I just completed a review of Detroit artist/gallerist Adnan Charara’s terrific new show at North Campus Research Center’s Rotunda Gallery in Ann Arbor. To read the full review in AADL Pulp, go here
In Otherworlds, a 2-man exhibit of paintings and prints by painter-digital collagist Dan Hernandez and master draftsman-printmaker Craig Fisher, is on display now through September 30 at 20 North Gallery in downtown Toledo. These two Toledo art visionaries allow imagination to take them—and us—to places that seem at once familiar and uncanny. The source materials for each artist, along with differences in technique and material, result in two very different, but complementary, bodies of work.
Craig Fisher, who works as a designer of business-to-business learning tools in addition to his prolific artistic output, works within the confines of traditional fine art printmaking. For this exhibit, he has created worlds that incorporate recognizable elements in improbable ways, transforming and recombining features from renaissance landscapes, natural history illustration, classical architectural drawings and more, into intriguing and often surreal scenarios.
The print Astronomie Nova illustrates Fisher’s method: He juxtaposes an aerial view of a gothic church ruin with a schematic drawing of a complex geometric form, setting up a complex tension between physical environment and the unseen— but just as real– universe. One of his most satisfying pieces, Tower of Babble combines an over-scale rotary phone in the foreground with a period illustration of the tower itself in the background, Communication technology-related superstructures surround and top it and it’s difficult to tell if the tower is being built or destroyed.
Sometimes less is more, and Fisher’s strengths as a draftsman can occasionally result in over-elaborate and confusing compositions. But it’s hard to argue with or second-guess the artist’s commitment to his vision and his single-minded pursuit of it.
Dan Hernandez, currently an Associate Professor of Art at University of Toledo, creates paintings where saints and angels mix freely with computer gaming figures. Elements of Persian miniatures, Renaissance urban landscapes and Chinese pavilions collide and morph into a persuasively imagined and often beautiful world. This oddly convincing pastiche of styles and periods is the product of Hernandez’ youthful gaming hobby and his studies in art history, which included a trip to Italy as a college student, where he was captivated by the ancient frescos of Pompeii.
Hernandez maintains a large archive of online images, from haloed renaissance saints to invading space ships, which he repeats and re-combines imaginatively in his world-building endeavors. He uses photo transfers of these seemingly incompatible images to create realities that have internal consistency and project a mood that is both comic and mysterious. In The Annunciation, he has imagined a funny and improbable street rumble between the Virgin Mary and the Angel Gabriel in a medieval Italian town. In another artwork, The Massacre at Intelari Chapel, a battle between computer gaming figures and renaissance-era characters rages across the bottom of the composition, while above, three levels of coins similar to those in a computer game imply ample rewards for the victors, and saints look on from the heavens while consulting a Super Mario map.
In Otherworlds provides a provocative look at imaginative visual storytelling by two talented Toledo artists and is well worth a visit. 20 North Art Director Condessa Croninger comments, “Despite the dramatic differences in media, visual style and subject matter, the works of these two distinguished area artists juxtapose like themes of science & technology with spirituality, as well as the combination of old and new media, to explore the metaphysical concept of the ‘otherworld’—the varying layers of existence between humankind’s experience of the “real” world and the world of belief. This combination creates an intriguing, thought-provoking and unquestionably beautiful exhibit.”
Gallery hours are Wednesdays through Saturdays from noon to 4p.m. Patrons also have extended opportunities to enjoy the exhibition during after-gallery hours at Venue, 20 North Gallery’s cocktail lounge, which is open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 4:30 to 9 p.m. (This review is re-posted from the August 15th edition of the Toledo City Paper.)
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.
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.
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.
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
“Interactive” is quite a buzzword in the art world these days, but what does it really mean? The term suggests an expectation of physical contact between gallery visitor and artwork. It also subtly implies that the mere act of contemplating a work of art isn’t enough to reach the public in this age of the internet and ever-shortening attention spans.
Andrei Rabodzeenko, though, is confident in the power of visual art to engage his audience. It is on this cerebral level that his work invites interaction.
