Tag Archives: paintings

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

Mit 1 Torn Orange 2016
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.

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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





Over the Rainbow with Shaina Kasztelan

Somewhere over the Rainbow is Another Rainbow at Hatch Hamtramck is Shaina Kasztelan’s poison pen love letter to kitsch and consumerism.    This Detroit artist and recent CCS grad  seems to simultaneously love and hate the symbols and materials that she uses to create her wildly entertaining  installations, paintings and sculptures.


Many artists in Detroit  are enthusiastic collagists of  gritty urban substance,  their  artworks depending on the inherent material  integrity of the parts to lend credibility to the whole. In contrast, Kasztelan employs the same assemblage method but uses materials that are the antithesis of authenticity.  They are, in fact, intentionally notable for their fakeness. The color is super-sweet, the forms mass market.  She  combines polyester fur, hobby shop jewels, plastic inflatables  and synthetic hair in obsessive aggregations, reaching new heights of  over-saturated,  over-the-top  visual hysteria.

I was surprised to learn that this is Kasztelan’s first  solo show.  The work seems confident, the installation expert.   The friendly yet knowing mood of the exhibit reminds me most of John Waters’s movies with their gleeful embrace of low-brow mass culture and transgressive imagery.Kaztelan Devil

Kasztelan seems especially  at ease in three dimensions. The most assured and  ambitious work in the show, entitled The Alien with the Drake Tattoo/Dedicated to the Butterfly,  is a kind of altar (complete with Juggalo nativity) that seems to burst out of a black cloud (of depression?)  She seems less at ease in the conventional rectangular format of her paintings, which felt a bit awkward to me. But she has very cleverly circumvented this unease in The Devil’s Vibrating Smile by applying the  imagery to clear vinyl. My favorite piece was a fake fur potted plant infested with tiny toy babies and topped by a pink plastic bouffant, entitled Baby Cactus is Happy. This show made me happy too.Kasztelan revised 1

Somewhere over the Rainbow is a Double Rainbow is at Hatch Hamtramck until May 28.  For more information for hours and events go here.

Did you Blink?

… If you did, you missed it.  I didn’t think it was possible for the hours at Whitdel Arts to get shorter. But I was wrong. Whitdel Arts, like many volunteer-run art spaces in Detroit, keeps its doors open only on 1 day a week for 3 hours per month-long show, a total of 12 hours. I have often struggled to get to Whitdel’s  well-conceived and well-installed shows during that window. But the  most recent show, One Year Later: Work by Tisch Mikhail Lewis was open only for 5 hours total, on Friday, May 13 and Saturday, May 14. This pop-up exhibit was held in a recently renovated and still empty craftsman-style  house on Commonwealth Street in Detroit. More about that later.

The stated theme of  One Year Later is our societal obsession with body image, weight control and conventional ideas of beauty.  Lewis says, “I use my work as a way to make sense of the world around me by deconstructing my experiences and examining them in terms of sociological theory pertaining to identity, body image, race and intersections between the three.”

These predominantly blue and yellow figures, mostly painted on raw canvas, didn’t strike me as being hard-edged political statements though.  Instead I found them to be lyrical and virtuosic figure studies, deftly done, and  quite pretty. The paintings are   relatively small scale, which gives them an air of intimacy that I enjoyed even though it undercuts somewhat the stated theme of the show.  It’s fashionable these days to make a political point with one’s art, but it seems to me that lovingly created and well drawn traditional figures  have value too.

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Now, as to why Whitdel Arts is open during shortened hours in a pop-up gallery. I have some bad news:

Through no fault of their own, the collective recently found itself out on the street following a sudden  notification from their landlord that their presence in the space was no longer welcome. While I  understand that nothing lasts forever, and that a landlord who has been generous in the past is under no obligation to be generous in perpetuity, the behavior of Southwest Solutions was abrupt and shocking. It also points to a growing hazard for non-profit collectives in the city. As  higher real estate prices come to Detroit, there will be increased economic  pressure to displace worthy but underfunded arts organizations of all types.

In spite of losing their  Hubbard Street space, the Whitdelians have vowed to soldier on, and are currently planning to maintain an active schedule of pop-up exhibitions until they are able to secure more permanent gallery space. So, for now,  it will be a little more difficult to keep track of Whitdel events.  You can go to the Whitdel Arts page on  FaceBook for updates here.

