The photo-based works of Cleveland area artist Rita Montlack spring from the visual realities around us, but aren’t left as we perceive them through vision alone. Other elements enter the work that magnify or alter the original source material. These effects move the work into imaginative, emotional, even psychological territory. A good example of this is a work entitled Beads and Bridges. A fairly simple, nearly symmetrical composition gains in complexity with extended viewing. Three colored horizontal bands simultaneously function independently and as a unified whole. The bands are enmeshed in a well-focused curtain of beads, which creates complex spatial relationships. An industrial bridge-like structure is prominent, but in soft focus, which makes it unclear whether it is a reflection or positioned forward in the distance. The result is almost hallucinatory and seems to echo the difference between objective and remembered reality. Other enigmatic details and her color choices make for a highly evocative experience.
My work travels the distance from just the way it is to just the way it isn’t, in one or two fell swoops! I photograph what is there and thus, the transformation to what is not there begins! This process happens digitally with computer manipulations. Colors are added and subtracted and sometimes, the images are hand-painted. Visually striking combinations of unexpected things take shape and oftentimes, the smallest detail becomes the largest focal point, resulting in mysterious and hopefully, provocative images!
While Montlack has shown her work extensively in the area for years, she has also had success in exhibitions, elsewhere. Recently, she was involved in three such opportunities in Florida, including a solo exhibition at Art Palm Beach with her gallery, the Whitespace Collection. Last year, she was included in a group show at the gallery, alongside major international figures in photography such as John Baldessari, Vik Muniz and Bernd and Hilla Becher.
Rita Montlack studied painting and design at The Cleveland Institute of Art and liberal arts at the University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida (B.A.). Her solo exhibitions include 1point618 Gallery in Cleveland (2013 and 2010); The College of Wooster, Ohio; Jewish Community Center, Beachwood, Ohio; and Esta Robinson Contemporary, New York City. Group shows include The Cleveland Museum of Art; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland; and The Canton Art Institute. She has been commissioned by University Hospitals, Cleveland; Cuyahoga Community College; Cleveland State University and others for public art projects. Her work is in the collections of Progressive Corporation, Cleveland Clinic Foundation, University Hospitals and Cleveland State University, among others.
Untitled from the series Fairgrounds, archival pigment print, 12 x 18” and 16 x 24”, 2012
Notation for Wind and Cello casein on canvas board, 28 x 22”, 2015
Image Impossible archival digital print computer manipulated, 11 x 14”, 2013
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Former Kent State University adjunct professor Peggy Kwong-Gordon is an artist who works in painting and drawing (sometimes creating drawing installations). It is in her paintings that she most thoroughly explores her interest in color. This work, well represented in the recent exhibition Color Matters at Cleveland’s 1point618 gallery, involves meticulously planned and executed arrangements of geometric forms and vivid, yet deceptively subtle, color relationships. She has currently arrived at a focus on color after previous explorations in numerous directions. Some of her past work has involved a kind of ‘automatic writing’ approach based on studies of random arrangements of her own found hair. Within her various other directions, she consistently employs self-created parameters, within which exist opportunities for discovery. There is a balance of forces in her work that is connected to her longstanding interest in the ancient philosophical treatise, the Tao Te Ching. “The name that can be named is not the eternal name” appears at the very beginning of this eternally influential work and relates closely to Kwong-Gordon’s art, generally, but she can be more specific in describing her work, particularly regarding her emphasis on color: “Colors are used as a measure of time and space by means of vibrating edges, warm and cool hue, and various intensity of hue. The rhythmic pattern creates movements in two dimensions and in depth.”
It’s a Matter of Time (black), acrylic on canvas, 62 x 48”, 2016
Color is a fundamental element in visual art and one greatly suited for esthetic and emotional expression. Photography and painting are particularly fruitful media for the exploration of the potential of color. Whether these efforts are comprised of carefully controlled inventions or the capturing of particularly engaging moments from life or a combination of the two, color has a unique ability to take viewers out of the commonplace and into meaningful realms of beauty and imagination.
