Tag Archives: paintings

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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Shakespeare’s Characters: Playing the Part

 

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Ophelia by Arthur Hughes

Few playwrights–fewer than I can count on two  hands–can match William Shakepeare’s  popularity over time. Four hundred years after his death, he is universally revered, frequently performed and freely adapted. The compact  exhibit Shakespeare’s Characters: Playing the Part, on display now through January 8 in Gallery 6 of the Toledo Museum of Art,  celebrates the playwright’s continuing relevance to literature, visual art and theater.

Using paintings, prints and artifacts from the museum’s collection as well as a few pieces from private collectors and from the Blade Rare Book Room of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library,  Mellon Fellow Christina Larson has curated a fascinating exhibit that traces the path of Shakespeare’s plays through time and taste. She explains:

We saw this [the 400th anniversary] as a great opportunity to honor the Bard with an exhibition.  The focus on Shakespeare’s characters came about after I had looked at Shakespeare-related artwork on view and in storage. This seemed like the unifying  theme and one that would  likely grasp the attention of the public …Overall, the exhibition is about inspiration and influence.  Shakespeare’s characters were greatly influenced by mythology and medieval tales, while his plays  and sonnets have influenced visual artists and musicians”

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Ophelia by Eugene Delacroix

Since she was limited in her curatorial choices to works available in the Toledo area, for Playing the Part Larson  has occasionally been forced to draw comparisons between artworks and plays which are not among Shakespeare’s best or most frequently produced. The never popular–and possibly never produced– Troilus and Cressida is represented, rather tangentially, by a beautiful  Greek calyx krater attributed to the Rycroft Painter. But Shakespeare’s popular and frequently performed Hamlet seems to have been a great favorite as a subject among visual artists of the 18th and 19th century and is amply represented here.  Ophelia in particular was a literary figure of great interest,  the pure  female victim being a favorite trope of the time, and is seen  in this exhibit most memorably in Arthur Hughes’s large portrait of the doomed heroine. This lushly painted canvas, the curator’s favorite in the exhibit,  is restrained and  moody and loaded with late Victorian symbolism if you know what to look for.  This is a major work by the pre-Raphaelite artist and one of the most famous in the museum’s collection. Delacroix’s small lithograph of Ophelia, from a series of 13 he created, treats the same subject in a more theatrical vein, and an etching by Eduard Manet of the actor Philibert Rauviere as Hamlet shows that interest in Shakespeare’s plays was not limited to the English.

Because Playing the Part is  a temporary exhibit, the curator was able to include work that, because of its delicacy, age or condition could not be installed in the museum’s more permanently displayed collection.

“Much of the exhibition features prints and photographs. Due to conservation concerns around lighting, this artwork cannot be on permanent view, so an exhibition is the perfect opportunity to feature the artwork for a shorter duration of time,”  Larson says.

Photographs by George Platt Lynes (1907-1955), of actors in a production of A Midsummer’s Night ‘s Dream are a particularly good example of rare artworks on limited view. Lynes, a photographer of the 1930’s and 40’s, was noted for his theatrical and fashion photography as well as male nude photographs now in the collection of the  Kinsey Institute. Another lovely and more contemporary example of rare book art is Ronald King’s unbound, handwritten text with drawings, of Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra (1979).

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Anthony and Cleopatra, unbound book by Ronald King

Shakespeare’s plays enjoyed renewed popularity across all classes in 18th century Britain as can be seen in the many  volumes reprinting and illustrating his plays in this exhibit.  For both the social elite and the newly prosperous English middle class of the time, the vogue for reprinted editions of his works illustrated their emerging patriotic and egalitarian ideals as the British Empire became a  global power.  The Boydell Shakespeare Folio, 5 engravings from which are represented in this exhibit, was emblematic of the veritable Shakespeare industry that developed during this period.

Of the many delights in this eclectic show, my personal favorite is Iago’s Mirror (2009) by African American artist Fred Wilson. This sinister, opaque-yet-reflective baroque mirror of Murano glass is a (literal) reflection on blackness with all its moral, spiritual and racial implications, and shows that Shakespeare’s timeless story of jealousy, villainy and death in Venice remains resonant for contemporary artists and audiences.

 

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Iago’s Mirror by Fred Wilson

Playing the Part establishes without a doubt that William Shakespeare found his genius while rummaging around in the cultural closet of western civilization.  The enduring relevance of Shakespeare’s art comes, not from the conceptual novelty of its premises but from the originality of its execution. He could make a threadbare story feel fresh, the unbelievable seem inevitable, the fanciful seem irresistible. His greatness still resonates with visual artists and has inspired them in turn  to create works of genius.

In addition to the works on display in this exhibit,  Christina Larson and the staff at the Toledo Museum of Art have assembled a packed schedule of related programming, from lectures to film to musical and theatrical performances. And there’s even a Spotify playlist of Shakespeare’s sonnets and music inspired by Shakespeare.   For related museum programs go here

For Forage: 4th Annual Festival of the Honeybee Art Exhibition

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Apis Mellifera x Homo Sapiens: Symbiotic Colony

As summer draws to a close and harvest time approaches, Jessica Tenbusch, Elize Jekabson  and Maggie Spencer  invite us to consider the honeybee.

