Wonderland

Wonderland-corset-installation-Kirsten Lund
Installation by Kirsten Lund

Wonderland, a frisky selection of imaginative objects and inventive pictures by six of the region’s more talented art players, is on view now through December 2, 2017,  at the Walter E. Terhune Gallery in Perrysburg, Ohio.  The show’s curator is Brian Carpenter of Contemporary Art Toledo.  Wonderland is a kind of artist-created play space for adults who appreciate paradox, irony, humor and originality. Each artist  is a skilled practitioner  of his/her self-invented game and we are invited to play along.

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Avatar/Game Piece by Sarah Rose Sharp

The terms of engagement are established as we enter the gallery. A set of six small game pieces rests on a pedestal, each invented by one of Wonderland’s artists, for a game as yet to be invented. These diminutive avatars range from an intricately carved figure on horseback to a desultory lump of styrofoam.  Though there are, as yet, no rules, no board, no start and no finish, some serious play is clearly  about to commence.

Heather Accurso describes herself as “dedicated to the visual language of drawing,” and her draftsmanship is indeed a strong suit, but she has added assemblage to the mix. Handmade miniatures in  shadowbox settings now enrich and enlarge her drawn and recurring themes.

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Paramedic by Heather Accurso

In Paramedic, we find a dense composition that combines a narrative of catastrophe with angelic presence. Her masterfully drawn cherub provides the central image in a tiny diorama of disaster. Closer inspection reveals more depth and breadth, as the signs of injury and of medical intervention create a disturbing but intriguing hallucinatory tale of death and ascension.

Adrian Hatfield is an accomplished collagist, cutting and pasting his way to idiosyncratic personal meanings that are more than the sum of their parts. In the diptych Adaptive Radiation and The Morning After  he  samples and recombines images from art historical sources into baroque scenarios  that may suggest the lush before and melancholy after of a one-night stand, or an idyllic Edenic state followed by  imagery of environmental spoilage and degradation.

Andrew Kreiger’s small, meticulously constructed and toy-like artworks–or art-like toy works?– draw upon his skills as a maker, as well as his considerable talents as a painter. His opening box construction Van Dyke, Detroit, Facing North/South/East treats us to a miniature panorama of  Detroit’s lost pastoral history.

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Van Dyke, Detroit, Facing North/South/East by Andrew Kreiger

In Momento Mori #1, Sarah Rose Sharp takes us on a virtual walk through the woods, where we discover a blanket upon which a skeleton rests, partly obscured by leaves and surrounded by intimations of surrounding trees.  The effect is both macabre and lyrical.

Michael McGillis’s contribution to Wonderland is a single, improbably cut-up and re-assembled combination easy chair and  chintz-patterned bulldozer. Phantom Limb is a comic yet poignant  stand-in for an amputee, gamely holding itself upright in spite of the insult to its structural integrity.

The most mysterious and intriguing contribution to Wonderland is an installation, by Kirsten Lund, of fabric constructs which defy categorization. Lund’s process uses salvaged fabrics and each piece is limited to one individual pattern shape that is then combined and recombined into a range of symmetrical configurations.  They pleat, loop, drape, sag and lope across the wall, fantasy costume pieces for an obscure period drama.  They clearly reference the human body, but what body–or body part–they relate to remains a mystery.

The artists in Wonderland present us with work that is both serious and playful.  It can be both thoughtful and silly, but never descends into whimsy.  The self-invented games they play are limited only by the structured creative process of each artist. For more information about the Walter E. Terhune Gallery go here.

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From Bits and Pieces

When two artists show their work together, the urge to compare and contrast is almost irresistible.  “On the one hand this, and on the other hand that” becomes the template for evaluation and appreciation.  Artists Aviva Alter and Marzena Ziejka  invite this even more, because they do, in fact,  have quite a lot in common. Their 2-person show, From Bits and Pieces, is on exhibit at Firecat Projects, 2124 N. Damen Avenue, Chicago, until November 11, 2017.

Alter and Ziejka share their eastern european  heritage. Alter  is a second-generation American with German and Polish roots and Ziejka is a more recent arrival from Poland. The pair met several years ago at an art exhibition, got to know each other and became close friends.