The freestanding painted figures in Projections grab your attention and demand a response. Rabodzeenko’s life-size, slickly painted portraits of his friends (and himself) define the boundaries of the space within which gallery visitors must circle and observe. There is an intentional roughness to the way the cut-outs are sited, provisionally propped up on wooden supports and sandbagged in place as if they were scenery in a theater. Arranged in an informal installation throughout Toledo’s River House Gallery, these flat wooden portraits seem to imply some kind of in-the-round theatrical performance of obscure significance.
Radzeenko, born in Kyrgyzstan but now living and working in Chicago, is first and foremost an accomplished painter, an art chameleon who can paint in any style. He mixes visual idioms for maximum effect, frequently combining several within one artwork. In Projections, he seamlessly moves from virtuosic tromp l’oeil illusionism to flat advertising illustration to religious icon painting. Whether they are engaging in some activity, or merely pausing on their way, the figures often look directly at you. The artist offers no explanation for the choice of personal emblem (an out-size ginkgo leaf? A backpack of musical symbols?) or activity. These are clearly portraits of real people, but in the absence of information about them you must invent your own narrative, as is the artist’s intent:
Our identities are an amalgam of ever-shifting and overlapping projections-we create projections of ourselves, our alter egos, and launch them into the world. At the same time, the world projects its interpretations of us onto us.
Some figures are more mysteriously resonant than others. The black-suited self portrait in the middle of the gallery is especially successful. The roughness of the O.S.B. ground and the square piercing of the subject’s shirt add interest to the accomplished painting. The direct and slightly sad gaze of the figure is reminiscent of the mood in Rembrandt’s self-portraits.
I also liked the portraits of two men digging up (or burying?) treasure. The man on the right is focused on someone or something that is invisible, and raises his hand in warning (or greeting?) The kneeling figure on the left looks delighted at the cut-out blaze emanating from the treasure box before him.
Projections also includes a series of painted hangings which ring the gallery’s outside walls. Translucent outlines of male and female figures float weightlessly across the picture plane, intersecting but not interacting, platonic shadows of idealized humans. They are well executed but lack the specificity and bite of the three-dimensional work.
Rabodzeenko’s continuing confidence in the power of visual art to move us is evident in Projections. His accomplished portrait figures invite visual engagement and convey an air of mystery that will linger in the minds of his audience long after they have left the gallery.
Projections: An Interactive Portrait Project by Andrei Rabodzeenko, is on view at River House Gallery in Toledo, Ohio, until January 7, 2017. For more information about gallery hours go here.
You Are Here, a comprehensive survey of recent work by well over 45 Detroit artists on display throughout the Carr Center in Detroit through December 17, aims to take a snapshot of where the city stands at this inflexion point of both local and national change.
Curator Anna Schaap says, “Work in this show will explore location, time/place, Detroit’s future, urban development, ideas of identity, … gentrification, creative and empathetic ingenuity, and whole-brain thinking/making.” In media ranging from painting to photography to printmaking and especially to installation, artists provide a guided tour of the changing psychic and physical contours of Detroit.
Progress in Paradise, a small installation by Julianne Lindsey and Elton Monroy Duran is one of the most pointed–and poignant –illustrations of the fugitive nature of Detroit’s built environment in You Are Here. On a simple desk furnished with pens and paper (and with a toy wrecking ball on the side) visitors are invited to describe a place in Detroit that exists now only in memory. There are, needless to say, plenty of examples, the Carr Center soon to be among them.
The modestly funded non-profit cultural organization now located in the historic Harmonie Building can no longer afford its increasingly attractive commercial location. They will vacate the premises in April of 2017, possibly moving to a city-owned property in another part of Detroit. The building and the area surrounding it will be redeveloped into the Paradise Valley Cultural and Entertainment District, “a commercially driven entertainment district of retail, restaurants and nightlife reflecting the spirit of Detroit’s once thriving center of African-American economic and cultural life.”
Sophie Eisner’s installation, in a notably beautiful but decrepit staircase, enlists the Harmonie building itself as a component in her meditation on the city’s substance. Idiosyncratic art objects of unknown provenance are thoughtfully placed, and visually incorporate architectural elements of the stair and landing, creating complex cross-currents of past elegance and present squalor.
