Akron Sky, 2019
St. Thomas School of Nursing, Akron Sky II, St. Thomas Hospital, each 2022 (left to right)
This artist says that he enjoyed the challenge of the terms of the commission (and we should recall that, until the Renaissance in the 15th century, art and architecture were almost always created by commission, working within very specific limitations, not by an artist working on her/his own to express individual originality). Callaghan tells us that he has always been particularly interested in the places and things right around him, which might be things we’d not at first think of as interesting: Neglected house plants scattered across a floor or snow-bestrewn cars in a parking lot. He begins work on site, in plein aire, from direct observation. He sketches in ink in a large-format sketchbook and also takes a few quick mobile-phone photos for future reference. And he looks and looks. He says that his memory of what he paints is perhaps the most important part of his preparation, especially for color but more generally for the space and feeling of what he is observing. Anything can be his subject,
“because when we look at something for a long time, it changes, and we begin to see it differently. I suppose that’s what attracted me to painting in the first place. The fact you can look at the same things for practically ever, and each time it’s an entirely different image.”
A neighborhood rendered in Callaghan's style
He makes us see those dead potted plants and snowy trucks in a new way with fresh appreciation for both the subjects of the painting and the artist’s interpretation of them. Another example is his singular appreciation for the beauties and complexities of vernacular architecture — that is, the ordinary houses and buildings in our immediate neighborhood – can sometimes take our breath away and is connected to why he was commissioned for this piece. Listen to the artist as he describes his process and the excitement it brings him in an interview for Cleveland’s Collective Artists’ Network.
Gouache, Callaghan’s medium of choice, is similar to watercolor, but the paint is opaque rather than transparent, resulting in the strong, unmodulated (no mixing to make shadows or highlights) hues on full display here. Notice how, in Akron Sky, the artist juxtaposes contrasting or related hues to create the illusion of texture, of distance, and of depth, as we see, for example, in the trees in the middle ground. He has applied paints to the paper with brushes of varying size, leaving evidence of each of his decisions and matching the movement of foliage below with that of clouds above. The economy of brush strokes, along with the simplification of form, is energized by his choice of bold colors. Such choices create a fractured energy in the scene, the artist’s special contribution, a kind of visual crackle, to what we might have otherwise found less interesting.
A Callaghan workshop with Cleveland students
Callaghan is a Cleveland-based artist and educator who works primarily in painting and drawing. After earning the professional undergraduate degree, Bachelor of Fine Arts or B.F.A., from the Cleveland Institute of Art, he completed the terminal professional degree, the Master of Fine Arts, at Kent State University. He was invited back to both institutions to teach, and he has taught at Cuyahoga Community College and Oberlin College and at Lake Ridge Academy. He has documented his studio practice and disciplined work habits in One Painting a Day, a book both instructional and inspirational. And in 2018, Callaghan undertook a residency, informally sponsored by the FRONT International Triennial, in Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood, where he exemplified the commitment to making art everyday and, in workshops with students, shared that practice with them.
Where you can see more of this artist’s work:
Callaghan exhibits work extensively throughout Cleveland and the region and in New York, and has been noted in the press for its impact. His work belongs to the collections of the Cleveland Clinic and the Cleveland Artists Association. His most recent exhibition of paintings and drawings, Glenville, was held in the new offices of the Cleveland Foundation at Playhouse Square and featured those works made while he was resident in the Glenville neighborhood in 2018.
And while you’re thinking about architectural views:
Other original works of art in the Summa Collection that synthesize multiple views to create epitomes of Akron include those by Ibojka Friedman, Joe Levack, and María Alejandra Zanetta. Additional interpretations of certain features of the city may be found in works by Scott Goss, Diane Pribojan, Rita Montlack, Michael Loderstedt, and Lizzie Aronhalt.
Akron Sky, 2019
Materials: Gouache on paper, 30” x 40”
Commissioned by Summa Health
Location at Summa Health: Dr. Gary B. and Pamela S. Williams Tower on the Akron Campus (141 N. Forge St.), blue neighborhood, fifth floor hallway, outside patient rooms H5-131 and H5-132.
