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February 28, 2014

UNBOUND: WSU MFA 2 Thesis Exhibition–Wayne State University–Detroit

by Jim Welke

UNBOUND: WSU MFA 2 Thesis Exhibition–Wayne State University–Detroit thru 7-Mar with work by: Laurie D’Alessandro, Kyle Dill, Ani Garabedian, and Hiroko Lancour

“Unbound” forms the theme for this master’s thesis show. Despite that thread running through, the personality and outlook of each artist indisputably surfaces — bound as it were to their masterful work. As you might expect from students about to receive a master of fine arts degree, they delivered with meticulous attention to detail. In the gallery, you can almost sense how taught such a high stake show must stretch out the nerves of the artist — the intensity therein warms you on entering.

Laurie D’Alessandro offers works with a distilled, ethereal, denatured quality. She teases the essential elements from everyday things, leaving behind a vaporous residue of the original object almost like holographic projections of their souls.

Laurie D’Alessandro

Brother’s Shirt / tarlatan, cotton thread, buttons / 2013 / Laurie D’Alessandro

Laurie D’Alessandro

Brother’s Shirt / tarlatan, cotton thread, buttons / 2013 / Laurie D’Alessandro

Laurie D’Alessandro

White Shirt Deconstructed / 2013 / tarlatan, cotton thread / Laurie D’Alessandro

Brother’s Shirt and White Shirt Deconstructed demonstrate this effect with startling clarity. The originals are there, but not there and you find yourself wondering what “there” really means.

Laurie D’Alessandro

Pine on Mulberry #2 (triptych) / graphite frottage on Mulberry paper / 2014 / Laurie D’Alessandro

Laurie D’Alessandro

Pine on Mulberry #2 (detail) / graphite frottage on Mulberry paper / 2014 / Laurie D’Alessandro

With a frottage triptych, Pine on Mulberry #2, Ms. D’Alessandro once again dissolves the source object to reveal its textural essence, its interface to our vision. The tree evaporates, but the impression of it persists.

Laurie D’Alessandro

Polar Ice Cap / fiber, scoring out on silk / 2012 / Laurie D’Alessandro

Laurie D’Alessandro

Polar Ice Cap / fiber, scoring out on silk / 2012 / Laurie D’Alessandro

In Polar Ice Cap, Ms. D’Alessandro plays with time as well as content. Using diaphanous silk, she represents phases of Arctic ice cap melting (either seasonally, or through years of irreversible global warming, the likelier explanation). This work departs from her previous pieces by visualizing for us something usually out of reach and out of mind (but not inconsequential). By abstracting the ice to ghostly overlays, she brings our focus to altered dimensions of the ice as time progresses through layered cloth. With inconceivably precise execution and eloquent selection of subject matter, Ms. D’Alessandro brings her viewer in touch with her unique vision of things we know of, but through familiarity (or possibly willful omission in the case of the ice) we no longer really see. She puts us back in the head of a child, seeing a world with layer upon layer of complexity revealed incrementally.

Kyle Dill also repositions everyday flotsam and jetsam to emphasize the elemental form that comprises it. Most of the works he presents refer to the ubiquitous packaging (specifically, cardboard boxes) we encounter like cocoons enveloping our consumer purchases. This packaging isolates and presents an obstacle to the thing we desire within — like gulls fishing for crabs we snatch up the package and burrow through the carapace for the meat inside, heedless of the exterior. But, Mr. Dill tosses out the precious insides, and hands us back the shell, re-worked and re-formulated so that we encounter it as a substantial creation in its own right. That’s not a trivial accomplishment considering our saturation in this stuff that represents nothing but friction in our existence. We want so much to ignore it, to dispatch it, to be done with it once and for all. But there it is, Mr. Dill seems to say. Look at it. Appreciate it. Even admire it.

Kyle Dill

Waffle Box / copper, wood, paint / 2014 / Kyle Dill

Kyle Dill

Easy Vender (Fridge Mate) / copper / 2013 / Kyle Dill

Kyle Dill

Lift to Open / drywall paint / 2014 / Kyle Dill

Kyle Dill

Lift to Open / drywall paint / 2014 / Kyle Dill

Starting with Waffle Box, Mr. Dill takes us through a progression from the effectively two-dimensional source material, flat and unfolded, to the nearly realized but still nascent Easy Vender, to the monumental and complete Lift to Open where he converts an entire wall into concealing refuse. With these works, and numerous others throughout the show, Mr. Dill brings both skill and vision to bear, and takes us on a journey inside the box… so to speak.

