Tag Archives: Drawing

6B by Deborah Baker

DSB-cryptic
Cryptic, 35″ x 40″, 6b pencil on  paper

Chicago artist Deborah Baker, whose large pencil drawings are on view now at Firecat Projects until December 16, 2017, once again demonstrates that the artist’s most creative tool rests between her ears.  Baker rejects all currently fashionable media such as video, performance and photography. Even within the constraints of conventional drawing, she avoids decorative or descriptive color and perspectival reality. Through this systematic refusal, she achieves complete freedom within a form of expression that is strongly graphic and psychologically resonant.

Baker can be understood to be a sort of free-associational sign painter, a dealer in archetypes collected and added to the page, where they  set up visual harmonics within the composition. The large drawings in 6B are based upon her previous small, black and white embroidered pieces, several of which are in the show. She chose to make her drawings on large sheets of brown kraft paper in order to create larger scale works for 6B.

Baker describes her process:
I always start with a word or title.  That word evokes images for me …I also always begin with the border or frame first…I do few or no preparatory drawings… sometimes a small thumbnail sketch to get the layout, no marking…though I do fold the fabric to orient the space.

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Tied, 17″ x 17″, embroidered linen

Her previous work with embroidery affects Baker’s compositional choices in the more recent large drawings.  There is a kind of steady rhythm to the fabric pieces. Each constituent image is spaced out over the surface of the artwork, creating the impression that the composition must be “read” rather than seen. The patterned border surrounding each embroidery resembles decorative craftwork from the Victorian age, though the images within are more reminiscent of ethnic or folk images, or designs from tattoo art.

In the large drawings, the decorative designs that Baker uses to define the outer limits of her small embroidered compositions begin to resemble theatre prosceniums, and the compositions become performances. This is especially evident in the drawings Connect and 12 Dancing Princesses (which even includes a suggestion of an audience in the lower portion of the drawing.) She takes a metaphorical step back in Center, which once again recalls Victorian embroidery.

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12 Dancing Princesses, 35″ x 40″ 6B pencil on paper

A recurring theme in Baker’s work is the mystery of the long-term loving relationship.  It can be no accident that the couples seen in the embroidered Link and Tied, and in the drawing Union are skeletal. “Until death do us part” is not just a metaphor here. In Cryptic, the image of the silhouetted couple facing each other refers both to a famous optical illusion and to the opaque black box of long term commitment as visualized in an all-seeing pyramid. In Hope vs. Hope, love and conflict co-exist.

It’s been said that editing is the only art, and Deborah Baker’s deceptively simple drawings prove it. These large pictures of dancers, hearts and grinning skeletons appear at first blush to be simple, naïve and almost childlike, but upon closer examination are nothing of the kind. The artist has created a complex visual language that allows her complete freedom of expression within the limited means she employs.

For information about Firecat Projects and 6B go here

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Union, 35″ x 35″, 6B pencil on paper

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Wonderland

Wonderland-corset-installation-Kirsten Lund
Installation by Kirsten Lund

Wonderland, a frisky selection of imaginative objects and inventive pictures by six of the region’s more talented art players, is on view now through December 2, 2017,  at the Walter E. Terhune Gallery in Perrysburg, Ohio.  The show’s curator is Brian Carpenter of Contemporary Art Toledo.  Wonderland is a kind of artist-created play space for adults who appreciate paradox, irony, humor and originality. Each artist  is a skilled practitioner  of his/her self-invented game and we are invited to play along.

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Avatar/Game Piece by Sarah Rose Sharp

The terms of engagement are established as we enter the gallery. A set of six small game pieces rests on a pedestal, each invented by one of Wonderland’s artists, for a game as yet to be invented. These diminutive avatars range from an intricately carved figure on horseback to a desultory lump of styrofoam.  Though there are, as yet, no rules, no board, no start and no finish, some serious play is clearly  about to commence.

Heather Accurso describes herself as “dedicated to the visual language of drawing,” and her draftsmanship is indeed a strong suit, but she has added assemblage to the mix. Handmade miniatures in  shadowbox settings now enrich and enlarge her drawn and recurring themes.

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Paramedic by Heather Accurso

In Paramedic, we find a dense composition that combines a narrative of catastrophe with angelic presence. Her masterfully drawn cherub provides the central image in a tiny diorama of disaster. Closer inspection reveals more depth and breadth, as the signs of injury and of medical intervention create a disturbing but intriguing hallucinatory tale of death and ascension.

Adrian Hatfield is an accomplished collagist, cutting and pasting his way to idiosyncratic personal meanings that are more than the sum of their parts. In the diptych Adaptive Radiation and The Morning After  he  samples and recombines images from art historical sources into baroque scenarios  that may suggest the lush before and melancholy after of a one-night stand, or an idyllic Edenic state followed by  imagery of environmental spoilage and degradation.

Andrew Kreiger’s small, meticulously constructed and toy-like artworks–or art-like toy works?– draw upon his skills as a maker, as well as his considerable talents as a painter. His opening box construction Van Dyke, Detroit, Facing North/South/East treats us to a miniature panorama of  Detroit’s lost pastoral history.

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Van Dyke, Detroit, Facing North/South/East by Andrew Kreiger

In Momento Mori #1, Sarah Rose Sharp takes us on a virtual walk through the woods, where we discover a blanket upon which a skeleton rests, partly obscured by leaves and  by intimations of surrounding trees.  The effect is both macabre and lyrical.

