Bodh: New Work by Madhurima Ganguly at River House Arts, Toledo

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Earth and Sky by Madhurima Ganguly, batik, white acid-free ink, 18 karat gold on Lokta royal paper, 15″ x 18″, 2018

Emerging artist Madhurima Ganguly’s provocative but uneven exhibit Bodh, currently on view at River House Arts in Toledo,  presents us with a travelogue of the artist’s creative journey up to now. It begins in Kolkata, India, where she was born and educated, followed by emigration to San Diego, California and now her residence in the American Midwest.

The (mostly) small works on paper in Bodh illustrate Ganguly’s wide-ranging interests, from traditional  Indian folk painting, to observations of the natural world, to explorations of south Asian materials and patterns, to the beginnings of a personal feminist worldview. Or as Ganguly writes, her artworks are derived from “…everything and anything. As a visual artist my works explore the possibilities of space, nature and images from living organisms at micro and macro level.”  The richness of her heritage and the breadth of her travels provide Ganguly with an  array of sources for her inspiration which need only to be organized and edited to produce a singular and satisfying body of work. 

In Bodh, the most immediately successful pieces capitalize on Ganguly’s academic background in contemporary sculpture. Her abstract drawings are often single, idiosyncratic shapes that  seem to reference  natural forms and are presented as more or less symmetrical objects centrally placed on plain backgrounds. Coral, fungus, and even internal human organs provide her inspiration and  manage to be referential while avoiding the illustrational. She also has a gift for the manipulation of materials that have an ethnic association, such as batik and gold leaf. A particularly  satisfying example of this is Earth and Sky, the central image of which appears to refer to a coral form and illustrates many of the artist’s strengths.  The richly colored blue ground and the saturated orange batik, combined with her characteristic  lacy pattern painting and spiky tendrils, are unique and point to promising areas for future exploration. Other standouts in this vein are If Feelings were Human and Sand and Beach.   

When Ganguly strays into the figurative realm, however, she lacks the technical means to create a convincing narrative. Her educational background is upper-class, post-colonial and westernized, and she seems to have an arms-length relationship with the more humble forms of Indian painting that she references in her representational drawings.  Works such as Wall of Fame and Self-Portrait seem, to me, to be clumsy and touristic, and her personal iconography is still in the process of formation.

Ganguly is a cosmopolitan artist who feels the pull of her native culture while remaining a citizen of the contemporary art world.  A rich diversity of influences will  define her creative practice going forward, as she travels from her place of origin to an unknown destination, where her personal history and its innate conflicts can be resolved in a defining body of work.

For more information about Madhurima Ganguly and Bodh go here 

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One Sided Love by Madurima Ganguly, white acid-free ink, 18 karat gold on Lokta royal paper, 15″ x 10, 2018

 

 

 

 

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Works in Progress: a celebration of beauty and chaos at Ann Arbor Art Center

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Things That Hold (detail) by Sarah Nishikawa

I recently wrote a review for AADL Pulp of Works in Progress, a group show at Ann Arbor Art Center. Consisting of work by 24 (mostly) Detroit/Ann Arbor-based designers at varying stages in their careers, the exhibit illustrates the creative process of gifted thinkers and planners who bring functional works to life through fashion, graphic design, furniture, architecture, and industrial design. To read more about them, go here.

 

You Can’t Touch A Ghost: Five Senses For A Cause

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Zelma, Orpha, and Golda Series: Rules for Women, by Leslie Sheryll, 2018,archival digital print, 38″ x 16.5″

Detroit’s contemporary art ecosystem seems to attract energetic, hardworking creatives who aren’t afraid to take on big multi-year projects that aim to fundamentally alter  Detroit’s cultural environment. Things Feel Heavy, the independent curatorial project of accomplished painter and creative entrepreneur Anna van Schaap,  is one of those ambitious and public-spirited efforts. This series of  exhibitions and events has taken place over the last decade or so, throughout the city and beyond,  in venues such as the Carr Center, the Charles H. Wright Museum and the Ann Arbor Art Center.

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Anna van Schaap at Gallery 2987

Van Schaap’s latest effort, You Can’t Touch A Ghost: Five Senses for a Cause, is a party, an art auction, a fashion show and a live musical performance that starts at 6 p.m. on Saturday, January 19, in downtown Detroit’s Gallery 2987.  It will benefit Alternatives for Girls, a highly respected and successful Detroit non-profit that provides programs and services for homeless and at-risk girls and young women. It’s a cause that is close to the artist’s heart.

She comes by her interest in women’s rights by way of her art and her life experience. “I’m heavily influenced by the Dutch masters in terms of the palette and by some of the Italian masters like Caravaggio, but in terms of conceptual influence, my work is a modernist take on women’s issues,” she explains. “A lot of my work revolves around …being silenced or eradicated–how women’s identities are tied intrinsically to their bodies, and also about language, about speaking these truths…because  we’re not allowed to vocalize our needs,  our wants, our desires outright or efficiently, we find subversive ways to communicate through body language or gestures.”