As they began planning  From Bits and Pieces, both had recently lost a parent, a shared experience that each processed in her own unique way. Alter says, “For me, the death led me into artwork about the body, death, life, healing and decay.” Ziejka struggled to understand how her creation of an object could somehow stand for the longed-for and absent parent. Her father was constantly mending and tending, and Ziejka recognizes this impulse in her own art practice.  “Isn’t it a process of our lives? We are collecting, arranging and re-arranging things until we are lost in them or in the process or both.”

Both artists have strong backgrounds in traditional crafts, but neither is content to work within accepted traditions, and each seems compelled to push the boundaries of her craft and art. They are hunter-gatherers, (Alter in an urban setting and Ziejka in the country), collectors of inspiration from the detritus of civilization and nature.

Aviva Alter

Alter began her life as an artist in ceramics, working as a studio potter (and later director) at Lillstreet Street Art Center.  She grew and adapted along the way,  adding fiber and printmaking to her skill set, mixing and matching her various abilities to produce hybrid artworks that resist easy categorization.

She learned to crochet as part of the gloriously luxuriant Crochet Coral Reef Project and subsequently led the development of the Cambrian Reef  shown at the Chicago Cultural Center, the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum and the Smithsonian.

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Alter’s recent work, exhibited here, takes an ad hoc approach to art-making.  The technical requirements of a particular craft vocabulary have been jettisoned for an experimental, provisional process that yields smallish constructs that might be improvised cricket cages or handcrafted internal prosthetics. She describes her process: “[it] began with my obsession for gathering discarded bits of information, assembling and reassembling them to create an order of my own invention… focusing on processes that disguise the original function of the found objects, these forms become amalgamations of broken bits and pieces of my world.” The results are ephemeral-seeming objects that feature fragile, sheer and translucent materials held together by irregular stitching, tying and wrapping. Sticks, wire and found fragments form the armature, and are covered by gauze, string and metal mesh, overlaid by waxy color.

Marzena Ziejka

Marzena Ziejka has worked as a professional weaver of tapestry,  miniature painter, graphic designer and illustrator.  Born and raised in Tarnow Poland, she grew up on a farm and was attracted to the earthy qualities of farm materials: soil, unprimed canvass, horse hair and sticks. The natural materials she employs speak of her past, her absent father and exile from a lost place and time. She writes, ” I am from the land where soil, earth is not called ‘dirt’/Where it is called Mother-Earth, Mother-Breadwinner.”

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Untitled/Working title Cocoon/Tree Bones #4, #5, #1, #2 by Marzena Ziejka

Through accretion and repetition, Ziejka arrives at a series of cocoon-like images. Her creative process is based on unorthodox weaving techniques using natural materials. She calls the sticks that she uses “tree bones” and the materials she employs inevitably create shapes arising from her means of production. It is a kind of nature-based constructivism. The resulting ovoid shapes look like empty mummy cases or  the discarded shells of transformed bodies. They project simultaneously a sense both  of ominous presence and poignant loss, as if the still-living are in dialog with the recently deceased. These artworks, while not closely resembling the more figurative work of her fellow countrywoman Magdalena Abakanowicz, convey the same pensive mood of alienation.

One of the great mysteries in art is how two artists who start with similar premises, materials and methods can end up with work that is uniquely and completely their own. It explains on some level how the individual creative impulse is the one great variable that any artist brings to her work, and that each of these artists has in abundance.

A Watcher’s Skin

 

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Watcher, hand embroidery on cotton bed sheet, 34″ x 40″ 2016-2017

Fiber artist Dayna Riemland is haunted by the ghosts of a past that is not her own. Born  into an exiled ethnic community in Canada, she internalized from an early age the sense of dislocation and loss experienced by her grandparents.

They were Russian Mennonites,  a persecuted ethnic German religious sect related to the Dutch-German Anabaptists. The group left West Prussia around 1789 and  settled in what is now Ukraine. They thrived in their adopted country, but history overtook them, and after experiencing escalating persecution as the Communist party gained ascendance, they were finally ejected during Stalin’s regime. Fleeing families scattered to regions throughout the world:  Germany, Mexico, Bolivia, Belize, and Canada, to name a few, but would never re-unite as a community.

