I am ONE: Tom Canale at the SVSU University Gallery

    icon Jan 18, 2018
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"I am ONE" is the exhibition of work by Prof. Tom Canale, my colleague in the SVSU Art Department.  It fills the SVSU University GalleryJanuary 16 through February 9, 2018, and a public reception will be held on Thursday January 25, 4 to 6 pm.  The typographically-inspired work in the exhibit was completed during Canale's 2016 sabbatical.

Canale came to SVSU early in this century, with a BFA in Graphic Design from the Cleveland Institute of Arts, where he taught, and an MFA in Digital Art/Computer Imaging from Bowling Green State University.  He teaches graphic design courses that include Logo Design, Publication Design and a popular illustration course producing storybooks.  Too often a graduating senior will discover she or he doesn't really want to work on layouts in a corporate setting, just draw furry monsters.  Yet other of his students win regional and national design awards, for their sharp and lucrative professionalism.

Canale has a successful commercial graphic design practice, to the envy of some locals, in partnership with his wife Lois.  Some faithful clients, like a hospital, followed him when he came to SVSU from Cleveland fifteen years ago.

Canale's innovative typography sometimes degrade and crumble in the Tom Carson tradition, the graphic designer who realized about 1990 that the writing in his client's skateboard magazine was so lame, it didn't matter if it was legible or not.  "WE FORGIVE" might be Canale's most demandingly Carsonesque, or his "EXPERIMENT-1" whose many layers require a lot of effort from the viewer to read the spiritual message.  His texts have been aestheticized, stylized and polished into geometric shapes lined up or flying at you, exchanging figure-ground relationships yet somehow adding up to Constructivist elegance, like those angular publication pages, posters and costumes proposed by optimistic, visionary artist-designers after the Russian revolution.  But he readily quotes Herb Lubalin, that "Sometimes you have to sacrifice readability for visual impact."

In "ABSTRACT4" the big white text "Sweet fantasy, my dream remembers..." sits atop swirling painterly swirls as if applied with paint-clotted metal type, then forces a change of viewing distance to read the rest.  His TITLE PAGES series are like the most attentively, craftily designed ransom notes ever, assembled from diverse letters by a fussy kidnapper with intense attention to creative word spacing.  Various posters play with the I AM (NOT) (AL)ONE visual punning, with multi-directional or truncated letters, or backgrounds that suggest the dot grid patterns used by the late UM surrealist Gerome Kamrowski.

I wasn't impressed by a body of filtered and manipulated photographs he exhibited a decade ago, but the Digital Art seeds in his background have sometimes borne fine fruit.  When Tom gave me big abstract digital graphic to decorate my new office, it spurred an epiphany about nonobjective art: art without imagery is simply graphic design.  It's design without content, that is to say, with no more content than attractive swirly forms and bright colors.

Tom Canale is also the designer of one of the most popular sculptures at a university proud of its sculptures.  SVSU boasts the fine Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum, and Nancy Holt's participatory "Annual Ring".  Canale's I LOVE SVSU is in the tradition of Robert Indiana's LOVE, a text-based painting and serigraph turned into a monumental three-dimensional steel sculpture.  Is it kitsch?  Then sometimes kitsch is exactly the right thing.

Now, I'll draw two hats on my classroom whiteboard, a French beret and a silk top hat full of money: the beret represents artist-initiated studio work which will hopefully pay off later, the top hat as the immediate payment as a result of giving form to a design client's needs.  Yet Tom Canale once raised his purist Art Department colleagues' dander when he declared in a meeting that, for him, Art and Design are the same thing.   This exhibition shows a big, bold effort to convince us all.

Mike Mosher <mosher@svsu.edu> is Professor, Art/Communication Media Administration at Saginaw Valley State University.  All images © Tom Canale.



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