All posts by K.A. Letts

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

Sean Bieri Writes a Review

Baby Haus (detail) by Sarah Rose Sharp, surrealist miniature, mixed media, from Life is But a Dream, reviewed by Sean Bieri

It’s no secret that competent arts writers are hard to find here in the Midwest. Ever since the internet gutted local print media, arts coverage has more or less disappeared from the pages of newspapers like The Detroit Free Press and Detroit News. Independent online culture websites like Hyperallergic and more locally, Detroit Art Review, AADL Pulp and New Art Examiner, have struggled to fill in the gaps with limited personnel and funding.

Finding a good arts writer is a real treasure hunt. (In my capacity as Great Lakes Editor for New Art Examiner I’m always looking.) So I was delighted to discover Sean Bieri, who has a good eye for art and a nice way with words.

Like most Detroit artists, Sean wears multiple hats. He is a co-founder and board member of Hatch Hamtramck, one of the best places to find up-and-coming artists in Detroit, and is also responsible for the design and restoration of Hamtramck Disneyland, an outsider art landmark. Somehow he has found the time to take on the job of writing the occasional art review for New Art Examiner.

You can read his first review on Life is But a Dream at Galerie Camille in Detroit for New Art Examiner here. I hope it is the first of many.

Singular Visions in Detroit

By now, everyone has heard of the Heidelberg Project, Tyree Guyton’s 30 year-long outdoor Motown installation of found objects and eccentrically painted houses, but few know about the many other idiosyncratic ongoing art installations that dot the Detroit landscape. A few endure as more-or-less permanent art projects that reflect their creators’ unique ideas of what art is for outside of the more conventional capitalist gallery system. I have profiled three of them in the current edition of New Art Examiner. You can read the story here

Hamtramck Disneyland, the imaginative outdoor installation by Dmytro Szylak, Ukrainian immigrant and GM factory worker
N’Kisi House, part of the MBAD Bead Museum installation and gallery at Grand River and West Grand Blvd. in Detroit, the creation of Olayami Dabls
The disorienting former kitchen in AndersRuhwald’s hipster fun house, Unit1 3583 Dubois.

Why Do I Delight: Kresge Eminent Artist Shirley Woodson at Detroit Artist Market

Green Vase Nocturnal for Toni Morrison, 2021, acrylic on canvas, photo: K.A. Letts

Shirley Woodson, recently named Kresge Eminent Artist for 2021, is the subject of a retrospective exhibit honoring her work and life at Detroit Artist Market. The exhibit will be on display until October 23. Woodson is an accomplished artist, a veteran educator, an avid collector; she has also been a mentor to countless young Detroit artists throughout her 60-year career. A monograph produced by the Kresge Foundation,  “A Palette for the People.” is now available at no charge in a print edition and for download. Woodson is also the recipient of a no-strings-attached $50,000 prize. To read my full review, go here

Michael Luchs 1938-2021

Michael Luchs, installation from Fictitious Character at MOCAD, 2018, photo courtesy of MOCAD

It seems like just yesterday I was referring to Michael Luchs in the present tense. Luchs, a prominent artist from the Cass Corridor movement in Detroit in the 1960’s and 70’s, and still active creatively in Detroit and beyond, had recently shown his new work at Simone DeSousa Gallery and Museum of Contemporary Art. And then he was gone. For the full text of my appreciation in New Art Examiner here

The Alchemist’s Dream at 20 North Gallery, Toledo

The Alchemist’s Dream, a three-person exhibit of work by metalsmith Tom Muir, ceramicist Tom Marino …and me, K.A. Letts, will open tomorrow night at 20 North Gallery in Toledo. The exhibit will be on view until December 24.

I’m delighted to be showing my work alongside these two distinguished artists. For more information about our work, gallery location and hours, go here

Primavera, by K.A. Letts, 2021, acrylic on paper, 38″ x 50″
Crucible Series: Silver Spill by Tom Marino
Twin Risers, by Tom Muir
Origin Story, by K.A. Letts, 2021, acrylic on paper, 38″ x 50″

Chuck Mintz at Crooked Tree Art Center

My photographer friend, Chuck Mintz will be exhibiting his photographs of the Lustron Houses–and the people who live in them–at the Crooked Tree Art Center in Traverse City until November 13. The Lustron houses were pre-fabricated, enameled steel houses developed in the post-World War II era in the U.S. in response to the shortage of homes for returning G.I.s. There are still some around. Chuck has focused on the current inhabitants and the changes they have made over the years.

Chuck will be making an online presentation October 22 between 10 and 11 a.m. EDT. For more information go here.

And bonus! Crooked Tree Art Center is selling copies of his book, Lustron Stories. Might be time to make a trip Up North.

A Three-fer at River House Arts

Diamond Lips, by Crystal Miller, 2021, acrylic on canvas, gems, glitter, 20″ x 30″ photo courtesy of River House Arts

Or maybe it’s a five-fer… anyhow, until October 1, visitors to River House Arts in Toledo’s Secor Arts Building can see work by three young painters from Cleveland in the ground floor space, while on the building’s second floor a collection of intriguing objects by a young glass artist from Bowling Green State University lurk. As if that weren’t enough, some small nocturnal landscapes by yet another accomplished BGSU graduate occupy the gallery on floor 6. Any one of these shows is worth a trip to Toledo.