The exhibit For Forage celebrates, in collaboration with the 4th Annual Ypsilanti Festival of the Honeybee, the many ways in which this indispensable insect contributes to the natural environment and human well-being. Participating artists were invited to “share visions, critique relations between humans and honeybees, share new perspectives.”  And share they have, with a variety of intriguing and insightful artworks that are well worth a trip to 22 North Gallery, in Ypsilanti MI,  where the exhibit will be on view until September 30.

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Colony (detail) by Riva Jewell-Vitale

In the cooperative, hardworking and self-effacing spirit of the honeybee, the anonymous collective Ann Katrine has created a series of small, wall-mounted artworks that combine the production of insect, bacteria, yeast and humans in a creative relationship.  The bees provide the honeycomb and the artists riff on the hexagonal shapes with red embroidery thread, sometimes echoing, sometimes augmenting the shapes. The translucent coating visible on the surface of the works is dried kombucha, a microbial cellulose material which is derived from symbiotic colonies of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY). These subtly glowing objects  echo the interconnectedness of nature from the microscopic to the insect to the human.

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Pursuit of Pollen by Lush Lapel

A more playful tone is set by  two fashionable and off-beat hats created by Lush Lapel. In Pursuit of Pollen, the honeybee  appears as a decorative motif, along with seed pods, feathers and other bits and pieces. The results are fit for a queen bee of any species.

Also seriously fashionable are the brooches, necklaces and rings created by Riva Jewell-Vitale.  Her multi-piece wall-mounted installation of jewelry, entitled Colony, demonstrates her considerable talent as a collagist. She  creates inventive combinations of unexpected components that somehow result in elegant and mysterious wearable sculptures. bee-ryan-bogan

A more reverential note on the honeybee as Nature’s  martyr and saint is struck by Ryan Bogan. His insect reliquary, Blessed is the Fruit of Thy Womb, features the tiny body of  a honeybee suspended in a glass dome surrounded by precious gold leaf. Lovingly crafted and carefully composed, this piece wouldn’t be out of place in a modern religious setting.

If you are planning a trip to Ypsi to see For Forage, remember that 22 North, like many other arts spaces in the Detroit metro area, is open during limited hours during weekdays and on weekends, or by appointment. To find out more about the gallery’s exhibits and events go  here.

Or call:  501.454.6513

Artists in For Forage: Meagan Shein, Brad Naftzger, Heather Leigh, Ann Katrine Collective, Owen Wittekindt, Marshelia Williams, Michael O’Dell Jr., Rive Jewell-Vitale, Jonathan J. Sandberg with Kevin Kwiatkowski, Ryan Bogan, Lush Lapel

 

 

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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PowerArt!

Lately I’ve been spending a whole lot of time on the hot, hot streets of Ann Arbor, looking at some cool traffic box wraps that have just been installed all over town. After the chaos and cacophony of the Ann Arbor Art Fairs last week (which features the work of excellent and not-so-excellent artists from around the country) it’s a pleasure to see work by accomplished local talent while walking leisurely down the now-deserted streets.

The PowerArt! project is sponsored and managed by Arts Alliance in co-operation with the Downtown Development Authority and  Ann Arbor Public Arts Commission. Not only do these easily cleanable vinyl-wrapped  traffic boxes add interest to the urban streetscape, they also -sneakily- discourage graffiti and tagging.    I’ve seen projects like this in my travels, most recently in Seattle and Minneapolis, and now power box wraps have come to our fair city.  The project features images from Washtenaw County artists, some of whom I know (I’m one of them) and some I’d never heard of.

I was curious so I googled them. Where have I been? What I discovered was that Ann Arbor/Washtenaw County is home to  an amazing group of accomplished arts professionals that are keeping a very low profile. There’s a science illustrator, an accomplished museum conservator, a comic and children’s book author and a caricaturist (just to name a few). There are also numerous artists who teach at all levels as well as working hard on creating their own art.

I think it’s some kind of a crime that many of  these creatives haven’t (up to now) been  widely known and appreciated in their home town. So in the coming months I will be periodically interviewing them for RustbeltArts.com.  Stay tuned!

I will be going on vacation in the next two weeks, and since this is a one-horse operation there will be a short hiatus in my posts.  If you want to read  about Michigan arts and artists  while I’m gone, there’s a good story by former MLive arts reporter Jenn McKee about PowerArt! project from Culture Source . There’s also an interesting interview with Bruce Worden (the afore-mentioned science illustrator) here

Stay cool!

