Joanna Manousis at River House Arts

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Pears in Bottles

I recently reviewed Nature Morte by conceptual glass artist Joanna Manousis for the Toledo City Paper.  The exhibit is on view until June 17th at River House Arts in Toledo.  This is the artist’s largest exhibition to date and includes pieces made during her residencies at The Toledo Museum of Art in January, 2017 and Alfred University in March, 2017. Read more here

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Reaching an Ulterior Realm

Text/Media

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Underdog by Christopher Schneider

We live in a hyper-literate age of endless imagery and short attention spans.

We seldom pause–and really, when do we have time?–to consider the process by which we create meaning for ourselves from the constant  interaction of  words and pictures in books, magazines, on television and the web, on our phones.

In Text/Image, now on view until June 3 in  Ann Arbor Art Center’s Gallery 117,  Detroit-based artist/curator Jack O. Summers has thoughtfully collected for our consideration some  artworks that refer to everyday objects whose meanings “are enhanced or subverted by the multi-dimensional interplay of text and images.” The exhibit concentrates on still imagery, leaving aside the more kinetic treatments of text and image interaction such as  video and animation.

There are several artists represented  in Text/Image who are well known in Detroit for their absurdist take on the news and pop culture, using the vocabulary of comics and newspaper to communicate their point of view.  Ryan Standfest, gifted printmaker, founder of the Rotland Press and trickster artist, composes headlines for his imaginary tabloid newspaper the Modern Vulgarian (#1) that raise more questions than they answer and classified ads that go gleefully off the rails.

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The Modern Vulgarian #1 by Ryan Standfest

William Schudlich, illustrator and self-proclaimed “social zoologist” is clearly a kindred spirit.  Schudlich’s images  employ the visual vocabulary of disposable print media  such as comic strips and have the look of early to mid-20th century comics.  He approaches  visual challenges, he says, “with a dark sense of humor whenever possible.”  Tom Carey’s large relief prints, while ostensibly mining the same classic content as Schudlich and Standfest, project a more modern effect with their vivid colors and lively compositions. The small wooden mutoscopes (flipbooks in wooden boxes operated by pushbutton) created by Andy Malone also fit comfortably with the sensibilities of Schudlich and Standfest by appropriating of a vintage craft and  re-purposing it to make a modern statement.

Two notable Detroit photographers, Christopher Schneider and Bruce Giffen, appear in Text/Image. In Schneider’s Underdog, the word “Hamtramck” printed on the young football player’s jersey adds context and pathos to the inward-looking figure, isolated as his teammate looks away toward the light and movement of the game. His fellow photographer Bruce Giffen, whose sharp and poetic eye is trained on Detroit at all times and in all seasons,  juxtaposes text with context for special resonance in his photo Stay In School.

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Whole Foods by Jaye Schlesinger

Taurus Burns, Dencel Deneau,  Jaye Schlesinger  and Amy Fell all engage in the reification of the ordinary, each one observing with care and archiving with skill the unglamorous objects and often unsightly minutiae of the urban landscape.  Deneau’s small glass mosaics, in particular, are improbably lovely memorials to fleeting moments in the life of a city.

Moving from the grittily observational to the poetic,  Scott Northrup’s gauzy collages are cinematic and  nostalgia-soaked. Self-Portrait with Fruit by John Gutoskey is somehow both cheerful and sad,  and  recalls the innocence and the pain of a young boy growing up gay in the Midwest. Like Gutoskey’s quasi-installation, Believers by Catherine Peet hardly needs text to make its point, harking back to medieval altars of a pre-literate age.

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School Bus by Dencel Deneau

Before the printing press and universal literacy, the visual impact of letters was as important as the narrative meaning.  Randy Asplund creates contemporary works using the same methods as medieval illuminators;  the pigments, grounds,  text and image are all carefully chosen for their symbolic resonance, each re-enforcing the meaning of the other elements. Taking the opposite tack, Alvey Jones subverts the meaning of text in Language Text and Circuit Board. Each element of the artwork is designed to be unintelligible–the book is (literally) Greek to us, the circuit board holds its meaning in a code we are unable to penetrate.