Hiroko Lancour

Tsunami 3-11-2011 / silkscreen on hand-dyed linen / 2012 / Hiroko Lancour

Hiroko Lancour

Tsunami 3-11-2011 (detail) / silkscreen on hand-dyed linen / 2012 / Hiroko Lancour

Tsunami, by Hiroko Lancour, signals what seems to be a persistent theme in her work — perception, or possibly misperception. She seems to toy with visual as well as emotional cues to force us to re-see the subjects of her work. Tsunami gives us an elegant linen print enlivened with delicate geometric patterns. But at the center of each swirl we find a date printed: 3.11.2011 — the day the tsunami hit northeastern Japan with devastating effects. Enjoy the pretty, but memorialize this day. Nothing comes without a price she seems to say.

Hiroko Lancour

Curved but Straight: Seeing With Detached Retinas 1 / acrylic on canvas / 2013 / Hiroko Lancour

With Curved but Straight: Seeing With Detached Retinas 1, Ms. Lancour gives us a view of uniform, equidistant squares that should form a graph-paper grid of geometric perfection — but don’t. The contrasting colors and outlines put the grid in topsy-turvy motion to induce an unnerving vertigo in the viewer. This picture, like all good op art, takes control of your optical sensory hardware — eyes and brain — and dissolves what you thought were immutable, Euclidean constants.

Hiroko Lancour

Chance Operations: Enso / Japanese Hosho paper, sumi ink, vermillion ink, vellum paper, pencil / 2014 / Hiroko Lancour

Hiroko Lancour

Chance Operations: Enso / Japanese Hosho paper, sumi ink, vermillion ink, vellum paper, pencil / 2014 / Hiroko Lancour

Chance Operations: Enso, according to an explanatory video that accompanies the work, takes its inspiration from John Cage and his use of chance (via the I Ching) to formulate music. Here, Ms. Lancour used dice to fix the color and orientation of her symbols. This work feels a bit less visceral and immediate than Ms. Lancour’s other work in the show. The adjacent charts and tables detach the viewer further from the visual impressions inherent in the prints. Still, this work offers a useful window into the sometimes arbitrary process of art making and for that, if no other reason, it is worth a close look. But there is another reason to look: the images offer Ellsworth Kelly-like simplicity of form and color, and possess esthetic quality that stands firm with no prior knowledge of the process. So take them both ways: process and picture; intellectual and emotional. (Gerhard Richter made interesting use of chance too, in his color chart paintings — the element of chance in art recurs.)

Ani Garabedian

Stripes / oil on canvas / 2013 / Ani Garabedian

Ani Garabedian

Stripes (detail) / oil on canvas / 2013 / Ani Garabedian

Ani Garabedian works with paint, or in her mixed-media work: colored pencil, oil pastel, graphite and charcoal. All of her work shows a kinetic quality, mindful of time flickering by; of light perpetually evolving and transforming the scene at hand. In her painting, usually figurative, her markings come soft and quick, with not a lot of thick layers to force a sense of depth. For depth she relies on light and shade, in seeming motion as you gaze into her work. Stripes feels like a good example of where she captures the intensity and fragility of the moment like a snapshot. Here and there thinned paint runs down the canvas, compelled by gravity to do its own thing — in the moment — unbound as the show theme suggests.

Ani Garabedian

The Beginning of a New Beginning (Hubbard Lake) / oil on canvas / 2014 / Ani Garabedian

The Beginning of a New Beginning (Hubbard Lake) evidences this seemingly rapid, documentary style further. In this work, fragmentary outlines hover adjacent to the subjects and imagery intersects; figures blur into the background. Light seems to move and shift. All this suggests haste in execution, but these works do not convey impatience so much as a meditation on the evanescent nature of our existence.

