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July 7, 2015

Jef Bourgeau, Zombie On the Wall at Galerie Camille, Detroit

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Jef Bourgeau, Zombie On the Wall at Galerie Camille, Detroit — thru 11-July-2015

Jef Bourgeau possesses the rare ability–and discipline–to see and sense everything at once. To capture a snapshot of a thing in his mind that retains the essence of its revelation. Narrowing his gaze, he zooms in–not for clarity but for a deeper view of the near-infinity of detail swirling below the surface of what the rest of us call solid reality. Bourgeau knows better, knows that what we perceive persists only in flux, perpetual change, perpetual motion. And all of it–everything we perceive afresh and everything we remember–surfaces, descends, resurfaces in our consciousness through subjective filters, a little different every time we sense or recollect. Bourgeau–either gifted or cursed depending on circumstance–possesses that elusive capacity to feel as he sees rather than feel after he sees, and see through the layered fluttering veils of sensory noise that obfuscate perception.

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The pictures up at Galerie Camille in Bourgeau’s solo show, “Zombie On the Wall” (12-June through 11-July-2015) all reflect abiding attention to process as much as to perception. Bourgeau does not screw around. These pictures are not experiments. The experiments remain back in lab. These pictures come masterfully crafted. And finished. They range back in time five or ten years and they vary in style but all are digitally manipulated prints–blurred, fragmented, reassembled and tidied up through digital means. Bourgeau was a forerunner in digital image creation and enhancement methods and he continues to apply them more with the grace of brushstrokes than mapped pixels.

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Bourgeau cites Van Gogh as early inspiration, but seems to admire and reference numerous notable members of the 20th century artistic timeline. Engage Bourgeau in conversation and he pulls specimens from his collection, from narrow clefts of art historical context racked away in his mind, and delights the interlocutor with detailed and pointed narratives that illuminate Bourgeau’s observations. When the time comes to work, his left-brain organizes and archives art history for referential access, but his right-brain charges into the carefully organized collection and kicks the books and images fluttering to the floor to coalesce and self-ignite into an intoxicating bonfire of ideas.

Standing before the pictures at Gallerie Camille, you feel good. You feel energized. You feel invigorated like you just drank one of those energy drinks laced with caffeine and the regenerative vitamins B. But you also feel a bit as though the extraterrestrial who made these pictures and brought you here to see them might be doing more than making you feel good. He might be probing you, provoking you, goading you to react. He doesn’t care how you react, only if you react. Are you still alive? Who’s the zombie now?

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Go ahead and react. Go ahead and feel good. Let the pictures probe you. No one’s looking.

The patterns in these pictures are abstract, some fluid, some geometric, all graceful, all suggestive of a world in motion. A world where mass tangibly does equal energy, a whole heap of it: (E=mc2). It’s one thing to know about physics, it’s another to know physics. Gaze into these works and you will know.

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Pay attention. You can detect the artistic timeline informing Bourgeau. Van Gogh is there in the palette as well as the wondrous distillation of reality; Matisse, Derain, Leger, Picasso in the patterns and light and fragmentation of perception; Seurat, Lichtenstein, Chuck Close in the digital atomization that trademarks Bourgeau’s work. Meaningless comparisons all except to say that the work of a well-informed artist can not conceal the phantasms of preceding works that haunt their own. If you live with your eyes and mind open, you personify the continuum you inhabit. That suffused awareness in turn lends your work deeper subconscious resonance with viewers. Think of that tremulous feeling that saturates your senses when you step into a room continuously inhabited for a thousand years. Phantasms dance just out of sight and you know it. The same holds with great art created by well-informed artists enveloped, engrossed… inhabited but not co-opted by the art of others.

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Bourgeau’s images suggest, without crass mimicry, structures we witness daily but take for granted and breeze past too quickly for our own good. Cellular structure in a story about influenza maybe; or patterns in agriculture dictated by geography, geology, and hydrology; patterns woven into textiles or etched and embossed in architectural material; coral reefs and gravity-free sea creatures. Faces distorted by reflecting water. Things we trip over daily but miss for their familiarity. Shame. See these things afresh; see them with a child’s eyes. Awestruck reverence for this world will overtake you.