Barbara Brown, eminent Ann Arbor book artist and curator of a yearly survey of all things art and book-related, entitled Beyond Words, here uses her collection of handmade building blocks, Metropolis, to think playfully about the way reordering words or letters can alter narrative.

Text/Image can be understood best as a survey featuring a cast of accomplished artists, any one of whom could fill the gallery with well-crafted and well-thought-out work. The art in this exhibit thoughtfully uses language and image together to address  a variety of themes  from autobiography to social commentary, and while curator Jack O. Summers has put together an interesting and beautiful exhibit, the subject is far from exhausted and possibly never can be.

For more information about Text/Image go here

 

Kathyrose Pizzo: After A Thousand Mornings

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Installation: After A Thousand Mornings by Kathyrose Pizzo

The mother/child relationship over time, through sickness, care and–finally–death, forms the emotional core of Kathyrose Pizzo’s  moving solo exhibit After A Thousand Mornings, now on view through March 25th at Hatch Gallery in Hamtramck. Multiple sclerosis, her mother’s diagnosis, has given the artist a front row seat at this most mysterious and universal human rite of passage, and she has clearly thought long and deeply about the experience of her mother’s decline and her part in it.  She observes in herself the shifting emotional dynamics of care and conflict, love and resentment, grief and recovery, rendering them in physical space through the patient assemblage of sticks and strings.

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Departure (foreground)

The artworks are binary in nature, with wooden constructs that seem to either support or confine cloud-shaped gray pillows.  The softness of the cloth clouds, juxtaposed with the hardness of the provisionally composed structures, shifts in meaning  from piece to piece, the cloud in one artwork seeming to refer to the artist, in another, to her mother. Sometimes the cloud is  imprisoned by the scaffolding and at others it seems to float above and away.  Throughout, the two elements circle and collide, metaphors for a kind of emotional dialog between these intimately connected human beings.

Caught eloquently captures the dilemma of the cared-for and the caregiver, mutually trapped by circumstance. A wire net  that mimics the failing synapses of her mother’s brain confines both the cloud and the wooden support to the ground, metaphorically trapping both mother and daughter beneath the disease.

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Caught

Pizzo is also interested in examining the end of life through the lens of  social rituals in cultures past and present. She particularly acknowledges the influence of Joseph Campbell, a philosopher known for his work in comparative mythology and religion. She says of these rites, “Tributes to the departed are the events that make us human, that define the distance between us and the stars.”

This influence is most directly referenced in Departure. The artist has created a small scale replica of a funeral pyre, upon which a lovingly pillowed figure rests.  Underneath,  a chaotic and disordered pile of kindling  mirrors the artist’s mental state.

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Calypso

Many of the works in After a Thousand Mornings refer to the passage of time and convey a sense of waiting.  Wall pieces such as Calypso and Episode 1: The Ladder are improvised and complex structures created  by the artist using aluminum tape, which is then partially stripped away as the composition emerges. The title work of the show takes on the theme of time’s passage most directly, with 30 tiny wooden scaffolds topped by cotton clouds and arranged in a grid –a kind of  calendar–quietly  and elegantly filling one wall of the gallery.

The incremental passage of time that forms the rhythm of life and death is the ultimate theme of After A Thousand Mornings. The artworks are a physical manifestation of this process, small moments turning into large ones, one moment adding to another, making up a life and bringing us inevitably to its end. Kathyrose  Pizzo has found meaning here:  “Personally witnessing both how disease can bring forth  greater understanding of the human condition and the unavoidable destiny of all life is central to my work.”

For more information about Hatch Gallery and After a Thousand Mornings, go here.