Ani Garabedian

Catamaran / mixed-media on paper / 2013 / Ani Garabedian

Ani Garabedian

Feed / mixed-media on paper / 2013 / Ani Garabedian

In Catamaran and Feed and other mixed-media works where paint and pencil merge, Ms. Garabedian further accentuates kineticism over realism and spatial accuracy. The figures in both these works focus on the business at hand. They do not pose for the artist. In fact, they seem indifferent to the artist; indifferent to portraiture vanity. These pictures exude liveliness, an unmoored vibrancy that leads the viewer to believe these scenes do change from one moment to the next. Blink your eye and you see the next frame on an endless reel. That reflects a masterful winnowing of detail and application of marks only where essential. One wonders with anticipation where Ms. Garabedian will take this already acutely evolved style.

In fact, one wonders where every artist in this show will take their crisply defined style. They went all out and embraced risk as a friend. The risk-taking paid off, it seems. Cheers and congratulations to the artists in both the MFA1 & MFA2 shows. Cheers too, for the instructors who find the right mix of support and objective criticism to keep their students on track, yet fearless. Right on!

 

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February 26, 2014

Lighting Fires at 555 Gallery and Studios in Detroit

by Jim Welke

Stefan Johnson

mural by Stefan Johnson

Lighting Fires at 555 Gallery and Studios in Detroit (2801 W Vernor Highway), an exhibition of work by First Nations artists Mike Bollerud (Blackfoot/Crow), Alexis Cahill (Odawa), and Candi Wesaw (Potawatomi) runs thru 1-March-2014. The show appears in collaboration with the Michigan Native Arts Collective.

The show description includes a cautionary note from the Prophecy of the Seven Fires related by Edward Benton-Banai, Grand Chief, Three Fires Midewiwin Lodge. It describes a series of “fires” that imply stages of enlightenment or awareness. With the seventh fire comes a big choice:

“… The seventh prophet that came to the people long ago was said to be different from the other prophets. He was young and had a strange light in his eyes. He said, “In the time of the Seventh Fire a Osh-ki-bi-ma-di-zeeg’ (New People) will emerge.  They will retrace their steps to find what was left by the trail. Their steps will take them to the elders who will have fallen asleep. They will awaken to this new time with nothing to offer. Some of the elders will be silent out of fear. Some of the elders will be silent because no one will ask anything of them. The New People will have to be careful in how they approach the elders. The task of the New People will not be easy. If the New People remain strong in their quest, the Waterdrum of the Midewiwin Lodge will again sound its voice. There will be a rebirth of the Anishinaabe Nation and a rekindling of old flames. The Sacred Fire will again be lit.

“It is at this time that the Light-Skinned Race will be given a choice between two roads. If they choose the right road, then the Seventh Fire will light the Eighth and Final Fire – an eternal Fire of peace, love, brotherhood and sisterhood. If the Light-Skinned Race makes the wrong choice of roads, then destruction which they brought with them in coming to this country will come back to them and cause much suffering and death to all the Earth’s people. …”

“If we natural people of the Earth could just wear the face of brotherhood, we might be able to deliver our society from the road to destruction.  Could we make the two roads that today represent two clashing world views come together to form that mighty nation?  Could a nation be formed that is guided by respect for all living things?”

Are we the New People of the Seventh Fire? (read more…)

Candi Wesaw

Ngotwatso Shkote / oil / 2014 / Candi Wesaw

A series of oil paintings painted this year by Candi Wesaw illustrate the above prophecy with warm, sunlight luminous images. These images, as a cohesive narrative, draw the viewer in. When you get close, two or three fill your field of view and they resolve like stills from a film. A sad film: sad for environmental and social injustice wrought by modern civilization. But the script need not end in tears. The notes that accompany the paintings state, “If enough people (of all colors and faiths) turn from materialism and choose the path of respect, wisdom, and spirituality, environmental and social catastrophes can be avoided.” Not empty rhetoric considering we find ourselves in the midst of the Sixth Mass Extinction, similar in scope to previous extinctions like the one that eradicated dinosaurs and nearly every other land creature. An asteroid induced that one; humans induced this one. More than 50% of species will likely be extinguished through our apparent indifference. The message here seems worth heeding, and it comes from a group that did a pretty good job as stewards of their resources for about twenty thousand years before Caucasians, capitalism, and a raft of infectious disease (think smallpox) hit the shores.

