All posts by K.A. Letts

K.A. Letts is a painter living and working in the metro Detroit area.

Climb: New Work by Meighen Jackson at Janice Charach Gallery

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Billow and Surge by Meighen Jackson, ink and various art papers on canvas

It’s fitting that Meighen Jackson’s solo exhibit Climb is located at the top of a flight of stairs.  Her paintings, drawings and paper constructions,  which fill and overflow the second floor space at Janice Charach Gallery through December 5, serve as declarations of her endurance and resilience in the face of life’s inevitable personal blows.

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Free,  ink and various kozo and vellum papers on canvas.

Jackson’s recent work marks a major transition in her art practice, with paintings and drawings that bring the human figure to center stage. In her recently completed series of 10 artworks referencing the figure, lined up along one wall of the gallery, she employs  an idiosyncratic process, layering and gluing  cut and torn colored art papers on canvas. She then over-paints the surface, and rips and cuts away the featureless white to reveal the vibrant hues underneath. The brutal physicality of her process yields a surprisingly lyrical result. Though she demonstrates her familiarity with the language of modern art history, metaphorically nodding to Henri Matisse’s paper cutouts and Francis Bacon’s fluid, curvy lines, Jackson has arrived at a means of expression that is uniquely her own,  a  seamless fusion of drawing,  collage and painting.

Also included in Climb are many works on paper that showcase her virtuosity, as she wields her brush in elegant calligraphic strokes. In her artist’s statement, Jackson pledges her allegiance to line or, as she puts it: “Lines that begin as solid, upstanding geometric citizens and end, like dying fireworks, in an explosion of dots and scratches.” The 23 black ink on paper drawings that rest in acetate sleeves at either end of the gallery are testaments  to Jackson’s creative fluidity and productivity as a draftsman.

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Installation, Climb Series, various art papers and ink on canvas

Ranging around the perimeter of the gallery, Jackson continues her ebullient way, painting the movement within waterfalls and cloud formations,  with intimations of a few naiads thrown in for good measure.  Bits of cut paper applied to the surfaces of the artworks are a consistent element  throughout the collection,  though they may perform different functions from one composition to the next. At times they form a loose grid that anchors the composition within the picture plane, at others they may indicate the atmospheric hue of a cloud or the motion of water crashing downhill. The constant from one piece to the next is her delight in the natural world.

Suspended within the oculus at the center of the gallery, several figurative paper constructions float, suspended. These three dimensional figures represent a new project for Jackson, and they seem to ride the air, like kites or sails. There are endless possibilities suggested by these first steps in a direction that the artist has only begun to explore.

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Climb, Installation, paper constructions

Meighen Jackson’s Climb allows us to observe the artist during her journey toward a destination that only she can see.  Her exploration of the infinite possibility within her creative practice can only grow as she sharpens her formal tools for the ascent to come.

 

 

 

 

Landlord Colors

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Brenda Goodman, Self Portraits #1, #3 and #,4 (foreground); Addie Langford, BR Blue/#1 /LU (background). Landlord Colors installation.

I recently reviewed Landlord Colors for New Art Examiner. It’s a comprehensive overview of Detroit artists in a global context at Cranbrook Museum of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. The exhibit advanced  a convincing argument that contemporary Detroit artists who have synthesized their unique, place-specific art from the substance of a distressed city have earned membership in an exclusive club of similarly inspired artists from around the world. To read the full review go here

 

Sorry…forgot!

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Spirit of Detroit by Marshall Fredericks

Subscribers to this blog might think that I’ve taken the summer off from writing about art in the Great Lakes region. But I haven’t, I swear!

I’ve written about experimental printmaker Takeshi Takahara, Ann Arbor painter Sarah Innes, Detroit artists Lester Johnson and the late Gilda Snowden, and about Detroit’s public art, past and present.

I just neglected to include links on this blog–so… sorry, I’ll try to do better going forward.

In its September edition, New Art Examiner will be printing my review of Landlord Colors at Cranbrook Museum of Art. I will be sure to alert you.

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Chair 4 by Gilda Snowden

The World To Come: Art in the Age of the Anthropocene

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Life of Objects by Mary Mattingly, 2013, chromogenic dye coupler print

I just wrote a review of this beautiful and devastating exhibit, now on view at the University of Michigan Museum of Art. It makes a powerful case for action on climate change, but will we respond? To read the full review, go here

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NSA tapped Fiber Optic Cable Landing Site, Miami Beach, Florida, USA, 2015, chromogenic print and mixed media on navigational chart

PCAP Art Show

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A Portrait of Prison by Christopher A. Levitt

I recently wrote a piece for Pulp Magazine about the 24th Annual Prison Creative Art Project Show, which opened last night at the University of Michigan’s Duderstadt Gallery. This year’s exhibit, which features 670 artworks by 574 artists from 26 Michigan facilities, is diverse both in subject matter and media. It will appeal to anyone who values art that demonstrates authenticity, raw talent, and personal commitment. Best of all, the exhibit provides a rare opportunity to connect people who are isolated from society, and a chance to support them and their work financially.

To read more, and to see a short video about the program go here 

 

Ecological Fiction and Hidden Ubiquity at the North Campus Research Center

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Insect costumes by Barrett Klein

I recently wrote a review of two related shows by  master draftsman and book artist Karen Anne Klein and her entomoartist (as he calls himself) son  Barrett Klein for Pulp Magazine.

To read more about the two shows (on view until May 3) go here

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Collaborative book project with 37 artists by Karen Anne and Barrett Klein (detail)

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

 

 

 

 

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.