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After A Thousand Mornings

Art Now: Printmaking

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I Dreamed I Could Fly,  by Art Werger

It’s a challenge to write about the current exhibit Art Now: Printmaking, installed in Gallery 117 of the Ann Arbor Art Center, not because there is so little to say but because there is so much. Art Now is the third in a series of large group shows of artworks sorted by media. No less ambitious than the first two (devoted to painting and photography), Art Now: Printmaking shows us how fine art printing in all its variety stands at the busy crossroads of traditional media and advancing technology.

Juror Tyanna Buie, an accomplished printmaker in her own right, has selected artworks by 86 artists from all over the country that describe the ways in which the methods of printmaking can be stretched to their outer limits and combined  with other techniques such as collage, painting, drawing and photography, to name only a few.

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Mud Philosophy by H. Schenck

Traditional printmaking is a craft as well as an art. The process is exacting and rewards methodical attention to draftsmanship, registration, consistency– and there is no shortage here of artists well qualified to work within the constraints of the media. I especially liked many of these traditionally produced  prints –silkscreens, woodcuts etchings and the like–  because the artists have found freedom of expression within the limitations of their means. A particular favorite is the dreamlike suburban landscape I Dreamed I Could Fly, an etching/aquatint by Art Werger, where the warm, low light of the late afternoon sun washes over a scene of perfect order, the world held in stasis for an eternal moment. Hunter’s Moon Dancer by North Dakota  artist Linda Whitney, a finely observed and expertly drawn mezzotint (and winner of Second Prize) is deeply satisfying in its symmetry and rhythmic patterning. Winning my own personal and unofficial prize for staying on topic is a pair of deeply saturated green and gilt silk screen prints, Gold Nah Dar Gold by Chad Andrews, in which the image and the process are synonymous.

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Hunter’s Moon Dancer by

Although there are many excellent examples of  well conceived and well executed printmaking here, a visitor’s  attention is inevitably drawn to artworks that surprise us with their idiosyncratic juxtaposition of media. It is entirely unexpected that taxidermy would figure in a print show, but there it is in Ashley Shaul’s But She Looked Friendly, which features a furry raccoon with a meticulously rendered tattoo on her backside.

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But She Looked Friendly by Ashley Shaul

Combining different types of printing, painting, collage and photography seems to be a favorite strategy for many of the artists represented in Art Now: Printmaking. These works are technically monotypes and utilize the syntax of various print media in combination to arrive at artworks which  go far beyond the technical simplicity of the traditional monoprint.

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Cul-de-Sac by Zack Fitchner

One of my favorite one-of-a-kind  prints, Mud Philosophy by H. Schenck of Grand Prairie TX, makes the most economic statement possible, using Washington mud marked on glass and run through a press. Another multi-technique monotype success is Cul-de-Sac by Zack Fitchner of Charleston, West Virginia. He uses lithography, woodcut, monotype and chine colle to evoke the overhead racket of planes taking off from an urban airport. The artwork that won Best in Show is one of these everything-and-the-kitchen-sink type multimedia extravaganzas too.  Ebb and Flow, by Carolyn Swift of Traverse City MI, combines woodcut, relief, etching, acrylic paint, ink and colored pencil in a large, energetic abstraction that practically jumps off the wall.

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Ebb and Flow by Carolyn Swift

A show with this much material in it can’t be adequately described in print.  Art Now Printmaking requires your attention –and attendance.  As a nice bonus, if you have an interest in collecting relatively inexpensive works on paper, you really should take in this exhibit. Even works that are clearly one-offs are a bargain here. The exhibit is open until March 4. For more information go here

