When met with a beautiful work of art — or in certain cases a plethora of magical works — the first response is awe, followed by silence.
Sometimes, despite its surface beauty, art contains a sadder story within. Only with closer attention does a hidden pain become more evident, a truth come forward, the often difficult but needed conversations suddenly begin.
Such is the case in Ron Fondaw’s current exhibition at the Kansas City Artists Coalition.
The show is prolific in scope. Fondaw’s pieces range from ceramics to painting to mixed media “drawings,” sculpture, and larger-scale wall installations.
Entering the elegantly rustic gallery space, even the most hurried, technology-dependent viewer likely will feel a shift to a more natural, Earth-based sense of centeredness. The works on view are diverse, but the key subject matter is the same. All are reflections of the basic elements of life — earth, water, fire, air and space.
In his artist statement, Fondaw, a professor of sculpture at Washington University in St. Louis, writes, “Our world is shifting from a reality based in a Newtonian paradigm of physics (only matter can affect matter) to a reality based in Quantum Physics (that energy can affect matter).”
Fondaw translates his message into a penetrating visual format, focusing on the subject of balance in and through nature. In this exhibit, viewers are met with the flip side of this equation, the man-made imbalance that now threatens our habitat and sense of well-being.
“Drinking Water” and “The Water We Are” (both stone and handmade paper) address the pollution of America’s water supply. The once-pristine canvas contains a circular stain in the center, made with the residue of Fondaw’s own home water distiller.
“Burnt Blocks” is a wall-size installation made of wood. Despite the work’s oblique reference to forest fire devastation, there is an uncanny wisdom that still exudes from the charred wood blocks. Having absorbed enough of Fondaw’s work, one might conclude that it is precisely the ancient, innate wisdom of Earth that must be given more respect, for the planet’s sake.
“Shifting Ground” and “Polar Drift” (both mixed media on canvas) address environmental change on a global level. Each drawing contains brightly colored nature imagery with an overlaying drawing of shifting energy. Under each canvas hangs a globe with a metal weight suspended above it, a symbolic statement representing the shift taking place in the Earth’s magnetic poles.
For viewers who question the scientific backing or may want to learn more, articles on the specific issues Fondaw is addressing are posted in the gallery.
Meditating on the rest of these works, a viewer will walk away having faced the difficult truth of modern life. Through Fondaw’s lens one must confront the results of collectively imbalanced practices that have caused the natural devastation we all are experiencing on a local and global level.
Yet despite the depressing decline of Earth’s ecosystem, it is the beauty and strength of Fondaw’s images that provide a wake-up call to the inherent balance of nature, and the importance of consciously using our own energies and practices in ways that nurture and sustain, rather than destroy.