Tag Archives: art exhibit

Unwelcome Guest

Ann Arbor artist Valerie Mann has invited you to a cocktail party.

Attractive young women in tasteful jewel-toned taffeta gowns carry demure evening clutches and make polite chitchat. “This is fun!” you think. But then you take a closer look.

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Three Clutches by Valerie Mann

There is gun violence-a lot of it- at this party too. Each chic vintage cocktail dress in this installation at WSG Gallery has been carefully embroidered with images of the specific  guns employed in recent U.S. mass shootings. The accompanying Lucite handbags–upon which drawings of guns are etched–give new meaning to the term “open carry”.

In Gun Show, Mann has served up a disturbing series of meticulously created objects that invite us to re-think why it is that guns and gun violence have become part of the background noise of American civic life.  The artist herself seems puzzled by her juxtaposition of the conventionally pretty and the unspeakable:

“It seemed much easier before I started the making process.  I don’t mean the actual, physical making of the work was so taxing to figure out, I mean it has been psychologically difficult.”

Using her sewing machine as a drawing tool, Mann has embroidered Sig Sauer MCX 223 rifles, Bushmaster semi-automatics and Glock 21.45 semi-automatic rifles on party dresses to commemorate the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting (Dance all Night), The Newtown Connecticut massacre (Big Guns Little People), the Charleston S.C. church shootings (Sunday Best). The specificity of each image adds bite to the social commentary.

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Dance All Night (Orlando Pulse Nightclub)

The embroidered and etched firearms are carefully, one might almost say lovingly, crafted.  Luxury materials — Lucite, silk, gold leaf — invite touch even as the image repels.  Mann admits to the intrinsic and self-contradictory attraction of the gun:

“I shocked myself when, after many drawings of guns, I admitted how sexy they were.”

She acknowledges that gun violence became more and more difficult to address clearly as she  researched the interlocking motives and conditions that result in specific atrocities: mental illness, racism, terrorism and lax gun ownership laws, to name a few.

The idea for Gun Show came to Mann some time ago, when she first heard about the Columbine shootings. This was the first time, she said, “where children were the shooters AND the victims, and when I first felt that the adults of society had really let down the next generation.  We’ve let them down because of our unwillingness to talk about difficult things in a rational way, or to compromise.”

Art works, even very provocative ones,  don’t have the power to change public policy directly.  But they are  not nothing either.  Changing minds takes time and sustained attention and ultimately, political action. Valerie Mann has taken a courageous first step by bringing up  the subject of gun violence in the polite environs of an art gallery. It is the  responsibility of her audience to care enough to do something about it in the political arena.

Have you seen Gun Show? Would you wear a dress with guns on it?  I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

Gun Show is on view at WSG Gallery from now until September 10.  For more information about WSG Gallery go here

 

 

 

 

 

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Re: Formation Part 1

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Radical Series 1-6 by Dan Hernandez

When Rocco DePietro and Gloria Pritschett of Gallery Project began planning for the  comprehensive dual site art exhibit Re: Formation, now on view through August 31, 2016 in Toledo’s One Erie Center, they  felt as if “something had shifted” since last year’s exhibit Wish List in the same location.

“We saw that a tipping point had been reached, and artists were beginning to speak out and push back,” said Pritschett.

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American Creed by Dana DePew

By  addressing some of the most pressing issues facing the region — environmental degradation, infrastructure failure, the crisis in social and racial justice– regional artists are expressing a new mood of activism that reflects their  unease with the status quo.  The artists of Re: Formation (over 50 of them) seem eager to address the current troubled state of the nation in the most direct terms.

“Our humanity is being tested” says Rocco DePietro,   “Unless we say something, we are all complicit.”

The cavernous space at One Erie Center in Toledo, with its two rose windows, filtered light  and massive pillars, resembles a cathedral, lacking only a cruciform floor plan to complete  the devotional effect of a sacred space.   There are “side chapels”  edging the exterior walls of the former department store in the form of display windows. Toledo artist Yusuf Lateef (in collaboration with Kevin Gilmore, Daren Mac and James Dickerson) has even supplied a confessional of sorts with his installation/performance called The Reconditioning. Individuals  at the opening on August 5, were  invited to sit in one-on-one booths facing young men of color, who made direct eye contact and recited a litany beginning, “I am not your enemy, I am your Brother.” The performance was powerful and left many in tears.

