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March 4, 2014

‘Do The Yale Thing’ at N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art Detroit

by Jim Welke

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Do The Yale Thing: An Exhibition of Exceptional Artwork by Recent Yale MFA Graduates, Curated by Dexter Wimberly, at N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, Detroit

Do The Yale Thing shows the work of eighteen artists with one thing in common: they did “the Yale thing.” That is, they managed — with no shortage of blood, sweat, and tears — to be accepted and ultimately graduated from the famed Master of Fine Arts program at Yale in New Haven Connecticut.

Dexter Wimberly curated the group show to offer an engaging mix of art where the whole exceeds the sum of the parts — no small feat when you consider the deep pool of artists and work he drew from. Narrowing the selection to these eighteen artists with about forty works in the show surely did not come without a struggle. The art he chose rambles through an eclectic range of topics and styles that manage to find among themselves something to talk about, a reflection of disparate life experience, but glued together by, if not common, then parallel perceptions of the world. These artists, it seems, felt the same forces emanating from the zeitgeist, yet produced widely divergent commentary on it through their artwork. Through this divergence and the bright contrasts of individuality it engenders you appreciate more what each artist achieves as they bend to common external forces yet snap back with a unique expression of those forces. You leave the room feeling the effects of a singular, cohesive experience like it were a voyage through a strange land that turns out in the end to be your own land seen through new eyes.

Caroline Wells Chandler

Bear Culture (top), Power Lines (bottom) / hand-crocheted assorted wool, polyfil / 2012-2013 / Caroline Wells Chandler

Bear Culture  and Power Lines might be the first works you encounter. Crocheted sculptures from Caroline Wells Chandler, they recline on the floor and against the wall in two clusters. A stack long of tubes with dendritic fingers at one end comprises Power Lines. Beyond, a group of crocheted bears recline against the wall. You notice some of the bears have “tubes with dendritic fingers” for legs, If we associate the works, do we witness a stylized act of violence? The crocheted bears embody sweetness and light: they smile and clutch one another. Yet those same bears might have assembled this heap of limbs nearby; the aftermath of a savage massacre. Bear culture, perhaps, shares aspects of our own. Or, not. You need to contemplate this scenario for yourself–therein lies the fun.

Lucia Hierro

YOLO: In Memoriam / digital on jacquard tricot fabric, felt, industrial felt / Lucia Hierro

YOLO: In Memoriam, by Lucia Hierro, offers a quirky but arresting assemblage of objects, imagery, and text that evidently pay homage to the expression “you only live once” — the meaning of the acronym in the title. The centerpiece, a page from a New Yorker short story with selected words highlighted, presents in first person a description of the exploration of another woman’s apartment while the narrator suffers existential angst and regret for her “unlived” life. A cartoon captioned with the eponymous acronym “YOLO” presents the grim reaper knocking at an old man’s door. The artist pinned this page to a felt backing decorated on top with felt flowers, and on the bottom by a felt mockup of a Yankees cap — like a memorial to the dead. Despite the narrative elements, the work remains cryptic and unresolved, pressing us to embrace mystery and get on with life. YOLO.

Micah Ganske

Bethlehem Steel: The Yard / acrylic on muslin / Micah Ganske

Micah Ganske offers three paintings with outsized shadows looming across each. Somehow these shadows — of airplanes in one, the others less clearly defined — produce an ominous effect on these otherwise benign pictures of landscapes seen from above. One, a steel mill (Bethlehem Steel: The Yard), almost seems to celebrate its huffing monstrous achievement, except for that shadow that weighs on the celebration.

Mario Moore

Herstory / oil on copper / 2013 / Mario Moore

Three portraits by Mario Moore project moody introspection. Herstory he painted on copper, and used the metallic sheen to form a glowing frame for his subject, integrated into the room painted behind her. You might think that effect would feel forced, but somehow the artist lets the copper melt into the scene as though a perfectly natural component of a room. Another portrait comes set behind a translucent screen with clear text like bars, “I REALLY DO LIKE COPS I THINK THEY DO A GREAT JOB TEACHING ME HOW TO POLICE MYSELF” — a riff on the police state we find ourselves in, and the especially profound implications a police state has for black men.

Amy Rinaldi

Untitled #3 / rubber, wood, concrete, enamel, acrylic, plastic on panel / 2013 / Amy Rinaldi

Amy Rinaldi’s four wall sculptures with their raw, glossy, rumpled surfaces dare you to react with distaste, but before you know it you move closer and dig in to their varied forms and textures. You find yourself charmed by these warped and stretched rubbery sheets that suggest something precious within.