The city’s architecture isn’t the only element in flux and on view. People too, make up the city, and there are numerous references to the diversity that characterizes Detroit. The African-American population, with its triumphs and discontents, gets its due in works like Prism Works’ YDNA and Fuck the Police by Monique Gamble. Brian Day’s Boys on Mother’s Day strikes a more cheerful and hopeful note.
Parisa Ghaderi ‘s installation The Sheer Presence, with its photographs on voile, creates a ghostly family portrait, at once monumental and intimate. Sunita Gupta, a highly accomplished painter of the domestic environment, employs meticulous pattern painting and well drawn but hazy female figures in a meditative exploration of culture and ethnic identity.
Bits and pieces of the city find their way into artworks and installations describing Detroit as it is now. Anna Kell has carefully painted tromp l’oeil lace patterns onto found mattresses. Fishing For Small Gods, by Jak Vista and Bill Bedell, an installation that takes up much of the third floor of the building, features tree branches, stumps and the occasional cross stuck in dirt, conjuring up a desolate forest floor.
At the Carr Center, we see Detroit right now, a city that will necessarily be different tomorrow and the day after that. Technology, politics, demography and economics will all have their say in ways that can’t yet be quantified. The artworks in You Are Here are a glimpse of this singular moment in the life of Detroit.
Artists in You Are Here: Celeste Roe, Eric Zurawski, Archana Aneja, Brian Spolans, Geno Harris, Dominique Chastenetnde Gery, Parisa Ghaderi, Sophie Eisner, John Neely, Anna Kell, Katina Bitsicas, Morgan Barrie, Jenna Kempinski, K.A. Letts, Donn Perez, Jennifer Glance, Tamar Boyadjian, Molly Diana, The Sien Collective, Donna Shipman, Dawud Shabazz, E. Ingrid Tietz, Darren Pollard, Renee Rials, Neil Allen Flowers, Michael Ross, Kristin Adamczyk, Monique Gamble, Patrick Ethen, Doug Cannell, Jennifer Brown, Seder Burns, Desiree Duell, Jack Vista, Bill Bedell, Sunita Gupta, Jon DeBoer, Benjamin Forrest, Julianne Lindsey, Elton Monroy Duran, Brian Day, Fatima Sow, Prism Views, Kelsey Shultis, Wall of 100 Makers, Mint Artist Guild
For more information on the Carr Center go here.
The sprawling multimedia, multi-artist show Re: Formation which recently closed in Toledo has moved to a smaller venue in Gallery 117 at the Ann Arbor Art Center where an edited version will be on view from now until October 8. Toledo’s Re: Formation was overwhelming in size and scope. Installation and video dominated the cavernous former department store, contributing to an immersive experience that viscerally conveyed artists’ current outrage over racism, war, environmental degradation and urban decay.
The rage, the politics, the anger at injustice and environmental ruin remain in this new iteration but in a lower, more thoughtful key. Smaller work which was somewhat eclipsed by larger and noisier art in Toledo now gets some well deserved attention.
Moving an exhibit from one very large venue to another smaller one presents unique challenges for Gallery Project’s curators Rocco DePietro and Gloria Pritschett.
Pritschett explains, “In downsizing the exhibit for Ann Arbor, I look for the core of the work, so that the artist’s essential intent stays intact and can at least be glimpsed… we want to downsize the installation without giving the sense that we just lopped off a part of it.”
“ It’s a challenge, but a fun challenge,” adds DePietro.
Pritschett continues, “In reassembling the exhibition in a much smaller space, the work is tightly placed, so the specifics of relationships among the works is more crucial. No one piece has a place apart to sprawl on its own as it could in Toledo. I really enjoy the challenge in the patient work of positioning and repositioning individual works and groups of works, until they cohere visually and conceptually and relate to each other comfortably and meaningfully. For example, the group of Mark Hereld, Endi Poskovic, Tohru Kanayama and Barry Whittaker, and the interactive works Yusuf Lateef, John Anderson and Anthony Fontana, each in some way expresses formation and reformation as a process. Placing them was really satisfying”
“After spending a month with the exhibit in Toledo, we discovered new relationships among various pieces — themes, shapes, colors, concepts — that we exploited in installing the exhibit. For example, the interplay of blacks and reds, strong concept works, and the iconic water towers in Flint,” says DePietro.
