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September 4, 2014

Gao Brothers Interview

By Jim Welke
Gao Brothers Interview: An interview via email with Beijing contemporary artists, the Gao Brothers in August 2014
Gao Brothers / Mao's Guilt

The Gao Brothers and Mao’s Guilt (2009)

Q: At what point did your interest in art develop? At what point did you commit yourselves to art-making as your primary life endeavor?
A: Our interest in art has developed since our boyhood. But we began to commit ourselves to art-making as our primary life endeavor when our students days were over.
Q: At art school, did you focus mainly on theory or craft? What were your primary media?
A: At art school, Gao Zhen focus mainly on craft,his primary media was ink and wash painting. Gao Qiang focused mainly on theory at university.
Q: Government policy aside, are artists honored and admired in China, or are they compelled to live on the margins of society? Is there a strong urban/rural divide between popular perceptions of artists?
A: Usually artists are honored and admired in China if they are successful, if they are not successful, they are compelled to live on the margins of society. There is not a strong urban/rural divide between popular perceptions of artists. but usually artists are urban.
Q: The government in your country appears to (to an outsider from a society oppressed by class divisions and despair) impose many constraints on the goals and aspirations of its citizens. If that is true, do you think those constraints might inspire more thoughtful, more expressive art with broader appeal than might be the case in less restricted but possibly more complacent and individualistic societies? A poet whose name I forget once said that the restrictions of writing in rhyme and meter force a more thoughtful and precise use of artistry. Could the pressures of a society have the same effect?
A: We don’t think those constraints might inspire more thoughtful, more expressive art with broader appeal.The government of Mao’s times in China imposed much more constraints on the goals and aspirations of its citizens,but those constraints never inspire more thoughtful, more expressive art, actually,those constraits killed any thoughtful and expressive art. We prefer a society with less pressures and restrictions.
Q: As political ideals in China become diluted by the inevitable materialism that follows consumerist aspirations, do you fear that people will forget past tragedies and let the spiritual aspects of their existence atrophy? Do you fear political apathy more than political oppression? Do you think art can be be the primary antidote for spiritual and political apathy?
A: Yes, it is terrible to forget past tragedies…  We think political apathy is from political oppression, it is as terrible as political oppression.  You can say art can be be the primary antidote for spiritual and political apathy.we agree.
Q: Do you think that the generation of artists that follow will continue to look outward for inspiration, as you seem to have done, or will they become more introspective, solipsistic, and selfish?
A: We are not sure. it depends on what an artist wants to do, to be.
Q: As your commercial success grows, do you worry that you may feel compelled to soften or blur the messages in your work to insure continued appeal amongst collectors? Are most of your collectors in China, or abroad? Have you ever encountered collectors who turn away from your art out of fear that they might be somehow punished for their support of you?
A: As our commercial success grows, we can do bigger work, we have never feel compelled to soften or blur the messages in our work to insure continued appeal amongst collectors. we seldom think of collectors when we are working on art. Most of our collectors are abroad. Many of our works are not able to be exhibited in China because of censorship. Many collectors and curators turn away from our art out of fear in China.
Q: Which do you think is worse, imprisonment for expression of your views, as might happen under a totalitarian regime, or the utter invisibility and obscurity talented artists and activists often find themselves condemned to in other societies? Is the disinterest in politically motivated art and activism that ensues as byproduct of materialism a more dangerous form of oppression (i.e. the bread and circuses of Rome)?
A: It is hard to say. all forms of oppression are absolutely terrible. If we say one of them is more terrible,it will make others seem less terrible.But actually they may be same terrible.
Q: You have said (http://kcur.org/post/interview-artists-gao-brothers-part-2) that you originally intended Lin Zhao, the political activist executed for her persistent pursuit of her goals to the point of writing in her own blood in prison, to be the subject of your “Execution of Christ.” You said, “If we used Lin Zhao, people would be more puzzled, and the work would require more explanation.” Did you mean Chinese people would be more puzzled, or people abroad? Did changing the subject to Christ also change the message, or simply broaden it? Do you often find yourself choosing subjects for your work that might be too obscure, and subsequently make changes to make the work more accessible?
A: When we said people would be more puzzled,we meaned all of people, Chinese people and people abroad. Considering Lin Zhao is a Christian, we think changing the subject to Christ didn’t change the message,but simply broaden it.
Actually,we don’t often find ourself choosing subjects for our work that might be too obscure, and subsequently make changes to make the work more accessible.
Q: In in interview for an IFA Gallery exhibition at Art Basel (http://www.ifa-gallery.com/exhibitions/artbaselhk13/interviews/gaobrothers.html), you said, “If a a system is bereft of a legitimate foundation, and is marred by countless misdeeds, it doesn’t matter if the system dreams of Communism, or Reform, or anything else, it can only become a nightmare of the people. …the artist has a responsibility to express it, dream or nightmare.” This could apply to many political systems around the globe. Do you think art is the best hope everywhere for replacing dishonest political systems with more fair systems? Or are violent revolutions inevitable in some places?
A: We don’t know if art is the best hope…  We believe revolutions are inevitable in some places, but revolutions don’t have to be violent. We prefer the Colour Revolutions.
Q: As you grow older, do you ever find that cynicism battles your better angel idealism and wins? What do you do to preserve a hopeful tone, or at least avoid a despairing tone in your work?
A: Cynicism has been battling our better angel idealism, but seldom wins. We don’t try to preserve a hopeful tone, or avoid a despairing tone in our work. We just try to be honest, follow our heart to be ourselves.
Q: Do you brothers ever argue to the point of turning your backs on one another for a time, or do you remain consistently warm, even empathetic, to one another? Has either one of you ever destroyed one of your works of art?
A: We never argue to the point of turning our backs on one another. Yes,we remain consistently warm and empathetic to one another. Neither of us ever destroyed one of our works of art.

Catch the Gao Brothers in Detroit, and visit their exhibition:

Gao Brothers DISSIDENTS ABROAD at Detroit MONA
Opens: 13-September-2014
Reception with the artists: 6-10pm
Midtown MONA, Suite C
4130 Cass Avenue Detroit MI 48201

MONA FUNDRAISER, Friday, September 12
Meet the Artists @ Fundraising Reception: 6-9pm
$50 Donation – Support MONA programming for the coming year… meet the Gao Brothers… with wine and hors d’oeuvres… and a  chance at a signed exhibition catalog.

 

Please have a look at our site, artifizz.org, and check out our other reviews.

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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 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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January 25, 2014

3: Kathryn Brackett Luchs, Lois Teicher, Marie Woo

by Jim Welke

Detroit Artists Market

3: Kathryn Brackett Luchs, Lois Teicher, Marie Woo / Detroit Artists Market

Kathryn Brackett Luchs

Birdy / Kathryn Brackett Luchs

3: Kathryn Brackett Luchs, Lois Teicher, Marie Woo up thru 17-February at Detroit Artists Market, the 82-year-old grande dame of Detroit galleries, features works by three artists presenting art in three media (more or less). Entering the gallery through the back door you stand at the narrow end of a long rectangle facing into a tall, wide piece by Kathryn Brackett Luchs called Birdy: 12 graphic films set in two groups, 2-wide and 3-high, positioned on either side of the original charcoal on canvas work about 7ft tall and 3.5ft wide. The films show negatives of sections of the original arranged out of correspondence — sections from the middle appear on the sides, bottom on the top, etc. But at first, you might not notice that the films capture sections of the original. This writer did not — the self-revelatory process takes a bit: the mental gears spool up and you sort out what you see after the requisite processing delay. That’s fun. It feels like you own it when you get there. (Others might see what’s going on instantly. Bravo. Less fun. Revelation should have a price.)