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Sakineh, Shirin by Sheida Soleimani

 

The artworks that benefit most from the enormous space and filtered daylight at One Erie Place are large, strongly graphic artworks, installations,  videos and performance. In Toledo artist Dan Hernandez’s Radical Series 1-6,  impressively scaled and domineering war machines rumble along the walls. Also large in size and impressive in impact are two soft sculptures of suffering Islamic women by Sheida Soleimani (Cranston, RI), with accompanying archival inkjet prints on the same subject.

Installations such as Detroit’s Julianne Lindsay and Elton Monroy Duran’s  Del Ray Project and Flint artist Desiree Duell’s  Bodies of Water address a theme which appropriately dominates the consciousness of Great Lakes regional artists: water, its availability, its contamination, its infrastructure.  There are too many to artworks addressing this theme to name them all, but I particularly liked 189 Hydrants by John James Anderson of Saline, MI.  These are small photographs of broken water hydrants arranged in a grid. It tells the story of crumbling infrastructure with matter-of-fact but devastating eloquence.  I was also struck by Detroit Raizup Collective’s video Water Shut-off During Ramadan, which is both  an artwork and a sociological case study of  citizens and city personnel working at cross-purposes despite the best intentions.

Some of the more intimate art works in Re: Formation seemed to me to be swamped by the larger, kinetic videos and installations.  They suffer, as well, from the relatively subdued lighting.  These quieter pieces are likely to enjoy a more compatible environment when the show is re-installed in the Ann Arbor Arbor Art Center’s 117 Gallery.  For now, installations, videos and large scale works in the Toledo location supply more than enough reasons to make the trip to Re:Formation.

Re: Formation contains multitudes and I am glad I will have the opportunity to write more about some of the works when they are installed in Ann Arbor’s Gallery 117 in September. For more information about hours and dates for Re: Formation in Toledo, go here

Have you seen the exhibit?  Did you have a favorite piece?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Detroit Gallery Crawl #1

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There’s been some discussion online lately about the state of the art scene in Detroit. Is it healthy?  Has it reached “critical mass”? Where are the collectors? I don’t know how other artists and art lovers define a successful art ecosystem, but to me it revolves around whether you can walk from gallery to gallery for a full day and see art.  I decided to test this theory by doing a Detroit gallery crawl. And yes, it is possible to walk from one gallery to another in the city’s midtown, downtown and Eastern Market neighborhoods and see lots of art in a day.  Although you’d better wear some comfortable shoes, since this crawl was about 6 miles long.

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My crawl companion and I started in the midtown area with Gallery Camille’s Intersection where two of Detroit’s curatorial heavy hitters are showing their artworks. Jeff Bourgeau, artist and art world provocateur, is the power behind the Museum of New Art, artCORE and the Detroit Center for Contemporary Photography. Matt Eaton is the director/curator of Red Bull House of Art and a founding partner  of Library Street Collective. Bourgeau claims to have “digitally eaten the brains and guts of the first hundred years of abstraction” and it shows here in these smoothly rendered digital prints on canvas whose ovoid forms  recall  Jules Olitsky. Eaton’s paintings, while equally appealing, seem to be arrived at more  provisionally through painting techniques commonly associated with street art. Paint is thickly applied to the surface, sprayed, dripped and poured. This is a satisfying show of two talented artists working at a high level, and (even better) the  artworks are amazingly affordable.

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From Camille we put our heads into nearby Simone DeSousa’s opening of EDITION, a companion to her  more traditional space next door.  There is plenty to like in this new approach, which offers reasonably priced limited editions of works on paper, ceramics,  art books and housewares. I particularly liked a series  of (very) limited edition silk screen prints by Wes Taylor of the experimental Detroit design studio Talking Dolls.