Art Now: Printmaking is on view until March 4.  Featured Artists are: Chad Andrews • Miguel Aragon • Robert Aronson • Tom Baker • Naomi Ballard • Jennifer Belair • Karen Benson • Shirley Bernstein • Laura Beyer • Benjamin Bigelow • Allison Blair • Ben Bohnsack • Jan Brown • Josh Christensen • John Cizmar • Abraham Cone • Schuyler DeMarinis • Tess Doyle • Andrea Eckert • Stacy Elko • Travis Erxleben • Craig Fisher • Frank James Fisher • Zach Fitchner • Cindi Ford • Arron Foster • Jenie Gao • Eric Goldberg • Helen Gotlib • Tim Gralewski • M. Alexander Gray • Brett Grunig • Tatsuki Hakoyama • Dominica Harrison • Tom Hollenback • Richard Hricko • Joyce Jewell • Rhonda Khalifeh • Tonia Klein • Joshua Kolbow • Alexis Kurtzman • Emily Legleitner • Geneviève L’ Heureux • Alexandria McAughey • Tyreese McDurmont • Dante Migone-Ojeda • Zachary Miller • John Miller • Eric Millikin • Ashley Nason • Nick Osetek • Carole Pawloski • Polly Perkins • Liv Perucca • Sylvia Pixley • Tatiana Potts • Linda Prentiss • Morgan Price • Laurie Pruitt • Christine Reising • Karen Riley • Benjamin Rinehart • Celeste Roe • Mary Rousseaux • R Ruth • Blake Sanders • H Schenck • Melissa Schulenberg • Terry Schupbach-gordon • Kayla Seedig • Sarah Serio • Ashley Shaul • Sarah Smelser • Barbara Smith • Jillian Sokso • LaNia Sproles • Emily Stokes • Lonora Swanson-Flores • Carolyn Swift • Olivia Timmons • Donald VanAuken • Roger Walkup • Annie Wassmann • Ian Welch • Art Werger • Linda Whitney • Maryanna Williams • DeWayne Williamson • Connie Wolfe • Mary Woodworth • Cameron York

Printers without Presses

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What’s a Print by Matthew Milia

In this dreary  and discontented winter season, Public Pool in Hamtramck aims to treat our tired eyes to Printers Without Presses, an exhibit of informal and mostly one-of-a kind printed artworks that “by hook or crook explore ingenious methods of printmaking.” This loosely organized collection of Public Pool regulars  (and their friends) showcases artists who are fully literate as conventional printmakers but who, for the purposes of this show, have discarded the more technical aspects of the printmaking process to create work that is  personal and playful.  Several of the artists are gifted  writers as well as visual artists, so text  and narrative content play an important role, resulting in  a roomful of fresh, unassuming and conversational artworks.

Chicago/Milwaukee artist and accomplished printmaker Tyanna Buie seems not limited but liberated by the simplicity of her means.  She employs hand applied ink, hand-cut stencils, collage and photo-based digital images to create Object and Ritual an ambitiously scaled, three-dimensional sculptural print that dominates the center of the gallery.

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We Didn’t Start The Fire by Dessislava Terzieva

The seamless connection that the artists display between their online worlds and the lo-tech, hands-on life in the studio is striking.   Matthew Milia describes  “What’s a Print”, his hand-stenciled rendition of a cell-phone text complete with reception bars and battery status,  as an attempt to playfully “subvert the instantaneous, sometimes mindless facility modern technology has afforded correspondence.” Dessislava Terzieva freely admits her piece “We didn’t Start The Fire” is the result of an internet search.

Three of the artists share an interest in the urban natural world of Hamtramck and have clearly influenced each other.  In  Baby’s Breath and Obsolescence, Keaton Fox compares and contrasts the marks created by inked baby’s breath with the trail of a computer mouse as it is dragged along the surface of the paper. Teresa Peterson and Anne Harrington Hughes have each put together a collection of leaves which they have subsequently used to create print series that are visually related but thematically distinct.

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Situations with Mushrooms by Teresa Petersen

Jeffrey Evergreen and Bayard Kurth III rely on text to convey their colloquial content. Evergreen’s small printed brown bags fit seamlessly into the world of Hamtramck’s bars and he has humorously directed gallery visitors to take one but only “wrapped around a beer.”   In addition to  prints in the exhibit, Kurth has produced a zine “Improve Your Fishing” which establishes that he is a writer and thinker as well as a doodle-ist. Though not formally included in the show,  another zine Stupor/Soft Gun, part of an ongoing series by  Knight Fellow Steve Hughes and with illustrations by Alexander Buzzalini  (who is in the show), merits attention and you can buy it for the low, low price of $2.   pp-buzzalini-aje

More purely visual, as opposed to text-based,  pieces are provided by Jide Aje and Tim Hailey.  Although they trend toward painting with a more distant nod to printmaking, they  still fit within the rather loose parameters of the show and provide some nice shots of color.

