Once again, I’ve fallen behind in my postings on Rustbeltarts.com! I’ve been busy though, writing mostly for the Detroit Art Review and New Art Examiner. Here are some of the things I’ve been writing about:
I wrote about Shapeshifters, at Cranbrook Museum of Art for the Detroit Art Review; an encyclopedic tour of the museum’s collection that includes both the work of international art stars like Donald Judd and Joan Mitchell, as well as the work of many young, up and coming artists working in the Detroit area. To read my review in its entirety, go to: Shapeshifters @ Cranbrook Museum of Art – Detroit Art Review
I also wrote about the new sculpture by Jaume Plensa, recently installed in front of the University of Michigan Museum of Art, as well as an interesting project inside the museum that combines curated artworks from the collection paired with classes as diverse as social work, art, architecture and public health, meant to broaden students’ experience both of the subject matter and of related art. For more: Jaume Plensa Sculpture @ UMMA – Detroit Art Review
I’m particularly pleased to have had the opportunity to write about Essay’d, a unique arts writing project in Detroit that aims to create a crowd-sourced body of writing about the city’s contemporary artists, one by one: Essay’d (newartexaminer.org)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
I just wrote a review of Detroit artist Allie McGhee’s exhibit Cosmic Images 2000 for AADL Pulp. His work will be on view in Ann Arbor at the Rotunda Gallery, Building 18 of U of M’s North Campus Research Center through August 31. You can check it out here.
This is the first essay in an ongoing series about Detroit artists, curators and gallerists, with an emphasis on the city’s emerging art ecosystem.
The Detroit art scene right now is a funny place, a multi-venue stage for unorthodox performance, experimental installation and a playground for talented art newcomers, recently minted BFAs, and self-taught makers and doers. Art venues emerge, move and close at a disorienting pace, and the skills of a treasure hunter are required to keep track of them all, but constant throughout this ever-changing and evolving art ecosystem are a few artists whose instantly identifiable work shows up regularly all around Detroit.
Alexander Buzzalini, painter, printmaker and installation artist, is one of these itinerant and ubiquitous makers. I’ve seen his work in prestigious galleries like N’namdi Center for Contemporary Art and Wasserman Projects and in less exalted settings like Bumbo’s Bar and Public Pool. In spite of his use of a wide variety of formats and materials, Buzzalini’s work is always identifiable and relatable, with its comic wild west subject matter, saturated color and gestural pizzazz.
I was curious about the source of Buzzalini’s inspiration and motivation, how he gets along in Detroit and why he stays, when other millennial artists might decamp for Brooklyn or L.A. So I contacted him in search of some insights about what it’s like to live and make art right now in Detroit. We arranged to meet at Outer Limits, a venerable Hamtramck dive bar near his studio. When I arrived on a still-chilly April afternoon, I immediately noticed the bar’s proudly retro décor, which clearly hadn’t seen an update since the Carter administration. The bartender and I exchanged a few pleasantries until Buzzalini walked in a few minutes later, bearded and paint spattered, clearly just off work. We ordered our beers and dug right in, in classic Hamtramck fashion, to talk about art.
As it turns out, Buzzalini is a local boy, born and raised in Pontiac, MI, just north of Detroit. He moved to the city in 2012 to attend Wayne State University, where he studied printmaking with Stanley Rosenthal and Pam Delaura. After he got his BFA (summa cum laude), he saw no reason to leave. “I basically just stayed here,” he says. He has found a group of like-minded artists and writers like Steve Hughes and John Charnota, printmaker Ryan Stanfest and designer Jack Craig. Together, they produce publications, organize exhibits and generally bounce ideas off each other for their mutual benefit.
I asked him how he became interested in painting American frontier western themes. “The western has such a deep tradition in American culture,” he replied, adding, ”it’s also that internationally the western is seen as a purely American genre.” The American movie western represents an archetype of what an American is, but Buzzalini is well aware that vintage movie westerns are a reductive and simplistic representation of American manhood. Over time, he said, “I really started looking and paying attention to [these] things, and pointing to that façade. But I liked the idea of [examining] what is real and what is not real.” He went on:
I like to tell the story that when I was 12 or 13, I was in Colorado hiking through the mountains with my uncle and my cousin, and he says, “Stop , wait, look at that rock!”
“What?” And I say, “Yeah that’s a rock.”