Candi Wesaw

Nish Shkote / oil / 2014 / Candi Wesaw

Candi Wesaw

Nyannen Shkote / oil / 2014 / Candi Wesaw

Alexis “Toast” Cahill

Enlightenment / photograph / 2014 / Alexis “Toast” Cahill

Alexis “Toast” Cahill offers a series of photographs all showing mushrooms. These pictures, after feeling a touch of melancholy induced by Ms. Wesaw’s work, bring a gentle antidote. (The reproductions shown here will not do them justice.) The titles include Enlightenment, Wisdom, and Acceptance. These fungi, in all their convoluted fragility and basset hound loveliness seem to represent metaphors for better-balanced, quieter states of mind. But they dovetail with Ms. Wesaw’s message, too. Mushrooms are delicate and fleeting, but vital members of the ecosystem. They hold court in Cahill’s photos in quiet testimony to their worthiness: the least among us deserve respect.

Alexis “Toast” Cahill

Acceptance / photograph / 2014 / Alexis “Toast” Cahill

Alexis “Toast” Cahill

Wisdom / photograph / 2014 / Alexis “Toast” Cahill

A series of delicate pencil drawings by Mike Bollerud offer inspirational imagery of men and women firmly planted in the landscape, imbued with an aura of fortitude, grace, and nobility. They also suggest wistfulness — at least to this writer — for a lost era when the subjects of these images might have felt an abiding confidence that their way of life would persist undisturbed; that they had mastered coexistence with the natural world; that the universe rendered itself, if not benign, then just — a world that would nurture if respected. A race of aliens shattered those notions.

But if you wonder, this writer does not view all aspects of First Nations culture with unadulterated admiration. That culture springs from humanity after all. Some of their former war practices warrant criticism. But people in glass houses should never throw stones, and this writer does not intend to. Many aspects of that culture merit honor and emulation, and modern civilization would do well to adopt some of their ancient practices related to social justice and environmental preservation.

Cheers to Stefan Johnson of the Michigan Native Arts Collective & 555 Gallery and Studios for curating Lighting Fires.

Mike Bollerud

One Winter’s Night / pencil on display board / 2012 / Mike Bollerud

Mike Bollerud

Faith / pencil on Yupo watercolor paper / 2014 / Mike Bollerud

Mike Bollerud

The Butterfly Maiden / pencil (print) / 2002 / Mike Bollerud

555 Gallery and Studios occupy an old police precinct. Inside you find a spacious gallery with expansive north facing windows. You also find a block of holding cells still decked out in steel bars. If these don’t send a chill down your spine, you should check your pulse. But now the cells function as micro studios and galleries. An eclectic array of artwork and craft adorns them.

Down another hall, you find an exhibition of photographs taken by children in the FOCUS: Hope Excel Photography Program sponsored by the Peck Foundation, Jenny Risher Photography, and the Detroit Institute of Arts. These pictures will knock you out. But first you might shed a tear or two. They’re worth the effort. See them.

555 Gallery and Studios do good things for art and the surrounding community (they just held a pop up used clothing sale). Swing by and show support.

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February 25, 2014

JOHN OLSON: INTENSELIZONIO at What Pipeline

by Jim Welke

John Olson

JOHN OLSON: INTENSELIZONIO on now at What Pipeline (3525 W Vernor Hwy Detroit) through 29-March-2014

JOHN OLSON: INTENSELIZONIO at What Pipeline (3525 W Vernor Hwy Detroit) through 29-March-2014, presents a set of abstract works by visual artist, Wolf Eyes band member, American Tapes producer, East Lansing resident John Olson. You can find a smart pair of athletic shoes there, too.

John Olson

shoes / John Olson

All of the works up in the main gallery offer mixed media on canvas, paper, cardboard, or vinyl records. In the back room you can find some painted and sketched notebook pages; printed tee shirts; band ephemera on paper and fabric; at least one cassette; and some diminutive bits of pasted together collage. These last come as swag thrown in with every purchase.