Alexander  Buzzalini contributes a Giacometti-esque branding iron that somehow also recalls his characteristic gloppy painting style. This is accompanied by several branded discs that might be coasters, and the whole thing ties in  with his ongoing interest in imagery of the mythic old West. For more about Alexander Buzzalini you can go here to read an essay written (not too co-incidentally) by Steve Hughes, his collaborator on Stupor/Soft Gun. 

Like many of the non-profit art spaces in Hamtramck, Public Pool has limited hours, but it’s well worth your time and effort to see this work, on view until February 25. Artists in Printers Without Presses are: Jeff Evergreen, Jide Aje, Bayard Kurth III, Teresa Petersen, Alex Buzzalini, Mathew Milia, Tyanna Buie, Keaton Fox, Anne Hughes, Tim Hailey and Dessislava Terzieva. The gallery is open on Saturdays from 1 to 6.  For more information on Public Pool, go here.

Emergent Effect

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One Becomes Many by Paloma Nunez-Reguerio

What happens when one becomes many? How do patterns, objects, gestures repeated and systematically arranged, reveal  thoughts and ideas that are otherwise invisible?   The artists of  Ypsi Alloy Studios think they know the answer–or answers–to that question.

They have done their homework, comparing and contrasting different definitions of multiplicity and its implications, each coming up with a satisfying working theory of how this relates to them personally. The artists of the collective share a space, and clearly also share ideas and ways of working while also displaying an intriguing diversity of approach and media. In this thoughtful collection of artworks, the artists work both individually and in collaboration, bouncing ideas and methods off each other. The result of their labors, Emergent Effect, curated by Ilana Houten, Elize Jekabson and Jessica Tenbusch, is now on view until January 28 at the Ann Arbor Art Center.

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108 by Paloma Nunez-Reguerio

Many of the artists have created meaning through cumulative action in the most direct possible way, fabricating artworks that amount to more than the sum of their parts. Two pieces by Paloma Nunez-Ruguerio exemplify this straightforward approach. One Becomes Many invites gallery visitors to include themselves in the many by writing personal details about themselves on the stickers that make up the  installation.  The resulting visual effect calls to mind the cells of a beehive. Another Nunez-Reguerio work, entitled 108, is colorful and more lushly decorative than most of the more austere works in the exhibit. Small prints in various colors are repeated and placed in a grid, making a veritable fruit salad of vegetal forms.

Some of the most idiosyncratic yet satisfying work in Emergent Effect is created by Yunhong (Katie) Chang.

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Joy by Yunhong (Katie) Chong

Her  series Zoo/Joy/Pinwheel/ Whisper/Goodbye features an installation of identical  unglazed porcelain plaques that provide grounds for  abstract hairline (literally) drawings.  Promise, with multiple tiny hanging hair rings encrusted by porcelain slip, suggest precious yet fragile personal relationships.

Elize Jekabson’s sculpture Stacked employs plywood, cut and layered in a way reminiscent of the 3-d printing process to create a kind of anthill-shaped tower. Like many of the pieces in the show, this work refers to both the repetition and addition of forms seen in nature and to industrial ways of making.  Works like Jessica Tenbusch’s antler and silver constructions Jaw and Kiss, Wade Buck’s forged steel wishbones (Best of Luck) and Riva Jewell-Vitale’s Fragments depend upon repetition of idiosyncratic natural forms for their considerable visual resonance.