Thomas Gardiner

Untitled #1 / photo print on paper / Thomas Gardiner

Thomas Gardiner shows three large prints of photographs, each a portrait of decisively different circumstances, but each leaves you wondering how much he staged, and how much he chanced upon. Untitled #1 shows a young black man in a rundown neighborhood poised either to flee or dance. His neutral expression reveals little of his intention, but through sharp focus of the subject, magical lighting, and limited depth of field, the man seems to project from the surface of the image as though animated by the tension contained therein.

Nicole Maloof

The Woods / oil on canvas / 2013 / Nicole Maloof

Nicole Maloof’s three paintings make good use of lighting and feathery brush strokes to produce snapshot like imagery of unforeseen moments. One of her portraits, The Woods, seems at first lighthearted, but the radiant glow of sunlight behind the nude figure, and the figure’s slightly averted face, imbues the picture with a reverent, contemplative aura that grips you unexpectedly.

Gabriela Collins-Fernandez

YOU BOO / oil and glitter on crushed velvet and plastic / Gabriela Collins-Fernandez

Gabriela Collins-Fernandez shows two abstract paintings, each overlaid with assertive text, the third a mixed-media work titled YOU BOO — the letters of which peer out through a gap in some noisy orange crushed velvet. The effect feels playful, but also like an un-deciphered artifact.

Sol Sax

Masqueraders Are The Ancestors of Protestors, The Exclamation Print: From the Dog On Protestor series / digital print / 2013 / Sol Sax

Sol Sax shows a tall, composite photograph, Masqueraders Are The Ancestors of Protestors, The Exclamation Print: From the Dog On Protestor series. The image shows a cop setting a dog on a masquerader in a parade — this suggests the establishment attacking and oppressing “the other” as we so famously have and do in the United States to woeful effect.

Mark Thomas Gibson

Gluttony / acrylic, glitter, ink on paper / Mark Thomas Gibson

Mark Thomas Gibson’s Gluttony presents a mad collage assemblage of toothy maws dripping with purplish slop and spattered with bluish detritus. A funhouse feeling pervades this work, yet the message in the mayhem condemns with unsettling certainty our tendency toward boundless excess.

Rushern Baker IV

Indented Figure / mixed-media on canvas / 2013 / Rushern Baker IV

Rushern Baker IV offers three abstract works, one of which, Indented Figure implies a man merging with his background, sublimated into a hollow schematic of the original being. Seeing this, you can not help thinking of those ghostly profiles left on walls in Hiroshima.

Pao Houa Her

Mom shirtless in bedroom (Desire series) / digital inkjet print / 2012 / Pao Houa Her

Pao Houa Her’s three intimate photographic portraits from her Desire series dispense with flattery. Instead, Lucian Freud like, they invite a cringe; almost urge you to avert your eyes. But from either curiosity or schadenfreude, you stick with these images until you’ve knocked around in their complexity long enough to feel at home in the world therein; a world that offers comfort to the imperfect.

Kenny Rivero

Lady Dancing / oil, acrylic, enamel on canvas / 2012 / Kenny Rivero

The paintings of Kenny Rivero feel reductive, defined as much by what he leaves out as what he includes. But the pictures do not lack for visual interest. While The Water By My House feels vibrant, even (forgive the term) splashy, Lady Dancing induces a sense of stylistic vertigo with a faceless figure as the main subject. Your brain searches to resolve detail that will never appear, but the exercise feels refreshing.

Richard Lewis

Tracy Wearing A Hat / oil on canvas / 2011 / Richard Lewis

Richard Lewis brings two thoughtful portraits. Both present the subject straight on with seemingly objective clarity, but both — like good portraits do — induce an ineffable flash of emotion. Tracy Wearing A Hat, although diminutive, forces its way off the canvas and into your consciousness before you have time to react and get your defenses up.

Doron Langberg

Three Lovers / oil on linen / 2013 / Doron Langberg

Doron Langberg’s work feels ghostly. Figures distort and blend with their background, as though seen through a murky state of consciousness. Three Lovers might be the most extreme example of that deliberate haziness. Glance at the painting and you pick out a figure, but then you see that the shape represents a hole in layered canvas, a void. The effect plays with the contradiction between what you desire to see — three lovers — versus what you do see.

Wayde McIntosh

Hold / oil on canvas / 2012 / Wayde McIntosh

Wayde McIntosh shows three evocative portraits, two of which show a man’s face pressed against glass; violently one assumes. In the third a woman reclines inverted and half off a sofa, her head just touching the floor, feet up on cushions. Wrapped in a red sheet, she appears like an inverted classical Greek statue. In all of these, the state of the subject feels ambiguous: are they alive or dead?