And that defines Bourgeau’s gift, the wellspring of his self-taxing generosity: to see afresh. To see what we always have seen but hardly registered: truth and beauty.

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February 26, 2015

Dick Goody at N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Arts

Dick Goody at N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Arts

by Ron Scott

Still Life with Cheese and Ravioli

Still Life with Cheese & Ravioli  36 X 36 Oil on Canvas - Courtesy of the artist and N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Arts

In the heart of Midtown Detroit, the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, just two blocks from the Detroit Institute of the Arts, is where the owner and curator George N’Namdi opened an exhibition of paintings, The Making of Dauphine, by Dick Goody; both men are stalwart promoters of the arts in Metro Detroit.

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Nellie Bandage – 2014  24 X 24  Oil on Canvas - Courtesy of the artist and N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Arts

When I first caught a glimpse of the Nellie Bandaged painting, I thought maybe it was an off-color behind the scenes character from The Simpsons. But on closer observation, the surreal character wearing sunglasses and lipstick whose head is wrapped in what looks like leather or cloth mask bandage; the titillating painted image slowly takes on a futuristic iconic stature.

The twenty paintings in the exhibition are the product of 2014 sabbatical leave Goody received from Oakland University.

Goody says “The Making of the Dauphine is a suite of paintings loosely based on The Dauphine, a novella I wrote in 2013 concerning the discovery of an artificial intelligence singularly focused on ridding the world of infamy and excess, but the exhibition is only marginally concerned with this.  In short, I would say that it personifies the idea that it’s about how you paint rather than what you’re painting.”

Tweed 6

Tweed Leliedwarsstraat No. 6 – 24 X 36   Oil on Canvas  Courtesy of the artist and N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Arts

Many of the paintings are loosely representational and still life where Goody focuses on composition, color, black line, at times reminding this viewer of Matisse when he flattens out the subject.  A challenge when observing these paintings is that many contain writing, or words, something I have always had a hard time with because it tends to feel illustrative. There is a school around this “text-based” art, recently exhibited in Los Angeles in 2013 by the Jack Rutberg Gallery, showing the work of Bill Barminski and Mark Greenfield. But the text here is more about shape, color and less about content or meaning.

As an Associate Professor of Art at Oakland University and curator of Oakland University Art Gallery, Dick Goody is many things; curator, writer, painter, and intellectual connoisseur of the arts.  In this exhibition, one takes a peek into Goody’s interior world, surreal on the surface, a visionary utopia in its content, and vogue in its use of color and black line.

 

The Making of the Dauphine  February 13 – March 14, 2015

The N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Arts

 

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Ron Scott Teachworth

Ron Scott

 

 

 

I was born in Detroit, attended graduate school at Wayne State University in painting, and I have always considered myself part of the Detroit Art Community.  I paint and write full time.

In the writing of art criticism, there are primarily three types of writers: Journalists, Art Historians, and Artists. I fall into category three, as I have a visual art practice and have exhibited for over thirty-five years, primarily in southeastern Michigan.  Because I had worked in public television as a writer / producer, I developed some writing skill, and when I retired from that profession, I turned my writing to art criticism and fiction.

I usually select an exhibit where I feel I might have something to say that is constructive.  This would usually be a painting, photographic, sculpture, or mixed media exhibition. I prefer working on solo exhibitions that provide me with some room to go deeper into the work. I try to understand the perspective of the artist through an artist statement or an interview.  I visit the exhibition space and take notes that capture my reaction to the work in the present.  I do a rough draft as soon as possible and then begin the research process. I add the research elements and imagery to the polish. The final stage is submitting to an editor for his/her review.

October 17, 2014

Elements of Whimsy: Adnan Charara at N’Namdi

N'Namdi

Elements of Whimsy: Adnan Charara
N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art,
Black Box Gallery

by Jim Welke

 

Elements of Whimsy: Adnan Charara

N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, Black Box Gallery

thru 25-October-2014

Adnan Charara brings a sly sense of humor to his work. He paints, does collage, and creates sculpture from found objects. Found or not, nearly all of the works in this exhibition possess elements inherently in conflict, while to the eye they maintain aesthetic harmony. Conflict creates dramatic tension, imposes a narrative arc, but in Charara’s work it brings the funny too. In this show, the work projects wry humor. That’s the hook to bring you closer.