Coming at the question of the one and many from an entirely different direction are the large format photographs of Alexa Borromeo. Too Pussy for Trump features a series of  women whose naked bodies provide the canvas for provocative statements on gender and race.  Here, once again, societal assumptions are projected onto women’s bodies regardless of their human individuality–a cognitive dissonance that is highlighted in this funny and disturbing collection of images.

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From Too Pussy for Trump by Alexa Borromeo

Emergent Effect is particularly intriguing for the influences that the individual artists clearly exercise on  each other.  This talented group displays an emerging sense of shared esthetic interests and some through-lines emerge. I notice in particular a growing emphasis on excellence in craftsmanship, an allegiance to the  authenticity of materials and  an apparent appetite for repetitious cumulative labor characteristic of natural forms  but  married to industrial components and processes. Ypsi Alloys Studios continues to develop as an art collective with gifted individual members and a growing sense of shared purpose in its collaborative projects. It will be interesting to see where they go next.

For more information on Ann Arbor At Center and the current exhibit Emergent Effect go here.

Leslie Sobel

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Lake Michigan Deep Blues by Leslie Sobel at WSG Gallery

Artist Leslie Sobel both loves nature and fears for it.  An avid hiker and outdoorswoman,  Sobel’s encaustic paintings, monoprints  and three dimensional  assemblage celebrate the mystery and majesty of nature while describing the effects of human-caused climate change. They are often based on personal observation of the landscape but can also be inspired by online aerial images of glaciers or maps of open territory at the poles.  One of Sobel’s great ambitions is to see the lands of the far north and Antarctica before they are forever changed by global warming.  “I am affected by solastalgia,” she says.  Sobel describes solastalgia as “nostalgia for a place one has never been and that is no longer there.”

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Spring Rain II

Three of Leslie Sobel’s encaustic paintings are on view now in Ann Arbor at WSG Gallery, as part of their 16+16 members invitational show, on  view until February 4.  All 3 works in the exhibit relate to a single transcendent moment Sobel experienced while hiking at the crest of the Sleeping Bear Dunes.  She and her companion were alone, a rare occurrence.  As she looked out over the brooding seascape of Lake Michigan and the clouds rolling above, Sobel had a profound sense of the small and temporary nature of human existence in the face of nature.  These somber thoughts inspired the creation of several encaustic paintings  which feature only the stormy sky and Lake Michigan,  separated by a distant horizon.

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Row of Pines by Leslie Sobel

In addition to these private meditations, Sobel does public commissioned artworks, most recently her downtown PowerArt Box. Based on her painting “Row of Pines”, it is one of several selected by online popular vote through Ann Arbor  Arts Alliance’s PowerArt Project.  The aim of the program is to install  reproductions of works  by Washtenaw County artists on power boxes throughout the city in order to add visual interest to the streetscape and to discourage tagging on utility boxes.  Phases 1 and 2 have been completed and now Phase 3 is in the planning stages.  The Arts Alliance is actively soliciting sponsors for individual power boxes. For more information go here.

Sobel’s interest in the natural environment has also led to her participation in numerous artist-in-residence programs in national parks, where she is often paired with scientists and naturalists working there.  She recounts with special pleasure a recent residency in Colorado’s  Canyon of the Nations National Monument, where she worked alongside archeologists, biologists, anthropologists and geologists.  “I was surprise how much these ruins tied in with my interest in climate change–the people who lived here didn’t die. They had to move because they had depleted and degraded  the local natural resources. When archeologists searched the middens (trash heaps) of the abandoned settlements, they found that earlier ones held the remains of deer and antelope, while the later ones had the bones of chipmunks and mice.”   In the later middens. they also encountered human remains showing signs of cannibalism, a grim reminder of true scarcity that led to their departure for points further to the southwest where it is believed  they  became the Hopi nation.

 

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Climate Change Game

 

In at least a partial fulfillment of her dream to see the far north and south latitudes before they are changed forever, Sobel is planning  an extended visit to the Yukon in 2017.  She will camp and create in Kluane National Park at the invitation of scientist and researcher Seth Campbell of the University of Maine. Like so many worthy projects, this is an unfunded labor of love; Sobel will be soliciting funds for the trip soon in a GoFundMe campaign. For more information about Leslie Sobel, go here.

