I just wrote a review of Detroit artist Allie McGhee’s exhibit Cosmic Images 2000 for AADL Pulp. His work will be on view in Ann Arbor at the Rotunda Gallery, Building 18 of U of M’s North Campus Research Center through August 31. You can check it out here.
This is the first essay in an ongoing series about Detroit artists, curators and gallerists, with an emphasis on the city’s emerging art ecosystem.
The Detroit art scene right now is a funny place, a multi-venue stage for unorthodox performance, experimental installation and a playground for talented art newcomers, recently minted BFAs, and self-taught makers and doers. Art venues emerge, move and close at a disorienting pace, and the skills of a treasure hunter are required to keep track of them all, but constant throughout this ever-changing and evolving art ecosystem are a few artists whose instantly identifiable work shows up regularly all around Detroit.
Alexander Buzzalini, painter, printmaker and installation artist, is one of these itinerant and ubiquitous makers. I’ve seen his work in prestigious galleries like N’namdi Center for Contemporary Art and Wasserman Projects and in less exalted settings like Bumbo’s Bar and Public Pool. In spite of his use of a wide variety of formats and materials, Buzzalini’s work is always identifiable and relatable, with its comic wild west subject matter, saturated color and gestural pizzazz.
I was curious about the source of Buzzalini’s inspiration and motivation, how he gets along in Detroit and why he stays, when other millennial artists might decamp for Brooklyn or L.A. So I contacted him in search of some insights about what it’s like to live and make art right now in Detroit. We arranged to meet at Outer Limits, a venerable Hamtramck dive bar near his studio. When I arrived on a still-chilly April afternoon, I immediately noticed the bar’s proudly retro décor, which clearly hadn’t seen an update since the Carter administration. The bartender and I exchanged a few pleasantries until Buzzalini walked in a few minutes later, bearded and paint spattered, clearly just off work. We ordered our beers and dug right in, in classic Hamtramck fashion, to talk about art.
As it turns out, Buzzalini is a local boy, born and raised in Pontiac, MI, just north of Detroit. He moved to the city in 2012 to attend Wayne State University, where he studied printmaking with Stanley Rosenthal and Pam Delaura. After he got his BFA (summa cum laude), he saw no reason to leave. “I basically just stayed here,” he says. He has found a group of like-minded artists and writers like Steve Hughes and John Charnota, printmaker Ryan Stanfest and designer Jack Craig. Together, they produce publications, organize exhibits and generally bounce ideas off each other for their mutual benefit.
I asked him how he became interested in painting American frontier western themes. “The western has such a deep tradition in American culture,” he replied, adding, ”it’s also that internationally the western is seen as a purely American genre.” The American movie western represents an archetype of what an American is, but Buzzalini is well aware that vintage movie westerns are a reductive and simplistic representation of American manhood. Over time, he said, “I really started looking and paying attention to [these] things, and pointing to that façade. But I liked the idea of [examining] what is real and what is not real.” He went on:
I like to tell the story that when I was 12 or 13, I was in Colorado hiking through the mountains with my uncle and my cousin, and he says, “Stop , wait, look at that rock!”
“What?” And I say, “Yeah that’s a rock.”
And he says, “No, come here, look.” And he poked it, and it’s just a fake rock made of chicken wire and plaster from some John Wayne movie, left here after all this time.”
The anecdote gets to the heart of Buzzalini’s work, questioning received notions of masculinity, nationality and identity.
The images in Buzzalini’s painting are clearly theatrical and satirical. He subverts the manly images he paints. The cowboy boots are red and pointy, his guns droop, and even the cow skulls are wearing lipstick. “That’s my approach to dealing with what is masculinity… today, using the historical references to the western, where male roles are so prominent … I’m taking that example and making fun of it, [to] tell young people today, including myself, what it means to be masculine is just fabricated by Hollywood… I think people are beginning to be interested in ideas about questioning their identities and where those identities came from and [realizing that] they are fabricated by these larger corporate things.”