Michael McGillis’s contribution to Wonderland is a single, improbably cut-up and re-assembled combination easy chair and  chintz-patterned bulldozer. Phantom Limb is a comic yet poignant  stand-in for an amputee, gamely holding itself upright in spite of the insult to its structural integrity.

The most mysterious and intriguing contribution to Wonderland is an installation, by Kirsten Lund, of fabric constructs which defy categorization. Lund’s process uses salvaged fabrics and each piece is limited to one individual pattern shape that is then combined and recombined into a range of symmetrical configurations.  They pleat, loop, drape, sag and lope across the wall, fantasy costume pieces for an obscure period drama.  They clearly reference the human body, but what body–or body part–they relate to remains a mystery.

The artists in Wonderland present us with work that is both serious and playful.  It can be thoughtful or silly, but never descends into whimsy.  The self-invented games they play are limited only by the structured creative process of each artist. For more information about the Walter E. Terhune Gallery go here.

Text/Media

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Underdog by Christopher Schneider

We live in a hyper-literate age of endless imagery and short attention spans.

We seldom pause–and really, when do we have time?–to consider the process by which we create meaning for ourselves from the constant  interaction of  words and pictures in books, magazines, on television and the web, on our phones.

In Text/Image, now on view until June 3 in  Ann Arbor Art Center’s Gallery 117,  Detroit-based artist/curator Jack O. Summers has thoughtfully collected for our consideration some  artworks that refer to everyday objects whose meanings “are enhanced or subverted by the multi-dimensional interplay of text and images.” The exhibit concentrates on still imagery, leaving aside the more kinetic treatments of text and image interaction such as  video and animation.

There are several artists represented  in Text/Image who are well known in Detroit for their absurdist take on the news and pop culture, using the vocabulary of comics and newspaper to communicate their point of view.  Ryan Standfest, gifted printmaker, founder of the Rotland Press and trickster artist, composes headlines for his imaginary tabloid newspaper the Modern Vulgarian (#1) that raise more questions than they answer and classified ads that go gleefully off the rails.

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The Modern Vulgarian #1 by Ryan Standfest

William Schudlich, illustrator and self-proclaimed “social zoologist” is clearly a kindred spirit.  Schudlich’s images  employ the visual vocabulary of disposable print media  such as comic strips and have the look of early to mid-20th century comics.  He approaches  visual challenges, he says, “with a dark sense of humor whenever possible.”  Tom Carey’s large relief prints, while ostensibly mining the same classic content as Schudlich and Standfest, project a more modern effect with their vivid colors and lively compositions. The small wooden mutoscopes (flipbooks in wooden boxes operated by pushbutton) created by Andy Malone also fit comfortably with the sensibilities of Schudlich and Standfest by appropriating of a vintage craft and  re-purposing it to make a modern statement.

Two notable Detroit photographers, Christopher Schneider and Bruce Giffen, appear in Text/Image. In Schneider’s Underdog, the word “Hamtramck” printed on the young football player’s jersey adds context and pathos to the inward-looking figure, isolated as his teammate looks away toward the light and movement of the game. His fellow photographer Bruce Giffen, whose sharp and poetic eye is trained on Detroit at all times and in all seasons,  juxtaposes text with context for special resonance in his photo Stay In School.

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Whole Foods by Jaye Schlesinger

Taurus Burns, Dencel Deneau,  Jaye Schlesinger  and Amy Fell all engage in the reification of the ordinary, each one observing with care and archiving with skill the unglamorous objects and often unsightly minutiae of the urban landscape.  Deneau’s small glass mosaics, in particular, are improbably lovely memorials to fleeting moments in the life of a city.

Moving from the grittily observational to the poetic,  Scott Northrup’s gauzy collages are cinematic and  nostalgia-soaked. Self-Portrait with Fruit by John Gutoskey is somehow both cheerful and sad,  and  recalls the innocence and the pain of a young boy growing up gay in the Midwest. Like Gutoskey’s quasi-installation, Believers by Catherine Peet hardly needs text to make its point, harking back to medieval altars of a pre-literate age.

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School Bus by Dencel Deneau

Before the printing press and universal literacy, the visual impact of letters was as important as the narrative meaning.  Randy Asplund creates contemporary works using the same methods as medieval illuminators;  the pigments, grounds,  text and image are all carefully chosen for their symbolic resonance, each re-enforcing the meaning of the other elements. Taking the opposite tack, Alvey Jones subverts the meaning of text in Language Text and Circuit Board. Each element of the artwork is designed to be unintelligible–the book is (literally) Greek to us, the circuit board holds its meaning in a code we are unable to penetrate.

Barbara Brown, eminent Ann Arbor book artist and curator of a yearly survey of all things art and book-related, entitled Beyond Words, here uses her collection of handmade building blocks, Metropolis, to think playfully about the way reordering words or letters can alter narrative.

Text/Image can be understood best as a survey featuring a cast of accomplished artists, any one of whom could fill the gallery with well-crafted and well-thought-out work. The art in this exhibit thoughtfully uses language and image together to address  a variety of themes  from autobiography to social commentary, and while curator Jack O. Summers has put together an interesting and beautiful exhibit, the subject is far from exhausted and possibly never can be.

For more information about Text/Image go here

 

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.

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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