Girlfriend Material

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Installation components from A Sucker for Jewelry

In Girlfriend Material, multimedia artist, writer and thinker Sarah Rose Sharp examines  the reductive archetypes that provide a distorting lens through which women are often viewed in American popular culture. She has gathered a small universe of cartoon females and set them up to play with and against each other, teasing out from these one-dimensional characters some three-dimensional thoughts on women and their place in the world.

A millennial feminist, Sharp is  aware that a multiplicity of roles are available to women but she also knows that female complexity and nuance are routinely flattened out and simplified in the popular imagination, the more easily to be consumed and digested.  And with the election of a known sexual predator and his cast of sexist cronies to the incoming U.S. administration, it looks as if Sharp’s observations are well calibrated to remain relevant for the foreseeable future.

“This show is a continuation of themes and ideas I’ve worked on for a very long time, but it’s been very much influenced by the recent climate surrounding the presidential election…we must really hate women for someone like Donald Trump to even have a chance, ” says Sharp in a recent Detroit Metro Times interview.

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The Bitch is [IN]
The artworks and installations in Girlfriend Material seem to say that a woman can be a bitch or a doormat, a sexpot or a smart girl,  a princess or a goddess, as long as she doesn’t exhibit the complexity of a real woman. Modern society likes its female role models bite-size.

Sharp has elected to use only pop figures such as Wonder Woman, Betty Boop, Princess Leia, Lucy and Lisa Simpson in Girlfriend Material. She has limited her materials to mass marketed objects such as Pez dispensers, key chains, novelty fabrics and the like, altering and collaging them together to create imaginative games and transactional installations. While many of the artworks are playful, there is an unmistakable  undercurrent of frustration in this work, and an underlying question about how a woman’s life is defined by herself and by others.

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Miss Overachiever (detail)

Miss Overachiever, represented here by a manikin wearing a girl scout/Lisa Simpson beret and a comically over-loaded merit badge sash, is the good girl, the nerdy smart girl who gets all A’s, but is judged by the surrounding  culture in terms that value appearance and popularity over achievement. Or as Sharp says in her statement “Where is the line between smart and too-smart-for-your-own-good?”

The Betting Pool, a circular “game”  with no start and no end, continues the theme of cultural stasis. The glassy surface features bodiless characters in kiddie cars bumping and shuffling against each other, their movement controlled by an unseen motivator that flies  overhead. Who “wins” is determined not by the players but  by gallery visitors who bet on the character they “like” the best.

The sexy but infantilized  Betty Boop in  A Sucker for Jewelry illustrates yet another kind of game that women are sometimes called upon to play with mixed success. Her 1930’s persona has been lovingly updated with tattoos and bondage gear.  (Sharp found the keychain figures in an alley and has not altered them.) Why objects like this even exist is a mystery to the artist–and to us–but she suspects that Betty Boop’s  child-like head on her sexpot body still has plenty of cultural resonance. “I didn’t make this stuff up,” she says, laughing.

It didn’t escape my attention that many of the artworks in Girlfriend Material had a monetary component.  While Sharp may be complaining about the paucity of complex roles available to women, she seems also to imply that any choice a woman makes  is likely to be poorly compensated. Women still earn only 80 cents on the dollar in 2015 as compared to men, and women in the arts are not doing any better (and possibly worse). To cite a common art world benchmark, in 2015 only 8% of the contemporary art for sale at auction was by women. It should be no surprise, then, that Princess Leia is crowdfunding her rescue at 25 cents a pop and Lucy is willing to empathize for a nickel. It’s the going rate.