 

 

 

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

 

 

The Return of Nancy Mitchnick

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Torn Orange 2016 by Nancy Mitchnick

Nearly the first thing that you will hear about the painter Nancy Mitchnick, who has recently returned to her native Detroit to live, is that she was a  member of the influential Cass Corridor Group back in the day.  This diverse  group of artists from the  70’s  showed their work in Detroit Institute of Art’s 1980 exhibition Kick Out The Jams at a time when civic art museums (and the DIA in particular) were more open to supporting regional artists. The show looms large in the history of art in Detroit as a touchstone of particular significance.

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Pink Water 2014 by Nancy Mitchnick

But it seems to me not so interesting that Mitchnick started out here, but that she has come back, bringing with her 40 years of experience on the coasts, both east (New York, Boston) and west (Los Angeles) as an artist and painter.  In her current solo show at MOCAD,  Nancy Mitchnick: Uncalibrated,  it’s clear that she has something to say about her past and present home town and ample technical means with which to say it.

Most artists who paint or photograph the city are preoccupied with Detroit’s decrepit commercial  architecture.  Buildings like  Michigan Central Depot and the Packard Plant come in for quite a bit of this attention as  stand-ins for the decay of the city.  As such, much of this work has become a visual cliche sometimes referred to as “ruin porn”. By contrast, Mitchnick’s pictures are highly personal and grounded in her particular mode of expression as well as in the particularity of her subjects.

Mitchnick grew up in Detroit, and many if the paintings in this show are portraits of the domestic architecture of her former neighborhood, including her childhood home on Buffalo Street. The houses she paints are of frame construction and  vulnerable to destruction by fire and neglect. In these pictures they are shown in their entirety, squared off frontally, and many urban features such as signage and utility lines are edited out. In consequence the paintings are both rural and urban in tone, a perfect distillation of many Detroit neighborhoods now.

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Buffalo Street 2009 by Nancy Mitchnick

It should be noted that most of the paintings are quite large, giving  the impression that you are physically standing in front of the house. So in case you think you are getting an accurate impression of this work by looking at it online, think again.  You will only be able to fully appreciate these artworks by standing in the same room with them.

Mitchnick’s many years of working as an artist on the coasts are evident in the ambitious scale of the paintings and in her assured brush work and accomplished composition. Two predominantly pink paintings hung side by side (Good Neighbors) made me think of Diebenkorn’s abstractions with their large fields of pastel color and implied grid. And the infringement of the natural world on Detroit’s decaying built environment put me in mind of some landscapes by Alex Katz.  She describes the inevitable effects of time and nature on everything human and human-made; the effect is elegaic.

alex katz
Alex Katz
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6 Mile 2009 by Nancy Mitchnick

It is worthwhile when you visit MOCAD to look at the  vitrine installed in the center of the gallery. It contains a number of sketches and photographs used by the artist to research her paintings. There can hardly be a clearer contrast between the relative strengths of  two media than in a comparison of the photo of a burned out house and the corresponding painting Big Burn.The black and white photo is cool,stark and feels archival, while the painting is nostalgic, emotional, and captures the fleeting moment in time. Also in the vitrine is an enlightening picture related to the large painting Nancy and Mimi from Another Planet, in which painter and her mother are depicted as classical Roman caryatids, separated by insurmountable distance and backed by two miniature versions of Mitchnick’s paintings.

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Big Burn 2016 by Nancy Mitchnick

Mitchnick’s perspective as a painter is different from that of many artists who have been in the city throughout its troubles.  Painting as an artistic mode of expression is not so favored here in Detroit, photography, collage, installation and assemblage being preferred for their more immediate incorporation of the substance of the city. Perhaps it is distrust for the lyrical qualities of painting that seems to be at odds with the surrounding environment, or maybe it’s uneasiness with the necessity for  every painting to express not only the issues of the moment, but also to address its place in art history and to make a case for its inclusion in that history going forward. In any case, Mitchnick seems to have no trouble with that and this alone makes her a valuable addition to the visual arts scene in Detroit.

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Nancy and Mimi From Another Planet 2014 by Nancy Mitchnick

One of the most thrilling things in this show to my mind as a working artist, is Mitchnick’s willingness to take risks in her art as exemplified by two new paintings at the entrance to the show, Night Heron and White Front.  In these two unresolved paintings, the artist seems to be fearlessly headed in a more expressionistic direction. In Night Heron, she begins to incorporate objects (totems?) like snakes, vegetables, objects and the like, superimposed on a formalized version of a house.  Also included is a rather awkwardly drawn, almost life-size female figure cribbed from an Indian  miniature. Mitchnick is wrestling with some very interesting countervailing forces within these paintings, and her future course is unclear but intriguing.

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Night Heron 2016 by Nancy Mitchnick

As the city of Detroit shifts and stirs beneath our feet, we need artists of brilliance to visually record and comment on this moment in the city’s history. Nancy Mitchnick is uniquely suited to be foremost among those. Her particular devotion to the medium of painting  and her status as a master artist  will go some way in rounding out visual culture in Detroit.  Nancy Mitchnick: Uncalibrated will be on view at MOCAD from now through July 31, 2016. For more information 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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