In A Watcher’s Skin, now on view at River House Arts Gallery through November 11, 2017, Riemland, a young artist who has no direct memory of the dislocation and trauma of exile, vicariously re-experiences it as a dream-like story that is both seductive and disquieting. Her sense of her family’s loss of home represents a kind of solastalgia, a term that describes longing for a lost time or place one has never experienced directly and that may not even exist.

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My Seeing Skin, hand embroidery on gloves, 11″ x 14″ 2017

The seven artworks that Riemland has created for this exhibit are modest in size and make good use of the crafts of embroidery and needlepoint she learned from her grandmother in childhood. She explores how tradition and its associated formalities and motifs “can be combined with ghosts of a collective history that has become pre-occupied with the past.” She takes fabric remnants– vintage handkerchiefs, gloves, bed sheets and pillowcases (many taken from the household of her grandmother) and labors over their surface to create images that are resonant and uncanny. Riemland’s visual vocabulary, especially  her repeated use of the unblinking eye in My Seeing Skin and in Watcher, is reminiscent in mood to the nightmarish but captivating imagery from Pan’s Labyrinth, a film by Guillermo Del Toro.  Perhaps not coincidentally, that narrative also tells the story of a child navigating an imagined world at the periphery of adult reality. Riemland likewise seems both disoriented and enchanted by her exiled grandparents’ stories of a lost and distant time and place.

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An Inverse Tradition, hand embroidery on cotton pillow case, 14″ x 18″, 2017

Riemland describes the process of  embroidering as an “act that creates a devotional surface.” She begins her compositions with traditional floral and decorative motifs and moves to more fantastic imagery in the center. In Watcher, the largest piece in the show  and one which took her almost a year to complete, she begins with a frame of traditional roses and then moves inward to a many-eyed presence that seems to beckon us forward.

In An Inverse Tradition, Riemland inverts a female figure in ethnic costume, literally turning it on its head to make the familiar strange. The upside-down figure might be a visual metaphor for Riemland’s intimate yet distant experience of a vanished family history, one which can no longer be touched or experienced directly, but which haunts her and drives her creative process forward.

Dayna Riemland graduated from the  Maine College of Art with an MFA in Studio Art in 2017. She currently lives and works in St. Catharine’s, Ontario, Canada. This is her first solo show.

 

Outrage

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An assortment of artifacts from various political demonstrations, by Susan Fecteau

In this age of politics as warfare by other means,  16 contemporary Michigan artists have joined together to engage the enemy in Outrage, an exhibition of political art at 22 North Gallery in Ypsilanti from October 6 – 27.  The views expressed in this polemic exhibit go from left-of-center to far-far-left, and the mood ranges from existential dread to red-eyed anger to comic despair.

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World’s Smallest Man by Terri Sarris

Outrage was organized and curated by 3 like-minded artists, Susan Fecteau, John Gutoskey and Leslie Sobel, all of them politically active. Fecteau is noted in the area for her humorous but pointed political comments chalked on sidewalks outside the Ann Arbor residence of Governor Rick Snyder. Leslie Sobel is a longtime climate change artist-activist and John Gutoskey is a painter and printmaker whose focus is LGBT rights.  “The three of us met together with other artists in January, [2017] to talk about what we …could do in response to what seemed like the coming apocalypse,” says Sobel. “We weren’t really sure what we would get,” adds Gutoskey.

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Mother Fucking Assholes, box by John Gutoskey

Sobel comments about the work in the gallery, “It’s an interesting mix because there are artists in this room… who don’t normally do political work, and who have felt moved to do political work and there are some of us who have done political work as the subtext but not necessarily overtly in-your-face all of the time and some of it is very much in-your-face all of the time.”

Susan Fecteau’s art practice reflects her strong and ongoing activism, and goes from the nuts-and-bolts creation of signs for demonstrations to more object-driven expressions of her political views. She describes her ongoing sign-making project: “As artists, we felt we could really help people make effective signs, and probably the best thing we did was provide materials.  I scrounged a couple of truck loads of card board and we got sticks and paint… so we invited people to come over prior to any significant local protests, [and] we have continued that work.”