The area near Simone DeSousa also features a number of upscale retail stores specializing in designer objects. In  Hugh I stumbled upon a line of cocktail mixers cooked up by Steven and Dorota Coy of Hygienic Dress League in cooperation with Joe McClure of McClure’s Pickles in Hamtramck.   Right next door is Nora, which carries hand made gold jewelry and a whole lot of other cool stuff. Then we headed for Eastern Market

One of the great pleasures of walking from gallery to gallery in Detroit is that lots of great wall painting is right out there on the street.  Eastern Market is awash with murals, many created during last year’s event Murals in the Market.  The second iteration of this  highly successful project is due this September and  will add another 50 works. The show at  Inner State Gallery , Inertia, features three artists from last year’s event.  Jarus, a street artist from Toronto, seems the most comfortable in a traditional gallery which plays to his considerable skills as a draftsman. His fellow Canadian Kwest has a misfire with his aimless and desultory  bas relief panels. David “Persue” Ross of New York  performs in his signature style with smaller scale works. From this aptly named  show it appears that a traditional  gallery isn’t necessarily the best setting for artists used to working outdoors  on a large scale where the grittiness of the streetscape adds energy and verve. All of these artists have better work in the neighborhood outdoors.

We were disappointed that  Wasserman Projects was closed for installation, but you can read a review of their previous show  here. Red Bull House of Art was also closed for installation, so we proceeded to downtown and the next galleries on our crawl list.

On our way we ran into a little street theater and audience development project being conducted  by John Dunivant, creator of Theater Bizarre, a  party/performance piece held yearly in the Masonic Temple around Halloween.  The way he described it, Theater Bizarre sounds exotic, entertaining, unwholesome and irresistable.  He also said cheerfully “It’s the worst business model ever,” due to the labor intensive, immersive nature of the event.

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Our crawl continued to The Belt, “a culturally redefined alley in the heart of downtown Detroit.”  The Belt is full of street art  as practiced by some of its most  famous and accomplished practitioners and curated by the nearby Library Street Collective. I particularly liked Scratching the Surface by VHILS (Portuguese artist Alexandre Farto) and Facet by Tiff Massey, a Detroit sculptor. The Library Street Collective (which, by the way, is not a collective) currently features  banal, overpriced and dispiriting paintings by 70’s graffiti artist Futura (formerly Futura 2000).crawl 15

We perked up, though, when we entered nearby David Klein Gallery, a Detroit outpost of the space by the same name in suburban Birmingham MI. We were greeted at the door by  Revelator to the Diasporic Subterranean Homesick, a terrific plaster, burlap and plywood sculpture by Ebitenyefa Baralaye.  Also impressive were some scrimshawed panels by David Sengbusch and colorful small collages by Liz Cohen.  We were delighted to find two small pictures by noted African American artist Beverly Buchanan in the back room and happy to hear that more of her work will be shown in the fall at the gallery.

We completed our loop tour by walking back to the midtown area, stopping to rest our feet and get a bite at Cass Café, a restaurant and neighborhood gathering place that doubles as a gallery.  Here we saw Writings on the Wall, a one-person show by Vagner M. Whitehead featuring multi-part panels on which the artist has collaged and painted the imagery of verbal communication: hand signals, braille, letters and the like.

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Our last stop (finally!) was at the George N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, where the launch party for Essay’d was well underway.  Essay’d, the brainchild of gallerist Steve Panton of 9338 Campau in Hamtramck, is a series of long form essays about artists of note in Detroit. The first collection in this annual series will be coming out in book form in August from Wayne State University Press and can be pre-ordered here.  The diverse exhibit  currently at N’Namdi features works by recently reviewed Essay’d artists and defies easy description, but I did particularly  like  Alexander Buzzalini’s rude cowboys and  and Carl Demulenaere’s unearthly pre-Raphaelite inspired icons.

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So we’ve come to the end of our little walking tour, and it seems to me that the answer to the question of whether the Detroit art scene is healthy and whether it has reached critical mass  is a big “yes“.  We saw a full day’s worth of great artworks both on and off the street. And in the galleries we visited there is lots of beautiful and  accomplished art priced between $300-$2000 that is just waiting to be snatched up by savvy collectors. It’s only a matter of time before the rest of the art buying public discovers Detroit, so local collectors  should be out there  buying now before we are priced out of the market.  Writer Patrick Dunn has written an excellent piece about the Detroit art scene recently, and you can read it here.