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Never Kneel by Anna van Schaap, oil on linen, 44″ x 30″

As she investigated Detroit non-profits for You Can’t Touch A Ghost to benefit, van Schaap was immediately attracted to Alternatives for Girls because it spoke directly to her concern for female empowerment.  Through extensive programs in Detroit’s public schools and shelters, Alternatives for Girls provides street outreach, educational support, vocational guidance, mentoring, prevention activities and counseling to help girls and young women make positive choices. She chose the organization “not only because they provide assistance and shelter and food and programming, but they also have a preventative element, which I think is such an important part of rearing young women, getting to them early,  before problems start. They work with girls predominantly in the younger ages, 9 or 10, all the way up to teenage mothers. This is a large program and they’ve been around for quite a while now, and their reach is pretty far at this point.”

For You Can’t Touch A Ghost, van Schaap has organized a curated exhibition and auction that features some of Detroit’s best artists, as well as music by True Blue and Electric Blanket. The $15 cover provides entrance to the exhibit and performance, as well as an open bar and hors d’oeuvres and desserts by Forte Belanger and Celebrity Catering. For more information about You Can’t Touch A Ghost or to RSVP go here. 

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Bury Me Softly (It’s lovely in the fall) by Jennifer Belair Sakarian
Participating artists: Callie Nazzpuller, Dominique Chastenet de Géryöïö, Brian Spolans, Marianetta Porter, Leslie SherylKate Hanley, K.A. Letts Erin Case, Ingrid Tietz,  Renee RialsLeanna Hicks, Jennifer Belair(Jennifer Belair Sakarian),  Catheryn Amidei, Jessica Tenbusch,  Sharon QueSarah Swarz(Sarah C. Blanchette), Michael Ross(Mike Ross), Nicki SzydloParisa Ghaderi/Ebrahim Soltani, Donna ShipmanMichael E. O’Reilly, Jill Eggers, Tali Morgolin, Jeffrey BowmanCaryn Bopp Kelly Burke, Adrian Deva, Molly Diana, Marceline MasonMeagan SheinAlison FrancoMelis AgabigumKidané A’der Jhons, Paula Marie Deubel PMari. Anna van Schaap has also created a piece specifically for the event.

 

Chicago’s New Art Examiner Covers Detroit

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Murals in the Market  painting by W.C. Bevan, sponsored by 1XRun

I recently wrote an article about the Detroit art scene for Chicago’s New Art Examiner,  focusing on three organizations/projects that seemed to me to exemplify important features of Detroit and its artists right now. 1XRun, Playground Detroit and the North End neighborhood’s American Riad project demonstrate the  entrepreneurial creativity, DIY energy, and artistic/social inclusiveness that I see in the city.  I’m sorry I couldn’t write about more of the Detroit’s great galleries and projects, but that would take a book, not a magazine article.  To read what I wrote, go here 

 

 

 

Ann Arbor Current Magazine reviews The Strangeness of Everyday

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Usually RustbeltArts.com represents my humble effort to get the word out that art–good art–is being made and shown in the Great Lakes region. There’s never a shortage of interesting fine art news to write about.

When I’m not writing, though, I’m painting and drawing and showing my own work. My solo show The Strangeness of Everyday is on view until December 21st during regular business hours in the University of Michigan’s Connections Gallery.  Arts writer Ainsley Davis has reported on the exhibit for Current Magazine and you can read her very perceptive review here

My thanks to Current Magazine for paying attention!

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SculptureX 2018: Igniting Change

Loraine Lynn here gives a useful description of the main themes of Toledo’s Sculpture X, with its emphasis on art as social practice. I’m dubious about the efficacy of this way of making art, and didn’t see anything in my (admittedly) limited experience of the work on view to change my mind. That said, I appreciate Lynn’s description of the proceedings and her earnest effort to grapple with the inherent internal contradictions and tricky social crosswinds of art as social practice.

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39686718_1062148427287864_2951454178091728896_o.pngAll art is Social Practice rang out as some of the last words of this year’s symposium, spoken by Saul Ostrow, curator and co-founder of SculptureX.

The event’s ninth year iteration, titled Igniting Change, took place over two days at the Toledo Museum of Art and Bowling Green State University. The focus was on the concept of Social Practice, a way of working in art that often gets traced back to the 1990’s. During his talk, Ostrow pointed out that the emergence of Social Practice began as early as 1913 with the Russian Constructivists (with the rejection of autonomous art) and can be seen later in the 1930’s with Social Realism (in work by artists such as Diego Riveria and Dorothea Lange).