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How to Find your Spine, poster  by John Gutoskey

Humor is employed throughout the exhibit in the service of  political protest. Margaret Parker’s t-shirt design delivers a hilarious primal scream –or maybe a shout-out –for those of us who just can’t take it any more. Wooden boxes by John Gutoskey are well crafted, icy satire, and his posters are equally pointed and funny. Sam G. Fecteau Brown’s graffiti-encrusted toy trains and Val Mann’s embroidered vintage baby clothes are a softer, but no less urgent, expression of disquiet at this political moment. The sculpted head of Joan Painter Jones’ Martyr 4 has the horrified gaze of someone who’s seen way too much, and Terri Sarris’s freak show-inspired box  World’s Smallest Man effectively skewers its ridicule-worthy target. Jack Summers’s collage practically jumps off the wall, spitting and screaming.

Throughout history, artists from Goya to Picasso to Leon Golub and many more have used  art to make political points, even though doubts linger about its effectiveness in changing attitudes or affecting political outcomes. Art like the work in Outrage may serve more as encouragement to like-minded viewers, and to reinforce the values of fellow liberals without reaching or influencing political opponents, which makes it no less valid.  Leslie Sobel sums it up: “I think it matters.  I think expressing [our political beliefs]  in more ways than just showing up to demonstrations and picketing and voting is important. I think it makes a difference and it’s certainly the skill set that many of us in this room have. I do hope it’s effective in keeping the issues in the front of peoples’ minds.”

The artists in Outrage are: Sam G. Fecteau Brown, Alejandro Chinchilla, Liz Davis, Susan Fecteau, John Gutoskey, Joan Painter Jones, Esther Kirschenbaum, K.A. Letts, Val Mann, Brenda Miller, Margaret  Parker, Christine Valentine Reising, Theresa Rosado, Terri Sarris, Leslie Sobel, Jack Summers.

Susan Aaron Taylor at NCRC Galleries

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Guide,  cholla cactus, shells, handmade felt, petrified wood, animal skull, agate and banded iron. 12″ x 29″ x 14″

Attractive and repellant, humorous, tragic and tortured,  the otherworldly figures created by visionary artist Susan Aaron-Taylor live on the shadowy boundaries between what we know and what we imagine. In her solo exhibition Strata, now on view in the Connections Gallery of the University of Michigan’s North Campus Research Center, the artist pulls 14 individual figures from her unconscious mind and presents them to us, hoping to awaken the sense of a shared, but often unseen, emotional and spiritual reality.

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Unplugged, handmade felt, shells, electrical plug, 17″ x 18″ x 10″

Made of felt and found objects, the sculptures in this exhibition blend alchemy, dreams, rituals, mythology, and shamanism with the detritus of matter to create a persuasive but disquieting world suggestive of malevolent fairy tales or ambiguous dreams.  Aaron-Taylor claims to appropriate the power of what she calls the “shadow side”, a term of Jungian psychology referring to a “composite of personal characteristics and potentialities that have been repressed and underdeveloped in our conscious lives.” Her creatures are fetishistic archetypes, stand-ins for the unconscious, and spirit guides to unexplored psychological regions. In their combination of fabric wrapping over found natural armatures and amulet-like appliques, they strongly resemble  the mummified animals of ancient Egyptian tombs.

The figures often seem to be in pain.  In Polar Bear, the armless animal snarls as it tries usuccessfully to free its head from the rungs of a ladder. Winter Rat‘s paws are extended upward, as if to escape the implied danger of the surrounding pool. The eyes of the creatures are often hazed, and bones, claws and teeth protrude.

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Polar Bear, wood, handmade felt, geodes, porcupine quills, cabochon and beads, 19″ x 17″ x 13″

Aaron-Taylor describes her art practice: “My intense exploration of mediums and techniques over the year’s gives me the freedom to incorporate a wide range of materials.  Found wood, fleece, minerals, cactus, porcupine quills, beads, shells, bones, and kozo fiber have all been appropriated.  Blending the accumulated strata creates autobiographical narratives where rhythm, balance, and harmony invite the viewer’s participation.  My intention is to connect the spiritual and the physical worlds.”