Kathryn Brackett Luchs

Buddha, Buddha / Kathryn Brackett Luchs

Adjacent to that hangs a similar work, of similar size, with nine negative films stationed to the right of the original, titled Buddha Buddha. Clued into the magic, you compulsively study the films to find their correspondence in the original. The more you look at them, the more the films feel a bit like x-rays, though. That feels unsettling — x-rays give away too much, kind of like finding out how sausage gets made. Next, you might sense a deliberately primitive quality to these works. This emerges partly from their frenetic, sprawling execution in pencil on a pure white field that suggests a reluctance to overwork them; an automatic quality. Also, the canvas stapled to the wall, the films tacked up with pushpins suggest studied carelessness. This seemingly hasty presentation, combined with the implied motion of the swirling gestures (like sub-atomic particles in a particle collider) give these two works an evidentiary feel, like proofs to some fundamental but inscrutable principle.

Beside this hangs Allegory, another work with a similar motif, equally large and enveloping. These works engage via their immediacy and the mystique of the negative translucency in the films. Give them time to seduce with their seeming simplicity.

Kathryn Brackett Luchs

April My Feng / Kathryn Brackett Luchs

April My Feng, also by Ms. Luchs, expresses a more deliberate process, possibly a more elaborate intention. Another large work (about 7ft by 4ft), it consists of three long sheets of paper mounted on canvas to form a triptych with woodcut and block prints done in ink. In the center, at least five different colors form lavishly layered vertically aligned patterns similar to tree bark. Masked horizontal bands of distinct colors mirrored from the center section appear imprinted on the side sections, some washed out with white, also in distinct bands. The sides, impoverished of color and texture, appear almost as fossilized remnants of the lush center. The balance of colors and textures feels comforting in an ineffable, organic way, and the transition of intensity from side to center feels like a natural emergence. The effect compels your eye to the center where it finds rest.

 

Lois Teicher

Eclipse Series #6 / Lois Teicher

Moving down the long wall of the gallery toward the front, your attention might be drawn to an incendiary orange, circular form projecting from the wall: Eclipse Series #6 by Lois Teicher. Two sections comprise the welded aluminum sculpture. On the wall directly opposite are four framed cut paper studies for this and other pieces in her Eclipse Series, one of which, #4, occupies an adjacent alcove.

Lois Teicher

Eclipse Series #4 / Lois Teicher

These pieces, spare and geometric, possess a strange magnetism, they enthrall like the true solar/lunar eclipse stages the works represent. Or, perhaps they form a gravity-well that pulls the viewer in. But like the surface of a black hole, their surface remains satisfyingly, infinitely featureless regardless of how near you bring your eye to them. The intensity of these works seems to create an immeasurably slow vortex that impels you nearer and nearer, promising horrible, terminal ecstasy if your fall persists.

Lois Teicher

Three Orange Shapes (foreground) and Two Round Shapes (background) / Lois Teicher

Between these works, several others stand on pedestals, with their cool fashion model elegance on vivid display. These too pull you nearer, as your brain struggles to fit their delicate, kinetic geometry into an ancestral, archetypal frame of reference. They won’t fit, but your brain keeps trying, a windup toy bumping into the wall. It feels good, like synaptic gymnastics.

Marie Woo

Orange Bowl, Large / Marie Woo

Back toward the rear of the gallery, the ceramics of Marie Woo gather around you. They beckon like muses and your eye darts around from one piece to the next, like a child in a forest glade surrounded by wonderful flowers, pinecones, and fungi. But focus on one; look close. Each piece occupies its own little place in Ms. Woo’s universe with a character all its own. A large, orange bowl, rightly called Orange Bowl, Large will catch your eye. It seems forlorn at first, riddled with imperfections, but then you appreciate the imperfections as part of its charm.

Marie Woo

stack / Marie Woo

A flapjack like stack of warped, undulating, topsoil-toned, ceramic discs appears as a monumental mushroom from the child’s enchanted forest — you become that wide-eyed child when you encounter work like this (at least you should).

Marie Woo

Winter / Marie Woo

Nearby sits an outsized clutch of insect eggs, Winter, that form an oddly compelling bracelet in non-reflective color, gradating from blackish on top to greenish underneath. They look nourishing somehow. Over on the wall hang six wall pieces that appear as ancient and unknowable glyphs, all in those dark, subterranean, almost mystical tones. Beside these, two shelves offer seven more pieces, one a dark little totem with untold powers, the rest more traditional pottery.

Marie Woo

wall pieces / Marie Woo

Finally, in a screening room, a short video of ceramic creation projects on a large, grid-like ceramic piece with protruding hemispheres randomly placed in the grid. The irregular surface distorts the projected image with novel effects, but the whole thing might work better out in the main gallery with the other work (despite the diminished brightness). As it is, it feels a bit isolated, but worth a look.

Kay Young

Photographs by featured artist, S. Kay Young

And do not forget to spend time with the photographs of DAM’s featured artist, S. Kay Young. These 21 images offer close in shots of woodland details that might escape the undiscerning eye during a romp through the forest. The colors and contrast of these earth-toned images will engage the viewer to an unexpected degree, and might inspire them to take closer notice of their surroundings. Pick up one of her prints, and support a local artist.

Observe Ms. Woo’s ceramics, resting opposite those energetic, intense, cryptic works of Ms. Luchs, and adjacent to the forceful, monolithic pieces by Ms. Teicher: you feel an ethereal sense of balance and unforced grace, an unquantifiable harmony. That’s a credit to the artists, but also to Gary Eleinko, the curator. Nice work.

DAM will present an artist talk moderated by Sharon Zimmerman of the Kresge Foundation on 1-February (2-4PM) — be there if you want some stirring insights into the work herein and tales of the Detroit art scene.

 

Please have a look at our site, artifizz.org, and check out our other reviews.

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 *******

September 11, 2013

NIGHT and DAY: Portraits of Detroit at the Scarab Club

By Jim Welke

IMG_3643

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

IMG_3669

 

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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July 31, 2013

Six Paintings, Six Stalls: A Hamtramck Pop-Up

by Jim Welke

Pop-Up Art Show In Hamtramck

Pop-Up Art Show In Hamtramck by Dylan Spaysky

Artist Dylan Spaysky staged a pop-up art show in Hamtramck on Saturday, 27-July-2013. The pop-up appeared in a defunct car wash near his home. Titled “Six Paintings, Six Stalls,” it featured these artists: Curtis Glenn, Ashley Cook, Robert Sestok, Tiny Little, Josh Smith, Nolan Simon. One of those self-service places, the car wash edifice consists of six drive-through stalls where customers pulled in, dropped their quarters in the machine, selected soap, rinse, or wax, and the hose suspended from overhead supports ejected the desired high-pressure stream to blast the grime and over-applied salt from the vehicle. This establishment fell into disrepair and the owner sold it to an adjacent business owner whose intentions for the site remain unclear. Regularly passing by, Mr. Spaysky concluded that the building, with its six isolated bays would be an ideal forum to show six paintings by six artists, each in a two-walled room devoted to the designated artist.

a stall at the Pop-Up Art Show In Hamtramck by Dylan Spaysky

a stall at the Pop-Up Art Show In Hamtramck by Dylan Spaysky

Above the former washing bays, birds found favorable conditions for nesting in the corrugated steel roofing hardware. Consequently, bird shit rains down and forms a guano laminate on the floor. The hoses and trigger actuated nozzles from the wash mechanisms no longer reside within, either removed for safekeeping by the building owner, or ripped out by metal scrappers who descend like locusts on any undefended ferrous fixtures. In the center of the floor of each stall, steel grids collected run-off from the washers. Now they collect guano, rainwater, and blown in detritus. Broken glass and other urban flotsam litter the floors. In one stall, a hefty wooden beam like you might find as the spine of an ancient trawler resting on the bottom of the Mediterranean (or Lake Huron) sprawls incongruously in this concrete block and steel structure, its provenance a mystery. Outside, the canisters of quarter-fed vacuums stand like sentinels around the perimeter of the building, impotent centurions against the vandals at the gate.

impotent centurion, aka vacuum cleaner

impotent centurion, aka vacuum cleaner

Approaching the structure, down near the eastern end of Holbrook where it turns into Buffalo Street, at the intersection of Norwalk Street, you encounter the building positioned amidst various industrial operations, backed up by residential neighborhoods of modest frame houses, the kind developers threw up eighty years ago all over Detroit metro to house assembly line workers employed at the auto plants and their squadrons of suppliers.

