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September 11, 2013

NIGHT and DAY: Portraits of Detroit at the Scarab Club

By Jim Welke

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The Scarab Club will host an exhibition by Bruce Giffin and Stephen Magsig, titled “NIGHT & DAY: Portraits of Detroit”. Giffin and Magsig have spent decades creating works representing Detroit and its environs. They have walked the same streets and recorded their impressions using different media, but with a clearly shared respect for the subject of their work.

NIGHT and DAY opened at the Scarab Club on Friday 6-September-2013 on one of those almost foreboding perfect summer evenings. The Facebook invitation said 177 attended, which can be believed. The 2nd floor gallery felt almost cramped by the crowd that slipped in through the narrow doorway off the main stairs of the venerable red brick pile where the gallery resides. Once inside, visitors found the big room illuminated with warm sunlight through the elevated, arched windows along the south wall. The French doors in back were swung open to give access to the magical walled garden adjacent to the gallery.

For Night & Day, the large room holds 95 pictures: 52 paintings and prints by Stephen Magsig; and 43 photographs by Bruce Giffin. With one exception (Mr. Giffin’s Creepy Street, a canvas print), all of the pictures are diminutive, as though to grasp the common topic of these images — Detroit — the subject matter requires compression and division into bite size bits. That’s probably true, as any of the former mayors of Detroit might attest. Things in this town have a way of getting out of control, and if you want to understand the place even a little, you should take it on a micro scale, bit by bit. Pick a neighborhood, pick a street, walk slow, and observe like an owl. And keep your preconceptions stowed. Preconceptions about this town tend toward wrong.

Detroit River Landscape III / Oil on linen panel / Stephen Magsig

Detroit River Landscape III / Oil on linen panel / Stephen Magsig

Warehouse Shadows / Oil on linen panel / Stephen Magsig

Warehouse Shadows / Oil on linen panel / Stephen Magsig

Many of Mr. Magsig’s oils have an Edward Hopper feel to them: muted color, exceptional detail, but non-specific, as though the images stand as archetypes. Like the paintings, the prints show close in, detailed views as well, muted and shadowy. Magsig’s Michigan Central Arch, a monotype, captures that shadowy, generalized detail that could be any number of places. He renders the arch with graceful strokes that give it an ethereal quality, as though inhabited by unseen divinity. And if you think such details of classical architecture innately embody preternatural forces, note his print of an old water tank, which carries the same mystical effect.

Michigan Central Arch / Monotype / Stephen Magsig

Michigan Central Arch / Monotype / Stephen Magsig

Belle Isle Footbridge / Monotype / Stephen Magsig

Belle Isle Footbridge / Monotype / Stephen Magsig

Russel Water Tower / Monotype / Stephen Magsig

Russel Water Tower / Monotype / Stephen Magsig

American Dream / Bruce Giffin

American Dream / Bruce Giffin

American Dream / Bruce Giffin

American Dream / Bruce Giffin

Tiger-ific Orange / Bruce Giffin

Tiger-ific Orange / Bruce Giffin

Mr. Giffin’s images share that muted, shadowy quality, although he sometimes lightens the mood with witty, acerbic titles like Soylent Green Factory, or Tiger-ific Orange. The exquisite composition and masterful use of natural lighting in these photographs captures the mood of a scene with impeccable clarity. Something intangible projects from these images, and although I referred to Mr. Giffin in a previous article as a documentarian, there is more than pure, objective fact here. If you gaze long enough at these images, the emotional content crawls into your consciousness and takes over your state of mind; you share for a moment the photographer’s point of view, along with whatever sensation that point of view brings with it.

End of the Road / Bruce Giffin

End of the Road / Bruce Giffin

Backlit Tank / Mezzotint / Stephen Magsig

Backlit Tank / Mezzotint / Stephen Magsig

Hollywood / Bruce Giffin

Hollywood / Bruce Giffin

Franklin Street Shadows / Mezzotint / Stephen Magsig

Franklin Street Shadows / Mezzotint / Stephen Magsig

Overall, a melancholy sense seemed to emanate from Mr. Magsig and Mr. Giffin’s works. Not depressive, not schadenfreude inducing, just a bit melancholy. Part of the reason for that might be the absence of human forms. While that is not a bad thing — the landscapes (including the buildings) in all of the images, harbor their own presence and personality. And one can argue nature does too. Deists seem to make that argument, or at least they argue divine intervention created nature, and thus divinity inhabits it (without the promise of revelation). By way of contrast, a quote that appears on the Tate Britain site under a painting by L.S. Lowry, “Dwelling, Ordsall Lane, Salford 1927”, for whom the Tate Britain has an exhibition on at the moment:

Lowry was fascinated by buildings. For him they evoked the lives of their occupants. He felt that ‘A country landscape is fine without people, but an industrial set without people is an empty shell. A street is not a street without people… it is as dead as mutton’. In the 1920s he frequently drew in Salford: ‘There were special parts I liked, a bit Georgian, older than the rest. My favourite places were the houses built around factories. They just attracted me more than the others.’ Revisiting Orsdall Lane in the 1960s Lowry remembered that as he had drawn in front of the dwelling, ‘scores of little kids who hadn’t had a wash for weeks would come and stand around me. And there was a niff, too.’

This quote offers no proof against Giffin and Magsig’s depopulated images. In fact, photographers Eugene Atget, Rudy Burckhardt, Edward Ruscha; and painters Edward Hopper, Charles Demuth, and Charles Sheeler took that approach to acclaim. But the absence of people may account for that sense of melancholy in this show. Buildings, after all, were built to serve humans, and when devoid of human activity, they seem mournful of the absence. Landscapes too, can seem to cry out for witness. Deists might argue these images prove their hypothesis; that the sensation they engender predicates the work of an unseen deity. Perhaps that’s the subtle magic of this show: despite the omission of us in the pictures, they compel no less of a visceral reaction.

Blue-Bird Inn / Bruce Giffin

Blue-Bird Inn / Bruce Giffin

Stephen Magsig

Stephen Magsig

Clouds Over Belle Isle / Oil on linen panel / Stephen Magsig  The Henry of the Baskervilles / Bruce Giffin

Clouds Over Belle Isle / Oil on linen panel / Stephen Magsig
The Henry of the Baskervilles / Bruce Giffin

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NIGHT & DAY: Portraits of Detroit runs through 12-October-2013 at the Scarab Club.

Incidentally, there’s an interesting photography show on at Live Coal Gallery:  Doorways to Detroit with photos by Stanley Larry, Rashaun Rucker, & Mohan Karulkar — it runs through 5-Oct-2013.

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September 2, 2013

Detroit Jazz Festival — Sunday Night Scenes

scenes from Sunday night at the Detroit Jazz Festival 2013…

Cecil McBee / The Cookers / Detroit Jazz Festival 2013

Cecil McBee / The Cookers / Detroit Jazz Festival 2013

The Cookers — an old-school, hard bop octet whose members in part formed the style nearly sixty years ago. They cook.

find more pics on our facebook page

September 1, 2013

Detroit Jazz Festival — Saturday Night Scenes

A few shots of the sublime Detroit Jazz Festival on Saturday night:

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McCoy Tyner Trio WSG Savion Glover

Tony Monaco Trio featuring Fareed Haque

Boy and Drums On The Street

 

here’s some pics on our face book page