Marlene Comunale’s artworks once could be seen in any number of galleries and exhibit spaces in the region, but her last exhibit was at the Community Library of the Shenango Valley “a few years back.”
With the creation of Gallery 29 in downtown Sharon and artists reforming a collective sense not visible since the demise of the Valley Arts Guild, Donna Little thought it was time for a retrospective show in honor of Comunale.
That show will run Thursday through June 2 at Gallery 29, 146 E. State St.
“I got the idea for the retro show one day while I was visiting Marlene in her apartment,” said Little, a metal artist and organizer of the Christmastime Arts on the Avenue show in Sharon.
“The walls were just filled with her art, and I said to her, ‘Marlene, people need to see these,’” Little said.
“I’m thrilled,” Comunale, 77, of Hermitage, said of the show. “It’s just so nice to be recognized by your peers.”
Little’s efforts also are indicative of the impact art has had on Comunale’s life.
“I think it made me who I am,” she said. “My friendships revolved around it.”
Comunale started drawing as a kid.
“It just came natural,” she said, but early efforts were not met with encouragement.
“I did my mother’s cookbook and she wasn’t too happy about it,” said Comunale, who has five children, 12 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. “I scribbled all over it and she wasn’t too happy about it.”
She contracted polio and as a bed-ridden 12-year-old she drew to pass the time.
It wasn’t until her 40s when she sought formal training, earning a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Youngstown State University.
There isn’t much she hasn’t tried art-wise: drawing, painting, collage, puppetry.
She went on to teach art to adults and young people, but credited the guild with helping her become an artist. There, she learned to frame her works, hang them for exhibition and publicize her shows.
“There’s a lot to being an artist,” she said.
Comunale has never been afraid to push boundaries, her subjects touching on religion, women’s issues and male-female conflicts.
“I had a lot of controversy over ‘Which came first, the egg or the sperm?’” she said.
Another work that got tongues wagging was called, “We can send a man to the moon but we can’t stop the spread of PMS.”
“The N Spot” showed doctors ogling the elongated breast of Salvador Dali’s “Soft Construction with Boiled Beans,” and she called the work her take on mammograms.
“Little Bo Peep” surrounded the title character with images of Christ preaching, a cameraman, starving Africans and a nursery rhyme pasted over another Dali painting.
“It’s almost like I’m saying what if CNN covered the Crucifixion,” Comunale said in 1997, when the work was displayed at a now long-defunct Sharon gallery.
“I just want people to question things,” she said at the time. “If you don’t have a few people upset at you you’re not doing your job.”
At that time, Comunale was just getting back into painting and drawing after a second bout with polio, and she finds a recent illness has again hampered the fine motor skills for that work. She’s back to making collages, and that suits her just fine.
“I’m cutting out things and pasting them down,” she said. “I couldn’t draw and paint real good. I just started cutting.”
Many of her newer works feature da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa.”
“I’m a ‘Mona Lisa’ freak,” she said.
“Mona with a Twist” shows the famous subject in a gingham dress with long brunette hair and a hat with a bow and a feather that sticks out from the surface. A glass of wine and a plate of cookies sit on a table.
“I just like the red table cloth idea,” Comunale said of how the work developed.
In “Down the Rabbit Hole,” Mona is puffing on a cigarette and wearing a fedora in front of a psychedelic Italian countryside. The Mad Hatter is reflected in her sunglasses. A sticker reads “smoking stunts growth.”
“I like the ones I did with humor,” she offered.
Why humor? “I don’t know,” she said. “It just came out that way. I see things that way.”
Another recent work, “Man in the Mirror,” is a collage and watercolor painting of two 19th-century women talking in front of a mirror with a man’s image in it.
“I saw these women in a book,” Comunale said. “Just took a little from here, a little from there.”
“One of my favorites hangs in my study,” Little said. “It’s entitled, ‘We Should Dance.’ It is a collage with images of Adam and Eve being banished from the garden, a Victorian couple dancing, planets strung like pearls in the night sky and text that reads, ‘We come into the world naked. We leave fully clothed. And sometime in between we should dance.’”
Art remains exciting, “but in a different way,” Comunale said. “I can get lost in it. It eases my nerves. Just makes me happy.”
Little said she appreciates that Comunale is “always looking for new and different ways to express herself.”
And, frankly, an examination of Comunale’s visual art doesn’t tell you all there is to know about her creativity, Little said.
“I also remember her has a poet, a bit of a comedian (if she doesn’t mind me saying so) and even trying her hand, or should I say her feet, at dance,” Little said.
Comunale said she is looking forward to the opening night Happy Hour, which will run from 5 to 8 p.m., when she hopes to see a lot of old friends.
“Maybe a few new ones,” she said.
Information: 330-647-1712 or www.gallery29ofsharon.com