One might wonder at the selection of this artist’s work for  a venue that is devoted to science and the pursuit of the quantifiable, but bringing provocative and thoughtful art to the NCRC’s campus is part of the gallery’s mission as described by NCRC Art Coordinator Grace Serra.  “What  I want to happen here is … not just a nice  enhancement of quality of life [or to] offer an environment that is stimulating,” she says “…but maybe some of these shows can be the catalyst for thinking differently about the problems [researchers and scientists] are solving in their labs.”  She envisions additional events relevant to the NCRC exhibition schedule and says, “I’d like a little more programming around the exhibits, so maybe we can get people thinking about what’s going on here and how it can relate [to their research].” She points out that linking the arts with the sciences is very much part of the University of Michigan’s mission. She adds, “It can help people to become global thinkers.”

Strata, located in Connections Gallery on the lower level of Building 18 of the North Campus Research Center, 2800 Plymouth Road, Ann Arbor,  will be open to visitors until December 12, 2017.  The gallery is open Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. For more information about the NCRC Art Program go here

Once Upon A Place Comes to Toledo

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The world of immigration is calling from a phone booth in Toledo.

When was the last time you found yourself in a phone booth? I don’t remember, and I bet you don’t either. These little, closet-like structures used to dot the urban landscape, providing points of tinny contact with far away people and places. The internet and cell phones have changed all that, and now the lowly phone booth is a seldom-seen and even more seldom operated relic of the analog era.  But global citizen and Afghan American artist Aman Mojadidi wants you to pick up the phone right now, and reconnect with the outside world via 3 re-furbished and re-purposed phone booths installed in downtown Toledo until October 22.

Born in 1971 to a prominent Afghani family (his uncle is a former president of Afghanistan), Mojadidi grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, where he learned to navigate the psychological contradictions and similarities between his family’s traditional Afghani culture and the values of the American south. From his unique cultural vantage point, Mojadidi drew satirical comparisons between the macho culture of the Afghan mujahedeen fighters and American “gangsta” culture in staged photos such as “A Day in the Life of a Jihadi Gangster After a Long Day’s Work (2010) and made pointedly humorous artworks like his fashionable suicide vest,  Conflict Chic.

aman mojadidi day in the life.
A Day in the Life of a Jihadi Gangster After A Long Day’s Work

The phone booths Mojadidi recently designed for Once Upon a Place move away from satire and toward a more journalistic approach to the subject of immigration. As part of his Times Square Arts residency, Mojadidi was drawn to the phone booth as a perfect vehicle from which to tell the immigrant story.  “I learned that phone booths were being removed from the streets… the idea immediately hit me. The fact that so many people have used these booths in the past… made them a natural way to present new stories.”

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Conflic Chic Suicide Vest

He researched the full variety of immigrant experience by studying census  records, articles and reports on immigration and then went out into the community to contact immigrants directly in community centers, mosques and temples.  There, he admits, his interest was suspect, “… there was a lot of suspicion from them, which added an extra barrier to reaching people. They wanted to know why I was collecting information on immigrants. Many people who spoke with me were illegal and stayed anonymous.” Rather than a scripted interview, Mojadidi’s methods were open-ended. He asked his subjects to tell him anything they wanted to share, such as, “why they left home… [or] why they came to NYC. Was there something unique that happened on the journey?”  In the end, he collected over 70 stories of immigrants from 26 countries.

When I visited Once Upon a Place in Promenade Park recently, Mojadidi’s skill in putting together a moving collection of stories was apparent. As I listened to the interviews in the phone booth, I often couldn’t understand the language that was being spoken (I’ll admit here that my Urdu is weak). It gave me a sense, though, of how large and interconnected the world is, and amplified the emotional impact of the interviews. Whether the speaker was a young man carried over the Mexican border by his mom when he was three years old, or a man from Yemen whose attitude about politics was completely changed by 9/11, or a Puerto Rican woman who came to New York to make a change in her life, each story was deeply personal and unique.  Or as Mojadidi said in an interview, “Picking up that phone and listening to someone’s voice is an intimate experience; it’s different from hearing someone’s story on the news or through some other medium. In a way, the project just cuts out the politics; the person just tells their story.”