And he says, “No, come here, look.” And he poked it, and it’s just a fake rock made of chicken wire and plaster from some John Wayne movie, left here after all this time.”
The anecdote gets to the heart of Buzzalini’s work, questioning received notions of masculinity, nationality and identity.
The images in Buzzalini’s painting are clearly theatrical and satirical. He subverts the manly images he paints. The cowboy boots are red and pointy, his guns droop, and even the cow skulls are wearing lipstick. “That’s my approach to dealing with what is masculinity… today, using the historical references to the western, where male roles are so prominent … I’m taking that example and making fun of it, [to] tell young people today, including myself, what it means to be masculine is just fabricated by Hollywood… I think people are beginning to be interested in ideas about questioning their identities and where those identities came from and [realizing that] they are fabricated by these larger corporate things.”
Buzzalini’s cowboy paintings are quick and loose, with gestural, almost cartoonish, brush strokes, “I tend to work quick, and on multiple things at once, because I have a hard time sitting and working on one painting and waiting for it to dry. I like [to make] quick paintings… they’re kind of like drawings, and [the speed creates] a good kind of pressure.” He continues, “It’s drippy and sometimes… I use certain mediums, mix it with paint and add water… part of it is I like the drips. It adds fluidity, gives immediacy, and from the physical aspect of the actual painting I can make one continuous brush stroke. I work fast, it’s gestural, it’s the way I’ve always painted except when I was forced not to, (and then it didn’t turn out too good.”)
When asked about what media interest him most now, given his background in printmaking and the numerous installation pieces he has exhibited recently, Buzzalini still pledges his allegiance to painting. “[I’m interested mostly in] painting, [even though] the last show I did was a two person show with John Charnota … at Public Pool. It was called 100 Beavers and I did do a couple of wood block prints for that, and a series of silkscreens…that involved doing this installation of a beaver dam on the back wall with all these sticks that were cut outs. …The beaver show was kind of a leap and speaks to [my aim for] a [high] level of productivity … it was a lot of work, and [I was] speaking of productivity as a way of projecting self-worth–that we’re not lazy.” He admitted this might be a particularly midwestern way of thinking about art, in terms of productivity and hard work.
We talked briefly about his current project, some funky, gloppy plaster lamps he made and recently showed at Butter Projects. He says, “I’ve been working on a series of lamps using plaster, inspired by work I did assisting Jack Craig–It’s very strange, weird design–and I thought, “I want to try this!” His description describes nicely how the cross pollination of ideas occurs right now in Detroit.
Our discussion circled around, inevitably, to why he stays in Detroit, what still excites him about it and his future plans. His answer returned to the openness of Detroit’s artist community, the ease of artistic exchange, the wealth of places to show work, and of course, the cheap rents.
“Rents are going up–It’s not as cheap as when I moved here, when you could pay $400 a month for a 1000 square foot flat — now it’s more like $900, he says. “I recently purchased a house. I stay here because the community’s been really good, and it’s growing, not stagnant, and new people are constantly moving in. It’s easy to have a show, even at your house, and get enough people to make it worth your while to set it up. The community’s tight like that. Mostly a lot of my friends are Cranbrook graduates and a small group of people from University of Michigan have started to move in. The community’s close so there’s also the exchange of social gatherings and something [that] has to do with the walkability of the town. That’s what’s keeping me here, stuff like that.”
I recently wrote my first review as Detroit correspondent for Chicago’s New Art Examiner. The May/June issue, which has just been published, focuses on exhibits of work by women artists, including Looking Forward, Looking Back by Howardena Pindell at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and Nina Chanel Abney’s Royal Flush at the Chicago Cultural Center. Rebecca Memoli, who reviews Royal Flush, concentrates her comments on Abney’s latest large, graphic works, which struck me as being very Stuart-Davis-like. My preference is for her earlier, more expressionistic paintings, but Memoli’s essay is a good introduction to Abney’s work. Pindell’s exhibit, reviewed byAniko Berman, is on view until May 20, and it’s well worth a visit.
I want to thank NAE Managing Editor Tom Mullaney and Editor in Chief Michel Segard for giving me this opportunity to get the word out on exciting contemporary art being shown in Detroit and environs. You can read my review of Shaina Kasztelan and Heidi Barlow’s D3PR3$$10N N4P at Hatch Hamtramck here.