Want to take our gallery walking tour? Go here

 

 

Re-imagining the Art Gallery

 

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Steel Skin 2016 by George Rahme

 

Usually when I walk into a contemporary art gallery, I expect to see a clean white space with curatorially approved artworks tastefully displayed and carefully lit.  So I found my visit to The Other Limits at Popps Packing last week a disorienting experience at first.  The exhibit illustrates how the gallery model in Detroit is evolving to allow a more experimental approach to showing, thinking and talking about art. Popps Packing is a rough and intimate space, open at irregular hours. The lighting is ad hoc. Two big, friendly black dogs lounging on their beds in the gallery add  a feeling of domesticity. The  grand piano and what, at first, seem to be random objects strewn about, suggest a party about to begin or just concluded.  On the day I visited, the back room of the gallery was occupied by several artists-in-residence from Germany, working furiously at their own projects. I could see I was in for a different kind of experience from what I had been conditioned to expect.

The gallery’s exhibit space is currently given over to the work of long-time friends and artists George Rahme and Chris McGraw. This is the latest in several exhibitions they have mounted together in the ten years since they graduated from Detroit’s College of Creative Studies. The two  feel very close in their life circumstances and in their art.  The pieces are conceived individually, but installed so as to resonate visually and thematically with each other. The result isn’t exactly collaboration but rather symbiosis.

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Installation by George Rahme and Chris McGraw

Georg Rahme  was on hand to talk to us, which made our visit feel more like a studio consult and less like a gallery exhibition. He described how his earlier work, a tumultuous phantasmagoria of painted figures collected from both pop and fine art sources, has given way to work that features a single central image. It appears at first to be an explosion, but is in reality a photographic image of sparking from a factory floor with the surrounding visuals carefully cut away. In this way he honors the past labor of Hamtramck’s factory workers with whom he shares a common Lebanese heritage. Rahme, like many Detroit artists, has a reverence for work, both in the productive  labor of manufacturing/making and in his own creative process.  This is evident in his choice of rich backing materials and in his appetite for intricate detail.  He uses velvets,  jacquard tapestry or reflective luxury fabrics as grounds for his pieces, these made especially meaningful by their provenance as gifts from individuals in the Hamtramck community.  In spite of the explosive imagery, these pieces are devotional and meditative.

Chris MacGraw seems to feel markedly less commitment to the physical act of making art; he contents himself with  gathering and curating found objects. He depends upon their innate poignancy and nostalgia status to engender meaning and emotion in the mind of the viewer. Two of his more successful efforts are provisionally assembled, slightly comic stand-ins for human figures, one of which could be a kind of homeless Mary Poppins, and the other a ghostly column of cloth and styrofoam. But an artist who depends for his inspiration on the collection and curation of found objects to create successful art needs a very high level of judgement and a keen understanding of the intrinsic emotional content of any given object, something McGraw achieves only in fits and starts. 

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objects curated by Chris McGraw

A visit to Popp’s Packing is a reminder that in life and in art the only constant is change.  What we know as the classic contemporary art gallery,  part temple of culture,  part gift shop,  is only the most recent iteration of a type of cultural institution that stretches back to the late 17th century when the Paris Salon became the first central commercial gathering place for art and the public. There are some very successful examples of the more traditional art gallery in Detroit now (Wasserman Projects, Gallery Camille, Simone DeSousa being only three of many), but the Popps Packing model of exhibition seems to be a thoughtful response to conditions on the ground in Detroit and a useful addition. Maybe what we need most right now is a forum for charting the way forward as a creative community and an opportunity for artists to think out loud in dialog with the art-going public about the direction and content of their work.

For more about Popps Packing go here:

NOWOH Call for Art

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The Northwest Ohio (NowOH) Community Art Exhibition is looking for Ohio artists to participate in its annual comprehensive survey of regional artwork to be held July 15 – July 30, at the Fine Arts Center Galleries of Bowling Green State  University, Bowling Green OH 43403.  NowOH  supports regional artists by providing a yearly opportunity to display work in a professional gallery setting. Ohio artists living in the following Ohio counties are eligible to participate: Defiance, Erie, Fulton, Hancock, Henry, Lucas, Ottawa, Paulding, Sandusky, Seneca, Williams and Wood. The exhibition is open to work in a variety of media  with awards presented in several categories.