Endia Beal

Ellen / pigment print / 2013 / Endia Beal

Endia Beal’s two photographic portraits feel — in this show — like two forgotten relatives. The pictures each show a precisely dressed and coiffed woman. They wear nearly identical clothes, and their hair follows similar patterns. They look directly at the viewer with mildly amused expressions. They seem like women that inhabit a rigid social structure with conservative restrictions on behavior — sort of what you might imagine for the British aristocracy, but applies equally (or did once) to the upper east side of Manhattan and other east coast bastions of affluence. These women project authority, and you might find yourself standing a bit straighter in front of them despite your will to the contrary.

video installation, Philip Seymour Hoffman clips

Same Voices, Different Rooms / video installation / Tommy Kha

Same Voices, Different Rooms by Tommy Kha occupies one wall (about eight feet wide, the title is a play on a Truman Capote book title). A video projected in a continuous loop shows Philip Seymour Hoffman in various scenes from the movie Capote (possibly other films too?). The scenes feel detached, as though hijacked from the feature film and waiting to go back where they belong. But like video anywhere, you feel yourself pulled toward the lively tension in this one, with Mr. Hoffman intoning in that squeaky, abrasive voice. The effect of the video seems to be to leave the viewer feeling as detached as the scenes, disengaged from the real world. The real world of the gallery, that is. The work picks up added poignancy after Mr. Hoffman’s sudden premature death.

Do The Yale Thing runs through 21-March-2014 — you would do well not to miss it. George N’Namdi brings exhibitions to his gallery with a precise eye toward Detroit sensibilities both past and present. His artists capture the zeitgeist and creative essence of Detroit with rare refinement. Visit N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art often. You won’t be disappointed.

Worth a review in its own right was a show up during this writer’s visit of work by local high school students from a contest sponsored by Detroit-area McDonald’s owners called Black History Moments on Canvas. The show ran through Black History month. You can see the work here: BLACKMOMENTSONCANVAS.COM

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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 *******

January 24, 2014

Wayne State University MFA 1 Thesis Exhibition

by Jim Welke

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Raise your hand if you visited a student art exhibition in the last year. Well? Well, this writer might have kept his hands in his pockets, but for the MFA graduate show in the Wayne State Community Arts Art Department Gallery (Wayne State University MFA 1 Thesis Exhibition: part 1 of 2, part 2 opens 14-Feb).

The gallery extends long and narrow with a north-facing wall of glass that offers a first-class view of the McGregor Reflecting Pool (which appears as a scene from Dr. Zhivago this time of year). Most of the light in the gallery comes from that cool northern glow reflected off snow and flatters the work therein.

Clara W. DeGalan

Free Storm Hush in the Neighborhood II / Clara W. DeGalan

Clara W. DeGalan, a Detroit native, finesses large charcoal drawings with skill that astonishes. Charcoal can be messy, and to create large, detailed works that consist of more than a few broad sweeps must be a daunting task. But she does it over and over. Free Storm Hush in the Neighborhood II offers that sense of natural harmony and balance you might find in a pastoral landscape, but instead it shows a collection of buildings intersected by a chain link fence and overhead wires — it feels urban, but the buildings appear non-descript enough that they could be outbuildings on a farm. Snow covers the scene and no humans complicate the view with their tendency to obstruct serenity.

Passed This Way Before / Clara W. DeGalan

Passed This Way Before / Clara W. DeGalan

But there’s something else hovering in another dimension of Ms. DeGalan’s work. All her works here, at first glance, feel serene and the figurative pictures bring the warmth — or heat — you get from human close-ups. And then you sense an Edgar Allen Poe-esque, Gothic-novel, sinister presence. Her painting, Passed This Way Before, which appears to show a mirror standing in an sun-dappled alley way or street, surrounded by a lush growth of bushes and trees with a tall building in the distant background, and another building reflected in the mirror. The picture, executed in gentle, blurry brushstrokes and diluted colors, feels comforting. Yet, like a well-placed metaphor in a short story, that inexplicable reflection and the sharp angular washes of light and shadow somehow suggest either foreboding or a dark memory.

June 1982 (The Kiss) / Clara W. DeGalan

June 1982 (The Kiss) / Clara W. DeGalan

June 1982 (The Kiss) creates a similar baleful sense of mystery. Who kisses the girl in the pool? Why does the woman kissing the girl wear all white? What does she hold in her other hand, the one obscured by her uniform-like dress? Why does the girl have the pool all to herself? Aside from the girl and the woman, the scene fills with contrasting angles; a restrictive crosshatched wall behind them. The picture feels documentary, like a snapshot, a fleeting moment in time that leaves the viewer wondering about the prologue and epilogue. Or so this writer sees it. Maybe the dark is not there at all, but when you get up close to these works you sense complexity. That much is sure.

