Worthy of Gold: A New Tregoning Exhibit Explores Athletic Performance With Greek Tributes and Nudity

In the Olympics, we carry on the Greek’s enthusiasm for sporting, but otherwise our culture does not reflect their sensibilities. Whereas moderns stereotypically classify beauty as a feminine quality, for the Greeks, the male form was the object of aesthetic appreciation. In the exhibit “Kalos,” Tregoning and Company honors both these legacies in an examination of the nude athletic male.  

Florida painter Ron Griswold and Ohio sculptor Campbell Paxton contribute to the show. The latter contributes sketches and oils on panel with a simple but effective palette of blue, cream and several shades of flesh. The men Griswold paints are always in motion—diving, tumbling, boxing or dancing. Movement through space is captured by flesh-toned smudges left behind by the clear-lined limbs, or ghostly after-images of the whole person.

“The Dancer” twists his impossibly compact torso, lifts a leg to his chest and shuts his eyes in concentration; the rest of his face is calm and free of strain. In “Summer,” another dancer shows off his flexibility by bending his back into almost an acute angle, thrusting buttocks back and ribcage forward. In “Dive,” we see a man tumbling through three mid-air poses. His legs remain straight and rigid, a stabilizer for his maneuvers; his mouth is open, gulping in air.

The bodies Griswold paints are beautiful not only for how they look, but because of what they can do; and what they do is an expression of admirable qualities, namely dedication to athletic perfection. The subjects are appreciated as full persons, not diminished but honored by their nudity.

Griswold’s subjects are of a moment and an era; if they weren’t frozen in paint, in another second they would have stuck the landing or landed a punch, and then went on with their 21st century lives. Paxton’s men and youths have more fluid relationships with time. His clay and bronze pieces could have been made in Greek antiquity, or any time after the invention of Expressionism and Art Deco.

As in Griswold, some take place in a particular instant. The relief “Young Victor (Kalos)” portrays an Olympian holding an olive wreath in his right hand. The left hand crosses over his body, as if in his moment of excitement the athlete didn’t know what to do with it.

However, other images appear frozen in the amber of myth. In “Star Shooter,” an archer lets loose an arrow into a lapis night sky; we wonder if he is a dreaming hunter or a constellation himself. The bronze “Chronos” is a vulture in human form, the squatting, scowling personification of time who wields an hourglass and scythe. 

The most characteristic bodies Paxton sculpts have loose limbs bulging with muscles of impossible bulk and roundness. Though almost all of his work is stylized, Paxton is able to express a wide range of moods through subtle facial expressions and limb postures.

In the medallion “Rest after Victory,” a young man wears an olive crown like that from “Kalos.” He sits up, grabbing an ankle with one hand, and scratching where the wreath meets his hairline. After his triumph, he’s not sure what to do next, and for now doesn’t care; he’s still soaking it all in. With radiant warmth, a man places a hand on the shoulder of a crowned comrade in “Sharing the Victory.”

Alongside “Kalos,” Tregoning is running another exhibit, “Kunstkammer,” a collection drawn from the estate of the recently departed John A. Popplestone. Over 38 years at the University of Akron, Popplestone distinguished himself as a prolific historian of psychology. He was also an avid collector of paraphernalia of the British military and art of many times and places—Spanish Surrealism, Russian Orthodox iconography and Renaissance painting and drawing,

It is almost unfair to discuss any item of “Kunstkammer” in particular, because it will be unrepresentative of the whole, and because there are too many worthy items to profile in limited space. Walking through the show has the cumulative effect of a stroll through the study of a world traveler. We feel the touch of an individual in the surprising and idiosyncratic selections, and regard him with reverent affection.

“Kalos” and “Kunstkammer” will run through September 27 at 1300 West 78th St. Open Monday through Saturday, but appointments are courteous. For more information, call 216-281- 8626 or go to tregoningandco.com.  Tregoning will host an open house tonight from 5 to 9 p.m. as part of Third Fridays.

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