The juror for this year’s NowOH exhibit is Detroit-based writer, activist, photographer and multimedia artist Sarah Rose Sharp. Sharp writes about art and culture for Art in AmericaHyperallergicFlashArtKnight Arts, and others. In 2015, she was named a  Kresge Literary Arts Fellow for Arts Criticism and was a 2016 participant in the Art Writer’s Grant Mentorship Program.

All work submitted that meets the requirements in the Prospectus  will be included in the show.

There is a small entry fee of $15  for artists 16-18, $30 for artists 19 and up.

Deadline for entry is July 1

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Installation detail,  NowOH 2015

 

 

Hot Spot in the Glass City

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Picture Block by Steffen Dam

Blown, cast, cut, colored or clear, opaque or translucent, artworks made from glass have a seductive quality that is hard to resist. Hot Spot: Contemporary Glass from Private Collections, marks the tenth anniversary of the Toledo Museum of Art’s Glass Pavilion. The exhibit, on view now through September 18, includes more than 80 works, many of which are promised gifts to the museum.

Glass, in industry and in art, has a particularly symbiotic relationship with Toledo. When  Edward Drummond Libbey moved his family-owned business, New England Glass Works, from Massachusetts to Ohio in 1888, he brought the technical expertise that would make Toledo a center for manufactured glass, first as tableware and then as a producer of electric lights, automobile parts and building materials.  Libbey was also one of the co-founders in 1901 of the Toledo Museum of Art and its most important benefactor. Along with initial funds donated for building the museum, Libbey remained a major donor until his death in 1925,  after which Florence Scott Libbey continued to give generously to the museum.  In 1962, The museum allowed a glass studio to be built in a garage on the museum grounds and with expert advice from glass makers at Libbey-Owens-Ford, the studio glass movement was born. In 1969, the Toledo Museum of Art became the first museum ever to create a glass studio to train artists in the use of glass as a medium.  In 2006, the Glass Pavilion, housing the glass studio and the museum’s extensive glass collection, was built.

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Polar Bear Vessel by Dan Dailey

From my walk through Hot Spot, it became clear to me  that glass is a protean medium, hard to pin down or to quantify. Some pieces are very focused on the impressive craft involved (Mantidi Cruising by Emanuel Toffalo), others are more conceptual in ambition (Point of View by Christopher Ries).   One of the great challenges in the installation is to create a sense of logic and organization from objects disparate in color, translucency, method, and most of all, in intent.  The curator has here chosen to group the artworks by category for clarification (Built Environment, Natural World, Human Figure and the like) but it seemed to me that the objects could have just as easily been organized by color, type of glass technique employed or source of the piece (I found I liked the works collected by  Margy and Scott Trumbull the most).

The general effect of the exhibit is  a bit diffuse. The space itself has a kind of unfocused quality due to the wall-less, all-window architecture and the variously translucent or transparent qualities of much of the work. I seemed to be looking through things rather than at them much of the time. But in spite of these distractions, I liked some of the individual pieces very much. In particular I was delighted to find a large piece by  Steffen Dam, my favorite glass artist of all time.  His hybrid blown and hot-worked glass compositions  are a magical evocation of the natural world, at once matter-of -fact and ethereal. I also liked Light In by Ann Wolff, a cast glass piece which seemed to illustrate a body in motion over time.

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Teapot Sample with Lustre Bird by Richard Marquis

Some of the pieces were a bit too decorative to please and gave off a whiff of art fair whimsy,  but on the whole this is an impressive survey of fine art in a medium much beloved in the Glass City.

For more information about the exhibit go here

 

Stars. Comets. Gravitational Waves.

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50 Light Year Wide View, Star Birth and Death, by Eric Zeigler 44″ H x 91 W

In a week when human folly and violence are on full display, it can be  a relief to view our world through the wrong end of a telescope, reminding ourselves that we inhabit only a small and relatively unimportant corner of the cosmos.  Artist Eric Zeigler has made this possible and palatable in underlying, a handsomely curated collection of archival pigment prints from sources as diverse as the Hubble Space Telescope and Fermilab’s particle accelerator. The show, which is on view from now through July 30 at River House Gallery in Toledo, Ohio, is an exploration of images made possible by our ever increasing technological means of perception.