John Olson

swag / John Olson

INTENSELIZONIO, the website exhibition description tells us, comes borrowed from “Bolano’s mind-blowing ‘Savage Detectives’ book.” Does Mr. Olson associate with the Visceral Realists? Visceral realism, according to William Little in his review What is Visceral Realism? Roberto Bolaño’s The Third Reich “…is the name Bolaño gave to one of the rival fictional poetry movements in Mexico City in The Savage Detectives. This was a thinly veiled allusion to the group of poets who called themselves Infrarealists (whom Bolaño co-founded in Mexico City in the 1970s). …from the Infrarealist Manifesto:

Chirico [the surrealist painter] says: thought must move away from all that which is called logic and good sense, must move away from all human problems, in such a way that things appear under a new aspect, as if illuminated by a constellation appearing for the first time. The infrarealists say: We are going to fill our heads with all human problems, such that things begin to move inside themselves, an extraordinary vision of man.”

From Bolano’s notes on his last novel, 2666, we get this cheerful adieu (translated from Spanish): “And that’s it, friends. I’ve done it all, I’ve lived it all. If I had the strength, I’d cry. I bid you all goodbye, Arturo Belano.”

John Olson

Untitled 2012 / John Olson

Olson’s bigger canvas pieces (20x16in) show a lot of white space with amorphous swabs of semi-transparent paint progressing across the plane, merging like plate tectonics. You could compare those paint markings to the similarly light touch of Arshile Gorky in his Surrealist The Leaf of the Artichoke Is an Owl (1944). Collage components settle into the paint like emergent life forms in protozoan ooze. Forms range from the blurry back of a fish, to faces, to fragments of those annoying pizza joint menus that litter your doorstep like rattling industrial sagebrush. It’s nice to see those come-hithers for toxic food nailed down and put to good ironic use. Divergent outlines of shapes appear interspersed throughout and form connective tissue between the collage and paint elements. Stare at these for a while and a thoughtful connectedness reveals, like a rain-soaked road map… you decide where the road leads.

John Olson

Untitled 2010 / John Olson

The smaller paint and collage works on paper (11×8.5in) have a Bacon-esque, urge toward the grotesque, but in a bulldog, endearing way that threatens and beguiles at the same time. Lots of black surrounds sketched faces, with painted-over photographic collage mugs alongside them at precarious angles. These howl at you, but not so menacing as those Francis Bacon concoctions — more like a triumphant self-celebratory shriek from the darkness they gladly inhabit.

John Olson

Untitled 2013 / John Olson

The painted vinyl LP’s show a happy/dark esthetic too. They feel more amorphous than the rectangular collage work, perhaps due to their circular shape — they lack an axis to align to. Like the universe, no meaningful up/down orientation exists. You can spin these through an infinity of positions and interpretations. On the flip side, you might find playable tracks. On occasion, Mr. Olson pressed single-sided LP’s and shipped them adorned with imagery on the reverse. This should remind you of the artist’s multi-disciplinary talents and his fearless mixing of media to form a personalized oeuvre like nothing before. We need to admire that willingness to leap into the unknown, untested, unproven and create an artistic context perfectly personalized.

John Olson

Untitled 2010 / John Olson

You will find two collage works formed on unfastened and unfolded cardboard boxes with handle cutouts still evident. These play out in a horizontal orientation like a narrative storyboard. They seem to capture a cheerful ambivalence toward the clutter of everyday consumerist existence that inhabits Mr. Olson’s work. All of the work here presents an almost childlike capacity to pull objects and images out of their assigned roles and reform them so that previously sublimated messages regain their voice. The work seems to tell us this banal, pedestrian crud that pollutes our lives possesses unseen inner personalities waiting for the revelation only an un-jaded, uninhibited, unselfconscious eye can provide.

 

Cheers to Daniel Sperry and Alivia Zivich for another well-executed show at What Pipeline.