Today, recent immigrants occupy many of those homes, and in choosing paint schemes that reflect those found in their home countries, bring a new palette to the town. That’s the upside. But the residents engage in exactly the same struggle that their predecessors did to carve out a niche in this unsympathetic ecosystem. That struggle comes harder now that crass, uninspired management teams shipped the majority of the once well-paid union jobs overseas, choosing the simplest, most obvious path to short-term profit and positive quarterly earning reports. If you work in the car industry and you’re not in the middle to upper echelons of management you’re a nobody, and management continues to erode hard won protections for labor garnered by once influential unions who now, like puppet states in a declining empire, mostly manage appearances as bystanders to an accelerating demise.

But let’s get back to the art:

Curtis Glenn presented a mixed media work that includes paint and collage. At the bottom, the word “ONE” appears with multiple overwritten characters in front of it, so depending on which your eye picks out, reads: BONE, GONE, or DONE (there seems to be an “A” in there, too). Stapled to the top, the artist added printed photos of this work in what appears to be the artist’s studio. The piece, awash in white space that may suggest uncertainty of intention, bursts with kinetic energy, like it will fling itself off the wall at any moment.

Josh Smith

Josh Smith

Josh Smith

Josh Smith

Josh Smith

Josh Smith

Josh Smith

Josh Smith

Ashley Cook (of North End Studios, Detroit) created a large still life painting that shows fruit and what might be seashells on a black background. An attractive piece on its own, it literally leaps out at you, as she sewed the canvas to a canvas backing and filled the ensuing pillow shape with eighty-nine helium balloons — a not trivial investment in lighter-than-air gas. She said she hoped the work would become airborne, but alas it remained grounded yet still very buoyant, lofting with every breeze that funneled through the car wash stall.

 

Ashley Cook

Ashley Cook

Ashley Cook

Ashley Cook

Robert Sestok contributed two nearly identical paintings, hung one atop the other so they appeared like frames in a strip of film. Each as close to identical to the other as might be achieved with brush and paint, in this case black and gray, with easy brush strokes seemingly tossed off rapidly. But done twice with pretty good accuracy, tossed off probably doesn’t describe the effort. These paintings show beard-adorned mouths that grin at you with abandon; inducing corresponding grins in all but the most morose viewers.

Robert Sestok

Robert Sestok

Robert Sestok

Robert Sestok

Robert Sestok

Robert Sestok

Tiny Little hung a large canvas depicting what appears to be layers of Jello or candy — at least to this writer — stacked nearly by spectral wavelength (yellow appears out of order). As such, it comes of as a cheerful, playful piece, fitting for a summer day in a carwash — even a broken down one.

Tiny Little

Tiny Little

Tiny Little

Tiny Little

Josh Smith brought what appears to be a woodcut print (there are no nice little title cards in pop-up shows in car washes to describe media, etc). In the work, Mr. Smith’s name appears with the letters askew, and spelled out beneath appears “Susanne Hilberry / Ferndale MI” — an art gallery in that town where, it turns out, Dylan Spaysky did at least one exhibition (In Bloom, 2011) as well as Mr. Smith who did a solo show there back in 2006. The date of that show appears at the top of the print. A bit of self-promotion perhaps — with irony, this being a defunct car wash and all. Reminds one of a print Claes Oldenburg did for a show at the Reuben Gallery.

Josh Smith

Josh Smith

Josh Smith

Josh Smith

Nolan Simon put up a small (8” x 10” -ish) painting of what appears to be a park scene where a horse, fitted out for work and harnessed to a cart bearing an overflowing pile of straw or hay, accepts an offering of a snack, or submits to a touch, from a girl in shorts, tee-shirt, and sneakers. The combination of modern attire on the girl and antiquated harness on the horse creates counterpoint that forces the viewer who might breeze by this dappled and blurred study of daylight and shadow to come back for a second look.

Nolan Simon

Nolan Simon

Nolan Simon

Nolan Simon

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rain brought the show to a close at around 7PM... but provided payback with an enduring rainbow

rain brought the show to a close at around 7PM… but provided payback with an enduring rainbow

 

wash?

wash?

July 30, 2013

muslin.charcoal.brick.sticks.rope.paint @ Butter Projects

by Jim Welke

muslin.charcoal.brick.sticks.rope.paint -- project concept by Alison Wong

muslin.charcoal.brick.sticks.rope.paint — project concept by Alison Wong

Not every gallery group show springs from a gallery operator’s urge to shower accolades on the artists invited. Sometimes the gallery takes a little more capricious approach when formulating a show. As evidence, consider muslin.charcoal.brick.sticks.rope.paint at Butter Projects in Royal Oak MI (opened 26-July, runs thru 30-Aug-2013).

Alison Wong, the director and co-founder of Butter Projects (recently joined by her partner, John Charnota, who will develop additional programming: workshops, publications, and other one-offs), premised this show on the requirement that the artists create works using only the materials indicated in the title of the show. Further, Ms. Wong apportioned those materials equally to each artist. So, participants were faced with the challenge of creating an artwork in a limited period, using a limited set of media.

The artists are: Laura Beyer, Brittany Campbell, Andy Krieger, Sarah Lapinksi, Ash Nowak, and Bailey Scieszka.

The outcome proved engaging. Participants created artwork that reflected their predilections, but all of the works shared the provided common elements: muslin, charcoal (roughly 1/2” thick, 6” sticks), brick (red, with three perforations), sticks (plain, old Michigan branches — maple, oak, whatever), rope (that cheesy yellow nylon, about 3/8”), paint (kind of a grayish, cornflower blue).

To see the ensuing creations felt sort of like watching a bunch of recruits go through induction into the military. All the distinguishing characteristics they show up with are stripped away, and from the other end of the tunnel emerges the same crew, but with more in common than vice versa. That’s a complicated way of saying the artists imbued these works with their personalities, but the materials also imposed themselves on the artists. Factor in the stakes — at least a bit of the artists’ credibility and reputation — along with some inevitable competitiveness, and out of the sausage machine comes some rare specimens.

On one wall of the gallery, near the back, near the administrative/wine-and-cheese-cube section, there hangs a sheet of white sheetrock with samples of the apportioned materials affixed in orderly rows and columns like you might see products proudly arrayed in the lobby of a widget factory. This board represents the starting point for the artists, their mission if they choose to accept it. And their mission was not a nice, linear, point-A-to-point-B kind of assignment, like build a picnic table or leisure suit from these materials. All they got were the materials and no other guidance. Take the stuff and go. And don’t come back until you’ve got something you’re willing to hang on the wall (or stand on the floor) and point to it, and say to the world, “That’s my creation.”

Yes. I do think it took courage for these artists to accept this mission. Not art school, classroom, what-happens-in-Vegas-stays-in-Vegas courage, but real world, no one forgets, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately-courage.

But for visitors to the gallery the experience was all fun and games, either from now thru the end of August, or at the opening, which was probably the most fun because all the artists where there, and at openings you get to toss out ill-considered observations and the poor folks who struggled to lay gifts at your feet must politely listen and respond enthusiastically. That takes courage, too.

Fun and games with an edge might describe it more accurately. Art never comes devoid of an edge. At least not art worth mentioning. If it lacks edge, then it might be pure craft — even high-quality, worth-owning craft — but not art. So as the visitor moves through the gallery, she observes the works created from these six not entirely complementary materials and wonders what she’s looking at. Is it as simple as it seems?

If you enter through the front door (as you should), a creation by Laura Byer titled Curtain might be the first thing you see. She calls it a window treatment, which sounds too pedestrian for what she did to the windows. She applied bushels of sticks, some painted, some au naturel, all bound into loose, cable and wing-like constructs. Some sticks wrapped in muslin, some loosely bound by muslin so that the muslin becomes sort of a tendon that pulls the bones together. Nylon rope, stripped into its constituent fibers, formed the more structural ligaments along the vertical, supporting columns of sticks. The final element, bricks, formed a foundation line along the bottom of the windows, which the whole affair framed with dramatic effect. Looking through the gallery windows framed with this “treatment,” you feel yourself transported backward into a pre-industrial world of thatch and twine, bones and sinew, rough-hewn existence where you became what you made with your hands. Nothing else, beyond your natural unsympathetic surroundings existed. Curtain doesn’t dress up a window, it creates one — a big one.