Buzzalini’s cowboy paintings are quick and loose, with gestural, almost cartoonish, brush strokes, “I tend to work quick, and on multiple things at once, because I have a hard time sitting and working on one painting and waiting for it to dry. I like [to make] quick paintings… they’re kind of like drawings, and [the speed creates] a good kind of pressure.” He continues, “It’s drippy and sometimes… I use certain mediums, mix it with paint and add water… part of it is I like the drips. It adds fluidity, gives immediacy, and from the physical aspect of the actual painting I can make one continuous brush stroke. I work fast, it’s gestural, it’s the way I’ve always painted except when I was forced not to, (and then it didn’t turn out too good.”)
When asked about what media interest him most now, given his background in printmaking and the numerous installation pieces he has exhibited recently, Buzzalini still pledges his allegiance to painting. “[I’m interested mostly in] painting, [even though] the last show I did was a two person show with John Charnota … at Public Pool. It was called 100 Beavers and I did do a couple of wood block prints for that, and a series of silkscreens…that involved doing this installation of a beaver dam on the back wall with all these sticks that were cut outs. …The beaver show was kind of a leap and speaks to [my aim for] a [high] level of productivity … it was a lot of work, and [I was] speaking of productivity as a way of projecting self-worth–that we’re not lazy.” He admitted this might be a particularly midwestern way of thinking about art, in terms of productivity and hard work.
We talked briefly about his current project, some funky, gloppy plaster lamps he made and recently showed at Butter Projects. He says, “I’ve been working on a series of lamps using plaster, inspired by work I did assisting Jack Craig–It’s very strange, weird design–and I thought, “I want to try this!” His description describes nicely how the cross pollination of ideas occurs right now in Detroit.
Our discussion circled around, inevitably, to why he stays in Detroit, what still excites him about it and his future plans. His answer returned to the openness of Detroit’s artist community, the ease of artistic exchange, the wealth of places to show work, and of course, the cheap rents.
“Rents are going up–It’s not as cheap as when I moved here, when you could pay $400 a month for a 1000 square foot flat — now it’s more like $900, he says. “I recently purchased a house. I stay here because the community’s been really good, and it’s growing, not stagnant, and new people are constantly moving in. It’s easy to have a show, even at your house, and get enough people to make it worth your while to set it up. The community’s tight like that. Mostly a lot of my friends are Cranbrook graduates and a small group of people from University of Michigan have started to move in. The community’s close so there’s also the exchange of social gatherings and something [that] has to do with the walkability of the town. That’s what’s keeping me here, stuff like that.”
I recently wrote my first review as Detroit correspondent for Chicago’s New Art Examiner. The May/June issue, which has just been published, focuses on exhibits of work by women artists, including Looking Forward, Looking Back by Howardena Pindell at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and Nina Chanel Abney’s Royal Flush at the Chicago Cultural Center. Rebecca Memoli, who reviews Royal Flush, concentrates her comments on Abney’s latest large, graphic works, which struck me as being very Stuart-Davis-like. My preference is for her earlier, more expressionistic paintings, but Memoli’s essay is a good introduction to Abney’s work. Pindell’s exhibit, reviewed byAniko Berman, is on view until May 20, and it’s well worth a visit.
I want to thank NAE Managing Editor Tom Mullaney and Editor in Chief Michel Segard for giving me this opportunity to get the word out on exciting contemporary art being shown in Detroit and environs. You can read my review of Shaina Kasztelan and Heidi Barlow’s D3PR3$$10N N4P at Hatch Hamtramck here.
Animals. They share our beds, our homes, our back yards. We love them, as friends and as dinner. And in some ways our relationship with them reflects a confused and self-contradictory understanding of our place in nature, a place that is being reassessed in the early 21st century as we confront climate change, animal cruelty and mass extinction.
Our fraught relationship with animals forms the premise of Thinking with Animals, a thoughtful collection of exquisite artworks currently on view at River House Arts in Toledo. Artists Jessica Tenbusch and Morgan Barrie have curated this exceptionally beautiful show, and share the gallery walls with the work of fellow artists Julie Bahn, Emily White and Breanne Sherwood.
Jessica Tenbusch employs silver and bronze casts of natural objects such as animal bones, insect exoskeletons and bits of plants in dialog with highly refined manmade materials to create a series of lapidary landscapes displayed in a grid pattern. The overall effect is one of beauty and order that invites close looking. Each single component of her piece Artifacts/Ecofacts is a complete work of art but together they constitute a world of minute perception.