In underlying, Zeigler casts his photographer’s curious gaze over the universe, examining everything from a minute and rare instance of  subatomic neutrino interaction to a star’s birth and death. Since the artist must rely (mostly) on images gathered from public sources, the essence of his unique work lies in his editing choices, framing, print color and scale. He has captured a few images directly, such as his  Meteorite, a slice of which he has photographed.  But I’m aware even as I write this that I am making a false distinction, because like all photographers, Zeigler’s considerable talent is in his eye and mind, translated through the technological devices that capture visual information, no matter how rudimentary or advanced.

Zeigler describes his wonder at seeing for the first time in 2015 a clear image of Pluto, previously visible only as a “several pixel-wide blur”.   He marvels too, at how our perception of time is altered by the knowledge that many of the images coming through our telescopes are of objects many light years away which, in fact, no longer exist. And in Milky Seas, he shows that even in our own natural world there are mysteries yet to be solved.

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Neutrino Interaction by Eric Zeigler 40″ H x 36″W

Since its widespread introduction in 1839, photography has put documentation of the visible world within reach of just about everyone. Now with technological advances, human perception has gone beyond what we can see and record with the naked eye. And it can be argued that these most recent advances in our ability to quantify the universe are simply a development and elaboration of inventions–the telescope and compound microscope– by Dutch scientists in late 16th and early 17th centuries, during a period in history when observation of the natural world held particular fascination. The  creation of lavish botanical encyclopædias recording discoveries in the Western Hemisphere and in  Asia, the beginning of scientific illustration and the classification of specimens and even the invention of still life genre painting  were all features of this seminal  period of humanist thought. Eric Zeigler’s  work can be understood as another step on a road  already well paved with discovery and invention.

The theme of underlying is, ultimately,  that mystery still surrounds us, both near and far. The natural world and the universe beyond it is full of marvels yet to be discovered. And we can take some comfort in the knowledge that the thrill of discovery so intrinsic to human nature is still available to us.

 

The Art of the Story

Comics Unbound, an exhibit that examines the art and the craft of the comic, is on view right now through June 24 at Ann Arbor Art Center’s Gallery 117. The show  aims to illustrate the process through which comics, both in short and longer form, are created.  It “reveals what is usually an invisible narrative in comics–the journey from artist’s vision to clear transmission of meaning. ” according to jurors and comic artists Jerzy and Anne Drozd. The exhibition contains original drawings by cartoonists who will appear at the Ann Arbor Comic Arts Festival to be held at the Ann Arbor District Library, June 18 and 19, 2016.

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The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck

Ever since humans began making marks on flat surfaces, visual storytelling and the interplay between picture and text  has been an important part of western art history.   From neolithic cave painting  to Egyptian hieroglyphs to medieval panel painting, the extent to which pictures and text cooperate to tell a story has  depended on the literacy (sometimes more, sometimes less) of the general population. The invention of movable type in the mid-15th century in Europe revolutionized literacy and consequently, visual storytelling. Once most everyone could read, the path was paved for the first comic book, generally thought to be The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck in 1837. From there the scope and reach of comics has only increased, until now there is a whole section in the New York Times Review of Books devoted to graphic media. Numerous superhero movies based on comics  appear every summer  and Fun Home,  a musical adapted from a graphic novel is currently running on Broadway.

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Dragon Beware by Rafael Rosado

Rather than dwelling on the history of comics though, this exhibit is organized to convey an idea of  how comics  are produced: from script and hand sketched storyboards, to drawing and coloring of the finished comic, with  printed versions also on display. The show also gives a fair idea of the range of subject, mode of visual expression,  variety of intended audience and level of literary ambition currently available to this medium. The pictorial styles on display range from the intentionally rudimentary but elaborately composed stick figures of Matt Feazell’s Too Much Help to the the 1950’s-retro washy ink drawings of  Apooko by Mike Roll to the classic super-hero comic style of Tom Mandrake in Creeps.  The subjects likewise range from personal  and autobiographical (El Deafo by Cece Bell) to comic myth (Dragons Beware by Rafael Rosado) to historical (Feynman (Tuva) by Jim Ottovani and Leland Myrick ).  And the literary language from one comic to another  is just as varied  as the pictorial expression.