Local arts organizartions sponsoring Once Upon a Place’s Toledo residency include Contemporary Art Toledo, River House Arts, the Arts Commission and the Toledo Museum of Art. Next, Mojadidi’s phone booths are headed for Miami, before returning home to New York. The artist told me that he is working on plans for a European variation of Once Upon a Place for Paris and beyond. He also plans to begin “working on a commissioned project related to notions of Home within the context of conflict, at the Imperial War Museum in London early in 2018.”

When asked about his experience as a visiting artist in Toledo, Mojadidi replied, “I was very touched by the warmth and enthusiasm of folks… both those who helped bring Once Upon a Place there, and … the engagement of students during talks I gave at different Universities.”

This post is reprinted from The Toledo City Paper.

Welcome to My Planet: Deborah Maris Lader

It’s a given that an artist’s solo show will reveal to public view some previously hidden connections and influences in her creative life.  In the case of Deborah Maris Lader, accomplished artist and printmaker, musician and member of the well-known folk trio Sons of the Never Wrong,  founder/director of the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative, those expectations are met and exceeded by her exhibit Welcome to My Planet at Firecat Projects, on view from September 22 through October 14.

Lader considers herself primarily a printmaker (she earned an MFA in printmaking from Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1987 and recently received the 2016 Mid America Print Council Outstanding Printmaker Award). But she is, in fact, much more than that, and each facet of her diverse resume informs and amplifies the others. Stan Klein of Firecat Projects actively encouraged Lader to show her work in all its diversity, so in Welcome to my Planet, her figurative etchings, collages, paintings, hand-painted narrative maps and three-dimensional objects will be on display and in dialog.   Lader says “I usually show my paintings separately from my prints…it makes me a little nervous because even though I do all of these things simultaneously, I don’t usually get the opportunity to [show them together.]”

Lader’s artistic practice can be hard to describe, as it depends on a free associational dialectic of image and narrative that coalesces during her process into a finished composition. Lader maintains that she often doesn’t realize these connections until after she has created an artwork.  “I don’t always know why I’m doing things… so  I’m working [on a piece] and suddenly [when I’m finished] I think, ‘Oh my God, that’s why I’m doing this!’“ But what her work  lacks in everyday linear logic it more than makes up for in poetic resonance. Lader seems to be mining a rich vein of sub-conscious visual gold, which she intuitively combines into a non-specific narrative that leaves plenty of room for interpretation. In scale and tone, her work slightly resembles the work of Eleanor Spiess Ferris,  but is more varied in format and relates specifically to people and events in her own life.

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Masked by Deborah Maris Lader

Her etching The Heron and the Fish is exemplative of her intuitive interweaving of printmaking, performance and her personal connections. The heron is a recurring image in her work, and after speaking in only a general way to her son Evan Silver about a theater project called The Heron and the Fish that he was working on in Bali, she created a visual scenario based on the subject. She realized only later how closely it was related to the Asian fable.  The image ended up on the poster for the show, even though it hadn’t been created for that specific purpose. Lader says of her interaction with her son,   “Sometimes we unknowingly collaborate because we are on the same wave length.”

In contrast to the veiled content of The Heron and the Fish, Lader gets more specific in her group of three 12” x 12” hand painted etchings humorously called “Too Much Stuff: The Ongoing Movie in My Head.”  These small map-like compositions actively illustrate events in her life, and form meaning-laden visual pictographs.

 

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Work in Progress by Deborah Maris Lader

 
The artist is particularly excited to show the beginnings of a new body of work in Welcome to My Planet.  Using the technique of etching, she engraves images on glass objects–vintage spectacles, glass fragments and the like– then tints them with ink to make them visible.  These small-scale glass artworks are carefully displayed, using metal and wood supports; each is one-of-a-kind.  She says, “I started working on the glass etchings and really the idea so intrigued me because I work on them like I work on etchings, but they’re not meant to be multiples… they break easily, they’re ethereal things.”  She has completed one glass-etched object, a 2” x 2” lens, that points the way to future work.  The tiny etching of a heron is not inked, but instead the light shines through it and the shadow of the bird appears on the wall behind.