Pieces with an environmental theme, such as Jessica Tenbusch’s Veil and Mark Hereld’s white-on-white Becoming@42Mx are often necessarily scaled to the size of the natural objects they contain, and this new, smaller space allows them to shine. Tenbusch’s work, which frequently includes taxidermy such as preserved frogs, snakes and the like, can be seen and appreciated for its meticulously detailed and finely produced craftsmanship.
Paintings which were a bit overwhelmed in the large, dim Toledo space come into their own here. John and Sandy: Voices for Social Justice, a large painted allegory (notice the small winged figure of Governor Rick Snyder in the upper left hand corner) by Ken Milito is impressive, and Michael Nagara’s Garden of Watery Lead seems at home in this smaller scale and more brightly lit gallery.
Equally successful in both Toledo and Ann Arbor is John James Anderson’s photo series 189 Hydrants, which documents, hydrant by hydrant, Washington D.C.’s decaying infrastructure. His Omikuji also stands up well to the move. Based on a Japanese cultural custom meant to end a curse, gallery visitors are encouraged to participate in a ceremonial exorcism to end police killings.
“In the wake of the recent deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, I took a moment to consider the thousands of other lives lost in recent years during an encounter with the police,” says Anderson.
He adds, “While the circumstances behind each are different, in sum, it is as though there was a great curse within our culture that causes these issues to persist.“
In this improvised and sobering ritual, the name of a young man of color who has died at the hands of the police is printed on a strip of paper along with the Kanji for “end curse” and tied to the wooden structure in the gallery.
The single most memorable work in Re:Formation remains The Reconditioning, an experiential performance and personal encounter designed and executed by Toledo artist Yusuf Lateef in collaboration with Chris Rogers, Kevin Gilmore, Daren Mac and James Dickerson. Lateef was initially apprehensive about reproducing The Reconditioning for an Ann Arbor audience after a previous cathartic experience with audiences at Re:Formation in Toledo. He was afraid he would be “reproducing this thing that wasn’t a personal and individual experience.” The placement of the installation at the entrance of the exhibit made him feel as if he and his fellow performers were in danger of becoming objects in an art show. But The Reconditioning, once again, found an audience of eager participants willing to engage the artists/performers on the subject of race and connection. Lateef, encouraged by recent experience, plans to refine and simplify these encounters in the future.
“It took time to get out of my own way,” he says.
For more information about Ann Arbor Art Center go here
Artists exhibiting in Re:Formation are: Heather Accurso, Hiba Ali, John James Anderson, Michael Arrigo, Siobhan Arnold, Nick Azzaro, Darryl Baird, Barchael (Barry Whittaker and Mike Bernhardt), Morgan Barrie, Carolyn Barritt, Beehive Design Collective (Meg Lemieur), Mark Bleshenski, Jada Bowden, Seder Burns, Ruth Crowe, Dana DePew, Rocco DePietro, Desiree Duell, Dianne Farris, Susan Fecteau, Anthony Fontana, Mark Hereld, Dan Hernandez, Stephanie Howells, Tim Ide, Doug Kampfer, Tohru Kanayama, Yusuf Lateef, K.A. Letts, Kate Levy, Julianne Lindsey, Jeremy Link, Melanie Manos, Shanna Merola, Ken Milito, Michael Nagara, Jefferson Nelson, Endi Poskovic, Gloria Pritschet, Sharon Que, Raizup Collective (Antonio Cosme), Boris Rasin, Roger Rayle, Jesse Richard, Arturo Rodriguez, Gary Setzer, Meagan Shein, Anna Schaap, Sheida Soleimani, Brian Spolans, Jessica Tenbusch, Alex Tsocanos, Ellen Wilt, Robin Wilt, and Viktor Witkowski.
Cathy Jacobs doesn’t remember not being an artist. As a child she sat at the vanity of her upstairs bedroom drawing obsessively for hours.