Curtain / Laura Byer

Curtain / Laura Byer

Curtain / Laura Byer

Curtain / Laura Byer

Next, on your right, you might spot a smaller-scaled installation, Signals, Shorthand, and other Alerts, by Ash Nowak: a series of three banner-like swaths of muslin, about the size of place mats, suspended from sticks threaded through sleeves sewn in the top — sewn with strands of yellow nylon rope fiber. The sticks, in turn, were attached to the wall by lengths of that yellow rope tied to each end of the stick, and elevated in the center to form a triangle. On the muslin, near the bottom, are marks made with the requisite charcoal stick; marks applied as obtuse-angled hatch marks that take on the appearance of a field of grain, perhaps. Or, the evaporating surface of a fermenting corn mash if you’re into bourbon, which this writer is. Together, the banners, each similarly marked, form a triptych that somehow calms the viewer’s mind (this viewer at least) with its constancy, balance, and gentle assertion.

 

Signals, Shorthand, and other Alerts / Ash Nowak

Signals, Shorthand, and other Alerts / Ash Nowak

Signals, Shorthand, and other Alerts / Ash Nowak

Signals, Shorthand, and other Alerts / Ash Nowak

Moving counter-clockwise, the next object one encounters will be a mixed-media sculpture/installation that should dispel some of the calm found in the previous work. Brick Face Rope Lips, created by Bailey Scieszka, captures an enervating presence. Comprised of a suit of clothing constructed of linen (muslin, with poetic license), the pants adorned with words scrawled on them in charcoal, the jacket painted with a brick-like pattern of muslin-beige and that grayish, cornflower blue. Enshrouded by the jacket, forming the trunk of a headless being, a video monitor plays an endless loop showing a masked, brick-patterned face with lips of yellow rope against a brick-ish background field similar in color and pattern to that painted on the jacket. One hand of a person — a spirit — holds the mask in place, while the other continuously reapplies lip-gloss to the rope lips. Headphones continuously emit a musical beat — a slowed down version of the early 90′s group Ace of Base “all that she wants” (see video). The effect, after donning the headphones, feels sort of disturbing in a voyeuristic way. You can’t be sure what to make of this creature, neither alive nor dead. Zombie-like perhaps. But the sculpture snares you with its disarming, rag-tag uniform, technological spectacle, and ritual-like lip-gloss application to a lifeless mask. You feel sort of ripped out of the moment, whatever moment you were in, and dropped on a remote island where the native non-human beings do strange things for unknown but important reasons.

Brick Face Rope Lips / Bailey Scieszka

Brick Face Rope Lips / Bailey Scieszka

Brick Face Rope Lips / Bailey Scieszka

Brick Face Rope Lips / Bailey Scieszka

Next, you will encounter Cornfields Smell Better In Sunshine, an installation by Brittany Campbell with a more direct application of video — at least in the sense we usually think of video: to present an evolving story or documentary. Here, a flat monitor dominates a dividing wall of the gallery. Elements of the project, and constituents of the video — sticks, charcoal, a brick — surround the monitor, protruding mysteriously from the wall as though transposed there by a quantum anomaly. Cornstalks painted blue, with roots wrapped in muslin and bound with yellow rope, spread out into the gallery and extend the field of this work beyond that one wall where they overtake the room like overfed GMO crops gone astray. In the video, we see hands resting on crossed legs that incrementally carve a point onto a charcoal stick; cut to the hand tracing a delicate outline on a bicep, followed by a series of cuts to bucolic outdoor scenes: the rope as a jump rope, the corn as it is painted blue, a sun-dappled patch of lush grass, a face seen through one of those brick perforations as fingertips apply charcoal to the inner surface, sticks laid down and set alight, sticks propped vertically and set alight (to create charcoal). Here, another ritual, more familiar than that in the previous work, but equally enigmatic — perhaps more enigmatic in its deeper complexity and longer series of unexplained events. You don’t know what you are witnessing, but you know it holds significance for the participant, like a prelude to tragic journey, or the beginning of a momentous, irreversible act.

 

Cornfields Smell Better In Sunshine / Brittany Campbell

Cornfields Smell Better In Sunshine / Brittany Campbell

Cornfields Smell Better In Sunshine / Brittany Campbell

Cornfields Smell Better In Sunshine / Brittany Campbell

Cornfields Smell Better In Sunshine / Brittany Campbell

Cornfields Smell Better In Sunshine / Brittany Campbell

Cornfields Smell Better In Sunshine / Brittany Campbell

Cornfields Smell Better In Sunshine / Brittany Campbell

Next a work by Sarah Lapinski, You Have to Earn the Yes, suspended from ductwork near the ceiling via diaphanous threads, a ladder made of that yellow rope binding together rungs of sticks. Hovering there in space, suspended by all but invisible threads, this ladder does not appear to be for the here and now, for flesh and blood beings of ponderous substance. Children perhaps could ascend it if it were securely suspended. But it’s not. It hangs there, provoking you to wonder if it’s purely a representation of a ladder; a ladder as symbol for some other act or force; a ladder to Heaven or from Hell. Given the latter option, one feels a bit deflated at finding oneself already down here. Given the former, one feels a bit discouraged by the impossibility of safe ascent. Either way you lose. C’est la vie, mes copains. But, on the wall just behind the ladder you find a sort of shrine to hope: a collection of muslin swatches, about the size of handkerchiefs folded in half, pinned to the wall. Adjacent, another bit reads, “Put on this hook.” And adjacent to that, a hook for pieces from the first set, but inscribed with charcoal by gallery visitors. On the right side, you only read the top leaf, unless you’re particularly assertive and lift each one to reveal those underneath. But that would be an infraction. As you pencil in your words with the earthy charcoal stick (coloring your fingers with carbon black) you add a line to a poem or a prayer in progress for which you might not know the preceding lines and certainly don’t know the following. This work presents endless collaborative possibility — at least until the swatches run out. Then one faces a decision: replenish the blanks, or do laundry and wash away the past. Either way, the ladder waits, so write well.

You Have to Earn the Yes / Sarah Lapinski

You Have to Earn the Yes / Sarah Lapinski

You Have to Earn the Yes / Sarah Lapinski

You Have to Earn the Yes / Sarah Lapinski

You Have to Earn the Yes / Sarah Lapinski

You Have to Earn the Yes / Sarah Lapinski

Finally, you come to an installation by Andy Krieger, Mad at the Moon, comprised of a painting on a concave, conic-section of arcing wood overstretched with canvas. A blue moon emerges from a forest of inky, charcoal black branches interlocked as a screen penetrable only by light (and dark). Like a provocative sentinel, a column topped with a miniature catapult (trebuchet, if you’re into Medieval French, we’re told) and a pile of brick fragments stands before the painting. The catapult, constructed of sticks and rope, aims at the center of that gorgeous, ominous werewolf moon. The execution of these constituent elements is so sublime, the moon and trees rendered so lush, you take it all for granted. “Mad At The Moon,” you are invited to launch brick shards into the lunar surface. “Of course,” you say to yourself as you wind up and let fly.

During the run of the exhibition the gallery is open on Friday from 1-5, Saturday 1-3, and by appointment. Closing reception on August 30th at 7pm — get out and see the show, it’s worth it.

 

Andy Krieger, Mad at the Moon

Andy Krieger, Mad at the Moon

Andy Krieger, Mad at the Moon

Andy Krieger, Mad at the Moon

 

Andy Krieger, Mad at the Moon

Andy Krieger, Mad at the Moon

Alison Wong getting it together...