 

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John Olson

small works & band ephemera / John Olson

John Olson

small works & band ephemera / John Olson

John Olson

JOHN OLSON: INTENSELIZONIO on now at What Pipleline (3525 W Vernor Hwy Detroit) through 29-March-2014

 

February 24, 2014

“Gilded” and “It’s All Relative” at Whitdel Arts

by Jim Welke

Gilded and It’s All Relative: concurrent shows at Whitdel Arts in southwest Detroit, 10-January through 22-February-2014

Self Portrait / acrylic / Gilda Snowden / 2004

Self Portrait / acrylic / Gilda Snowden / 2004

Gilded, the title of a show that closed 22-February at Whitdel Arts (1250 Hubbard St, Detroit) refers to Gilda Snowden, the focus. The works on view — excepting those contributed by Ms. Snowden herself — honor both her influence and her notable career; but more her abiding positive influence. One might surmise from the premise of the exhibition that those touched by Ms. Snowden discover themselves gilded, imbued with a delightful and durable sheen. That seems true enough. One might also hear the word Gilded spoken and hear instead: Gilda-ed, an implication of the mysterious magnetism she wields. As this writer understands her persona, she’s not one to be trifled with. Glide into her realm and she will perturb your orbit even if that shift renders imperceptible to the orbiter. Courage breeds courage, and cowardice begets cowardice. Our political leadership these days seems beset with the latter, and in times of upheaval we turn toward artists for moral clarity and social leadership. Gilda Snowden supplies that clarity, leadership, and courage. When it gets dark, the stars come out.

The scope of Ms. Snowden’s influence reaches deep into the artistic, social, and political fabric of Detroit and beyond. In fact, while this writer gained a sense of her persona gained over the years, an equivalent sense of her work remained unrealized. Such is the peril of celebrity and no fault of Ms. Snowden. Do good things and people know about you while knowing little of you. For readers in a similarly blinkered position, an abbreviated version of her resume, as posted on the College for Creative Studies site, follows:

Gilda Snowden is a Detroit-based artist, writer, lecturer and curator. She is a Professor of Fine Arts at CCS. As a writer, she has had art reviews published in Dialogue (Columbus, Ohio); Atlanta Artpapers; Ground Up (Detroit); Detroit Focus Quarterly; New Art Examiner; and The Griot, a publication of the National Conference of Artists Michigan Chapter.  In addition to numerous works in corporate and private collections, Snowden has five works in the permanent collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts. In the Liberal Arts department, Snowden teaches Contemporary Art History, and participates in team teaching in the Art as Propaganda and Women & Men/Men & Women interdisciplinary classes.

On Ms. Snowden’s site, one finds the unabridged version of her resume. It’s worth a look for those wondering how a person claws through the thicket of life’s complexity and adversity to arrive at a meaningful destination. Imagine that sequence reeling out it real time. Clearly, discipline and savvy decision-making propelled Ms. Snowden to the esteemed place she resides at. Equally clear stands the shear volume of her work. She “leaned in” as they say now. She took chances with many irons in the fire, sometimes simultaneously. One can assume she burned her fingers a few times. But she persisted, and judging by the affection directed toward her in this show, she resisted every inclination toward toxic cynicism. Those facets — discipline, savvy, productivity, and resistance to self-destructive impulses — appear like a distillation of the recipe for success; success combined with acclaim. A year in the making, Gilded landed squarely in Black History Month. That was a serendipitous twist of fate. Detroit features large in black history and we would do well to heed the lessons taught here by black activists as well as by mere residents. They are profound lessons of fortitude, tolerance, and generosity combined with relentless peaceful resistance to social injustice. That milieu includes Ms. Snowden — both as a much-admired member, and as an advocate for African American artists.

You might, as this writer did, want to know more of her work. A few pieces from her site follow:

From her series, Bright Stars At Night:

Gilda Snowden

untitled / Bright Stars At Night series / Gilda Snowden / 2010

From her series, Chairs:

Gilda Snowden

untitled / Chairs series / Gilda Snowden / 2010

From Works On Paper:

Gilda Snowden

Storm In Self / Works On Paper series / Gilda Snowden / 2011

From Constructions:

Gilda Snowden

Teaser/Tormentor / Constructions series / Gilda Snowden / 1983

From Flora Urbana:

Gilda Snowden

Garden / Flora Urbana series / Gilda Snowden

 

Lila Kadaj

Gilda / oil / Lila Kadaj / 1977

The portraits on view in Gilded present a woman engaged equally in thought and action. An early picture by Lila Kadaj, shows pensive determination, eyes shut to incoming aspersions.

Lila Kadaj

Gilda / oil / Lila Kadaj / 1984

Another portrait by Kadaj presents Ms. Snowden’s face behind outsized glasses that form a modern take on medieval armor. She confronts the world, daring us to challenge her with an argument.