Picture a rusty washing machine standing in a yard beside a house. In the background, a sun-dappled meadow sprawls languorously. Beyond, snow-capped peaks press against a drape of cobalt sky. If the house were small and decrepit, your thoughts at the sight of the washing machine go in a specific direction. If the house were a well-maintained, super-sized McMansion your thoughts trend in a different direction.

Paint either of these scenes and satire emerges; a philosophical observation manifests. The painter nails down her point of view not only of the washing machine, but also of the world and its human folly.

If the painter painted either of these scenes without the washing machine, she would express elements of her philosophy, but missing the dramatic tension, or at least expressing much less.

Laughter might be a first impulse on sighting artwork built around rusting refuse. But the thoughtful witness sees more. The laughter subsides and a vague melancholia sets in. Thoughts depart the scene and progress to the larger world and society with all of the contradictions, insults, and disappointments therein.

Adnan Charara

Give Me A Chance I Will Grow
Adnan Charara
Found objects

Charara’s work draws you into his tunnel of love; then before comfort and complacency set in, shoves you back out into that harsher, colder world. But it’s a joyful world, too. Only the joy does not spread as evenly as it could… as it should.

That seems to be the existential contradiction that troubles and impels Charara: the uneven allocation of security and prosperity. To this viewer, his work in the N’Namdi show declares, “This is no meritocracy we inhabit. Men clownish and petty hold the power in this world. Suffer fools at your peril.” And the fools we suffer have no sense of their own foolishness. Charara presents several images of self-satisfied, pompous phonies decorated with the signs and symbols of status; of position gained through felonious duplicity.

Those signs and symbols, burned into our media-saturated brains, set off conditioned responses; even sub-conscious sparks. That’s how advertising works its magic, and it’s how Charara’s images work, as did those of his collage-making predecessors Picasso, Duchamp, Schwitter. Charara’s sculptures telegraph hidden messages too, but a bit more subdued; less freighted.

Adnan Charara

The Velvet Man
Adnan Charara
Acrylic and oil on canvas

Adnan Charara

Standoff
Adnan Charara
Acrylic on canvas

At first glance, the figures in the work at N’Namdi merely seem clownish, fanciful, but as conditioned responses kick in–unless you feel nothing but admiration for those who clothe themselves in status symbols–you soon feel an ineffable sense of unease, sort of like meeting a guy in a fancy bespoke suit, fourteen-karat cuff links, and a ten pound Rolex. He speaks, and malapropisms sneak into every sentence–you realize immediately this is a privileged and insecure charlatan with a potent sense of entitlement and a shriveled sense of humility.

Charara does not parody wealth, he parodies those who will do anything to obtain it and then happily misdirect it; who value lucre above all else and churlishly deny it to others more deserving. Look at louche “Colonial Man” with his monogrammed cigar-like nose; or “Masquerade” with the elegant pocket watch of privilege beside George Washington torn from the dollar bill–the most potent symbol of acquisitiveness on the planet–and those ears from a bisected violin suggestive of patronage and noblesse oblige; or the fat cigars, bottle of Madere Cuvee (reminiscent of Picasso’s bottle of Suze), and dueling pistols in “Standoff” like a scene extracted from a repressed, liquor drenched Victorian sitting room; the diamond-studded, pistol-poised, sartorial splendor of “Velvet Man;” or the ‘Prince of Savoy’ headline in “Open Minded Man.” Open minded indeed. Mais, bien au contraire.

Adnan Charara

Colonial Man
Adnan Charara
Acrylic on canvas

Adnan Charara

My American Gothic
Adnan Charara
Found Objects

Charara by no means appears a one-trick-pony. His talent ranges wide through various media and stylistic forms. All of the paintings described above precisely mimic smaller-scale collage executed with such exacting precision a chill runs down your spine to contemplate it. Those collage stood as muses for the larger paintings, but demand attention on their own. Seen together with the paintings, you witness evolution of one man’s art-making process. Not to mention an ardent expression of devotion to the creative journey. Charara makes pure abstracts too–including painting, sculpture, and collage–more enigmatic compared to the work up in N’Namdi, but no less engaging. His abstract work conveys a joyous infatuation with the charms of earthly existence and all the material temptation those charms elicit. The abstracts percolate atavistic, nebulous color and boiling motion. The small sculptures exhibited in this show animate with the effervescence of Charara’s blessed infatuation; they never succumb to static speechlessness. His work never offers mute testimony, it runs more toward loquacious, but in the best way possible.