Alison Wong getting it together…

 

June 25, 2013

Black Abstract — Mary Ann Aitken — 1983-2011

By Jim Welke

What Pipeline -- Detroit

What Pipeline — Detroit

Divided between two galleries, Black Abstract, an exhibition of works by Mary Ann Aitken, opened on 7-June-2013. Artifizz got to the show during the ArtDetroitNow monthly gallery crawl known as Third Thursday, which as the name implies happens every third Thursday of the month; the initial one back in February 2013.

Logically, one would first visit What Pipeline, a new gallery on Vernor in Mexican Town at 24th Street. What Pipeline presents Aitken’s earlier work (1983-1989). During this time, she worked in Detroit, acutely aware of and in proximity to Cass Corridor and its notable artists. Her studio resided on the fourth floor of the Cary Building, at the corner of Gratiot & Broadway. Yet she was not strictly a part of the Cass Corridor movement — her work took shape as offspring of that notable Detroit phenomenon with shared traits, but not identical DNA.

Due to the logistics of Third Thursday gallery navigation, this writer took in Aitken’s show in reverse, starting at Trinosophes on Gratiot, just north of Russel Street. Taking on the work in reverse chronological order might have been the right approach. On entering Trinosophes, one sees an assortment of paintings, but also several dense mixed-media works. Formed as rectangles, these pieces consist of what appears to be tar, like the kind they layer onto wharves to protect them from the onslaught of destructive, burrowing sea worms. The surface of Aitken’s work appears sticky, just like the wharves, and embedded in the tar you can see various manifestations of the sea such as tiny snails, lobster shells (cracked open, as though discarded from a meal), small stones, and stems and leaves of plants. In these nascent fossil-like accretions, one senses that the artist felt compelled to convey the notion of relentless reclamation by nature. Everything we see and touch exists in a state of perpetual transformation.

mixed-media 2007-2011

mixed-media 2007-2011

At the time she made these works, the artist faced the late stages of a fatal cancer. Knowledge of her imminent demise may have compelled her to say with these works, “Look. Look at what happens. You won’t escape it. So embrace it, and don’t waste time.”

But the show is not about futility. The later works convey urgency; a yearning to capture aspects of the world the artist saw with clarity, yet struggled to express with the inevitably inadequate materials at hand. One senses the same urgency in works as diverse as those by Vincent van Gogh, Georg Baselitz, Jackson Pollock. This same level of urgency one does not see in the more precise representational works of earlier individualistic revolutions in art beginning with Mannerism, then Romanticism, even Impressionism which all sought to emphasize the artist’s point of view, but conformed to established representational ideals of the time.

IMG_1937

Established ideals notwithstanding, artist point of view took on new importance. To quote a bit on Romanticism from the ever helpful Wikipedia:

According to Isaiah Berlin, Romanticism embodied “a new and restless spirit, seeking violently to burst through old and cramping forms, a nervous preoccupation with perpetually changing inner states of consciousness, a longing for the unbounded and the indefinable, for perpetual movement and change, an effort to return to the forgotten sources of life, a passionate effort at self-assertion both individual and collective, a search after means of expressing an unappeasable yearning for unattainable goals.”[16]

Aitken’s art springs from that now ancient but no less compelling frustration with the gap between what eyes see and hearts feel, and what applied media express. One senses that certain artists perceive things most of us never will, yet could never perfectly express the manifestations of their senses and, once enveloped by that dichotomy, confronted torment.

2007-2011

Looking back to Romanticism, it seems the very definition of who pursued artistic expression changed. Moving towards industrialization and urbanism, one no longer needed devoted patrons, or to be a denizen of the royal court — to cultivate business connections — one did not need to paint hagiographic religious imagery, flattering portraits of aristocracy, Greek mythological melodrama, or pleasant landscapes anymore. From that point forward, more solipsistic, more turbulent personalities indulged in artistic expression — at their peril, of course, because they still had to earn a living. But at least a down-class artistic aspirant could get off the farm and into the city and find other artists, galleries, museums, and myriad sources of inspiration. That led to wild turmoil for art throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, and onward.

Of course, the above elucidation strays into the overbroad — even goes overboard. There were a lot of wrinkles in the progression from Mannerism in the early 1500’s to Romanticism in the early 1800’s to Impressionism in the late 1800’s. But after all that, we come to Expressionism, which finally renders the artist’s state of mind transcendent. Expressionism, from Wikipedia:

The Expressionists had many influences, among them Edvard Munch, Vincent van Gogh, and African art.[20] They were also aware of the work being done by the Fauves in Paris, who influenced Expressionism’s tendency toward arbitrary colours and jarring compositions. In reaction and opposition to French Impressionism, which emphasized the rendering of the visual appearance of objects, Expressionist artists sought to portray emotions and subjective interpretations. It was not important to reproduce an aesthetically pleasing impression of the artistic subject matter, they felt, but rather to represent vivid emotional reactions by powerful colours and dynamic compositions. Kandinsky, the main artist of Der Blaue Reiter group, believed that with simple colours and shapes the spectator could perceive the moods and feelings in the paintings, a theory that encouraged him towards increased abstraction.

Aitken, one might argue, falls into the category (if she must fall into a category) of Neo-Expressionism, which:

… developed as a reaction against the conceptual art and minimal art of the 1970s. Neo-expressionists returned to portraying recognizable objects, such as the human body (although sometimes in an abstract manner), in a rough and violently emotional way using vivid colours and banal colour harmonies.

Take a look at what George Baselitz did, and you might spot some parallels to Aitken. That said, many of her works could appropriately be called Abstract Expressionism, but to this writer her work often diverges from the “emphasis on spontaneous, automatic or subconscious creation” inherent in Abstract Expressionism.

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Aitken’s gestures in her painting, although they often feel a little haphazard, more often feel deliberate, as though she had something very specific in mind she struggled to convey. Labels probably do not matter. Surely they would not have mattered to Aitken, although with her formal art education — BA Fine Art (1983), MA Art Therapy(1989), Wayne State University — she certainly knew them well. To look at her work, one realizes right away that she did not paint to be part of a clique; to please gallery operators; to be pigeonholed in market categories.

She painted for her own edification, and when you observe her layered, re-worked brush strokes you realize she was not likely edified; at least not in her early work.

 

Untitled (white abstract), 1989

Untitled (white abstract), 1989

Some of her early work does reveal a sense of completion, of being finished to her satisfaction.

Untitled (red building), 1989

Untitled (red building), 1989

 

Iron, 1989

Iron, 1989

A degree of calm refinement, a restraint less prevalent in most of her painting, appears in some of her watercolors from the same period. The grace of her work projects unmistakably.

Untitled (brown leaves), 1989

Untitled (brown leaves), 1989

 

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In her later work, her frenetic tendencies persist, but she seems more willing to get down what she could, and leave it alone. Maybe not call it done, but move on. Time was getting short, and she knew it.

Her inkjet photo prints, mostly done between 2007 and 2011, present an elegiac atmosphere of melancholy, but at the same time express her pervasive sense of wonder at the world, possibly a world most can not, or do not bother to see. The images of flowers shot at the New York Botanical Garden appear washed out, leaving only bleached remnants of their former colors — she saw the real glory of them, but artistic renderings ultimately give us this anemic representation she insists.

2007-2011

2007-2011

The images of friends and family in outdoor settings share the same time-tempered quality; gradual decay infuses them, as though to look at these images is to witness that reclamation of all things by nature that her psyche must have been imbued with to the point almost of distraction.

2007-2011

2007-2011

 

2007-2011

2007-2011

Some viewers may be tempted to dismiss or trivialize her work, but that would be a mistake, indicating too narrow a view. Take in the entire exhibition, slowly. Study the deliberately but carefully distressed photographs; the refined simple watercolors; the forceful intensity of her painting. Wonder at those tar impastos — think about what forms tar, how long it takes, and what she embedded in it. Mary Ann Aitken embodied both a joyful spirit inspired by experience of her universe and the pressure of melancholy imposed by the realization that the lush beauty that surrounds us does not persist. If you look closely at her work, you can’t help gaining a bit more appreciation of the world we inhabit, and the blink-of-an-eye brevity of our existence.

