Rising to the top in the art world is not the norm for the average MFA holder even with that precious certificate that guarantees the student knows nearly everything about art that the institution he/she has attended can afford them. The late Jack Meanwell took every route around fine art, including commercial design, that an artist can take, excluding the degree, but he knew what he was meant to be, and after a lifetime of pursuing the norm, he capitulated.
Nearly every Cincinnatian is aware of Meanwell’s talent and prolific output, if not through the Cincinnati Art Museum’s acquisition of four of his works, then as a member of his Art Academy of Cincinnati figure drawing classes, among the most popular of the classes offered at that time. So many homes in the area are graced with his paintings and drawings that simply by being a guest in this area very likely insures some knowledge of his work.
Currently the Mary Ran Gallery in the Hyde Park area of the city is the custodian of his art legacy, and the recent showing of his work substantiates his claim to fame. Contrary to many artists whose works are either trendy or passe, Meanwell still holds his place as one of the finest. His nudes are flamboyant and solidly drawn in sure lines. Very little modeling is included in them, simply a vividly alive outline, often moving so fluidly, the very moment of their encounter seems part of the image. He incorporated drama with the motion. Seldom any background, a good choice since that inclusion would surely have detracted from the rendering. The simplicity of their presence makes them perfect additions to home decor everywhere from front door to attic dormer.
A Canadian by birth, Meanwell owned a little island in Canada which provided his landscape inspiration, and slowly moved his work into abstraction. These are the pieces which will assuredly endure. His early paintings, harsh with the ruggedness of
of the island’s plants and trees, were rapidly brushed onto the canvas in heavy colors and strokes. As Meanwell gathered a more sophisticated eye, the deep greens and browns began to give way to softer color and wider swathes of space. He had already conquered composition thoroughly through his commercial past and began working on something that artists must find for themselves: identifying originality. His works can now be easily recognized anywhere. They are active, lively, seductive, and painted lushly with bigger than life impasto. The very style is his signature.
Primitive rocks on the island were another of his leaps into abstraction. As pure shapes they invited many inventions, even as huge, squashed, ice cream-colored globs which somehow transformed the dark stones of Canada into the softness of the Bahamas. Pastels became his palette in the 80’s, gently transforming the blizzards of brushstrokes into restful interludes. Even the prickly edges of pushed paint assume a quieter, more introspective expression with softer tones. At about the same time, the nudes were becoming a bit more aggressive. Heavier lines were appearing and the swaying models’ attitudes became more anchored.
Much of art today is either X rated, or needs an electrical outlet. It can rarely be hung on a wall to enrich an environment. And it seldom lasts beyond shock-time. Meanwell’s art is a gracious endeavor, often untraditional, but rooted in the traditional purposes of art: to elucidate and enjoy.
Mary Ran has a sizable collection of all things Meanwell. She is more than happy to make it available for inspection. Next up at Mary Ran Gallery; another world class Cincinnati great, Paul Chidlaw.