Dorothy Shinn

Artists are by nature material beings.

We love the substances that we work with. We haunt art supply and hardware stores and are always on the lookout for new accoutrements, gear, mediums and tools.

Sometimes, with artists, the fascination with such new stuff inspires an entire body of work.

This seems to be the case with the works of four artists in Summit Artspace’s new show, Unmonumental Landscape: Coe Lapossy, Sommer Tolan, Chelsea Blackerby and Debra DeGregorio.

Each artist has brought to her work a love of material. Sometimes it’s new, or new to them, and sometimes it’s a substance they’ve learned to love over the years. This show offers a look at new materials, methods and ways of presentation that should prove enlightening, insightful and delightful.

The show is also amazingly coherent for an exhibit that was basically put together by email and phone calls.

All of the artists are expansive in their regard of space, and frugal in their placement of line, resulting in an exhibit that feels light, airy and springlike. Two of the artists present works on paper, and two have created installations.

The works on paper are not framed, but instead pinned to the gallery walls, which adds to the show’s sense of lightness and buoyancy.

The overriding theme of the exhibition is understanding one’s place in the contemporary world. The artists were brought together by De-?Gregorio, who returned to Akron after attending graduate school in New York.

Born in Pittsburgh, De-?Gregorio earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in printmaking and drawing from Kent State University, studied ceramics and printmaking at the University of Akron and earned a master of fine arts degree in printmaking from the State University of New York at New Paltz. She lives in Akron and teaches drawing at Youngstown State University.

While at SUNY, De-?Gregorio became enamored with Japanese woodcuts and studied Japanese and Chinese ink drawing, an interest that can be detected in the aqua-hued bowl shapes that she draws and prints in her composition, and the lobe-shaped mountains she admired in Chinese and Japanese landscape paintings and ink drawings and which she saw in person when she traveled in Thailand.

DeGregorio said the show illustrates a trend of creating works that are more ethereal or temporary: “It seems like the pendulum of art has swung from expensive, precious materials presented literally on a pedestal to more accessible, less materially impressive media presented lightly.”

Her interest in psychology and philosophy has paved the way for explorations in “the depiction of reality.” She uses brightly colored prints and line drawings, embellished with colored threads that are alternately screenprinted on the paper and attached to the paper with insect-mounting pins.

These pins are also embellished with either tiny pools of painted paper or sequins that flutter and float above the surface. Sometimes the threads and pins stay within the margins of DeGregorio’s composition, sometimes they spill out into the surrounding space, making her highly philosophical themes throb and pulse with life as well as making them more approachable.

In some of her work, DeGregorio is exploring automatic drawing, juxtaposed with representational drawing.

“The mass and landforms in this one, it’s almost like a battle is taking place, or something is being born,” she said of the work titled Burgeoning.

“But I like to keep it hopeful. In the end it satisfies me to look at it and see that things stayed light.”

In other pieces, she has created what she calls “impossible structures.”

“It gives me a sense of delight to draw something that couldn’t exist,” she said. “Good old art. You can do anything with it. That’s what’s so great about it.”

DeGregorio, Tolan and Lapossy all earned their B.F.A.s from Kent State University. Blackerby has a B.F.A. from the University of Akron.

Tolan, who lives in Chicago, is inspired by horticulture and works at a plant store.

“Since I’m spending most of my time with plants and water, I literally see plants behind my eyelids when I go to sleep at night,” Tolan said.

“I think it’s really sad that in our culture, if you show someone commercial icons, they instantly know what it is, but if you show them a leaf, they have no clue. They don’t know what plants can do. They only seem interested in the decorative qualities of plants.

“I water pretty much all day, and I’ve acquired a lot of plants. If there are any sick plants, they throw them away, and I take them to my plant hospital at home.”

Plants figure in the themes of Tolan’s compositions, as does water, and she says her Surrealist-inspired watercolor paintings reflect the sense of serenity that watering plants brings her.

“Water has been a starting point for a lot of my drawings and paintings,” she said. “I know what I want to see before I lay down the color.

“If we could only apply this concept to daily life instead of always searching and reaching, we would just know what’s there, what we want to be there and what’s inside of our hearts and our bodies.”

Akronite Blackerby’s installation consists of clear plastic toy packaging saved from presents for her children. She heats the plastic in boiling water, causing it to warp in interesting ways. She then splashes the plastic with pastel green and other light shades and mounts them on sticks. Underneath these umbrella-like structures, she scattered what appear to be linoleum tile samples, cut into small squares.

It’s through installations such as these that Blackerby explores the topic of homelessness and the phenomenon of the temporary shelter: “I am deeply inspired by the creative housing solutions of vagabonds, squatters and displaced populations.”

Lapossy was born in Medina and is working toward her M.F.A. at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. She also founded and coordinates the All That Matters to Me Art Show at Lakewood each year.

For this exhibit, Lapossy invented a machine so she could make a video installation that showed her hand apparently endlessly searching between two layers of cloth or sheets. It’s a deceptive piece of videography, for the viewer assumes that her hand continuously moves forward between the sheets, always groping, never finding.

The reality is that Lapossy’s machine continuously winds the fabric toward the camera while her hand stays in place, groping right and left, but never actually moving down that endless cloth tunnel.

The video installation, Waking up and getting up has never been easy, is accompanied by three acrylic paintings, variously appended with graphite and/or paper. She uses pop culture references in her subject titles to suggest its influence on perceived reality, especially on how our expectations are altered by reality.

“I’m specifically interested in the struggle that we all partake in to find our way in this world and maintain or discover ourselves,” she wrote in her artist statement.

In conjunction with the exhibition, DeGregorio will teach a free art class from 1 to 3 p.m. Jan. 28 at Summit Artspace. For registration, email

The exhibit will be open from noon to 9 p.m. Feb. 4 as part of the Downtown Artwalk. It will also be open from noon to 5 p.m. Feb. 5 with the Akron Art Museum and Akron-Summit County Public Library for Sunday Sampler.

These events are free.

Dorothy Shinn writes about art and architecture for the Akron Beacon Journal. Send information to her at the Akron Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640 or