Do not pass up the chance to experience a mostly unrecognized shred of Detroit history — visit Mary Ann Aitken’s work Black Abstract 1983-2011 at What Pipeline and Trinosophes thru 7-July-2013, curated by Aitken’s longtime friend Ed Fraga, Rebecca Mazzei (Trinosophes), Alivia Zivich (What Pipeline), and Daniel Sperry (What Pipeline).

Also, do not miss the outstanding catalogue on sale.

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If you dig this review and want to read more like it, visit www.artifizz.org/Blogs. Oh, and a few more likes on our Facebook page can’t hurt, either. Peace.

June 16, 2013

Detroit Print Exchange 2012 — 4731 Gallery Detroit

4731 Gallery, Detroit

4731 Gallery, Detroit

by Jim Welke

Detroit Print Exchange 2012 (on FB) (website) opened at 4731 Gallery tonight (15-June-2013) on the stretch of Grand River Avenue now known as the Grand River Creative Corridor partly thanks to 4731 (their address on same).

Grand River Creative Corridor

Grand River Creative Corridor

A sizable crowd poured into the gallery, where the atmospherics were amped-up by DJ Super Will and an open bar. But the atmospherics mattered less than the art on the walls. First, you should know the premise of the show. According to 4731’s event announcement on Facebook:

20 artists were selected for participation in a themed portfolio of works to be exhibited at the 4731 Gallery in Detroit. The portfolio features a myriad of traditional printmaking, photography and mixed media work. …

Chosen artists were notified in January of their selection and given three months to create work on the theme “The time we cannot meet”. Tasked with creating an edition of 25 pieces for exchange, the show serves as a way to link artists regardless of geography, and build connections to the city of Detroit as an emerging art Capital. Chosen Artists hail from Tempe AZ to Salthill Ireland and anywhere between.

The Detroit Print Exchange was established in 2012, by Andrew Hawkes as a way to build a community among like minded artists who were separated by geography. As a two-part exhibition in September the show moves to New York, announcement for those dates are coming soon. The exhibition is curated by Hawkes along with Sarah Ayers and Nicholas Mark.

The pictures were spread out over several rooms, well spaced; with a big crowd all the works were still accessible. Each picture seemed to occupy its own niche, and this felt appropriate given the scope of the show. Be prepared, with an effort to give each artist a fraction of due appreciation this story runs long.

After signing the guest book and receiving drink tickets from the affable Juan Carlos Perez, a working photographer who manned the door on this night, a straight path in might lead you to a photograph; a self-portrait by Felicity Palma. A nude, shot reflected in a mirror, the picture captures a woman in a pose that suggests classical marble sculpture, her arm thrown back across her eyes as though shielding herself. But the photo presents her image in a mirror, and the mirror occupies only half of the frame. The other half shows a bare wall, old and a bit rundown. Her pose, and her image fleetingly captured as though she arrived and departed that room of undefined purpose alone, aptly suggests the theme of the show “The time we cannot meet.”

Untitled (Self-Portrait) : Felicity Palma

Untitled (Self-Portrait) : Felicity Palma

Across the room, Miska Draskoczy, offers a more explicit explanation for a meeting deferred: bloodied remnants of a car crash and a life strewn on the ground, including a New York license plate; a crimson shoe; a lipstick, cap off, extended; a wallet, folded open, with a picture exposed of the lower half of a woman’s face, the bisected portrait spattered in blood. One wonders what narrative led her to such a regrettable end.

A Time We Cannot Meet: Miska Draskoczy

A Time We Cannot Meet: Miska Draskoczy

Nate Abromowski brought a car into his photograph, too. (With the gallery situated in Detroit, were cars on especially on the minds of the far-flung artists?) But in this case, the car sits alone, lights on, presumably idling in a vacant parking lot underneath foreboding gray skies. That eerie light that precedes a thunderstorm seems to illuminate an otherwise simple scene with an electrified sense of possibility — or possibility evaporated by a missed connection.

Untitled: Nate Abromowski

Untitled: Nate Abromowski

Robert Andy Coombs puts a witty spin on “the time we cannot meet.” He shows a man with mascara tears running down his cheeks as he reclines theatrically in sheer lingerie and holds an old fashioned rococo French phone far from his ear, as though he tragically discovered that an expected or unexpected rendezvous will or will not happen. The melodrama of the scene makes you laugh, but a jagged melancholy edge of alienation rips at you too.

From the Lady Boy Series: Robert Andy Coombs

From the Lady Boy Series: Robert Andy Coombs

Jonni Cheatwood presents a bride and groom, done up in their wedding gear and holding hands, but smears of paint obscure their faces — daubed over the bride, and poured over the groom. The background looks like those backdrops with the horizontal bars that indicate height in police lineups. What the hell happened here? Sorry. The happy couple regrets they will not attend the reception, the police hauled them downtown. Notably, the groom’s left hand seems handcuffed to another’s hand. This photo evokes unmitigated mystery and enervates the viewer a bit.

Untitled: Jonni Cheatwood

Untitled: Jonni Cheatwood

Rosamaría Zamarrón gives us “Kismet,” a collage on arches paper where she placed two Polaroid images peeled from their backing and tattered in the process, set over a circular coffee cup imprint. The images show that metallic, blue-y, underwater characteristic that infuses Polaroid images, which aside from their wickedly high cost and bulky, battery-eating cameras, likely contributed to their extinction. The shots used here seem cheerful enough — the subjects show contented half smiles — except the man and woman appear at opposite sides of the same table, but not together. Each occupies their little crumpled image alone, as though incomplete and not quite aware of it. The coffee stain at the bottom emphasizes what may have been a long and fruitless wait by both of them.

Kismet: Rosamaría Zamarrón

Kismet: Rosamaría Zamarrón

Aimee Brasseur Bentley, with “outside looking in,” presents a smiling, but imploring woman in an over-inflated tulle-skirted gown extends a hand to a child in an equally puffy gown. Normal enough. Except both cling to a red cord, and float several feet off the ground. Not normal at all, surreal in fact. And you sense that something disquieting goes on here, that the woman may not be all that good, nor the child all that childish. The pale, ethereal aura of the image enforces the sense that we see something rare.

outside looking in: Aimee Brasseur Bentley

outside looking in: Aimee Brasseur Bentley

Eno Laget, with “till we have faces,” produced perhaps the most elaborate piece. Not that steals thunder, but seems to convey this artist’s creative mode: layers of inspiration build to impart meaning. At first glance, the notion that this work fits the theme, “The time we cannot meet,” might elude you, but in fact it does fit. A pair of prints (two that cannot meet?) fit together into a frame secured by ancient hand cut nails that prop the prints in place. The artist formed the frame from an old orange and white reflective road construction barrier. A pocket centered in the front of one print contains a folded road map. The title card invites the viewer to interact (beside which Mr. Laget penned the words “artspeak for ‘touch me’.”) If you do interact and unfold the map on the table provided, you see a painted over roadmap. On one side, a colossus-like Robocop points a gun into the foreground. On the flip side, an image of Malcolm X (El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz) adjacent to a pasted in description of a harrowing day in which his home was fire bombed, his clothes reeked, his lungs ached from the smoke, he had not slept, and he was due to give a keynote speech at Ford Auditorium in Detroit that night.  All this a week before his assination. One of the two prints that inserts in the frame could be an image of Christ (or some other martyred, mythological figure), the other of Mr. Laget self-portrayed with ram horns (or Dwennimmen, a West African symbol for strength paired with humility) and the gaze of a seer. The collection of imagery here — Malcolm X, the misguided but determined gunman, mythological martyr, Mr. Laget — jumble together to form intersections in time that did happen and should not have, and did not happen but possibly should have. So this writer reads it. No matter how you interpret this piece, its maps and images will send you on journey worth taking.

till we have faces: Eno Laget

till we have faces: Eno Laget

till we have faces: Eno Laget

till we have faces: Eno Laget

till we have faces: Eno Laget

till we have faces: Eno Laget

Danielle Burns offers a spare picture of a man grimacing, hand gripping the back of his head. Behind him two children play on the ground in what could be a junkyard, or a back yard cluttered with old engine blocks. The man wears a sweatshirt and fur cap, while the children kneel shirtless on the soil. Is this a man leaving  behind an opportunity to meet, or recalling a meeting that never quite transpired as expected? It seems unclear, but either way you sense anguish.