Morgan Barrie’s two large photo collages riff humorously on the well known Netherlandish Unicorn in Captivity tapestry owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She adapts the decorative plants from the original tapestry by introducing plants native to the upper Midwest, such as purple coneflowers, black-eyed susans and joe pye weed, digitally collaged on a dark background. In the center of the composition formerly occupied by the mythical unicorn are life-size domestic companion animals, the dog and the cat, surrounded by what appears to be modern storm fencing of the type available at Lowe’s or Home Depot. The dog in Tapestry is a handsome boxer and, as it happens, her own family dog . Though chained, he seems to be comfortable in his confinement, while the feral-looking cat in Captivity lurks within the fence, scheming to escape.
Fiber artist Breanne Sherwood is clearly in love with the substance of nature. She shows a particular affinity for the decorative qualities of bird plumage in Relics of Santiam, embellishing disembodied avian wings with carefully embroidered and appliqued threads and tulle. They retain their anatomical identity but the delicacy of the artist’s handling imparts reverence to these relics of departed creatures. Sherwood’s more ambitiously scaled One Yard, One Bird applies human organization and emotional tenderness to a fatal event.
The intimidatingly-sized and accomplished paintings of wild animals native to North America in Emily White’s two artworks Reintroduction II (Grey Wolf) and Velvet (a truly disturbing life-size rendering of a moose shedding the velvet skin of its antlers) dominate the gallery. They look as if they could easily grace the walls of a natural history museum. The landscapes in which the animals stand are surrounded by highly finished birch plywood, framing the wilderness in civilization. Easily missed in the paintings are the artist’s sly additions of human technology into the natural environment.
Julie Bahn’s work is the most directly political of the group. She addresses human consumption of animals for food and consumerism in One Hundred Twenty Eight Days of Protein. A silver plate is piled high with the broken bones of consumed animals, embellished and be-dazzled by Swarovski crystals, ready to be re-cycled and re-consumed as art. Her soft sculpture Hug Me, is a tantalizing visual enigma. The large vinyl fish with strangely human eyes hangs limply from the gallery ceiling, a glittering tag around its neck, inviting us to engage with it as a fellow creature, not just as dinner.
Artists, always the shock troops of changing cultural attitudes, are thinking hard about the way forward in our relationship with nature, and in the process creating art that resonates, questions and inspires with its beauty. The work in Thinking With Animals ably addresses the complexity and ambivalence of our evolving thoughts about animals, humans and our place in the environment.
It’s that time of year–gray, dreary, damp and dark–when gallery hopping feels like a chore. But the art is out there and it must be seen, polar vortex notwithstanding. An encounter with Geometrix at Galerie Camille until February 24, can make the effort seem worthwhile, and might just get you through the worst of winter, 2018.
In their art practice, Clark Goeman, Franklin Jonas and James Benjamin Franklin take the manipulation of geometry as a point of departure. It’s hardly a new concept, but the work by these three results in remarkably divergent bodies of work and proves once again that a universe is possible within the limits of a simple premise.
Clark Goeman delivers a series of well crafted and carefully conceived objects in various media that suggest energy under pressure. Two large, aggressively corporate sculptures occupy the interior of Galerie Camille and vibrate with silent presence. The Death Star-like Black Matter is solid, monumental and threatening, while the more open and lyrical Icosahedron describes the same geometric shape in wood, minus the menace.
Goeman shows off his considerable skills in both clay manipulation and ceramic glazes with a series of fairly small, clenched objects that suggest projectiles. These weaponized artworks look vaguely dangerous, like hand grenades or land mines, and their metallic-glazed surfaces reinforce the impression. They seem as if they could explode at any moment, projecting peril far out of proportion to their size. If I saw one lying unattended on a bus seat, I might consider calling Homeland Security.
“The perfection of geometry fascinates me,” says Franklin Jonas. That may well be, but it appears to me that the true fascination of this work lies in its manipulation of color and pattern within the bounds of the constructed shapes. In The Star Project, Jonas applies saturated hues that might be ripped from a Pantone Formula Color Guide in tightly rendered stripes that follow the contours of the five-pointed figures. Idiosyncratic, insistent, pugnaciously decorative color combinations move restlessly around, intersected and interrupted by flat white shapes that violate their integrity, setting up a rhythmic counterpoint. With their buzzy optical vibration, The Star Project suggests the visual equivalent of techno music.