 

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Beard Triptych 2 / Alex Drummer

Beard Triptych 2 / Alex Drummer

Alex Drummer earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Metalworking. For his master’s thesis show, he presents a series of knitted beard triptychs that surely set a mind to wondering. The knit work appears well made, and one needs to be impressed that a man who pursued metalworking with such assiduous application might as easily take up knitting. So there’s that.

Alex Drummer

Beard Triptych 4 / Alex Drummer

But why knitted beards? Well we all wear costumes and disguises to get through our difficult lives, and we change those costumes and disguises as circumstance requires. Flanking each of the five knitted beards mounted on boards, Mr. Drummer presents photographs of men and women wearing the beards, hence triptychs. The unnaturally colored beards, almost like witty commentary on the fashion of such beards in some circles, conceal the faces of the wearers to the point of obscuring their identifying features, even their sex — women wearing beards? Perhaps Mr. Drummer suggests more than mere social disguises here, but something of general utility to hide us from the Orwellian eyes of our burgeoning surveillance state? Perhaps a comment on controlling religious codes that require beards for men, or head coverings for women? As a playful nod to the inevitable question: What would I look like in one of those? Mr. Drummer offers Portrait Beard 2, which allow the visitor to prop themselves before a suspended knit beard and view themselves in a mirror. These are fun works, but not so lightly dismissed if you ponder the underlying motivation for their making.

 

Alex Drummer

Portrait Beard 2 / Alex Drummer

*******

Emilee Arter offers big, sculptural works formed of various natural and synthetic fabrics along with tape and other fasteners. These pieces will likely mystify the viewer on first approach — the drapes and folds confront the viewer with seemingly chaotic turmoil. Yet as one gazes into them, you sense harmony, a balance created by non-random forces, a stasis that which naturally occurs in ecological niches with their hard won, long-evolved symbiotic relationships. And then there are the titles, which for certain were labored over for precise tonal affect like spare lines in a poem.

Emilee Arter

His Prediction was a Question, Not a Statement / Emilee Arter

His Prediction was a Question, Not a Statement is a title the visitor can sink their teeth into. And the work offers the least cohesive assembly of the collection from Ms. Arter, as though the work were something else once, and now represents the aftermath of the prediction misinterpreted, an explosion with woeful consequences of lost opportunity.

I’ll Never Forget Last September / Emilee Arter

I’ll Never Forget Last September / Emilee Arter

I’ll Never Forget Last September inevitably forces the visitor to contemplate their own Septembers. This writer immediately remembered a camping trip on the shore of Lake Superior and a night deluged by rain that left belongings floating in the old tent. One can see this work as that tent, dashed asunder. Or not. The plastics and dark, almost internal organ-like colors will elicit a multitude of reactions. But the September that it will most universally summons is that infamous September day, the eleventh of 2001.

Conquest / Emilee Arter

Conquest / Emilee Arter

Conquest, oddly, given its title, feels like the gentlest work presented by Ms. Arter. Burlap sacks with various printed source and content declarations fold and drape to reach an off-center pinnacle with a banner-like strand extending outward like those colorful banners atop medieval circus tents. Shredded and tumultuous toward the interior, the burlap at the boundaries forms flowing arcs that feel almost musical, thus perhaps that sensation of a caress rather than a slap. This works also seems to offer commentary on global consumerist trade and the piles of detritus it creates, detritus that often ends up floating on the surface of oceans, swirled and nudged into forms echoing those here. Find your own path into this work, but give it time. Abstraction provokes unique associations in every viewer. That’s the fun — and challenge — of it. Treat yourself. Go see these and the other works in the show.

Wayne State University MFA 1 Thesis Exhibition runs through 7 February. The second half opens 14-February.

 

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October 4, 2013

Stretch the Strangle Hold — Artists Against War

by Jim Welke

IMG_3785

Stretch the Strangle Hold - Artists Against War, on thru 5-October 2013 at 4731 Gallery (4731 Grand River) in Detroit begins with the following message of intent:

Inspired by my painting, Stretch the Strangle Hold, I sought out help to achieve the goal of bringing like-minded artists of all disciplines together to speak out against the lie of war. This group exhibit features many artists from around greater Detroit. Our goal for this show is to raise awareness at the local and national level to send a message that war is not the most effective solution.
- Joe Lovett, curator

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Stretch the Strangle Hold / Joe Lovett

The show includes works in various media by Catherine Peet, Madeline Barkey, Victor Pytko, Eric Mesko, David Mikesell, Sergio De Giusti, Lynn Galbreath, Marilyn Zimmerwoman, Jon Parlangeli, David Fischer, Jeanne Bieri, Donald Mendelson, Linda Allen, and Joe Lovett.