“I was always drawing from the time I was 3 or 4. When I was 7 or so, I thought I can be an artist! I had a vision of a sort of Salvador Dali character in a beret and a pencil mustache.”
In fact, she remembers dressing up as the surrealist master for Halloween one year. This seemed perfectly natural to her, since art was a man’s world at the time.
“I always thought I’d grow up to be a man” she says, laughing.
The image Starry Sky that was chosen for the PowerArt Project box now installed at Miller and Main in Ann Arbor, comes directly from her childhood memories. She vividly recalls looking out of her bedroom window at the night sky and the houses in her Ferndale neighborhood. “I didn’t like that they were so uniform, so I invented columns and balconies for them in my mind,” she says.
Jacobs’ interest in painting and drawing was a constant throughout her childhood and adolescence and was followed by college art studies. She studied painting at Wayne State University where she earned a B.F.A. and continued at Eastern Michigan University where she graduated with a Master of Fine Arts in Painting degree in 2015.
Jacobs’s paintings from this period are figurative and show a strong interest in fantasy and storytelling. Fairytale archetypes and mysterious situations, puppets, dolls and queens populate her pictures. They have the quality of half-remembered dreams, fascinating and just out of reach.
Her work at this time was well composed and expertly painted, but Jacobs felt dissatisfied. She wanted the color, translucency and light in her paintings to escape from the picture plane and from narrative imagery. She experimented with various sheer or translucent materials–metal screen, gauzy silk and the like–collaged onto her paintings. The kind of lightness and atmosphere that she wanted seemed impossible to achieve with the media at hand.
But then, in 2014, Cathy Jacobs discovered weaving. Finally, this new medium allowed her to escape the painted canvas and the drawn image.
“It immediately took hold of my imagination. Through weaving, I found that I could express the full spectrum of colors and moods, but in real 3-dimensional space…I learned weaving and all of a sudden all the things I was thinking about in my paintings, the depth you would get through layers of color and translucency, I found I could get in 3 dimensions.”
Cathy Jacobs sees the way before her clearly now. “My current focus is in weaving panels of linen that, when layered together create vibrating fields of color.” She has already had some success, exhibiting her woven panels at Sofa Chicago 2015 on Navy Pier, and in the 2016 Architectural Digest Design Show in New York City. This fall, her work will be featured in World of Threads in Ontario, Canada.
Jacobs enjoys both the process of weaving and “the sense of finality and completion that comes when I finish a piece.“ She seems to have found the means and medium to bring to the real world the contents of her imagination. Every working artist knows that this clarity is a temporary thing in a long creative life. Cathy Jacobs is a young artist and the future may see changes in her art practice, but for now she is happy in her woven world.
“It feels like a really good fit, ” she says, smiling.
How do you describe a big, contradictory, many-faceted place like the United States of America? That is what Real American, the juried group show on view from now until August 13 at the Ann Arbor Art Center aims to do. What you see in this country right now depends on where you are standing and the juror, eminent Ann Arbor-based photojournalist Peter Baker, treats us to his personal view of not just one America but several.
The America that gets the most attention in this sprawling exhibit is loud, materialistic, individualistic, restless and consumerist. Many of the best works in this vein are photographs, perhaps reflecting Mr. Baker’s special area of expertise. Errol Daniel’s photograph of Florian Ayana Fauna shows a youth in surroundings meant to depict her (his?) highly idiosyncratic values. But this young Goth doesn’t seem happy about it. Bored young men pose with energy drinks in front of an unlovely supermarket in Monster Energy, Tulsa, a large scale photograph by Dan Farnum. Corporate logos, junk food and cars are the stuff of worship in Contemporary Totem by Jonathan Frey.
America as the land of the restless gets some attention in Jaye Schlesinger’s beautifully painted gouaches. In Too Much Fun she captures the backside of a family car (no doubt a gas guzzler), covered in leisure equipment on a mission to have fun at all costs.
