Reflection On My Visit To The Akron Art Museum

On a Tuesday afternoon, I visited Akron Art Museum. I spent a few hours exploring the contemporary section, the “traditional gallery” located at the northern end of building, before walking through the garden. The garden was familiar, but I hadn’t been to the museum. As it was a weekday I noticed that most people were students. A few looked like artists and were taking note of certain works.

I liked the collection of the Akron Art Museum. It is small, especially for a museum located in such a big city. The majority of pieces in the Akron Art Museum collection are by artists who live or have lived in the Akron or Ohio area. The pieces in the collection depicted neighborhoods from all over Akron. They really demonstrated the diversity of culture in the city through the years. It was refreshing and informative to see the dedication of local artists.

James Gobel has created a mixed-media piece that depicts a man wearing a gaudy outfit, presumably for karaoke. Gobel adds physical texture and depth by using rhinestones as well as felt and yarn. The result is a character that practically pops out of the painting. Behind the subject are neon-green lines that appear to be lasers. It is as if he was creating this array through his impressive stage presence. The pattern of the character’s shirt and smoking jacket – a pink-fringed, cheetah-print on plaid – creates a vibrant, playful atmosphere.

In Man Eating Trees, John Sokol paints with tar and varnish to create a monochromatic landscape that is both allegorical and haunting ( In the front, we can clearly see a man eating a tree with another still in his hand. A landscape made up of stumps is visible behind the man, implying that his destructive actions will leave him without anything. The piece has a peculiar glow from the use of varnish and tar, which is applied with irregular brushstrokes and cloudy clouds. Man Eating Trees measures 6′ by 8′ and is a large, eye-catching piece. Sokol first experimented in the early 1980s with tarn, varnish, and monochrome brown.

Both artworks are very different. Gobels’ piece is full of color, pattern, pomp and reflects the subject’s vibrancy in all possible ways. Gobel creates a very realistic-looking character. Under his stage clothes he is wearing a band tee-shirt and a beard. This implies that he’s just putting on a show. Man Eating Trees, on the other hand, is a more muted and less descriptive image. It’s almost like a dreamy dimension.

I’ll Be Your Friend… has a social context that is important when you consider James Gobel’s attempt to portray a character in the LBGTQ ‘bear sub-community. Gobel’s portrayal of the subculture of ‘bears’ is rarely noticed, but it’s important to expose the public to this subculture and to help change the stereotypes that people have of gay men.

John Sokol painted Man Eating Trees with environmentalist themes, but his choice to depict a man eating trees rather than a machine suggests the problem may be cultural or psychological. Sokol’s experience as a construction worker and a resident of Canton OH in formerly booming steel town, he was well-versed in industrialism. Sokol tries to show the negative effects of corporate greed and industrialism from a social perspective.

Sokol & Gobel choose to portray two very different social narratives. They have both chosen to paint homosexuality & environmentalism in the same way. By focusing their attention on one subject, both artists encourage viewers to pay more attention to the story and individual they portray. I’ll Be Your Friend… shows the singer in his element. He is at ease and comfortable. We get a feel for his lifestyle and can interpret it in a fresh way. In Man Eating Trees, we feel uncomfortable by the muddled nature of the subject, which creates an uneasy feeling. It also makes us disgusted with the man’s destructiveness. This suggests that his ambitions are not only selfish, but also hollow and misguided.

The gender studies of I’ll BE YOUR FRIEND… offer a wide range of possibilities to re-evaluate the masculinity as well as how men are portrayed in art and culture. The juxtaposition of several elements makes us wonder what the’real persona’ is, and breaks down gender barriers. Iron Maiden’s shirt is hidden beneath the plaid shirt, lounge jacket and loud lounge shirt. This suggests that he could be any guy. At first glance, the man’s make up, curled mustache, and dyed hair are not noticeable. The layers in clothing and pattern reflect the multiple layers in identity of the subject.

The portrayal of Man Eating Trees as a human being, and not a machine or corporation is crucial. This implies that the issue is within human nature, not an abstract institution or corporation. Despite this, the majority of those in charge of such devastation of the environment are men. Sokol could be implying that the problem is within the nature of males.

Both pieces portray masculinity differently. I thought that this showed how diverse depictions of the gender in art could be. Gobel creates a complex, memorable character by experimenting with cultural norms. In contrast, the lack color makes the viewer focus inward. They are forced to reconsider masculine industrial ambitions and their environmental impact.

The Akron Art Museum was an unexpected delight. I plan to return there in the future. The size of the museum was initially disappointing. However, I found that it gave the displayed works a more intimate feel. James Gobel’s work was the very first piece I examined, and it was revisited several times throughout my visit. I was drawn in by the colors and patterns. Later, I realized that the clothing featured felt and yarn textures. I was drawn to the obscure subject because of its obscurity and the fact that it revealed a small community outside the mainstream. The dark, brooding atmosphere of Man Eating Trees caught me off guard when I first saw it. It was at first thought that the painting depicted a folktale or myth. However, after learning more about Sokol and his background in Canton I realized it had a strong environmental message. I was initially drawn to the paintings by their initial meaning, but after researching Sokol’s other work and his upbringing in Canton, it became clear that he had a strong environmental message.


  • jamielane

    Jamie Lane is a 31-year-old blogger and traveler who loves to share his educational experiences with others. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan and has been traveling the world ever since. Jamie is always looking for new and interesting ways to learn, and he loves to share her findings with others.

Comments are closed.