Waking Dream

Portraiture is having a moment these days, especially among young Black artists who are busily inserting themselves into the contemporary art conversation through figurative painting. This small group show, Waking Dream, provides two current students and one recent B.F.A. from the Cleveland Institute of Art with space to examine the contradictions inherent in our societal ideas of beauty, race, gender and femininity.

Eruwesi Archer’s paintings aim to disorient and provoke, and they do. Verging on caricature, Archer’s acid toned, oversize subjects confront with us with questions and propositions and observations about the world as they find it.

Portrait of the Disoriented, by Ewuresi Archer, 2021, acrylic on canvas, 30″ x 20″ photo courtesy of River House Arts

Samantha Schneider (B.F.A. 2021) paints larger-than-life pictures of young women in exaggerated cinematic colors reminiscent of sci-fi movie stills, and Crystal Miller embellishes her neon-colored beauties with craft materials like yarn, rhinestones, beads and foam, evocations of not only of how a young Black woman looks, but how she feels.

Firefly, by Samantha Schneider, 2021, oil on canvas, 36″ x 60″ photo courtesy of River House Arts

Ritual Relations

British artist Theo Brooks (BGSU M.F.A. 2021) has created a collection of sculptural glass artworks that present an exotic past–or future– through ritual objects from the artist’s imagination that reference his Cypriot heritage.

Ritual Relations, by Theo Brooks, installation in second floor gallery, photo by K.A. Letts

Lawn

On the sixth floor of the building, Amber Koprin (BGSU M.F.A. 2020) delivers some low key, voyeuristic thrills with her tiny, exquisite nocturnal views of deserted suburban scenes.

A Sweeping Shadow, by Amber Koprin, 2021, gouache on paper, 4″ x 4″, photo by K.A. Letts

For more information about the artists and gallery hours, go here.

Best Times at David Klein Gallery, Detroit

Well, here we are in the “summer of uncertain vibes.” It’s not the summer we were hoping for, with masks discarded and indoor dining routine. The pandemic has decided it isn’t quite finished with us yet, but there’s still art out there to see in Detroit.

The folks at David Klein Gallery are taking a glass-half-full attitude to our current predicament, with a colorful and energetic exhibit of work by seven resolutely upbeat artists. Best Times might relieve your Covid anxiety, at least temporarily. The show is on view until August 28, and you can read my full review here.

Toledo Shows this month

Is it just me , or are there more shows to see this month than usual? This is AUGUST people! Aren’t we supposed to be on vacation?? It must be pent-up demand from the pandemic.

There a couple of interesting shows in Toledo right now in case you, also, have a pent-up desire to get back out there:

Not Enough by Jessica Tenbusch, 2021, colored pencil and acrylic paint on toned paper, 24 x 18 inches.

Jessica Tenbusch has a solo show at River House Arts through August 22nd. Tenbusch has always been a superb craftsman, and she has lately turned her hand (literally) to finely detailed drawings. The fifteen artworks in the show are extravagant technical feats of draftsmanship, colored pencil and acrylic on paper. The nine medium to small-size pictures of domestic flowers and birds, bisected by thin lines of obscure provenance, have a distinctly mid-century, retro feel due to color choice and the toned paper upon which they are executed. Nostalgia seems to be an animating force for these as evidenced by the titles: Suburban Springs and Floral I (My Father’s Flowers) to name just a couple. There is also a tasty suite of six 4″ x 4″ pencil drawings of anchovies, most of which were already sold when I visited the gallery. to see more go here.

Barcelona by Jonathan Ralston, 2013, oil on canvas, 16″ x 20″

At 20 North Gallery, an artist who is new to me, Jonathan Ralston, is showing a collection of paintings entitled Shadows and Enlightenment through September 25th. Light and loss characterize the notably uninhabited spaces in the artist’s vision, particularly the low, warm light of late afternoon and the textures of ruined architecture. The masonry features appear to be mostly European. None of that gritty American urban decay here; the mood is decidedly romantic. To read more go here.

Reviews in this Quarter’s New Art Examiner: Justin Marshall, Rachel Pontious, Carole Harris

Flowers for Breonna by Carole Harris, 2020, mulberry paper, threads, fabrics, 19″ x 21.5 photo courtesy Hill Gallery

The next issue of New Art Examiner has just gone to press. This time around, I wrote three reviews of Detroit artists. Justin Marshall and Rachel Pontious, both painters, are fairly young and their work, to me, showed signs of the trauma they have endured during the pandemic. Carole Harris, a more established artist, seems to have sailed through the past year, producing a body of work that shows that, at this point, she can really do no wrong. You can read my review of her solo show at Hill Gallery here.

You can read my review of Rachel Pontious’s solo show Mise en Abyme at Playground Detroit here.

You can read my review of Justin Marshall’s solo show The End at Public Pool here.