Perhaps the most perfect embodiment of this view of America as the sum of its material parts is Shawn Quinlan’s The New American Heritage, which is also the winner of the Best in Show Award. This is an outrageously garish but well crafted and carefully composed quilt that combines a classic American artform with pop imagery, cooking up a chaotic, patriotic, consumerist stew. A melancholy Bozo the Clown towers over the diminutive figures of George Washington, Uncle Sam and Abraham Lincoln surrounded by well-known symbols of the nation. All hell seems to be breaking loose below.
And could any exhibit about America right now not include the current spokesman for America First, Donald Trump? John Posa delivers a hilarious painterly take-down of the Donald, his rough and flaky face topped by a furry coiffure, part toupee, part coonskin cap. In a similar satirical vein, Barbara Melnik Carson’s Armed American is a stern Lady Liberty who stands on guard, no longer welcoming but fully locked and loaded, ready to repel the invading hordes.
There is another America to be seen in Real American, lurking under the surface and often drowned out by the craziness and comedy of the dominant theme. This America is a quieter land of big spaces and solitude. Seder Burns’ photo RV Camped for the Night on BLM Land in CO. is a lyrical picture of the unspoiled land that belongs to every American, claimed for a night by one traveler.
In this America, citizens love their country, sincerely if not uncritically. In Conduct Becoming #24 , C.J. Breil shows a veteran, quietly heroic and proud of his and his family’s service in a prosaic American setting. In the large photo portrait Mitchelene Big Man, Crow Indian/Iraq Veteran by Melissa Lynn, a woman embraces her dual American identity, wearing her Native American regalia while holding an American flag. And Tina Blondell has painted Antimony as Nubia, in which a young African American woman presents herself as a confident, larger-than-life superhero.
A ghostly American flag made of wire and string (Flag by Dietmar Krumrey) seems to say that America is more than its material parts, not just a place but an idea. The flag is again a stand-in for the nation in American Odyssey by Jim Aho, worn and damaged and bullet pocked, but still recognizable.
It’s tempting to pick one America or the other. Is it a nation defined by its materialism, its corporate logos, its crazy politics? Or is it a spacious spiritual home for ideals of freedom, equality and justice for all? Of course, this is a false distinction, or to put it another way, two sides of the same American silver dollar. The same values that favor self expression also favor isolation and alienation. The unbridled pursuit of prosperity can create a nightmarish culture where everything is monetized. The flip side of patriotism can be ugly bigotry.
Being American requires constant balancing and rebalancing, defining and re-defining, in real time, of our shared values: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Real American is part of that ongoing conversation.
For more about Ann Arbor Art Center’s 117 Gallery, go here.
Artists in Real American: Jim Aho (Huntington Woods, MI), Mark Bleshinski (Bay City, MI),Tina Blondell (Minneapolis, MN), C.J. Breil (Ann Arbor, MI), Sarah Buddendeck (Ann Arbor, MI), Seder Burns (Ann Arbor, MI), Barbara Melnik Carson (Ann Arbor, MI), Vanessa Compton (Greensboro, VT), Errol Daniels (East Amherst, NY), Keith Downie (Muskegon, MI), Dan Farnum (Tulsa, OK), Kathie Foley-Meyer (Los Angeles, CA), Heather Freeman (Charlotte, NC), Jonathan Frey (Lewisburg, PA), David Gardner (San Francisco, CA), Sarah Hahn (Cleveland, OH), Amber Harrison (Ann Arbor, MI), Christian Helser (Grand Rapids, MI), Dietmar Krumrey (Clare, MI), Melissa Lynn (Denver, CO), Astrid Muller-Karger (Ann Arbor, MI), I.B. Murphy (Marine on St. Croix, MN), John Posa (Ann Arbor, MI), Shawn Quinlan (Pittsburgh, PA), Jim Rehlin (Ann Arbor, MI), Jaye Schlesinger (Ann Arbor, MI), Geoffrey Stein (New York, NY), Marilynn Thomas (Warren, MI), Seth Trent (Chandler, AZ), Tamara Wasserman (Chicago, IL), Timothy Wells (Ypsilanti, MI), Chad Yenney (Wenatchee, WA), Micah Zavacky (Dayton, OH)
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.
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.
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