Untitled: Danielle Burns

Untitled: Danielle Burns

Jennifer Belair’s silkscreen shows the face of the same man three times, with Cubist eyes, as though glimpsed in passing, topped by a gray and black miasma of what might be thoughts choked with memories of figures, places, and words (as characters embedded therein). The man appears to have clownish daubs of paint on his cheeks like a clown would do with red for blush, but these are mostly pale white and he wears a frown. Below him, an almost silhouetted village looms up. The man appears banished from the village and haunted by those murky memories. Meetings in that town permanently postponed. The title of Belair’s work reads, “erinner sie sich” (should that be “erinnern”?), which translates to English as “they remember.”

Erinnern Sie Sich: Jennifer Belair

Erinnern Sie Sich: Jennifer Belair

Eimear Jean McCormack created an abstract serigraph (a print made by the silk-screen process) for the show with intersecting planes of color overlaid with a wire-frame cube the lines of which transition in color as they cross from one plane to another. The colors here suggest almost a negative of a mountain profile. Or an overhead view of a shoreline. Or neither. But the artist chose “Firmament” for the title so the notion of terra firma lingers. This image feels a bit inscrutable, the opposing planes might be a minimalist means of implying the thematic unmet meeting. That cube almost but not quite penetrating the boundary between the planes further reinforces the notion of a meeting not quite realized.

Firmament: Eimear Jean McCormack

Firmament: Eimear Jean McCormack

Renee Willoughby’s “Darling, there’s no such thing as purity” brings a digitally composed abstraction which includes a reclining female figure draped in a gauzy fabric along with a series of geometric images, a series of mathematical-seeming glyphs, and a pyramid-shaped, ray-imprinted outpouring of handwritten prose. A nebulous cloud fills the background, and film-labeling frames the entire image to give a sense of antiquated decay. The image clips the prose streaming from the woman’s fingertips so the narrative becomes broken chatter as though from a talking doll with internal dysfunction. But a sense of motion pervades this image, like objects in orbit that seem destined to collide, but never do and instead circle forever. Meeting forgone.

Darling, there’s no such thing as purity: Renee Willoughby

Darling, there’s no such thing as purity: Renee Willoughby

Tisch Mikhail Lewis presents an image that can trick your eye like those old pictures one sees of a wineglass that suddenly becomes two women. It actually seems sometimes in motion. But the artist created her image with much more subtlety than that. As the image resolves, you see the gentle face of a woman that appears to rest on a flower, and above her a more stern visage of a man drawn in finer detail and printed with a rectangular background, as though a fading snapshot to preserve the equally fading memory of the woman. An arm seems to embrace the woman and the flower and hold the scene together, but possibly it hangs heavy, limp, and lifeless. Black lines on a white field dominate the image, while flowing red echoes some of those lines, and to this viewer suggested spilled blood, as though violence separated these two.

What Do You Know? Tisch Mikhail Lewis

What Do You Know? Tisch Mikhail Lewis

Jared C. Tyler’s photograph shows what appear to be the remnants of violence and bloodshed too, but infused with fantastic detail that sends the mind into an imagined place. A woman, prone on what appears to be a sort of purplish industrial flooring, grips a clot colored, stylized skull. Black, oily smoke rises from one eye-socket of the skull and throughout the image brilliant, blurred, particles descend all around like the glittering particles of frozen condensation that peal away from a launched spacecraft, banal yet somehow fascinating. The wide-open eyes of the woman seem to tell us she died along with the owner of the skull, and we witness the melancholy scene of a Romeo and Juliet-like conclusion.

Untitled: Jared C. Tyler

Untitled: Jared C. Tyler

Georgina Rutherford creates an etching that seems to present night and day views of a surreal landscape, perspective mixed, images tangled. She titled the work “Memory” and that feels apt though a bit unsettling given the jumbled distortions that comprise the picture, as though memory does indeed play tricks. Perhaps night and day are depicted, and similar locations, and similar creatures, but they are not perfectly aligned views. One senses the chaotic elements of nature here, of strange forces coalescing, but this picture does not surrender its secrets so easily, and for this writer at least, remains distant.

Memory: Georgina Rutherford

Memory: Georgina Rutherford

Caitlin Grames uses the figure of a woman overlaid, goddess-like with images of galactic star formation in her work, “Asunder.” The figure throws back her head and extends her fingers with taut muscularity as if inducing something momentous to happen, or possibly enduring the pain of recognition of something that will not. The vast expanses of time all but insure that inhabitants of those stellar expanses will never communicate much less meet, and the thought of that should induce a bit of angst and wonder in all of us. That Ms. Grames overlays the image with an explosion of red (and the title) suggests in this moment that angst — defined as that ineffable feeling one encounters standing at the edge of the abyss and contemplating the free will imposed option of leaping — might outweigh wonder.

Asunder: Caitlin Grames

Asunder: Caitlin Grames

Jonathon Russel shows two airplanes, vapor trails pouring from their engines, and one airplane parked at a gate in his work, “8872 Miles 13 Time Zones 3 Continents.” This constructivist-like image evokes our perpetual motion in near frenzy, which almost precludes meaningful encounters. The planes allow us to meet anywhere, but at the same time keep us hopping, and thus disallow more intimate meetings. The planes at oblique angles in this picture seem to suggest we too often fly past one another.

8872 Miles 13 Time Zones 3 Continents: Jonathon Russel

8872 Miles 13 Time Zones 3 Continents: Jonathon Russel

David Gerhard’s “Searching” implies a soulful quest for something ineffable but necessary, and perhaps not inevitable. A wistful image of a man staring into infinity, almost that infamous thousand-yard stare of a man who has seen too much, overlays a circular, symmetrical, maze-like print suggestive of those found in an Aztec codex. Beneath this, we see ghostly images of figures fleeing through the passageways of cryptically rendered buildings. It seems here the artist might be conveying the notion of meetings of the mind that elude us, recognition of commonality that might soothe our distrust, but nevertheless escape us in the endless turmoil of history.

Searching: David Gerhard

Searching: David Gerhard

Mark Andrus offers a wistful view of “A Time We Cannot Meet” with his photograph that shows a man and a woman separated by a short distance on a sidewalk, but what appears to be an infinite emotional distance. The woman holds a red balloon straining aloft while the man clutches a rose, held downward at his side, and a greeting card in his other hand. The two wear dour expressions, as though both have come to the same realization that they must go in opposite directions despite a palpable urge to do otherwise.

A Time We Cannot Meet: Mark Andrus

A Time We Cannot Meet: Mark Andrus

In “Colophon,” Jeremiah Britton creates with unreal colors and swirling lines a picture reminiscent of art nouveau. (Colophon refers to a publisher’s emblem or imprint, esp. one on the title page or spine of a book.) This serigraph creates a collage feel with disparate images intersecting, but independent and not quite meeting physically or intellectually — they exist apart from one another. At the bottom, a man and woman in Victorian dress reach toward each other, but the woman ominously hovers in the empty space between two brick buildings while the man stands on the top ledge of one. Is this the same woman we see in the larger image? More importantly, will the grasping figures reach one another, or does the woman drop into the infinity between the towers? The answer probably depends on your state of mind when you see this picture, but if Mr. Britton stays true to the theme of the show, one should anticipate the worst.

Colophon: Jeremiah Britton

Colophon: Jeremiah Britton

It seems from the list on the opening event Facebook page that we missed David Birkam. Apologies! Anyone got a picture? If so, please forward for inclusion here.