When you enter the room, this show immediately feels big like a cathedral. You slip into an awestruck contemplative mood, with a constant edge of pissed off. At least this writer did. If you despise war and the people who conspire to incite it you will likely feel the same. Yet, none of the imagery or sculpture in this show are gut wrenchingly graphic. That fact explains the power this show harnesses. You feel pissed off because so much of the form and imagery looms there with astonishing familiarity. Seeing it here, in an art gallery, stops you dead in your tracks. You wonder why the hell we put up with it. Why do we allow such grotesque brutality? One answer might lie in a quote pasted up beside David Mikesell’s Living In Trenches:

“I have not washed for a week, or had my boots off for a fortnight. …It just serves my …barbaric disposition and I have never enjoyed anything so much.” — Captain Julian Grenfell, letter to parents, 1914. He died of wounds in 1915, age 27.

Blinded by Gas Attack (top) / Living in Trenches (bottom) / David Mikesell

Blinded by Gas Attack (top) / Living in Trenches (bottom) / David Mikesell

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Walking Wounded / David Mikesell

There are those who greet war eagerly, who commit barbarity blithely, who relish the adrenalin buzz of combat. If you doubt, read some first hand accounts of war. Many more quotes like the one above linger like the smell of dog shit in our collective consciousness. And then there are those ostensible leaders who send others — reluctant participants — to war with the anticipation of glory and riches. To the instigators go glory and riches. Warriors get scant recompense. Most reluctant warriors bear scars from wounds they rarely mention. And their reticence to speak of nightmarish experiences impoverishes civilians. We should hear more from former warriors; they constitute the majority, and with sobering consistency advise avoidance of war.

Flower Gun Power / Linda Allen

Flower Gun Power / Linda Allen

But if we heard from them, would we heed them? The argument to urge us into war always comes down to “us against them” — hollow patriotism rallied by profiteering demagogues. You’re either with us, or you’re against us. You’re either one of us, or you’re one of them. You either defend our sacred national honor and fragile borders, or you tear both down and let the pagan hordes descend on our women and children, rape and enslave our tender innocents. Yet in the end, after the smoke clears — the infamous fog of war that obscures the barbarity — we discover it was about somebody else’s money and power; somebody other than the warriors compelled to fight; somebody other than the families compelled to consign their flesh and blood to horrible, needless death; somebody other than the citizens compelled to commit their treasure.

Same Story Same Game / Catherine Peet

Same Story Same Game / Catherine Peet

Story Teller / Catherine Peet

Story Teller / Catherine Peet

Here’s the original quote by Edmund Burke, the one apparently so often misquoted:

No man, who is not inflamed by vain-glory into enthusiasm, can flatter himself that his single, unsupported, desultory, unsystematic endeavours are of power to defeat the subtle designs and united Cabals of ambitious citizens. When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.

 

The Dove of Peace / Eric Mesko

The Dove of Peace / Eric Mesko

The Dove of Peace / Eric Mesko (detail)

The Dove of Peace / Eric Mesko (detail)

You’ll find at 4731 a phalanx of artwork combined against warwork: paintings, sculpture, photographs, mixed-media. Several pieces incorporate squadrons of those little plastic “army men” and other “toys” we drop into the hands of our children as prelude to merciless shredding of their innocence. Some works show scenes from our infamous past, matter-of-factly presented with that aforementioned unsettling sense of familiarity: Mr. Mikesell’s meticulously rendered World War One scenes, not frenetic battles but the walking wounded, men blinded by gas, in a line gripping the shoulder of the man in front as guide; or the inside of trenches where soldiers slept — all presented in soft hues and precise brushstrokes that remind one of Norman Rockwell’s gentle scenes of American domestic tranquility, except these show us horrors we never should have witnessed; and Jeanne Bieri, with a series of black and white photos, bleached from age. In one, a child wears a gas mask as a taller sister, outfitted with similar military fixtures stands aside, cut off at the shoulders as though ascending from the scene, leaving the child to suffocate alone in well-intentioned but likely ill-fitted, ineffective protective armor.

Hawaiian Child in a Gas Mask / Jeanne Bieri

Hawaiian Child in a Gas Mask / Jeanne Bieri

After Trayvon / Marilyn Zimmerwoman

After Trayvon / Marilyn Zimmerwoman

Other artists offer war imagery transposed as surreal pageantry; the familiar rendered strange, like David Fischer’s After the Bomb, an eerie glass bomb shell with grass growing inside. Marilyn Zimmerwoman offers “Time” magazine covers with Trayvon Martin’s empty hoodie superimposed over cryptic, mirrored text (“We spend a lot of time / On a few great things. / Until every idea we touch / Enhances each life it touches.”); or China’s imperial ascendance — “THE WORLD ACCORDING TO CHINA”; and a luxe wristwatch and reclining leopard; ghostly figures holding reversed signs that read, “Aids is going to lose,” all rendered translucent and exposed to lucid scrutiny like x-ray films. Perhaps a bit off topic, but then again given the pressure of commerce, geopolitics, and the warped apartheid culture Americans inhabit, perhaps these scenes represent inevitable precursors to war, the signs and symbols that provoke it.