“My American Gothic” quotes Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” with a diminutive, three-dimensional, dark-skinned couple. The man grips a dinner fork in place of the pitchfork in the painting. There’s the funny. But the title might play on the term Gothic–as in Southern Gothic. This association, along with the complexion of the figures, leads you to recall that slaves created much of the prosperity in the early days of the United States and laid the foundation for its future. And in these latter days, this nation’s wealth–apportioned with top-heavy avarice–emanates from the toil of corporate wage-slaves no less indentured to their masters (claims to the contrary by the fatuous rich guy flashing his ten-pound Rolex notwithstanding).

Adnan Charara

Masquerade (detail)
Adnan Charara
acrylic and oil on canvas

Adnan Charara’s work encompasses historical, art historical, and social relevance. His work operates with subtlety, and surely allows for deeper and different interpretation than that given here. But to this writer, he offers the gifts of a jester. And remember the jester speaks truth to power, and shadows with wit insights harboring potential to demolish empires. Watch as prosperous collectors flock to his work for both its aesthetic grace and to demonstrate savoir faire and the impervious armor of affluence. Ain’t life grand?

Get out to see this show, and the rest of the work up at N’Namdi before it comes down on 25-October.

 

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

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Adnan Charara

Collage
Adnan Charara

Collage Adnan Charara

Collage
Adnan Charara

Adnan Charara

Standoff
Adnan Charara
Acrylic on canvas

Adnan Charara

The Velvet Man (detail)
Adnan Charara
Acrylic and oil on canvas

Adnan Charara

Colonial Man (detail)
Adnan Charara
acrylic on canvas

 

September 4, 2014

Gao Brothers DISSIDENTS ABROAD at Detroit MONA

By Jim Welke

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

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

 

For those of us who witnessed the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 from a dozen time zones away–give or take–and with information incoming via the fledgling cable news service, CNN, the scenes at hand compelled interest and enervated at the same time. Beginning in April 1989, the events un-spooled in slow motion, with commercial interruptions and misinformation forwarded and corrected as reporters fed us raw data followed up by fact checking. At first, the motivation for the mass protests at the heart of the Chinese power center eluded reporters, and with facts out of reach, they offered on-air speculation–a new concept suggestive of Hunter S. Thompson’s Gonzo Journalism. Reporters lived the story they reported; myopia and biases induced by the flow of real-time impressions colored it. Such coverage violated every code of broadcast journalism nurtured by guys like Edward R Murrow, Walter Cronkite, and during the Tiananmen Uprising, Bernard Shaw at CNN. Tiananmen revealed not only the depth of opposition to oppression by the Chinese government, but revealed too the fallibility of that government; that any government could be shaken off balance. According to a story on CNN’s site by Mike Chinoy, the Beijing bureau chief at the time, “How covering June 4 Tiananmen Square crackdown kicked off ‘CNN Effect’,” the students and activists in Beijing tore away the veil of diplomatic subterfuge that once sheltered every government from direct exposure to daylight:

The protests generated unparalleled international coverage, and became a defining moment in the Information Age. It was the first time a popular uprising in an authoritarian state was broadcast live across the globe.

According to Bernard Shaw, who anchored CNN’s live round-the-clock coverage from Beijing for much of the crisis: “You could say that that was the beginning of the ‘CNN effect’” — the idea, which became widespread after Tiananmen Square, that the immediacy of live TV news available 24 hours a day played a crucial role in influencing the behavior of key players during major crises.