Beauty is Strange…

and this strangeness differentiates it from prettiness, which is no ordinary thing.”                    Fred Tomaselli 2008

In Keep Looking: Fred Tomaselli’s Birds, now on exhibit at the Toledo Museum of Art,  the artworks first soothe and attract, then disquiet and disturb.  This  show is part of a series featuring   bird-related imagery which is held biennially in conjunction with a prominent yearly convention of birders in the Toledo area.  While this is as good a pretext as any for bringing this work to the rust belt, it doesn’t begin to describe the importance and interest of this artist.

Tomaselli Mob
Mob 2016

I have been a fan of Fred Tomaselli’s paintings for years, and looked forward to this golden opportunity to see them in person without buying a plane ticket (thanks TMA!) This show includes 5 paintings, a tapestry and a few assorted works on paper, all installed in Gallery 6 of the museum’s contemporary art wing.

The first thing you respond to in looking at a Tomaselli painting is its sheer obsessive  and hallucinatory beauty. The paintings feature layers of meticulously collaged images covered in resin and then over-painted.  The black backgrounds evoke night skies and acid trips. Though it isn’t mentioned in the accompanying museum text, it’s clear that Tomaselli is no stranger to altered states.

Bird Battle

I loved all these paintings, but my favorite was Bird Battle (1997). The subdued palette and obsessive repetition of cutout birds with human eyes and (actual) hemp leaves put me in mind of some outsider visionary art.  From a distance the painting delivers a pleasurable punch of decorative pattern.  But as you draw near you see that this is a savage battle of all against all.  Birds attack each other in the air and in the trees, with many lying newly dead on the ground.  Tomaselli has distilled in one image all the beauty and all the cruelty of nature. In other pieces in this show, birds attack each other (Bird Mob), eat insects (Starling) and steal fruit (Migrant Fruit Thugs) but because the paintings are so intricately gorgeous  you can’t look away. You must keep looking.

Keep Looking: Fred Tomaselli’s Birds is on exhibit until August 7.  To see this must-see work and to get more information about hours and directions to the Toledo Museum of Art go here 




“Them” at Butter Projects in Royal Oak

Luxury, identity, class, perversity, carnality, playfulness… Royal Oaks’ Butter Projects has stirred it all together to create a thoughtful visual feast that describes what lies on the surface and what lies beneath.  “THEM” is loosely framed around portraiture, commonly defined as a representation or likeness of a specific individual, but each artist has gone far beyond the mere creation of a likeness to portray the unseen  reality below the surface.

Thirty-three beautifully rendered black and white gestural portrait studies by William Irving Singer anchor the show against an meticulously painted blue brocade background.  The portraits, which are made with black acrylic on coarse un-primed canvas, comment ironically on the society portrait as a signifier of wealth and importance. The lone likeness by Singer which features color, entitled Some Sort of Lunch Line, seems to portray a member of the have-not class who nonetheless sports a kind of jaunty elegance. somesortoflunchline

Works by Lauren Kalman consist of fetishistic photographs of  hooded women. The effect of these photographs is ominous and seems to indicate that the woman portrayed is engaged in some kind of luxurious pearl-encrusted sex play. She is not powerless, but she is immobilized.

The photographs are accompanied by formal hood-like clay or pigskin sculptures, some with corks or objects stuffed in the apertures where one would expect to find eyes or mouths. They are both humorous  and disturbing.

But if the crime is beautiful

As if to add some lightness to this otherwise serious exploration of the self, Butter Projects has included three-dimensional work from artist Kat Burdine. These canines are engaged in doing what dogs do and doing it with abandon: pooping, groveling and licking…no inner angst here. Entitled “Strays” these  chunky life-sized wooden creatures project a kind of joy in spite of  their displacement.

butter dog

During the run of the exhibition, Butter Projects will hold open hours Saturdays and Sundays from 1-3pm. Additional hours can be made by appointment. Them will be on exhibit until May 7, 2016

Butter Projects is an artist run studio and exhibition space. For more information contact Alison Wong butter.projects@gmail.com

Butter Projects, 814 W. 11 Mile, Royal Oak, MI 48067





River House Gallery moves to Downtown Toledo

River House Arts, formerly located in a historic building overlooking the Maumee River in Perrysburg, Ohio, has moved to downtown Toledo. The new space (or I should say spaces) are located in the Secor Building,  a former luxury hotel at 425 Jefferson. The former Secor Hotel, built in 1908, is also the home of the Toledo Opera and the Registry, an upscale gourmet restaurant.   The main gallery on the ground floor  features high ceilings and grand baroque-style windows. Gallerist Paula Baldoni says that in addition to providing a larger space to display more ambitious work,  River House Arts is now located in a busy urban setting with lively street life.      River House Opening 2

River House Arts also has a smaller, more intimate space on another floor of the building to accommodate works on paper and smaller artworks.