Jean Smith

Gilda / oil / Jean Smith / (undated)

A work by Jean Smith presents a partial profile, almost hagiographic, that suggests a tranquil but affirmative spirit.

Alonso Del Arte

Faces of Detroit: Delvona & Gilda / photographic print / Alonso Del Arte

A photograph by Alonso Del Arte (a curator of this show), offers an image of Ms. Snowden mirroring an image painted by Delvona Rabione in a series titled Faces of Detroit. With the print pinned to a sheet of aluminum that cries bulletproof, Ms. Snowden gazes back with a radiant visage.

All of the portraits in this show combine to impress on us the range and complexity embodied by Ms. Snowden, as well as the deep impression she stamps on others. They offer testament to the courage manifested by an honorable, and rightfully honored Detroit artist.

 

Meanwhile, It’s All Relative appears downstairs in the gallery assigned to emerging artists. Work by two of Ms. Snowden’s undergraduate students at the College for Creative Studies, Fatima Sow & Austin Brady, comprise that show. One can imagine the professor at the top of the stairs crying out (half-serious, with a touch of admiration and pride), “Keep quiet down there, we’re trying to have a conversation up here.” Following a meditative idyll amidst the portraits upstairs, the work downstairs oscillates and shimmers at a different wavelength altogether, at a higher frequency. Where Ms. Snowden’s work, and the portraits that capture her personality feel all about depth and breadth of experience, this work seems to witness seeking.

Austin Brady

Some Sort Of Prize To Be Won / acrylic and pencil / Austin Brady

Some Sort Of Prize To Be Won, by Austin Brady, confronts us with the head of Medusa, endowed with snakes for hair and the power to turn men who gaze at her to stone. Presumably chopped loose by Perseus, the head tumbles wildly; the countenance suggests shock at this assault — she got the unruly hair from Athena who witnessed Medusa’s rape by Poseidon, an archetypal instance of “blame the victim.” The image provokes sympathy in the viewer, who wonders whether to side with the vanquished, or the victor who took the head and used it to turn the kingly suitor of his mother to stone.

Fatima Sow

Layered Ties / mixed-media on wood / Fatima Sow

A piece on the opposite wall by Ms. Sow, Layered Ties, complements the frenzy of Medusa. A mass of intricately tangled twine enveloping shards of stone, the piece suggests either the hazards or the security of confinement depending on the viewer’s state of mind. Either way, its complexity compels you to stare into it. As you peer at the simple and common elements of this piece, meaning coalesces as though the Gordian Knot untangles with a stroke of contemplation rather than a sword.

Fatima Sow

Piece by Piece / mixed-media on wood / Fatima Sow

Piece by Piece by Ms. Sow, constructed of geometric cuts of plywood painted and suffused with collage, implies to this observer the fractured view of reality we all perceive but piece to together via experience and context. Youth, this work might assert, experiences the world with greater clarity than does wisdom and thus perceives fragments. Wisdom brings cohesion through interpretation, but possibly the skew of insidious bias. Perhaps, youth and wisdom work best together?

Austin Brady

Sacrilege / mixed-media on board / Austin Brady

Sacrilege, a paint and collage work by Austin Brady presents what appears to be a beatific view of a shrouded nun with the face of a young woman, but with the wizened hands of an older entity. An ornate ring adorns the left hand, and both grip a triangular object. The sacrilege referred to in the title eludes this viewer. Is it the ornate detail or symbolic meaning of the ring? (Nuns typically wear a simple silver band to signify wedding to the Holy Spirit.) Or the triangular object she grips? Or does the youthful face imply vanity in contrast with those hands? Elusiveness not withstanding, the picture with its simple forms and abstract background possesses a mystical, ethereal quality that spellbinds the viewer.

The other works in It’s All Relative reflect an uncommon diversity of thought and devotion to art by these two artists. Some of them convey wry humor, others dark introspection, some both. Some loom large, others diminutive. The show indicates a prolific and effective effort by the artists. These students took their lessons from Ms. Snowden well.

 

Cheers to curators by Craig Paul Nowak & Alonso Del Arte, and Whitdel Arts for putting these shows together.

 

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