

A dance review by Mark Sebastian Jordan

 

Remember when people used to bitch about there being nothing to do in Mansfield? They were always wrong, but if anyone were to dare to say that today, it would be downright laughable. Not only is there a world of interesting things and people, we happen to be entering a golden age of creativity in north central Ohio. The opportunities are little short of astounding:

 

  • Fiery indie musicians like Chico’s Brother, Rust Pelts, 99 Spirits, Oddepoxy, and many more…
  • Challenging artists like Jason Kaufman, Jo Westfall, Thorn Monarch, Lucas Hargis, Neil Yoder, Luke Beekman…
  • Brilliant actors like Ryan Kiley, Scott Schag, Chevy Bond, Colton & Maddie Penwell, Renee Rebman, Ryan Shreve, Lindsey Saltz, Steve Russell, Katy Esmont…
  • Sophisticated classical and jazz musicians like Octavio Mas-Arocas, Condrea Webber, Jeffrey Boyd, Joel Vega, Kelly Knowlton, Wyatt Boggs…
  • Intense poets like Nick Gardner, Jerry Lang, Madison Shilliday, Aurelio Villa Luna Diaz, Jason Kaufman (again), Lucas Hargis (again)…
  • Probing directors like Drew Traxler, Doug Wertz, Michael Thomas, Gretchen Ashbrook…
  • Powerful prose writers like Llalan Fowler, Tim McKee, Nick Gardner (again), Jason Kaufman (again again), Lucas Hargis (again again, too)…
  • Inventive filmmakers like Beau Roberts, Eric Sparks, Jennifer Enskat…
  • Engaging playwrights like Bryan Gladden, Michael Thomas (again), Nancy Nixon, Gertrude Brooke (though that’s a pen name for one of the names listed above)…

 

See what I’m getting at? And I haven’t even done justice to everything that is going on in those categories and the venues that host them. This place is on fire with creativity.

 

And if creativity is a flame, then there was a bonfire in the Brickyard in downtown Mansfield Saturday evening. Ballet @ the Brickyard was an evening of dance hosted by the Neos Ballet Theatre, with additional participation from the Richland Academy Dance Ensemble and the RNI Dance Troupe from Richland Newhope. The whole event was tied to an Art in the Alley art show, covered by Llalan Fowler here on VFTB. It is true that Neos no longer has a studio in Mansfield, but Robert Wesner’s troupe has made a commitment to maintaining an artistic presence here and providing this area with the highest quality ballet and modern dance.

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‘Newsies’ Dances Beyond the Ironies

A review by Mark Sebastian Jordan

The Renaissance Theater’s production of the musical Newsies is good, and that’s what I’m here to talk about. Let’s not dwell on the irony of a show about the rebellion of poor workers in the 1890s being created by one of the largest and most powerful corporations in the world in the 1990s, the Walt Disney Corporation; nor on the assembly-line formulas of show composer Alan Menken (honestly, has he ever even heard any of the music from the 1890s?), nor even on the strange delight of watching a pro-union artwork in the middle of Trumpistan.

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The workers unite in an impressive scene from the Renaissance Theater summer production of Newsies, directed with an eye for the big picture by Michael Thomas. (Photo by Jeff Sprang, courtesy of the Renaissance Theater).

Happily, production director Michael Thomas is well aware of the work’s position, and includes an insightful commentary on the show in the program book (that is, if you can read the program’s microscopic print), regarding the Disney-fication of history. But a 1400-seat theater like the Ren is very limited on the type of shows that can be run in the main auditorium (though that won’t apply to Studio 166, the blackbox theater soon to open in an adjacent building). With a large house, the overriding consideration is getting butts in seats, and huge popular musical will do it.

So be it. On with the review.

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