Prior to the birth of the Tiananmen protest in April 1989, and its sudden demise at the hands of troops on 4 June, the Gao Brothers, Zhen and Qiang, born 1956 and 1962, began their ongoing critique of government-induced social injustice with their debut in a group show at the National Art Museum of China (NAMOC) called “China/Avante-Garde.” The show opened on 5 February 1989 after “three months of intense preparation” and meticulous vetting by Communist Party apparatchiks. A wiki page on the ArtSpeakChina.org site describes it:

The historical import of the event, clearly perceived by the participants, did not just derive from the nature of the works on display but also from the association of such extreme art with that museum. The China Art Gallery–a Sinified socialist-style building managed by the Chinese Artists Association and, at the time, only a few steps from the Ministry of Culture–functions as China’s national museum of modern art. For the first time ever, authorities were allowing a prominent exhibition that openly broke with the fundamental principles of artistic creation laid down since the beginning of the People’s Republic.

The exhibition assembled many of the artists who had been a significant driving force behind art in China since 1985. By allowing the artists and their works to cross the threshold of the most important official art hall in the country, the exhibition conferred on these artists a kind of officialdom. The show’s alternate title, “No U-Turn” was reflected by the “No U-Turn” traffic signs hung as banners and emblazoned on floor mats.

 

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 photo: artzinechina.com

Three hours after “No U-Turn” (as the artists called it) opened, government bureaucrats shut it down. And then it re-opened. And then it was shut down again. And re-opened. And shut down.

Needless to say, the conversation between party functionaries and bilious, long-stifled artists percolates with vigorous intensity at times. But the show marked the culmination of the “85 New Wave Movement” and offered an alternative to the ubiquitous Social Realism fostered and infused with propaganda by the Communist Party. According to ArtSpeakChina.org:

Between 1985 and 1990, a group of over one thousand young Chinese artists living in an environment without galleries, museums, or any systematic support for art and with unprecedented enthusiasm and passion, led a globally influential artistic movement. It marked the end of a monolithic artistic model in China, achieving unprecedented individualism and opening a path for Chinese art to march toward internationalization and contemporaneity.

Most groups from the urban areas were in favour of a conceptual approach, regardless of the kind of media employed. The two major conceptual approaches adopted were Rationalistic Painting, represented by the artworks and writings of the Northern Artists Group from Harbin, the Red Brigade from Nanjing, and the Pond Society from Hangzhou; and the Zen-Dada-like conceptual art, epitomized by the Xiamen Dada Group from Fujian and the Red Humour from Hangzhou. On the contrary, art groups located in the northwest and southwest–areas still overwhelmingly based on traditional peasant lifestyle and home of most of the ethnic minorities–were interested in a frank expression of their intuitive feelings and favoured “primitive” themes. The term “currents of life” was used to define their approach. Among these groups, the most influential was the Southwest Art Research Group, consisting of artists mostly from Yunnan and Sichuan provinces.

Raised in Jinan in Shandong province, Zhen attended the Shandong Academy of Fine Arts. Qiang attended Qufu Normal University. Geographically the brothers originated near the midpoint between Hangzhou to the south and Beijing to the north, between the focal points of prevailing art philosophies. During their formative years perhaps their position at this fulcrum alleviated pressure on them to blend in with either end of the geographic and philosophical spectrum. Wherever their coordinates on the sketch of the Chinese art milieu, their debut in Beijing propelled their careers and further affixed these men in collaborative symbiosis. Now, they live and work in Beijing, with studios in the retired military industrial center, the 798 Art Zone, part of the larger Dashanzi Art District.

Their art suggests a worldly, outward sensibility as opposed to inward self-regard. Often they address social injustice. They seem troubled by the inevitable alienation that infects swarms of naïve migrants from small towns and farms to swelling urban metropolises in China and elsewhere. But their work also suggests a wry, ironic view of human existential angst and ennui. The gentle humor in their work often seems overlooked. Their work might be wisely circumspect, but witty all the same. They seem to say that laughter follows inevitable tears like moon and stars follow a thunderstorm.

The brothers also venture into the unknown with exploration of nearly every available medium. They turn out fiberglass and bronze sculpture with equally deft precision. Their reflective chrome sculptures pull the viewer in with self-made reflections, while bronze suggests solemnity and gravity. They do printing and photography. Their photographs often affix human forms in unforgiving, even merciless un-human surroundings. Their map of China comprised of clippings of a beehive populated with humans scaled to fit the cells of the honeycomb invites uncomfortable insights and comparisons. They paint. And they write books.

