The Artwork of John Thrasher at Main Street Books

An art review by Nick Gardner

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The small loft gallery at Main Street Books in Mansfield is a perfect place to show off John Thrasher’s art. The eight pieces hang on three walls, nestled between windows, above couches, next to the small upright piano. During the opening reception, friends move about drinking wine, snacking, talking about details in the pictures or about other art events or literature. We read John Thrasher’s poetic titles and suss their definitions out of the pieces on the wall. This gallery is one of a very few carpeted galleries I have visited. It is not large and echoic. It is hometown comfort that allows the viewer to zoom into and out of the complex and riveting sketches, watercolors, monoprints.

 

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Detail of Misguided Articles by John Thrasher

And this feel works perfectly with John Thrasher’s personality and style. I hear his drawl over the crowd, good natured and welcoming, as I look into the weave of cartoons and doodles within Misguided Articles. In this work of ink, gouache and watercolor, there is incredible and confounding motion: A ship tossing; graffiti tags confused in sketched smiley faces or frowning faces; an undulating landscape. And all of this is surrounded by the article “The” in neat calligraphy, twisting its way at all angles around the frame. But even within all of the motion is the stillness of a single watercolor tree, seemingly unmoved by wind, growing out of apparent chaos. There is comfort in minutiae. The cartoons taking me back to childhood doodles, the beautiful watercolor tree a serenity in blue sky background. Though as a whole this piece is complex, somewhat perplexing, that single word ‘the’ reminds me to focus back on the simple articles that make up the entire work. Continue reading

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, 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

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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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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Walt, Gus, & the Shimmering Black Elephant

 

          An essay by Mark Sebastian Jordan.

 

Fuck me.

Not in a bad way. In a just-got-laid-out-flat by the energy of the universe way.

Every once in a great, rare while, you hear exactly the right piece of music in exactly the right performance at exactly the right time in your life. And it will shake you.

For me, it happened tonight, October 5, 2017, in Severance Hall, when I heard the Cleveland Orchestra and conductor Franz Welser-Möst own Mahler’s Sixth. It immediately lept to my short list of greatest concert experiences, ever.

Why the piece matters and why this concert matters goes back a ways. It’s not performed all that often, glittering black beast that it is. Not only is this symphony fiendishly difficult, it’s also long—about 80 minutes—and ends darkly after tumultuous struggle. Not exactly a crowd-pleaser, it would seem, yet the piece is beloved by many, because it is a powerful emotional statement.

About what?

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A Sorcerer Takes the Stage

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Is a renaissance about to begin at the Renaissance? Octavio Mas-Arocas opens the season as music director of the Mansfield Symphony Orchestra. (Photo by Jeff Sprang Photography, courtesy of the Mansfield Symphony.)

A review/commentary by Mark Sebastian Jordan

Last Saturday saw the beginning of a new era at the Mansfield Symphony and, I hope, in Mansfield itself. But before I comment on that, let me offer full disclosure: Not only do I give pre-concert talks for this orchestra, I was on the committee that selected its new music director, Octavio Más-Arocas. Beyond that, however, I want to caution that the thoughts expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the Mansfield Symphony, the Renaissance Theater, or any other organization.

The music director search committee met many times as we waded through almost a hundred applications for the position. Those who habitually run down Mansfield may be surprised to hear that statistic, but the fact is inescapable that Mansfield has an extraordinary orchestra for a community of this size. It was formed back when this town had an industrial base and the wealth that came with it. The money is scarce today, but passionate dedication has kept alive an ensemble that has a fine regional reputation because it is staffed by players from all over the state, many of them professors, independent teachers, or advanced students.

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Find Me At La Luna: A Review of “qPOC…&LMNOP”

qPOC…&LMNOP by Chico’s Brother
review by Nick Gardner

So often we find ourselves caught up in arguments of politics, discussing race and gender, citing articles we have read, or anecdotes we have been told without questioning our personal truths. As Chico’s Brother, Aurelio Villa Luna Diaz rejects this PC banter and academic discourse in favor of introspection in his new album “qPOC…&LMNOP” (available on Bandcamp). This series of songs replaces politics with heart, pushing grand narratives into the periphery in order to locate the personal narrative in the forefront.

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It must be noted that Aurelio has not broken form from his previous album. Each song is derived from specific experiences. There is a vivid dream, a short history of his father and grandfather, a song for friend who passed away. Each track is personal, an internal struggle, but when converted to music and shared with the world, it becomes something we can all relate to.
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Steps in the Journey: “Strangers on the Earth” at the Cleveland International Film Festival

A film review by Mark Sebastian Jordan.

Life is onward.

As I drove from my home in rural Lucas, Ohio, to the Cleveland International Film Festival to see Strangers on the Earth, Tuesday, April 4th, I received a text that I had just become an uncle (well, actually, great-uncle) again. My niece Michelle, the closest thing this crusty bachelor will ever have to a daughter, had just given birth to her first baby, a son named Javier. A new life beginning a journey.

On the return trip a few hours later, I received another message: My beloved friend Kimberly Orsborn had passed away in hospice care. She steered me to the newspaper job that gave me a port in the storm in 2007 when I was transitioning out of the corporate world and into the creative world. In 2009, Kim left that small-town rag and began life as a free-lance writer. That same year, she was diagnosed with a malignant, fast-moving breast cancer. The doctors gave her months. She made it eight years.

Kim beat the odds to live many more seasons because she kept moving, kept doing, kept finding ways around the fog of “chemo-brain.” Before she was done, she said that cancer had ended up being one of the great gifts of her life, something that made her stop and relish every moment of her existence, before continuing on, more aware of her surroundings than before. It deepened her journey.

SOTE the way

El Camino de Santiago de Compostela, the pilgrimage path featured in the documentary “Strangers on the Earth,” presented this month at the Cleveland International Film Festival. (Photos by Kayla Arend courtesy of Fisterra Productions.)

So, a film about a journey is a good forum for savoring the life in us and around us. But how many feet can walk a road before it becomes a stampede? Strangers on the Earth is a film by Tristan Cook about the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago de Compostela in the Galicia region of northern Spain. Dedicated to the Christian Saint James (who is said to be buried in Compostela), the way actually co-opted an older Celtic sacred pathway and Roman trading route running from the Pyrenees Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean.
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