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August 30, 2011

“Homeland” :: Detroit

Plantation House -- Jother Woods

There is an exhibition going on at the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art in Detroit through September 10, called “Homeland.” It is curated by Rebecca Mazzei.

Here’s the exhibition description from the N’Namdi website:

“Homeland”
June 17, 2011 – September 10, 2011

Homeland is a group exhibition featuring Chicago artists Bill Woolf and David Philpot alongside Detroiters Jother Woods, James “Slim” Thompson and Jerome Ferretti, curated by Rebecca Mazzei. The exhibition explores the powerful relationship between identity and place. Each artist has developed a singular language to portray a deep personal, cultural and spiritual connection to the environment that they call home. An incredible sense of imagination and invention unites them, laying bare the richness of their interior lives.

This art of Jother Woods has been little viewed by the public, yet this west side Detroiter is easily one of the region’s greatest visionaries. Woods, a native of the Louisiana, has for 37 years been working diligently to construct his own personal utopia, a miniature-scale environment which he calls his “Plantation Home.” At 54-feet long, the tabletop landscape is his childhood dream carried to its fullest extent, made in intricate detail from discarded materials.

David Philpot’s walking canes, of which there are now hundreds, symbolically reference Moses’ instrument of divine power, the staff. Philpot states that his work began one fateful night nearly four decades ago when he was called by an “inexplicable higher power” to break a branch off his neighbor’s tree and carve a cane. Many of his canes recall the decorative embellishment of African mourning vessels.

Bill Woolf’s work is reminiscent of classic folk artists like Grandma Moses or Ralph Fasanella, and fits into the larger tradition of memory painting. In narrative landscapes, he employs abstraction as a ground, then overlays white trees, and a stream of tiny nude figures meandering toward “The River Jordan.” The exhibition also features scenes from various residential Evanston, Illinois streets. Some of the houses have ghostly spirit figures rising in the sky above the architecture.

A fixture in the Detroit creative community for more than four decades, Jerome Ferretti learned masonry from his father at age 10 and turned toward art making as an adult, developing his own complex process for sculptural masonry and honing equally impressive skills in watercolor and oil painting. Whether building sculptural monuments in the metro area or painting street scenes, he faithfully memorializes the community he loves.

James “Slim” Thompson was one of the most unconventional and storied characters of Detroit. He rode around the city’s Cass Corridor area on his art bike, a conventional Schwinn street cruiser which he modified to the extreme with pictures of his friends and people in the neighborhood, pinups of kinky ladies, religious symbols, flags, fabric, fur, milk jugs, pinwheels and a wooden toilet seat. Radios he affixed to the bike played the blues. At approximately 7 feet tall and 9 feet long, the bike was sized to fit its costumed rider, a six-foot-eight costumed legend of the Detroit art scene.

-Text by Rebecca Mazzei, with excerpts by Aron Packer courtesy Packer Schopf Gallery and Rebecca Mazzei courtesy Intuit: the Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, both in Chicago.

N’ Namdi Center for Contemporary Art is located at:
52 E. Forest, Detroit 48201
313 831 8700

Detail of "Evanston, Asbury Street" by Bill Woolf. Photo by Matthew Piper

Detail of "Evanston, Asbury Street" by Bill Woolf. Photo by Matthew Piper

Some of David Philpot's "Staffs." Photo by Matthew Piper

Some of David Philpot's "Staffs." Photo by Matthew Piper

There it is. I saw this show. Twice. I liked it. The work on display was imaginative and captivating. Bill Woolf’s paintings could be stared at for hours, while your mind conjures up all sorts of scenarios to explain them — a sort of magical realism on canvas. Mr. Ferretti’s watercolors, with warped perspective, vibrant colors, and distorted figures present an amusing, but slightly unsettling representation of reality — sort of like political cartoons with the politics sublimated.  And Jother Woods’ “Plantation House” — an imagined, hopeful world in miniature from found objects — will not be forgotten if for no other reason than the installation defies categorization. Go see it. You will be stunned. Then look at the paintings, walking canes, and Slim’s outlandish Detroit bicycle — while it is called, “Only In America,” it’s got Detroit written all over it. You want to see it, trust me.

It is worth noting, too, that the gallery staff at N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art were warm, well-informed, and welcoming. And the gallery space is stunning. A credit to Detroit and its art scene.

Norm's Liquor City -- Jerom Ferretti

Norm's Liquor City -- Jerom Ferretti