Artworks by various artists represented by the gallery are displayed in the spacious lobby of the building and throughout the common areas.

The inaugural exhibition is a solo show by Cuban artist Augusto Bordelois.  His work is an example of the more ambitious scale and scope of work that will be featured  in future shows in the gallery.

The show is entitled Immigrants, Outcasts and Other Heroes. Immigration and war, insecurity and fear, romantic and familial love and the absurdity of the modern age are some of the themes addressed in these colorful and intricate compositions. Mr. Bordelois’ style can called a kind of magic realism, a  visual counterpart to the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  Filled with symbolism and allegory, the paintings give the viewer plenty to contemplate.

The exhibition will be open April – June 4.  Call 419.441.4025 for hours, or email: info@river-house-arts.com



Re:Formation Call for Art

Accomplished independent curators Rocco DePietro and Gloria Pritschet of  Gallery Project are planning their  4th dual-site exhibition entitled Re:Formation. The exhibit  will open in August, 2016, in a modified 17,000 sq foot 50’s department store space in downtown Toledo, OH, and then move to the Ann Arbor Art Center in downtown Ann Arbor in mid-September-October.  The Toledo site has abundant space for large scale installation and 3-D work. Artists interested in participating in this exhibit should send jpg images and/or proposals to: galleryproject@gmail.com

Re: Formation examines this unique moment when ordinary people are declaring, ala Peter Finch, “I am mad as hell and I won’t take it anymore.”  What is different at this time is that people who have been silent, or silenced, are standing up, speaking out, and, mobilizing for needed change.  Highly divergent in life styles with broad-ranging backgrounds, beliefs and values, these individuals are expressing justifiable anger at the accumulation of horrific events and unrelenting injustices that characterize our current era. They are teaming up, across race, gender, politics, and social status with empathy and compassion for their fellow human beings.  Their actions are reestablishing belief in a positive future based on fairness, equity, and genuine possibility for all.  Is this a tipping point, a moment for reform, or even a revolution?  Or is it just another blip before capitulation and regression?

The exhibit challenges artists to express, in all media and in any size including large installation, their perspective of this time of Re: Formation.  What is shifting? How are these shifts taking form? How do you experience this time of formation?  What is your relationship to it, its impacts on you, your participation in this awareness and militancy? What can or should be done?  What outcomes might result and what will the future look like?  Re: Formation invites artists to actively express this unfolding reality as observers, participants, documentarians, conjurers and critics.

Artwork for Re: Formation depicts:

  •  the process of pivotal change in perception, perspective, assumptions, beliefs,      habits, choices and actions;
  • dramatic relationship changes among people, objects, and places;
  •  bold, redirected thinking and resulting responses about crucial issues;
  •  new forms and structures of a transformed society;
  •  movement in a transformative direction such as towards alternative futures;
  •  recent horrific events and gradual eroding events, their aftermath, and possible solutions;
  •  classism and prejudice in issues of social justice;
  •  conditions that force change; and
  •  challenges to the status quo.



Borders Exhibit Opening March 3

Letts_The Borderlands (painting)

I am delighted to be included in the upcoming juried exhibition Borders,  hosted by River House and the Owens Community College  Center for Fine and Performing Arts.  The opening reception will be held on Thursday, March 3, from 6-8.  The juror, Sarah Rose Sharp will be speaking at the  opening reception.  She is a 2015 Kresge Literary Arts Fellow for Arts Criticism.

The exhibit will run March 4-31 at the Walter E. Terhune Gallery in the Owens Community College Center for Fine and Performing Arts, located at 30335 Oregon Road, Perrysburg OH 43551. Check here for more information.

A total of 17 artists have been selected to exhibit 27 pieces of work in the juried exhibition. Artists were asked to consider these questions in submitting their works: Where do we find borders and how do they shape us? Why do we embrace or reject them? When does a unifying contour become a divisional line?

The selected artists: David Burke – PA, David Cuatlacuatl – IN, Mary Fortuna – MI, Maureen Joyce – PA, Lindsey Landfried – PA, Yusurf Lateef – OH,  K.A. Letts – MI,  Zach Lihatsh – IL,  Mary Mazziotti – PA, Laurenn McCubbin – OH, Sidney Mullis – PA, Gabrielle Roach – IN, Whitney Sage – OH, Jina Seo – IL, Meagan Shein – MI, Kathryn Shinko – OH, Jessica Tenbusch – MI