Tag Archives: Michigan artists

Outrage

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An assortment of artifacts from various political demonstrations, by Susan Fecteau

In this age of politics as warfare by other means,  16 contemporary Michigan artists have joined together to engage the enemy in Outrage, an exhibition of political art at 22 North Gallery in Ypsilanti from October 6 – 27.  The views expressed in this polemic exhibit go from left-of-center to far-far-left, and the mood ranges from existential dread to red-eyed anger to comic despair.

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World’s Smallest Man by Terri Sarris

Outrage was organized and curated by 3 like-minded artists, Susan Fecteau, John Gutoskey and Leslie Sobel, all of them politically active. Fecteau is noted in the area for her humorous but pointed political comments chalked on sidewalks outside the Ann Arbor residence of Governor Rick Snyder. Leslie Sobel is a longtime climate change artist-activist and John Gutoskey is a painter and printmaker whose focus is LGBT rights.  “The three of us met together with other artists in January, [2017] to talk about what we …could do in response to what seemed like the coming apocalypse,” says Sobel. “We weren’t really sure what we would get,” adds Gutoskey.

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Mother Fucking Assholes, box by John Gutoskey

Sobel comments about the work in the gallery, “It’s an interesting mix because there are artists in this room… who don’t normally do political work, and who have felt moved to do political work and there are some of us who have done political work as the subtext but not necessarily overtly in-your-face all of the time and some of it is very much in-your-face all of the time.”

Susan Fecteau’s art practice reflects her strong and ongoing activism, and goes from the nuts-and-bolts creation of signs for demonstrations to more object-driven expressions of her political views. She describes her ongoing sign-making project: “As artists, we felt we could really help people make effective signs, and probably the best thing we did was provide materials.  I scrounged a couple of truck loads of card board and we got sticks and paint… so we invited people to come over prior to any significant local protests, [and] we have continued that work.”

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How to Find your Spine, poster  by John Gutoskey

Humor is employed throughout the exhibit in the service of  political protest. Margaret Parker’s t-shirt design delivers a hilarious primal scream –or maybe a shout-out –for those of us who just can’t take it any more. Wooden boxes by John Gutoskey are well crafted, icy satire, and his posters are equally pointed and funny. Sam G. Fecteau Brown’s graffiti-encrusted toy trains and Val Mann’s embroidered vintage baby clothes are a softer, but no less urgent, expression of disquiet at this political moment. The sculpted head of Joan Painter Jones’ Martyr 4 has the horrified gaze of someone who’s seen way too much, and Terri Sarris’s freak show-inspired box  World’s Smallest Man effectively skewers its ridicule-worthy target. Jack Summers’s collage practically jumps off the wall, spitting and screaming.

Throughout history, artists from Goya to Picasso to Leon Golub and many more have used  art to make political points, even though doubts linger about its effectiveness in changing attitudes or affecting political outcomes. Art like the work in Outrage may serve more as encouragement to like-minded viewers, and to reinforce the values of fellow liberals without reaching or influencing political opponents, which makes it no less valid.  Leslie Sobel sums it up: “I think it matters.  I think expressing [our political beliefs]  in more ways than just showing up to demonstrations and picketing and voting is important. I think it makes a difference and it’s certainly the skill set that many of us in this room have. I do hope it’s effective in keeping the issues in the front of peoples’ minds.”

The artists in Outrage are: Sam G. Fecteau Brown, Alejandro Chinchilla, Liz Davis, Susan Fecteau, John Gutoskey, Joan Painter Jones, Esther Kirschenbaum, K.A. Letts, Val Mann, Brenda Miller, Margaret  Parker, Christine Valentine Reising, Theresa Rosado, Terri Sarris, Leslie Sobel, Jack Summers.

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Leslie Sobel

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Lake Michigan Deep Blues by Leslie Sobel at WSG Gallery

Artist Leslie Sobel both loves nature and fears for it.  An avid hiker and outdoorswoman,  Sobel’s encaustic paintings, monoprints  and three dimensional  assemblage celebrate the mystery and majesty of nature while describing the effects of human-caused climate change. They are often based on personal observation of the landscape but can also be inspired by online aerial images of glaciers or maps of open territory at the poles.  One of Sobel’s great ambitions is to see the lands of the far north and Antarctica before they are forever changed by global warming.  “I am affected by solastalgia,” she says.  Sobel describes solastalgia as “nostalgia for a place one has never been and that is no longer there.”

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Spring Rain II

Three of Leslie Sobel’s encaustic paintings are on view now in Ann Arbor at WSG Gallery, as part of their 16+16 members invitational show, on  view until February 4.  All 3 works in the exhibit relate to a single transcendent moment Sobel experienced while hiking at the crest of the Sleeping Bear Dunes.  She and her companion were alone, a rare occurrence.  As she looked out over the brooding seascape of Lake Michigan and the clouds rolling above, Sobel had a profound sense of the small and temporary nature of human existence in the face of nature.  These somber thoughts inspired the creation of several encaustic paintings  which feature only the stormy sky and Lake Michigan,  separated by a distant horizon.

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Row of Pines by Leslie Sobel

In addition to these private meditations, Sobel does public commissioned artworks, most recently her downtown PowerArt Box. Based on her painting “Row of Pines”, it is one of several selected by online popular vote through Ann Arbor  Arts Alliance’s PowerArt Project.  The aim of the program is to install  reproductions of works  by Washtenaw County artists on power boxes throughout the city in order to add visual interest to the streetscape and to discourage tagging on utility boxes.  Phases 1 and 2 have been completed and now Phase 3 is in the planning stages.  The Arts Alliance is actively soliciting sponsors for individual power boxes. For more information go here.

Sobel’s interest in the natural environment has also led to her participation in numerous artist-in-residence programs in national parks, where she is often paired with scientists and naturalists working there.  She recounts with special pleasure a recent residency in Colorado’s  Canyon of the Nations National Monument, where she worked alongside archeologists, biologists, anthropologists and geologists.  “I was surprise how much these ruins tied in with my interest in climate change–the people who lived here didn’t die. They had to move because they had depleted and degraded  the local natural resources. When archeologists searched the middens (trash heaps) of the abandoned settlements, they found that earlier ones held the remains of deer and antelope, while the later ones had the bones of chipmunks and mice.”   In the later middens. they also encountered human remains showing signs of cannibalism, a grim reminder of true scarcity that led to their departure for points further to the southwest where it is believed  they  became the Hopi nation.

 

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Climate Change Game

 

In at least a partial fulfillment of her dream to see the far north and south latitudes before they are changed forever, Sobel is planning  an extended visit to the Yukon in 2017.  She will camp and create in Kluane National Park at the invitation of scientist and researcher Seth Campbell of the University of Maine. Like so many worthy projects, this is an unfunded labor of love; Sobel will be soliciting funds for the trip soon in a GoFundMe campaign. For more information about Leslie Sobel, go here.

Ann Arbor Artists at ArtPrize 8

 

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Sunset, Monmartre, 1896 by Peter Warburton

I reviewed five Ann Arbor artists who participated in ArtPrize 8 this year in Pulp Magazine recently. They include a glass artist, an artist who “paints” in duct tape, a team that made a giant, LED festooned tree, a muralist, and a talented observer of the human eye.  To read about them–and ArtPrize 8– go here