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Double Wedding Ring

 

In Double Wedding Ring, Sharp finally attempts to synthesize all of the oversimplified traits displayed by her characters into a more  complex picture. The kaleidoscopic collection of images in the quilt, meeting and circling each other, insists that a woman can be sweet and bitchy, strong, smart and sexy and quite a few other things if the surrounding society will only give her a shot. And in other corners of the culture, especially in film and television, there seems to be some movement toward more complex female characters.  Television shows like Lena Dunham’s Girls and movies like In  A World (directed by Lake Bell)  and the recently released Certain Women (directed by Kelly Reichardt) are carving out cultural space for actual women telling actual stories. Comedians like Amy Schumer and Samantha Bee bring humor to the public discussion of feminism.

So there’s hope, even if recent political events might indicate otherwise. It should be noted that all of the films and television shows I listed above are written and/or directed by women. Maybe by the time women reach wage parity with men (in 2152 at current rates!) we can look forward to equal rights  in gender roles too.

Girlfriend Material is on view at Public Pool, in Hamtramck until December 17, 2016.  For more information go here

Projections: An Interactive Portrait Project

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“Interactive” is quite a buzzword in the art world these days, but what does it really mean?  The term suggests an expectation  of physical contact between gallery visitor and artwork. It also subtly implies that the mere act of contemplating a work of art isn’t enough to reach the public in this age of the internet and ever-shortening attention spans.

Andrei Rabodzeenko, though, is confident in the power of visual art to engage his audience. It is on this cerebral level that his work invites interaction.rh-rabodzeenko-portrait-2

The freestanding painted figures in Projections grab your attention and demand a response.  Rabodzeenko’s life-size, slickly painted portraits of his friends (and himself) define the boundaries of the space within which gallery visitors  must circle and observe.  There is an intentional roughness to the way the cut-outs are sited, provisionally propped up on wooden supports and sandbagged in place as if they were scenery in a theater.  Arranged in an informal installation throughout Toledo’s River House Gallery, these flat wooden portraits seem to imply some kind of in-the-round  theatrical performance of obscure significance.

Radzeenko, born in Kyrgyzstan but now living and working in Chicago, is first and foremost an accomplished painter, an art chameleon who can paint in any style. He mixes visual idioms for maximum effect, frequently combining several within one artwork.  In Projections, he seamlessly moves from virtuosic tromp l’oeil illusionism to  flat advertising illustration to religious icon painting.rh-rabodzeenko-selfportrait Whether they are engaging in some activity, or merely pausing on their way, the figures often look directly at you.  The artist offers no explanation for the choice of personal emblem (an out-size ginkgo leaf?  A backpack of musical symbols?) or activity. These are clearly portraits of real people, but in the absence of information about them you must invent your own narrative, as is the artist’s intent:

Our identities are an amalgam of ever-shifting and overlapping projections-we create projections of ourselves, our alter egos, and launch them into the world.  At the same time, the world projects its interpretations of us onto us.

Some figures are more mysteriously resonant than others. The black-suited self portrait in the middle of the gallery is especially successful. The roughness of the O.S.B. ground and the square piercing of the subject’s shirt add interest to the accomplished painting.  The direct and slightly sad gaze of the figure is reminiscent of the mood in Rembrandt’s self-portraits.

I also liked the portraits of  two men digging up (or burying?) treasure. The man on the right is focused on someone or something that is invisible, and raises his hand in warning (or greeting?) The kneeling figure on the left looks delighted at the cut-out blaze emanating from the treasure box before him.

Projections also includes a series of painted hangings which ring the gallery’s outside walls. Translucent outlines of male and female figures float weightlessly across the picture plane, intersecting but not interacting, platonic shadows of idealized humans. They are well executed but lack the specificity and bite of the three-dimensional work.

Rabodzeenko’s continuing confidence in the power of visual art to move us is evident in  Projections. His accomplished portrait figures invite visual engagement and convey an air of mystery that will linger in the minds of his audience long after they have left the gallery.

Projections: An Interactive Portrait Project by Andrei Rabodzeenko, is on view at River House Gallery in Toledo, Ohio, until January 7, 2017.  For more information about gallery hours go here.