The Embryo Series projects a more serene effect with its ovoid outer shapes repeated adroitly within each of the 4 artworks. Jonas describes his color choices in The Embryo Series as referencing a “mathematical color algorithm.” He claims that “the information contained in each circle accurately predicts the color scheme of the other three.” Fortunately, it’s not necessary to understand this rather abstruse technical explanation to appreciate the visual charms of Jonas’s work.
James Benjamin Franklin takes his geometry with a playful grain of salt. Ten fairly small, eccentric shapes rest on a gallery shelf, leaning against the wall on their spindly legs. These lively, vaguely anthropomorphic figures in flat, waxy crayon colors line up like a class of restless toddlers ready for an outing. Franklin’s ingratiating pictograms add an element of humor and sly charm while remaining inscrutable. They are deceptively simple, childlike but knowing. Two larger pieces round out Franklin’s installation. A large refrigerator-shaped slab of yellow (with a handle!) made me want to open it and search for treats inside. To its right rests a red …thing, that might be a web or a window, alternately barring the way or inviting us through.
If the gray of winter and the icy damp of Detroit’s streets is beginning to get to you and a trip to someplace warm isn’t in the cards, Galerie Camille and Geometrix offers an alternate destination. A whiff of danger, a pop of color and some smart fun can help to pass the time, and pretty soon spring will be just around the corner. I hope.
For more information, visit galeriecamille.com
Chicago artist Deborah Baker, whose large pencil drawings are on view now at Firecat Projects until December 16, 2017, once again demonstrates that the artist’s most creative tool rests between her ears. Baker rejects all currently fashionable media such as video, performance and photography. Even within the constraints of conventional drawing, she avoids decorative or descriptive color and perspectival reality. Through this systematic refusal, she achieves complete freedom within a form of expression that is strongly graphic and psychologically resonant.
Baker can be understood to be a sort of free-associational sign painter, a dealer in archetypes collected and added to the page, where they set up visual harmonics within the composition. The large drawings in 6B are based upon her previous small, black and white embroidered pieces, several of which are in the show. She chose to make her drawings on large sheets of brown kraft paper in order to create larger scale works for 6B.
Baker describes her process:
I always start with a word or title. That word evokes images for me …I also always begin with the border or frame first…I do few or no preparatory drawings… sometimes a small thumbnail sketch to get the layout, no marking…though I do fold the fabric to orient the space.
Her previous work with embroidery affects Baker’s compositional choices in the more recent large drawings. There is a kind of steady rhythm to the fabric pieces. Each constituent image is spaced out over the surface of the artwork, creating the impression that the composition must be “read” rather than seen. The patterned border surrounding each embroidery resembles decorative craftwork from the Victorian age, though the images within are more reminiscent of ethnic or folk images, or designs from tattoo art.
In the large drawings, the decorative designs that Baker uses to define the outer limits of her small embroidered compositions begin to resemble theatre prosceniums, and the compositions become performances. This is especially evident in the drawings Connect and 12 Dancing Princesses (which even includes a suggestion of an audience in the lower portion of the drawing.) She takes a metaphorical step back in Center, which once again recalls Victorian embroidery.
A recurring theme in Baker’s work is the mystery of the long-term loving relationship. It can be no accident that the couples seen in the embroidered Link and Tied, and in the drawing Union are skeletal. “Until death do us part” is not just a metaphor here. In Cryptic, the image of the silhouetted couple facing each other refers both to a famous optical illusion and to the opaque black box of long term commitment as visualized in an all-seeing pyramid. In Hope vs. Hope, love and conflict co-exist.
It’s been said that editing is the only art, and Deborah Baker’s deceptively simple drawings prove it. These large pictures of dancers, hearts and grinning skeletons appear at first blush to be simple, naïve and almost childlike, but upon closer examination are nothing of the kind. The artist has created a complex visual language that allows her complete freedom of expression within the limited means she employs.
For information about Firecat Projects and 6B go here
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.
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.
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.
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 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 thoughtful or 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.
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.
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.
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 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,  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.
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.”
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.