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Closing Time 

Donald Black captures intimate truths at Convivium 33

Lately, there's been a lot of art about the foreclosure crisis. It isn't hard to tap into the drama of disaster and broad social change. To some degree, most of us have felt the impact of the worst economic breakdown since 1929 — even if it's just abandoned properties making for an (even more) depressing view from the SUV on the way to an art opening.

But that's an unfair crack. Most local artists and art patrons live in the city or in the hard-hit inner-ring suburbs. Some have even lost their houses. Others — like photographer Donald Black, who returned to Cleveland in 2007 after a few years in New York City to found nonprofit arts-education organization Nonverbal Communication — have observed the crisis from a ringside seat. From his headquarters on the southeast side, Black has spent the past two years hiking around the neighborhood, capturing the broken rhythms and random combinations that forced vacancies leave in their wake.

His color and black-and-white photographs on display in For Closure at Convivium 33 are a strangely beautiful body of work. A basement window clotted with cobwebs and spattered dirt is neither a rare sight nor a sure sign of economic ruin. That such a thing might be beautiful is far from an original thought, yet in Black's hands, the subject is lovely in unexpected ways. He makes a triptych from the window's three panes, evoking a punch-drunk time of order hidden in the downpour of cold northeastern hours. Leaves press up against the glass as if blindly seeking shelter, while tall plants stretch in the murky light beyond, outlined against a neighbor's white clapboard wall.

"For Vanity" shows a rounded tub, typical of Cleveland's century-old housing, reflected in the bottom corner of a cabinet mirror. Light is drawn along the tub's perfect porcelain edge. Zig-zag-patterned wallpaper peels below the mirror, and everything is glazed in the greenish light cast by an old green-painted house, like a study in geometry from an ideal emotional realm.

Black's photos document the beauty of common things, stripped and simplified by neglect. Similarly, Tim Lachina's bright color photographs in Convivium's smaller foyer gallery show harmonies syncopated by hasty departures.

Lachina is a celebrated Cleveland designer who has worked with periodicals like Muse, the quarterly published by the Cleveland Writer's Center, a.k.a. the Lit. He did the layout for For Closure's catalog, sponsored by the Lit. It includes work by Cleveland poets and writers, penned in response to Black's imagery. The writing and photography make for a mostly seamless mix of imagery and verbal improv. 

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