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Too Much Help by Matt Feazell

All of the artists in Comics Unbound display impressive levels of drawing ability personal to their individual style and loads of storytelling originality. A particular favorite of mine was Old Man, Dog and the Ocean by Emily Zelaszko. Her drawings are deft and idiosyncratic and her compressed language rises to the level of poetry. I also especially liked Mike Roll’s Apooko drawings and Carolyn Nowak’s Nichols Arboretum  but this probably reflects my own personal taste for certain drawing styles rather than any defensible aesthetic preference.

The conclusion I draw from Comics Unbound is that comics,  while they contain visual media, are not primarily a visual art. Rather they are more literary in nature, with visual augmentation, and their narrative strengths lie mostly in the area of dialog.  This might explain the frequency with which comics are developed into movies.  The storyboards in this exhibit certainly have a cinematic quality.  It seems to me that as an art form graphic novels and comics have most in common with  theater and film. They are meant to be consumed as literature or performance, rather than to be contemplated as fine art paintings and drawings.

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Old Man, Dog and the Ocean by Emily Zelasko

The great advantage of comics over film however, is in the personal nature of their content and the relative ease with which the artist can translate private stories and concerns into a public medium without the necessity for elaborate technical support. The comic artist can, literally, express on the page anything she/he has the imagination to invent and there are far fewer practical barriers to self expression than in more public media like theater or film. The artists in Comics Unbound make full use of the broad scope of visual and literary expression that the medium offers them.

Artists in the exhibit include: Mike Roll, Emily Zelasko, Rob Stenzinger, Carolyn Nowak, Zack Giallongo, Cece Bell, Rafael Rosado, Ben Hatke, Ruth McNally Barshaw, Samantha Kyle, Cyndi Foster & Jeramy Hobbes, Jim Ottaviani, Matt Feazell, Dan Mishkin & Tom Mandrake.

Those Who Can…Also Teach

It’s a well-known fact that few visual artists working here in the Rust Belt have a realistic hope of making a living exclusively  from selling their art. So many find themselves  teaching to make a living while also trying to keep up their studio practice and actively showing their work. This requires energy, dedication, resourcefulness and maybe an ability to do without a full night’s sleep. The show currently in Gallery 117 displays the diverse skills of the hardworking  artists who give instruction at the Ann Arbor Art Center, from printmaking to painting to ceramics to animation and more.  In a show of this kind the technical  mastery of each artist is on display, and the artworks have to be enjoyed for their individual charms rather than appreciated in relation to an overarching theme. The level of skill on display is impressive, as one would expect from an instructional staff that is tasked with teaching the technical aspects in their area of expertise.

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War Baby by Heather Accurso

I came to the exhibit already knowing the work of some of the artists represented, among them Heather Accurso. I’ve liked Accurso’s drawings ever since I discovered them at Packer Schopf Gallery in Chicago. Yet another MFA graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, she is a skilled draftsman who employs the image of a baby repeatedly– possibly  obsessively –in her precise and surreal drawings.

Another artist with whom I was already familiar and whose work I like is encaustic painter Beth Billups.  Her charming, childlike compositions occupy the aesthetic space between innocence and sophistication.  I find the waxy surfaces and subdued pastel palette and the formalized but allusive shapes immensely appealing.

aaac beth billups small matter
Small Matter by Beth Billups

Several other artists with whom I was not previously acquainted also caught my eye. Painter Brian Skol displays a really impressive level of technical skill in his paintings and their mood put me in mind of Thomas Eakins. Rebecca Pugh’s landscapes made me think of plastic in new ways, and I found Deb Scott’s claymation animations fun and entertaining. Marc McCay’s small prints reminded me of how much I like the economy and elegance of black and white.