Despite discrepancies regarding its origins, Social Practice is rising in popularity, both in art and academia. Taking this into account the question of whether or not artists…

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Kegham Tazian, A Journey Through Art

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Detroit artist Kegham Tazian in his studio, September 2018

Sculptures spill out over the lawn of Kegham Tazian’s neat suburban home as if the restless creative impulse inside can’t be contained.  Tazian, a trim and cordial man with salt-and-pepper hair, meets me at the door, and ushers me into an interior where hundreds of sculptures and paintings are neatly displayed, evidence of nearly 60 years well spent as a prolific and productive artist in Detroit.  Like architects Eliel Saarinan and Albert Kahn and sculptor Corrado Parducci, he is an immigrant creative who has found a home in the city, nurtured by its energy and sheltered by its community.

Tazian’s story begins in Turkey, where his family was part of a persecuted Armenian minority.  His mother, displaced during the troubled times of World War I that culminated in the Armenian genocide, was taken to Beirut, Lebanon as a child to study in a Catholic convent.  During a lull in the unrest, her family moved her back to Turkey, but after her marriage and the birth of her 5 children – of which Kegham was the youngest at 1 year old–the entire family relocated to Lebanon with the support of the French government. Tazian’s father died when he was 4, and his mother carried on raising the family alone. Their first years in Lebanon were difficult.  “My mom is my hero,“ Tazian says. “She couldn’t read or write, but she spoke 4 languages… She never asked for any help.” Tazian recalls, “[when] I was 7 years old, along with my 3 brothers and my mom, we would walk some 8-10 miles one way to pick potatoes and onions.”

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Metamorphosis, 2009, steel and fiberglass,  60″ x 84″ x 24, Farmington Hills City Hall

Tazian developed an early ambition to become an artist, even though he had very little exposure to the arts. “My background was completely zero in art. There were no classes in elementary school or high school. I went to two different high schools, and none of them had art, but in my mind I always planned to be an artist.”

“The only person [who encouraged me] was my 5th grade English teacher, Olivia Balian,” he says. “She really opened the doors of art for me.  She said, ‘Those students who are interested in art can stay behind after school and I will show you how to paint and draw.’ Somehow [that] changed my life– she gave me that spark.”

When one of Tazian’s older brothers started a successful button-making business, giving the family some stability and making study abroad financially feasible, Tazian came to the U.S. to study at St. Francis College in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Tazian humorously recalls his lack of preparation: “When I came there … to an art school, I had no idea what an art school [was]!”  Somehow, in spite of this, he earned a bachelors degrees in art and a masters in art education, and then managed to get admitted to Wayne State University in Detroit, where he went on to receive an MFA in sculpture in 1966. For the next 47 years, he taught art at Oakland Community College’s Orchard Ridge Campus in Farmington Hills, while maintaining an active studio practice, showing his work regularly in galleries around the country and fulfilling numerous commissions for public art in the Detroit area.

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Mechanical Juggler, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 36″ x 48″

Kegham Tazian is a kind of magpie artist, always on the sharp-eyed lookout for materials that spark his creative impulse. Ruined styrofoam from a job site, a cow bone, a battered oil pan, a discarded circuit board – all of these apparently un-prepossessing materials have found their way into his work.   He collects and combines objects he finds in the environment and enters into a dialog with them to create a finished painting or sculpture.  “I’m open minded …If I see something in nature, then that becomes part of my art work… More than anything else I’m curious about how I can express myself, in what medium.”  He continues, “I never know from one day to the next what I’ll do. It all happens in that moment. One of the luxuries I’ve had is teaching – a steady income – so I never [had to] weigh doing something the public likes so I can make my car payments or house payments.”

Asked about his creative influences, Tazian takes a panoramic view. “When it comes to… the idea of uniqueness, I always say, I’m indebted to the first person, man or woman, who did something in a cave.”  He is dismissive of the idea of the artist as a solitary, heroic figure.  “To me, it’s all work,” he says. “We’re all walking that same road, just maybe in a slightly different way… the idea of originality – I don’t really believe in it…all you’re doing is making a variation on what others who have preceded you have done.  So you put your own stamp on it.”

Since his retirement from teaching in 2014, Tazian has, if anything, increased his creative output.  He is currently preparing for a solo show of his recent work at Detroit’s highly respected Galerie Camille, from October 3 – 10.  Among the planned 40 artworks on display will be new limestone and bronze sculptures, multi-media paintings and computer-aided works on paper, evidence – if any were still needed – of the artist’s continuing curiosity and restless energy.

For more information about the exhibit Kegham Tazian: A Journey Through Art go here

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The artist with a detail of his  1994 bronze “125th Anniversary Sculpture” at Farmington City Hall, 2018