This commission stipulated that the artist would depict views from the top of Summa Health's new patient tower, and so Timothy Callaghan did: First a series of flat rooftops visible to the east and then another more distant view of the Akron skyline from the west end. Using his artistic license (it comes with the degree), he combined these and inserted a nearby street, then foliage and angular, constructed shapes to fill in the areas between the disparate views. His synthesis, even if fictive, is visually satisfying. Busy areas of color patches contrast with the restful horizontals in the sky (itself synthesizing hues of sunrise and sunset), wide areas of horizontals meeting in corners in the foreground seem to call forth the tall, uninterrupted verticals of the high rises behind them, lined up across the composition as though on parade. After we understand how this composition works, we start to notice details: Can we identify the church on the left? … the filling station? … those skyscrapers in the distance?
This artist says that he enjoyed the challenge of the terms of the commission (and we should recall that, until the Renaissance in the 15th century, art and architecture were almost always created by commission, working within very specific limitations, not by an artist working on her/his own to express individual originality). Callaghan tells us that he has always been particularly interested in the places and things right around him, which might be things we’d not at first think of as interesting: Neglected house plants scattered across a floor or snow-bestrewn cars in a parking lot. He begins work on site, in plein aire, from direct observation. He sketches in ink in a large-format sketchbook and also takes a few quick mobile-phone photos for future reference. And he looks and looks. He says that his memory of what he paints is perhaps the most important part of his preparation, especially for color but more generally for the space and feeling of what he is observing.
St. Thomas School of Nursing, Akron Sky II, St. Thomas Hospital, each 2022 (left to right)
Materials, size: acrylic on canvas, each 36" x 36"
Location at Summa: Juve Family Behavioral Health Pavilion, second floor, north hallway.
These works were commissioned by Summa Health specifically for this location.
About the art and the artist:
This trio of works was created by artist Timothy Callaghan based 1) on an old photo of the St. Thomas School of Nursing; 2) on his sketch of the facade of the current St. Thomas Hospital (on the right); and 3) a request to capture a view of Akron from St. Thomas Hospital. So, this group of images bears historical significance and at the same time is very much made to order and contemporary.
We can appreciate some of the things that the artist did to tie the three disparate images together as a triptych: The two lateral compositions are structured sort of as roughly symmetrical, shallow-focus wings on either side of the very different, deep-focus cityscape. The striated skies above the left and right buildings converge toward the central painting, in which the stripes are purely horizontal, less cloud-like especially as contrasted with Callaghan's signature rendition of cumulus clouds, those delightful lumpy configurations in the central canvas) and keep the sky from being just fill-in. The foliage in the three paintings spins out three of Ohio's four seasons, in sequence, from left to right. And in each image, the artist contrasts areas of what we might think of as architectural obsessive-compulsiveness -- painting all those bricks in the façades in the two flanking canvases and painting all those windows in the skyscrapers of Akron Sky II -- with the freer, more expressive and certainly more characteristic (for him) brushstroke gestures for foliage.
At the same time, the artist doesn't want us to think of these just "paintings reproducing a couple of old photographs" or to find those two lateral façades -- the nursing school at left, the hospital entrance at right -- repetitious. So, he does things like inviting us to note both similarities and differences in design, structure, and building material by making the two compositions almost -- almost -- mirror each other. He then contrasts these two close-ups with what we can discern of the buildings deep in the central painting, where dignified entrances and materials really aren't on the menu. He has set up the images, and the grouping, so that we can visually enjoy them as the result of one person's interpretation, as well as understand them in historical context.
A final feature of this group calls for mention:
The three sisters on the steps of the nursing school Callaghan retained from the archival photograph, 'though his free-spirited paintings of urban architecture rarely include human figures. Whether these are students, clad in the long black cloaks and winged white caps typical of the day, or whether they are members of the teaching order of nuns, the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine, associated with the school, was not clear in the photo. Either way, for the artist they became emblematic of the role that the nurses of St. Thomas, led by Sister Mary Ignatiaplayed in making compassionate care as important as medical science in the treatment of addiction. For this, Sister Ignatia became known as the "Angel of Alcoholics Anonymous," associated with the organization's other founding figures, Bill W. and Dr. Bob. The religious origin of that caregiving and the instrumentality of Sister Ignatia are fundamental parts of the institution's history, to which Summa Health, and the city of Akron, can point with understandable pride.
In such a light, we recognize that this contemporary triptych by Timothy Callaghan also celebrates the intersection of faith-based and science-based human endeavor.
Where you can see artwork dealing with Summa's history:
Artist Charlotte Lees' Organ Pipe Medley: a Tribute to Sister Ignatia also honors Sister Ignatia with reference to her early career as a music teacher.