Girls / Madeleine Barkey

Girls / Madeleine Barkey

Madeleine Barkey gives us Girls and Boy: nude schematics of children with target circles on their heads and torsos. Eric Mesko’s Dove of Peace, a collage of war clippings, including a New York Times roster of dead soldiers fronted by a diaphanous skull on a colonial pillar wearing a helmet wrapped in barbed wire, topped by a duck that grips an olive branch in its beak (a send up of that American eagle vainly clutching the ubiquitous olive branch). Catherine Peet brings ghostly dioramas embellished with mysterious icons alongside the Statue of Liberty; or a skeletal, lute-playing jester encircled by those tiny, ubiquitous army men painted in garish colors; or the exotic bird, Horned Plundious with blood seeming to issue from its beak. Linda Allen shows a 19th or early 20th century battle scene painting where lush faux flowers and hearts spontaneously pop from the barrels of guns and between the lurching soldiers’ feet. Sergio De Giusti’s sculpture Hanging Body Bags of Babylon (altarpiece) shows hanging, shrouded corpses and men lugging more to the scene in a creepy, almost biblical bas-relief. Donald Mendelson’s Dogs at Work depicts a desert battle scene, pyramid in the background, with gas-mask clad soldiers led by a colossal dog and followed by can-can dancers. Jon Parlangeli’s The Draft shows a negative image of men marched off at gunpoint as colored shards of confetti descend around them.

Mad Men / Victor Pytko

Mad Men / Victor Pytko

Mad Men / Victor Pytko (detail)

Mad Men / Victor Pytko (detail)

And Victor Pytko’s Mad Men, an installation placed in the center of the main gallery forms the shape of a bomb — conventional ordinance perhaps, or maybe an incendiary device designed to engulf in flames beings and buildings alike, or it could represent the ultimate destructive invention, an atomic bomb. There it sits in the middle of the room, plastered over with diminutive, surging, leaping army men, toy guns and grenades, and doll heads, all painted over in flat black spray. On the flattened, square tail end, Mr. Pytko added a diaphanous painting of a man convulsed in terror or pain (face reminiscent of General Nguyen Ngoc Loan Executing a Viet Cong Prisoner — that gruesome street execution in Saigon).

After the Bomb / David Fischer

After the Bomb / David Fischer

The Draft / Jon Parlangeli

The Draft / Jon Parlangeli

Soldier with Cat / Donald Mendelson

War With Peace / Jon Parlangeli

In abstract work by Donald Mendelson, Lynn Galbreath, Jon Parlangeli, and Joe Lovett toxic, gassy nebulae, and fracture figures in abrasive color or clinical grays ascend from canvases, sculpture, and mixed-media to assault our sleepy complacency. Joe Lovett’s eponymous Stretch the Strangle Hold suggests Picasso’s Guernica with nearly similar dimensions, gray tones, and tumbling images, but updated with modern war machinery and a shred of American flag painted in color. Overall, the scene feels less imbued with pure fury, but more of a diffuse, implacable sorrow. Yellow Brick Road, by Mr. Parlangeli, also suggests Guernica with cubist polygons, exaggerated features, and of course those bull horns, but Mr. Parlangeli used color to enforce the dramatic impact of the horrible human chaos he depicts with no shortage of pointless fury. Lynn Galbreath’s Hello Tokyo uses Godzilla, ensnared by a serpent, astride an all-terrain vehicle, and overrun by hordes of human attackers, painted in pallid green tones, and overlaid with block letters spelling out “FALSEHOODS, LIES, CONTRADICTIONS.” Indeed. It seems she presents an amalgam of propagandistic icons under assault here… or to another viewer something else, but clearly an indictment of human folly that ends with war.

The Hanging Body Bags of Babylon (altarpiece) / Sergio De Giusti

The Hanging Body Bags of Babylon (altarpiece) / Sergio De Giusti

Stretch the Strangle Hold - Artists Against War is timely and important, and populated with quality work well worth a look. Cheers to 4731 Gallery, the curator Joe Lovett, and the artists who used their prodigious talent to comment on a topic worthy of scathing commentary.