Welcome to My Planet provides a rich overview of work by this multi-talented artist, almost a kind of mini-retrospective. The wide array of approaches, subject matter and media represented in Deborah Maris Lader’s  etchings, collages, paintings and three-dimensional objects shows a busy creator at work, and points the way to her future path. To read more about Deborah Maris Lader, go here. To find out more about programming and future exhibits at Firecat Projects go here
 

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You Can’t Buy Babies or Body Parts at Costco by Deborah Maris Lader

 

In Transit

Flower of Life by Misty Lyn Bergeron

I recently wrote a review of In Transit for Pulp.  Over 70 photographs by current and former students in the Photo Technology Department of Washtenaw County Community College are on display in Gallery 117 at the Ann Arbor Art Center through September 30. To read the full review go here 

In Otherworlds

Massecre at intelari Chapel
Tower of Babble by Dan Hernandez

In Otherworlds, a 2-man exhibit of paintings and prints by painter-digital collagist Dan Hernandez and master draftsman-printmaker Craig Fisher, is on display now through September 30 at 20 North Gallery in downtown Toledo. These two Toledo art visionaries allow imagination to take them—and us—to places that seem at once familiar and uncanny. The source materials for each artist, along with differences in technique and material, result in two very different, but complementary, bodies of work.

Craig Fisher, who works as a designer of business-to-business learning tools in addition to his prolific artistic output, works within the confines of traditional fine art printmaking. For this exhibit, he has created worlds that incorporate recognizable elements in improbable ways, transforming and recombining features  from renaissance landscapes, natural history illustration, classical architectural drawings and more, into intriguing and often surreal scenarios.

The print Astronomie Nova illustrates Fisher’s method: He juxtaposes an aerial view of a gothic church ruin with a schematic drawing of a complex geometric form, setting up a complex tension between physical environment and the unseen— but just as real– universe.  One of his most satisfying pieces, Tower of Babble combines an over-scale rotary phone in the foreground with a period illustration of the tower itself in the background, Communication technology-related superstructures surround and top it and it’s difficult to tell if the tower is being built or destroyed.

Sometimes less is more, and Fisher’s strengths as a draftsman can occasionally result in over-elaborate and confusing compositions. But it’s hard to argue with or second-guess the artist’s commitment to his vision and his single-minded pursuit of it.

Dan Hernandez, currently an Associate Professor of Art at University of Toledo, creates paintings where saints and angels mix freely with computer gaming figures. Elements of Persian miniatures, Renaissance urban landscapes and Chinese pavilions collide and morph into a persuasively imagined and often beautiful world. This oddly convincing pastiche of styles and periods is the product of Hernandez’ youthful gaming hobby and his studies in art history, which included a trip to Italy as a college student, where he was captivated by the ancient frescos of Pompeii.

Hernandez maintains a large archive of online images, from haloed renaissance saints to invading space ships, which he repeats and re-combines imaginatively in his world-building endeavors. He uses photo transfers of these seemingly incompatible images to create realities that have internal consistency  and project a mood that is both comic and mysterious. In The Annunciation, he has imagined a funny and improbable street rumble between the Virgin Mary and the Angel Gabriel in a medieval Italian town. In another artwork, The Massacre at Intelari Chapel, a battle between computer gaming figures and renaissance-era characters rages across the bottom of the composition, while above, three levels of coins similar to those in a computer game imply ample rewards for the victors, and saints look on from the heavens while consulting a Super Mario map.

In Otherworlds provides a provocative look at imaginative visual storytelling by two talented Toledo artists and is well worth a visit. 20 North Art Director Condessa Croninger comments, “Despite the dramatic differences in media, visual style and subject matter, the works of these two distinguished area artists juxtapose like themes of science & technology with spirituality, as well as the combination of old and new media, to explore the metaphysical concept of the ‘otherworld’—the varying layers of existence between humankind’s experience of the “real” world and the world of belief. This combination creates an intriguing, thought-provoking and unquestionably beautiful exhibit.”

Gallery hours are Wednesdays through Saturdays from noon to 4p.m. Patrons also have extended opportunities to enjoy the exhibition during after-gallery hours at Venue, 20 North Gallery’s cocktail lounge, which is open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 4:30 to 9 p.m. (This review is re-posted from the August 15th edition of the Toledo City Paper.)

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Tower of Babble by Craig Fisher