Frequently, the brothers bring nude human forms into their work. This challenges established law as well as established sensibilities. The nudes do not recline demurely. They drop into landscapes that would naturally proscribe nudity. Subjects find themselves naked in concrete clefts or cavernous halls or shoehorned into wooden compartments. These images shake us up; shatter our complacency. They force us to ponder our imponderable insignificance in a universe if not infinite in time and dimension, then close enough to provoke acute angst. And that’s our lot, our reason for being with our opposable thumbs, self-awareness, and free will: to create in the face of engulfing nothingness and laugh at the spectacle of it. The brothers do this.

Compare the spirit and philosophy that leads the Gao Brothers to such varied art-making to the spirit and philosophy of early adventurers who set out it in fragile sailing ships on journeys of discovery motivated by far more worthy goals than material gain: they sought knowledge, enlightenment, and the opportunity to change the world for the better. Usually none of those things resulted, but the inspiration the rest of us derive from these efforts are reward and justification enough for at least tempered admiration. The difference is that artists set out on adventures that generally do no permanent damage like that done by men in sailing ships. Admiration for artists need not be tempered by guilt. They toss gifts at our feet. How we profit from art is up to us.

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Midnight Mass, 1989

(from debut group show, China/Avante-Garde)

photo: artworldnow.com

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Gao Brothers, Road to Dawn n°1, 2001, 93x150cm, ed.5 of 10

photo: Galerie Albert Benamou

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Gao Brothers, Beyond Zebra Crassing, 2000, 83×100, ed.5 of 10

photo: Galerie Albert Benamou

GaoBrothers_Ghost-Image-The-Raft-of-the-Medusa-Tiananmen-Square-Protests-of-1989.-oil-on-canvas.-300x400cm-560x420

Ghost Image – The Raft of the Medusa & Tiananmen Square Protests of 1989. Oil on canvas, 300x400cm, 2011

photo: guernicamag.com

For a while, the brothers embraced Mao Zedong as muse. Their father died while briefly detained by Mao’s party apparatus during the Cultural Revolution. Undoubtedly this, along with the awareness that millions of others suffered similar humiliation, torture, impoverishment, and death at the hands of double-speaking minions of Mao Zedong affected their worldview. Art offered the Gao Brothers an eloquent voice; a means to comment, even criticize, while maintaining plausible deniability–as American government fixers call it–of outright dissent. Their images and sculptures of Mao depict him either in maudlin caricature, or straight on in compromising positions. In either case, the figures speak of a fragile man with an iron will who saw the world in only two shades, and fellow citizens as either acolyte or enemy. They imply a warning of caution when choosing leaders since no matter their charisma, they remain troubled humans subject to petty human appetites.

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Miss Mao No.2. Painted fiberglass sculpture, 210x128x125cm, 2006

photo: guernicamag.com

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The Execution of Christ. Bronze sculpture, life-size, 2009

photo: guernicamag.com

The “Execution of Christ,” in bronze, a departure from previous fiberglass, was originally intended to feature Lin Zhao (b.1932-d.1968), a persistent and persecuted Chinese activist who converted to Christianity and was later executed after repeated refusals to disavow her dissent. The Gao Brothers chose instead to portray Christ. They did so to make the sculpture more accessible, or as they put it in an interview (http://kcur.org/post/interview-artists-gao-brothers-part-2), “If we used Lin Zhao, people would be more puzzled, and the work would require more explanation.” This implies a certain savvy, not necessarily commercial, but an awareness of their audience both in China and over the border China. The sculpture also reveals the brothers’ art historical roots: the poses closely parallel Edouard Manet’s “The Execution of Emperor Maximilian.” That painting depicts Maximilian, a puppet installed as emperor of Mexico by Napoleon III, as he is executed in 1867 by forces loyal to the deposed president who presided over an incipient democratic republic. In a way, the painting is the inverse of the Gao Brothers’ sculpture in that it depicts the meek taking control of the establishment, not the other way around. Similar to the single abstaining sergeant off to the side in Manet’s picture, one of the seven Mao figures in the sculpture installation holds his rifle in abeyance–he does not fire at Christ (yet nor does he prevent his other manifestations from firing).