Drunk Tank Pink / Lynn Galbreath

Drunk Tank Pink / Lynn Galbreath

Just Ducky / Lynn Galbreath

Just Ducky / Lynn Galbreath

Hello Tokyo // Lynn Galbreath

Hello Tokyo / Lynn Galbreath

Dogs At Work / Donald Mendelson

Dogs At Work / Donald Mendelson

Dogs At Work / Donald Mendelson

Dogs At Work / Donald Mendelson (detail)

Yellow Brick Road / Jon Parlangeli

Yellow Brick Road / Jon Parlangeli

Jeanne Bieri

Jeanne Bieri

Boy / Madeleine Barkey

Boy / Madeleine Barkey

Stretch the Strangle Hold / Joe Lovett (detail)

Stretch the Strangle Hold / Joe Lovett (detail)

Stretch the Strangle Hold / Joe Lovett (detail)

Stretch the Strangle Hold / Joe Lovett (detail)

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

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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…

 

July 24, 2013

Robert Platt: Insubstantial Pageants of The Mind’s Eye

By Jim Welke

Enkephalon, 2013 64 x 72” / oil and pigment on linen

Enkephalon, 2013
64 x 72” / oil and pigment on linen

Robert Platt: Insubstantial Pageants of The Mind’s Eye
June 20, 2013 – July 27, 2013

Robert Platt’s solo show at the Butcher’s Daughter Gallery in Detroit consists of a series of big rectangular canvases; several round pictures; a round, onyx-like, semi-reflective mirror; a sprayed in-situ graffiti work; and a big, faux fur tepee in the center of the room.

Ridolon, 2013 13ft x 8ft / mixed-media

Ridolon, 2013
13ft x 8ft / mixed-media

The pictures share a color range suggestive of fall foliage: orangey-red-brown, golden-yellow earthy tones. In some, nebulous halos and clouds of brighter shades appear like the fluorescing remnant gases of deep space supernovae. In others, pixel-like rectangles appear as though a digital image exploded, sending virtual-reality data fragments shearing off into virtual space (a testament to the mutability of vision). All eleven pictures seem abstract, given the non-representational forms that inhabit them. Yet, most if not all contain figures of men, animals, and plants. Perhaps blurred, fragmented, representational imagery better defines them.

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Rather than set a semantic trap, to better understand where Mr. Platt is coming from you should read several gallery descriptions and artist statements.

From the Butcher’s Daughter exhibition description:

This large-scale painting exhibition features nearly a dozen works by Robert Platt that explore concepts of mediated and domestic nature and the liminal spaces of contemporary life. Platt investigates how human interaction is effected by imported cultural constructs and, further, how these ideas and thoughts affect the world we live in, our shared social experiences, and the impact and resonance within the individual.

Platt, born in 1974 London, England, states:

“As in Plato’s cave allegory we content ourselves with illusions of reality. As our lives become more intertwined with technology, our constructions of multiple realities increase. While we distance ourselves from nature, we glorify the appeal of the wild and the image of solitude and simplicity.”

This simultaneous simulation and detachment will be manifest in the exhibition through a spatial intervention containing multi-channel camera obscurae.

Platt explains:

“The ideas behind the subject matter attempts to communicate a critique of the increasing loss of social and interpersonal relations today, but at the same time it creates a social event, which invites people to share ideas and consider the role of our personal detachment to nature, the impermanence of structures, and ways to rethink our relation to nature and our social interaction within it.” Exhibition description, Butcher’s Daughter Gallery, Detroit Michigan

From Mr. Platt’s artist statement posted at the Chelsea River Gallery website:

The Post Modern era is a confusing time. We are no longer living in a simple age where definitions and categories are easily assigned. As a contemporary artist my research attempts to reveal the complex contradictions between nature and technology and between aesthetic conventions in our social relations to the natural world. Rather than being ‘about nature’ my work can be better characterized as being focused on ideas about nature. …As a way of working, I collate a bricolage of source material and images which are manipulated through various technological processes then re-inscribed through painting in an attempt to uncover traces of the more fugitive aspects of seeing and recognition. Robert Platt, Chelsea River Gallery, Chelsea Michigan

Note the artist’s reference to Plato’s Cave allegory; it serves well to illuminate the essence of Insubstantial Pageants of The Mind’s Eye — this title itself a reference to that pageant in the cave. In that dialectic from The Republic, Plato describes a group of prisoners held captive in a cave from birth. Forced to peer at a single wall in the cave, they see a series of shadows cast by actors in a pit backlit by a fire. The actors carry on their heads figures of men and animals. The shadows of these figures are all the prisoners see. For them, these figures comprise reality. Nothing else exists. Released from captivity, a prisoner who ventures out of the cave could no longer trust his sense of the real, and could never again see the world of shadows in the same way. These shadows might now constitute for him a version of reality, but not the only reality. If this former prisoner returned to the cave and described what he learned of the larger world beyond the cave, he might be distrusted and feared, even killed by the other prisoners he attempts to free, Plato tells us. They prefer the reality they know to any alien landscape beyond their immediate perception.