If you made it this far, forgive the wordiness, but the works in Detroit Print Exchange 2012 seem to warrant individual recognition. They surely merit a visit to 4731 before the show moves on to New York in September. At any rate, what you read here are the views of one possibly (probably?) misguided writer. Go see the pictures for yourself. And sorry the photos suck, but they are all the more reason to get down to the Grand River Creative Corridor and see the show at 4731.

Cheers to Andrew Hawkes, Sarah Ayers, Nicholas Mark and all the crew at 4731 Gallery for making it happen.

 

If you dig this review and want to read more like it, visit www.artifizz.org/Blogs. Oh, and a few more likes on our Facebook page can’t hurt, either. Peace.

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4731 Gallery: Detroit Print Exchange Opening

 

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4731 Gallery: Detroit Print Exchange Opening

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4731 Gallery: Detroit Print Exchange Opening

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4731 Gallery: Detroit Print Exchange Opening

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4731 Gallery: Detroit Print Exchange Opening

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4731 Gallery: Detroit Print Exchange Opening

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4731 Gallery: Detroit Print Exchange Opening

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4731 Gallery: Detroit Print Exchange Opening

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4731 Gallery: Detroit Print Exchange Opening

 

June 11, 2013

Christopher Samuels :: New Works and Short Films

Christopher Samuels: New Works & Short Films opened on Saturday, 8-June 2013 at Popps Packing in Hamtramck.

For the show, Mr. Samuels divided the gallery into three rooms, one for film screening, one for dance, and one for installation work. For the latter, Mr. Samuels transformed the gallery itself into an installation. When you enter, your first thought might be, “What the hell?” The works make use of artifacts of the room to cloud the distinction between artwork and gallery. The gallery is the artwork. You will not see a white cube with objects and title cards beside them. In fact, the work here verges on participatory in the sense that the visitor feels disoriented, uncomfortable, unsure how to react — at least this one did, as did others asked for their reaction — visitors mill about, searching for landmarks in a strange dance of their own.

The room feels spare and industrial, unfinished. A sense of the place, Mr. Samuels said, dictated what happened in the room. He looked around at the odd shaped walls, with alcoves and doorways, and tweaked them with objects he placed thereabout. He hoped the objects would feel organic, he said. They do, but at the same time they are jarring — like a tumor, organic but indicative of illness. An LED light down under a sewer grate, glows upward like a compound-eyed alien trapped beneath the iron bars.

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A set of clinical white curtains across a wide doorway to an alcove, backlit with harsh florescent light, forms another work. That streaming glare from between those curtains, like an operating room dropped into this high-ceilinged former industrial space feels spooky; it almost makes you shudder, and it might if you were alone in that room.

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A semi-circular florescent tube set on top of a pipe outlet inset into the battered concrete floor, the electrical parts of the lamp concealed by a rag, glowed like a strange interface to some unseen, menacing machine.

Nearby, prints of three prismatic color smears in various orientations and resolutions hang beside a simple gray scale transition; all unlabeled, as though readily interpretable or usable to those in the know. But you are not in the know. At least not when you enter this room.

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A projector down near the floor shines the image of a hand, index finger extended, pointing to something unseen on the floor. A piece of glass, propped between the projector and the wall at a forty-five degree angle redirects a washed out facsimile of the moving, gesturing, imploring hand onto the adjacent wall.

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Shreds of foliage adorn an apparently functional gas meter, pipes projecting from a wall and disappearing through the concrete floor. The foliage might be reclaiming this room for Mother Nature, except the foliage is dead and desiccated. Reclamation aborted.

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A black and orange plastic spool rests inexplicably in the center of the room, in peril of stray kicks by passersby. No matter, its relevance, or irrelevance persists.

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Black plastic netting drapes the corner of one wall. Remnants of a former purpose that now only form patterns.

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Up high, concealing a row of windows, Mr. Samuels installed a semi-transparent mural comprised of multiple sheets turned out to the street. During the day, you see the mural in the room, but reversed, like a window sign. At night, the image fades and the sheets take on a pale blue due to insufficient light penetrating from outside.

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In the next room, Mr. Samuels ran his short films in a continuous loop. They are: Indian Shield (4:56), Loosie (4:00), Indian Jim (5:24). All of them projected a haunting sense that disaster lurked around the corner, but all imply disaster might yet be averted. The saturated color hints they were shot on 16mm film, but this effect could be digital magic. The sound comes a bit muffled at times, especially in a crowded room; words get lost.

Indian Shield and Indian Jim featured the same actor, telling a self-revealing story, but from slightly different perspectives. In Hollywood’s reductive shorthand, think Midnight Cowboy meets Blue Velvet: the images seem straightforward, but the soundtrack and the editing create a nasty sense of foreboding. Both feature a man recovering from a shoulder injury and subsequent surgery, but both were about more than that. Indian Shield included additional actors, scenes of the roiling surface of the sun (Indian shield?) and a narrator telling of times when it is safe to stare into its glare. A party, after much tossing back of shots, ends with a peculiar toast to art. The film ends with the lead actor and another man doing Tai Chi beside a porta-john, aching it seems to keep their shit together, even if they are the only ones who believe they actually might.

Indian Jim features the same actor and the same shoulder injury, but he does pushups here, insists on recovery, and ends with the man, shot face on, riding a bike through downtown Detroit at night. With both of these films, one gets the sense of watching a stranger kicked to the curb by a capricious labor market in a post-industrial town where a man without formal education credentials, or adequate drive to re-create himself, ends up disenchanted, deluded, and desperate for a leg up from a society that mostly doesn’t give a damn about him and wishes he would disappear. But he won’t — Mr. Samuels proves that.

Loosie, opens with a woman walking on the sidewalk in a rundown neighborhood. Soon she arrives at a dingy home. She rattles off numerous banal hardships in her life with a cigarette scratched voice, until she finally describes her home as a jail where no one visits. There are lots of close in shots, and her suffering infects the viewer with a desperate sense of malaise. The film ends with Loosie walking down the same sidewalk towards an unknown destination. Things may turn out all right, but one senses that for an impoverished and disenfranchised woman, life is nasty, brutish, and (mercilessly) short.

Towards the end of the evening as scheduled for the opening, Paul Bancell, Megan Major and Sam Horning performed a dance piece that both complemented and extended Mr. Samuels’ transformation of the gallery. They all moved with grace and emanated emotion that suddenly made the small space allotted to their performance seem large. Their use of the “found” stage — not a formal stage with formal lighting and formal wings — mirrored Mr. Samuels’ adaptation of the gallery space. The movement flowed effortlessly and gorgeously from the dancers, and this old meatpacking plant became somewhere else; took on a new set of dimensions.

Mr. Samuels’ show takes the typical polished, tightly curated gallery show and smacks it in the head. This is not the sort of show where “the women come and go / talking of Michelangelo.” You should feel out of your element here, whomever you are. The artwork of Mr. Samuels breaks standard assumptions about the presentation and constitution of art and erases standard descriptive vocabulary for such events. The art here might be described as dadaist (anti-art, embraces chaos, opposes conventional standards); postminimalist (uses existing objects, esthetic depends on form); fluxus (mixes media: sculptural objects, prints, painting, mural, film, music, dance, the gallery space, the audience, the happening, all of it!).

Or maybe its none of that, and just happens to be what Christopher Samuels gives us. No matter how you describe it, Mr. Samuels took a risk conceiving and presenting this show. It’s an all or nothing, what have you done for me lately world for artists, and one misstep can send their career off the rails. So I do define what the artist did here as real risk, requiring real premeditation, and that, aside from subjective artistic merit, is what separates this from what any six year old can do (to refute a remark in a review by a British newspaper of a Henry Moore show). We all need to be smacked in the head once in a while. The show runs through 29-June.

Here’s a poem to ponder:

Apology

Why do I write today?

The beauty of
the terrible faces
of our nonentities
stirs me to it:

colored women
day workers—
old and experienced—
returning home at dusk
in cast off clothing
faces like
old Florentine oak.

Also

the set pieces
of your faces stir me—
leading citizens—
but not
in the same way.

William Carlos Williams

 

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