All posts by K.A. Letts

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

Cake at River House Arts

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Flesh Cake by Alli Hoag, glass, mixed media

Paula Baldoni can hardly believe that the tenth birthday of her Toledo gallery, River House Arts, is coming up, but she’s ready to celebrate. “The ten years have flown by. If you had just asked me, I’d have said it was 5,” she says.

Baldoni recalls opening her first exhibition space in Perrysburg in 2009 in an unused portion of her photographer husband Bill Jordan’s studio. She opened the gallery because she observed that many Toledo artists with international reputations had no place to show their work locally. She says, “I knew that there were artists living in the area and working here, but who didn’t have a place to show their work.  They were showing in Europe and Asia–everywhere but home.” She adds, “We thought that if we could make our mark during the worst part of the Great Recession, then maybe we had something.”

A decade later, River House Arts has found a new, more spacious venue in the historic Secor Building in downtown Toledo. Baldoni has expanded from her original main floor gallery to fill several new exhibition spaces in the newly renovated structure, filling those spaces with art from Toledo and beyond. And in 2020, Contemporary Art Toledo, a non-profit arts organization that she founded in partnership with Brian Carpenter, an artist and professor of art at University of Toledo, will open the doors to its new gallery for the first time. She gives ample credit for the expansion to building owner Jim Zaleski. “He did a lot of work on the new space–he’s been extremely generous. We would not be doing what we’re doing if it wasn’t for Jim Zaleski,” she says.

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Bloom, by Katy Richards, oil on panel

Reflecting on the past ten years, Baldoni describes herself as a hunter gatherer of artists’ private obsessions, which she then introduces to the larger Toledo arts audience. “There has to be a place to show cutting edge and experimental work.  The more people become accustomed to seeing contemporary art, art that they don’t have to imagine having in their living rooms, the more they are open to other [new] ideas.”

Baldoni views the upcoming 10-year milestone at River House Arts as a birthday celebration for a ten-year-old child. The exhibit, entitled Cake, though it coincides with the anniversary, is not intended to be a dignified affair. It’s meant to be “a show of fun, light work (with possibly a dark side because we don’t know how to do it without having a dark side). It will be light with depth…much like a cake!” She promises clouds and butterflies, mixing bowls, rugs and plates in media from glass to painting to fiber and neon. Artists will include Joanna Manousis, Boryana Rusenova-Ina, Loraine Lynn, Alli Hoag, Madhurima Ganguly, Katy Richards, Crystal Phelps and more. Cake will be on view at River House Arts from Nov. 21 through January 19.

When asked about lessons learned from past experiences and plans for the future, Baldoni responds, “The trajectory of a gallery is the same as that of an artist–you have highs and lows, good times and bad times.  We are really not that different, we have the same struggles. This is such a crazy business, and it’s not even a business, it’s a life.” She continues, ”I think I’ve hit my stride. I still have goals [for the future]. I want to continue to show work by emerging artists, promoting them to a broader audience. As we move forward one of the opportunities we’re looking at for artists is working more with businesses, both in terms of bringing corporate people in to see our collection and to see the shows we have here and also introducing artwork to go to their locations. She finishes, “I’m still committed to glass [as a medium] and to showing glass work that we don’t normally see, like the work we recently showed in JB Squared, by Brooklyn glass artists Jane Bruce and John Brekke.”

But in the future, she adds, “There must also be cake!”

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Bent Skies,  by Boryana Rusenova-Ina, oil on linen

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.