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The Execution of Emperor Maximilian, Edouard Manet, 1867-1869

Numerous exhibitions have honored the Gao Brothers since 1989, most recently at the Kemper Museum in Kansas City Missouri, and at the Hua Gallery in London. The Hua Gallery show presented new work by the brothers, almost exclusively photography. With one exception: a bit of their memorable performance art. The tradition of such performances began with a group embrace in their hometown of Jinan:

On 10th September 2000 we brought more than 150 volunteers, mostly strangers, to the suburbs of Jinan. Getting them to embrace was really difficult; in China, hugging is not a common habit, it is generally considered as a western custom or an intimate action between lovers.

At midnight in the square some policemen started to suspect us and came over to investigate, but we explained what we were doing and we invited them to get involved and eventually they took part in it. Fortunately they understood us clearly, in Beijing this would be unimaginable. It seems that regardless of one’s profession everybody can communicate with each other. As long as one does not consider himself a machine or a tool, art is open to people. …

Their performance work evokes the indisputable intention to shatter artificial boundaries, and evaporate the sense of alienation that plagues modern humans detached from former tight familial kinship and clans. The performances also appear to be fun, warm, enlightening moments for the participants. They literally embrace their audience, and become happenings in the truest sense. That’s a bonus of art we so often forget. It’s not all blood and guts. Sometimes art just wants to be happy. The brothers work hard to bring the happy along with enlightenment and we passive observers should be grateful–and less passive.

 

Read our interview with the Gao Brothers here.

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 26, 2014

Lighting Fires at 555 Gallery and Studios in Detroit

by Jim Welke

Stefan Johnson

mural by Stefan Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

Candi Wesaw

Ngotwatso Shkote / oil / 2014 / Candi Wesaw

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

Candi Wesaw

Nish Shkote / oil / 2014 / Candi Wesaw

Candi Wesaw

Nyannen Shkote / oil / 2014 / Candi Wesaw

Alexis “Toast” Cahill

Enlightenment / photograph / 2014 / Alexis “Toast” Cahill

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

Alexis “Toast” Cahill

Acceptance / photograph / 2014 / Alexis “Toast” Cahill

Alexis “Toast” Cahill

Wisdom / photograph / 2014 / Alexis “Toast” Cahill

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

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

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

Mike Bollerud

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

Mike Bollerud

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

Mike Bollerud

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

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

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

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

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February 25, 2014

JOHN OLSON: INTENSELIZONIO at What Pipeline

by Jim Welke

John Olson

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

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

John Olson

shoes / John Olson

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

John Olson

swag / John Olson

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

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

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

John Olson

Untitled 2012 / John Olson

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

John Olson

Untitled 2010 / John Olson

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

John Olson

Untitled 2013 / John Olson

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

John Olson

Untitled 2010 / John Olson

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

 

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

 

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John Olson

small works & band ephemera / John Olson

John Olson

small works & band ephemera / John Olson

John Olson

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

 

February 24, 2014

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

by Jim Welke

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

Self Portrait / acrylic / Gilda Snowden / 2004

Self Portrait / acrylic / Gilda Snowden / 2004

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

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

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

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

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

From her series, Bright Stars At Night:

Gilda Snowden

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

From her series, Chairs:

Gilda Snowden

untitled / Chairs series / Gilda Snowden / 2010

From Works On Paper:

Gilda Snowden

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

From Constructions:

Gilda Snowden

Teaser/Tormentor / Constructions series / Gilda Snowden / 1983

From Flora Urbana:

Gilda Snowden

Garden / Flora Urbana series / Gilda Snowden

 

Lila Kadaj

Gilda / oil / Lila Kadaj / 1977

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

Lila Kadaj

Gilda / oil / Lila Kadaj / 1984

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

Jean Smith

Gilda / oil / Jean Smith / (undated)

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

Alonso Del Arte

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

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

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

 

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

Austin Brady

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

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

Fatima Sow

Layered Ties / mixed-media on wood / Fatima Sow

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

Fatima Sow

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

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

Austin Brady

Sacrilege / mixed-media on board / Austin Brady

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

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

 

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

 

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January 24, 2014

Wayne State University MFA 1 Thesis Exhibition

by Jim Welke

IMG_4395

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.

 

*******

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

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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)

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