In Mr. Platt’s work, he offers an altered reality of shadow and light. Hence, the struggle defining these pictures as either abstract or representational. At first glance, at least to this writer, the figures inhabiting these pictures were not all immediately apparent. But with a sustained gaze, the figures emerge. The pictures transition from abstract to representational. They distort our concept of reality; abstract it, but present familiar signs. Remember what Mr. Platt stated above: his paintings are an “attempt to uncover traces of the more fugitive aspects of seeing and recognition.” He creates them from a bricolage of collected imagery. He projects that imagery and paints it. And out of this process he transforms the ostensibly objective into the subjective. And so we see familiar things in an unfamiliar way and one hopes, learn something about our perception of reality — or the reality we perceive in images.

From the exhibition description and artist statements above, what Mr. Platt seems most interested in are the images — or symbols — of the natural world that inhabit our media-saturated lives. Sometimes these images are merely snapshots that provoke nostalgia, sometimes they are part of a crass marketing attempt to associate products with our pre-conceived — but abstracted — positive notions of nature. But they always remain images, not the reality they represent, and as such remain inherently manipulative and untrustworthy like the prisoner returned to the cave. It seems that Mr. Platt, in his work, seeks to play the role of Plato and remind us of this, and possibly provoke us to look deeper into the sea of imagery we drown in, recognize its inadequacy to sustain us physically or psychically, and instead re-emerge in the living breathing world — to find truth.

The obfuscation of figures in these paintings works to great effect to further Mr. Platt’s thesis. For a moment, your mind wanders into the swirls and emerging squares of color, and then snaps back with a flash of recognition of a man, bird, or plant. The figures seem archaic, mythical, primal. Perceptions flicker.

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The paintings demonstrate careful, deliberate execution (even where paint peals away, or was sprayed on the wall with abandon — measured abandon). The paint mostly appears thin and light on the canvas, ink-like. Brushstrokes land precisely, without visible signs of re-work or second thoughts, as though Mr. Platt worked out technical details elsewhere and undertook these pictures with definite ideas of what he meant to get down on the canvas. Perhaps this could be called Mr. Platt’s formal purity: clear, refined intentions planned and executed according to plan. It’s nice to see such masterful application of media, it’s indicative of well-learned craft.

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Looking at these pictures, one recognizes in Mr. Platt an orderly mind, devoted to achieving a rational thought process. Some might even criticize Mr. Platt for excessive single-mindedness in his work, obsessive devotion to his self-assigned mission for this series of paintings. It’s possible that in achieving a cerebral, philosophical objective, Mr. Platt washes traces of emotion out of his work that might otherwise be there. The paintings in this show can feel a bit cold. But maybe that’s not a bad thing. These pictures I think seek to enlighten; they pack a message. And perhaps to convey a message requires the suppression of emotional racket — emotion grips the viewer later with the realization and recognition of a deeper understanding of the world. The effect of this show comes like an ever-accelerating slow burn rather than an instantaneous blast.

Now for the big tepee in the center of the gallery: it contains four camera obscurae that project images of Mr. Platt’s paintings on paperback-sized screens inside. One enters the tepee on hands and knees, stands within, and like Plato’s prisoner returned to the cave allows eyes to adjust to the surrounding darkness. Then you see the camera obscura screens. On the screens you view hazy, dimmed images of the paintings on the gallery walls. The tepee and its screens remove you from the reality of the gallery, and for a moment at least — enveloped in inky blackness — your only true reality resides on those screens. Your world becomes the shadows in Plato’s cave.

One almost wishes you entered the tepee first, before ever seeing the pictures on the walls. And after seeing the dim camera obscura versions, emerged into the surrounding lightness to appreciate Mr. Platt’s work in its true majesty. As it happens, the tepee feels a bit contrived. The intent may not be immediately apparent to casual visitors, and perhaps that’s how it should be — enlightenment comes to those who work for it (and even then not always). Still, I suspect the paintings could stand on their own without the added spectacle of the tepee. Many visitors, especially at a crowded opening, will not experience it, self-consciously disinclined to crawl in. (Visitors also might not read the description and statement that explain the show and tepee within.) This writer went to the well-attended opening, but avoided the tepee until a second visit to the gallery during a slack time when only one other visitor showed up.

But if Mr. Platt overreached a bit with the inclusion of the camera obscurae (and black acrylic mirror that submerges viewers in a simulacra of Mr. Platt’s work), he hit the mark with his paintings, and likely will continue doing so given his measured approach and technical mastery. The Butcher’s Daughter did well to show these works for their inaugural exhibition in these new Detroit digs. Detroit art fans should be gladdened by such galleries showing such work in their midst.

 

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.

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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.

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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

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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 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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