There are 19 artists in this exhibit and I’m sure I didn’t give each the attention he/she deserves, but the Instructor Show is open until June 4, so you will have the opportunity to see for yourself what these artists have to teach. The exhibit includes: Heather Accurso, Morgan Barrie, Beth Billups, Payton Cook, Kim DeBord, Jerzy Drozd, Dave Dziedzic, Michael Garguilo, Chris Kamykowski, Angela Lenhardt, Emily LoPresto, Marc McCay, Rebecca Pugh, Deb Scott, Claudia Selene, Larry Sekulich, Brian Skol, Daria Paik White

For more information about hours and directions go here

 

Rossi/Fitzpatrick in Chicago

I consider it my job to report on art and artists in Southeast Michigan and Northwest Ohio, so I don’t usually cover the art scene in Chicago, though it’s technically in the Rust Belt. Chicago artists get plenty of coverage after all.  But I know many artists and art lovers will be going to Chicago this summer from the Detroit area, and I want to alert you to two important shows that are not in the major downtown museums but are easily reached by taking the Red Line to the Fullerton stop.  As you get off the train, go downstairs;  DePaul Art Museum will be right next door where you will get two amazing art experiences for the price of one (actually, admission is free).Rossi_Eye Deal_1974_med

First of all, Barbara Rossi’s amazing show of  paintings, entitled Poor Traits, is installed in two upper galleries of the museum, along with her photos in  a smaller side gallery.  Barbara Rossi belongs to the historically important group the Chicago Imagists, and is one of the most talented of a very talented bunch. These influential artists of the 1960’s and 1970’s  put Chicago on the map of contemporary art with their diverse pop-inflected, off-beat figurative art.  Other artists from the group that you may recognize are Ed Pasche, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, Christina Ramberg, Roger Brown,  Karl Wirsum and H.C. Westerman.

Of the Imagists, Rossi is the  most elusive still-living member of the group.  I have very seldom seen even one of her  paintings on display so I’ve had to enjoy them mostly in reproduction. However, the New Museum in New York came to the rescue last fall and put together this terrific exhibit of Rossi’s works from the late 1970’s, which has now come to Chicago. The organizing principle of Poor Traits is of course, portraits (the pun very much intended in the Chicago Imagist manner). Each painting and small drawing consists of a single figure, abstract but recognizable as human.  They are icons of a sort, mysterious and quirky. Her palette of colors is most closely related to the grayed down taupes, beiges and grays of Christina Ramberg’s paintings, but with added powdery greens and blues that recall shades of  house paint, punctuated with dark red and green outlines. Each figure is painted in flat colors on a panel, then it is overlaid with plexi-glass upon which she meticulously paints tiny pinhead sized dots .  The effect is hypnotic, the dots seeming to float over the figure in a kind of 3-d halo effect. Her work is unlike that of any other artist I’ve ever seen and it’s impossible to fully appreciate in reproduction, so this is an opportunity not to be missed.

As an added bonus, the museum is handing out a  free large poster with a Rossi painting in 1:1 scale. Mine is pinned up on the wall of my studio right now.

As if that weren’t enough, the museum also has on view Tony Fitzpatrick: The Secret Birds. This show of drawings, collage/paintings and prints by one of Chicago’s most popular contemporary artists is both visually and emotionally appealing. A multi-talented writer, draftsman, painter, collagist, poet, playwright and actor, the artist employs drawing, painting, found pop cultural imagery, and snippets of his own poetry to get to you on all possible levels. He has even helpfully  installed a mock studio in a small back gallery to display the materials he uses for collage, his literary sources and copies of books he has written/illustrated. alchetron tony fitzpatrick

Fitzpatrick uses the language of outsider art in his work, but I can’t say that I think he is an outsider artist.  Rather, he applies the methods and preoccupations of self-taught artists in an informed and knowing way. His choice of collage materials is resolutely  low-brow,  pulled from vintage matchbooks, cigar bands, retro 40’s pin-ups, crossword puzzles, comic books.The central image in most of the paintings is a bird, which in this context is a stand-in for the soul. Often this soul is that of one of Fitzpatrick’s departed heroes such as the writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez or legendary jazz musician Otis Clay. Death, time and memory are the dominant themes of these cheerful but macabre artworks.

Both Poor Traits and Tony Fitzpatrick:The Secret Birds are on view until August 21, 2016. For more information on the museum’s hours and location go here

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