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
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Participating artists: Callie Nazzpuller, Dominique Chastenet de Géry, öïö, Brian Spolans, Marianetta Porter, Leslie Sheryl, Kate Hanley, K.A. Letts, Erin Case, Ingrid Tietz, Renee Rials, Leanna Hicks, Jennifer Belair(Jennifer Belair Sakarian), Catheryn Amidei, Jessica Tenbusch, Sharon Que, Sarah Swarz(Sarah C. Blanchette), Michael Ross(Mike Ross), Nicki Szydlo, Parisa Ghaderi/Ebrahim Soltani, Donna Shipman, Michael E. O’Reilly, Jill Eggers, Tali Morgolin, Jeffrey Bowman, Caryn Bopp, Kelly Burke, Adrian Deva, Molly Diana, Marceline Mason, Meagan Shein, Alison Franco, Melis Agabigum, Kidané A’der Jhons, Paula Marie Deubel PMari. Anna van Schaap has also created a piece specifically for the event.
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!
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.”
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.
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
Pretty Queer, a provocative summer exhibit at River House Arts, closed on August 5 but lingers in the memory as a thoughtful echo of one of contemporary art’s most vexed and vexing preoccupations. The artists in Pretty Queer want us to know that gender identity and gender normativity are far more thorny and ambiguous subjects than we thought, and there are as many shades of sexuality as there are humans to express them.
Over the last fifty years, the issue of alternative gender and sexual identity has taken the foreground in public discussion of how people love, present themselves and interact with the broader culture. The spectrum represented by the initials LGBTQ has fractured, with distinctions increasingly finely sliced and diced, atomized and reconstituted. Pretty Queer is an effort to quantify and enumerate some of these distinctions as they exist now, in this historical moment.
Pretty Queer’s premise is anchored in the exhibit by a work of the late David Wojnarowicz, an art polemicist who is enjoying a moment in the art world now that contemporary concerns with gender identity have caught up with his pioneering AIDS activism. The serigraph, Fire and Water (1990), projects a sense of dislocation and peril, multiple images of a confrontational pugilist overlaid by a grinning red devil. (Wojnarowicz is currently the subject of a retrospective at the Whitney Museum, David Wojnarowicz: History Keeps Me Up at Night.)
The works in Pretty Queer are characterized by a desire to act out and a countervailing compulsion to conceal which might be a core of the queer aesthetic, described by academic sex researcher Iain Morland as “the sensory interrelation of pleasure and shame.” A number of the works in the show address the artists’ compulsion to show themselves as they are, accompanied by a pervasive sense of discomfort in this self-exposure.
Troy Hoffman has nailed this ambivalence with two digital prints. The first is a small, lush close-up of what appears to be a bed of roses, the centers of which turn out to be human anuses. It’s comic, pretty and deeply disturbing. It’s unclear to me what he means by his other entry, a digital collage of a sado-masochistic dog mask on a female human, overlaid by fragmented black and white images of policemen, but it’s one of those images that, once you’ve seen it, you can’t un-see it.
Fiber artist John Paul Morabito has taken a more reticent approach. His woven pieces Frottage 052 and 049, are woven tapestries that at first appear to be elegantly minimalist until (upon close inspection) ghostly images of genitals become visible.
Several of the artists in Pretty Queer have chosen kitsch imagery and objects to describe their response to received gender norms. Robert Fitzgerald’s Boys wear Blue is an example: A set of three deceptively demure boxes contain reproductions of 18th century china figurines in the act of “performing” masculinity and femininity within the confines of a box (could his meaning be any more transparent?) By adding a small mirror in each box, the artist invites the viewer to place him/her/their self in relationship to given norms of gender behavior. Atop and outside the top box, a china figurine rests, his back turned in a gesture of rejection.
Across the room, Zachariah Szabo returns to the subject of kitsch as a received view of norms, turning the concept on its head with irony and humor. The ultra-adorable china figurine in Pink Planter seems to say “ You want cute? I’ll give you cute!” It calls to mind pieces by Jeff Koons (Balloon Dog, anyone?) but with a sharper satirical edge. Colton Clifford’s digital print of two identical, stereo-typically feminine figures surrounded by flowers and formally arranged and constrained within an under-scale dollhouse continues and amplifies the critique on received gender norms.
Perhaps the most comprehensive and ambitious exploration of queer/gender issues is the large, mixed-media montage by Rowan Renee. Part memoir, part political polemic, the installation recounts a dispute over ownership of nude photographs of the artist with their then-partner and now-adversary, set against a backdrop of gender transition. In a statement, Renee describes their method: “My labor-intensive process centers on the obsessive act of material transfiguration to recast a relationship I am ashamed of into the pleasure of artistic production.”
Pretty Queer, in my opinion, does a good job of placing us within the discourse on gender and sexuality in 2018. The question that comes to mind, though, is what will this discussion look like in 2028? Or 3028? It seems clear that we are in the midst of an evolution that is headed for parts unknown, but one hopes it will get us to a future where equality and respect for difference prevail, when we can be content to merely call ourselves human.
For more information about Pretty Queer and Contemporary Art Toledo visit https://www.catoledo.org/pretty-queer . Artist/arts blogger Loraine Lynn has written a thoughtful review of Pretty Queer which you can access here