The way in which she creates her current paintings has a direct relation to the rhythmic structures of music and is reflected in titles such as Notations for Synthesizer and Notations for Wind and Cello. In fact, composer Joo Won Park created a piece to accompany the painting Notation for Synthesizer. (The music can be streamed through his soundcloud page: https://soundcloud.com/joowon/notation.)
Peggy Kwong-Gordon was born in Guangzhou, China and studied in the United States at the University of California (BS in Chemistry, 1955) and Carnegie-Mellon University (MFA in Painting and Design, 1965). She taught at the University of Akron, Kent State University, and Western Reserve Academy in Hudson, Ohio. Her solo exhibitions include The Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland; 1point618 Gallery, Cleveland (2016 and 2009); Firelands Association for the Visual Arts, Oberlin, Ohio (2010 and 1990); Brown University; Smith College; Kent State Student Center Gallery; and SPACES, Cleveland. Group exhibitions include the William Busta Gallery, Lake Erie College, Mount Union College, and The College of Wooster Art Museum, among numerous others. In addition to her work as an artist, Kwong-Gordon has served as a curator for exhibitions at several area venues.
Notation for Synthesizer casein on canvas board, 28 x 22”, 2015
Stephen Tomasko graduated from Bowling Green State University (BA, Art History, 1988) and the University of Delaware (MFA, 1991). He taught at the college level for eight years before moving to Akron, Ohio, his current home. His solo exhibitions include The University of Michigan, Mount Vernon Nazarene University, The Kendal Gallery in Oberlin, Ohio, among others. He has been included in group shows in Los Angeles; Adelaide, Australia; Paris, France, and most recently, at The Akron Art Museum. In 2013, he was awarded an Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council.
Beads and Bridges archival digital print computer manipulated, 11 x 14”, 2014
Untitled from the series Fairgrounds, archival pigment print, 12 x 18” and 16 x 24”, 2014
Beautiful Havoc archival digital print computer manipulated, 20 x 48”, 2014
The capturing of particular visual moments from the world around us—moments that can possess an extraordinary degree of beauty and emotional nuance—is Stephen Tomasko’s forte. The photographs from his Fairgrounds series are excellent examples of this. In this project, he focuses on the elaborate, exuberant rides, the “monuments to joy and freedom, childhood and risk, design and commerce,” that travel from town to town. In one recent, untitled image, several sculptural figures form the seats of a spinning ride. The figures seem to be a surreal cross between kangaroos and Easter bunnies, but the sense of joy implied by the festive-looking rides is contradicted by a complete absence of people. The highly subtle sense of color plays a brilliant role in this work as it adds to a somewhat queasy feeling that is unexpected in such a normally jubilant subject.
Tomasko began as a black and white photographer in the late 1980s and didn’t move to color until approximately 2008, when digital technology had developed to the point where the capacity to control exact colors was sufficient. Now, color is of primary importance in making the work. The focus on color even extends to entire bodies of work revolving around specific color schemes, including one which is over seven years worth of St. Patrick’s Day Parades in Cleveland and Akron, titled Spring’s First Green. Another is entitled I’m So Happy I’m Happy! which is based on the over-the-top tailgating of Browns fans in the Municipal Parking Lot. He has photographed most every game day since opening day 2012 and, of course, those are all about brown and orange. Recently, Tomasko photographed each day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and is putting together a solo show of red-white-and-blue based work that will take place at the Little Gallery at Bowling Green Firelands campus this fall. Another color-centric series is the Delira and Excira flowering trees work. A 102 page, full-color book of the same name was published in 2014 by Shanti Arts Press of Brunswick, Maine.
Untitled from the series Fairgrounds, archival pigment print, 12 x 18” and 16 x 24”, 2015
Mark Keffer KSU Class of ‘88