I recently wrote a review for AADL Pulp of Works in Progress, a group show at Ann Arbor Art Center. Consisting of work by 24 (mostly) Detroit/Ann Arbor-based designers at varying stages in their careers, the exhibit illustrates the creative process of gifted thinkers and planners who bring functional works to life through fashion, graphic design, furniture, architecture, and industrial design. To read more about them, go here.
Meagan Shein, Jessica Tenbusch and Elize Jekabson in their fine art maker space
I recently wrote an article for Ann Arbor’s Current Magazine about Ypsi Alloy, a creative collective that features work by 17 of the area’s most talented professional artists. You can read about them here
Loraine Lynn here gives a useful description of the main themes of Toledo’s Sculpture X, with its emphasis on art as social practice. I’m dubious about the efficacy of this way of making art, and didn’t see anything in my (admittedly) limited experience of the work on view to change my mind. That said, I appreciate Lynn’s description of the proceedings and her earnest effort to grapple with the inherent internal contradictions and tricky social crosswinds of art as social practice.
All art is Social Practice rang out as some of the last words of this year’s symposium, spoken by Saul Ostrow, curator and co-founder of SculptureX.
The event’s ninth year iteration, titled Igniting Change, took place over two days at the Toledo Museum of Art and Bowling Green State University. The focus was on the concept of Social Practice, a way of working in art that often gets traced back to the 1990’s. During his talk, Ostrow pointed out that the emergence of Social Practice began as early as 1913 with the Russian Constructivists (with the rejection of autonomous art) and can be seen later in the 1930’s with Social Realism (in work by artists such as Diego Riveria and Dorothea Lange).
Despite discrepancies regarding its origins, Social Practice is rising in popularity, both in art and academia. Taking this into account the question of whether or not artists…
Sculptures spill out over the lawn of Kegham Tazian’s neat suburban home as if the restless creative impulse inside can’t be contained. Tazian, a trim and cordial man with salt-and-pepper hair, meets me at the door, and ushers me into an interior where hundreds of sculptures and paintings are neatly displayed, evidence of nearly 60 years well spent as a prolific and productive artist in Detroit. Like architects Eliel Saarinan and Albert Kahn and sculptor Corrado Parducci, he is an immigrant creative who has found a home in the city, nurtured by its energy and sheltered by its community.
Tazian’s story begins in Turkey, where his family was part of a persecuted Armenian minority. His mother, displaced during the troubled times of World War I that culminated in the Armenian genocide, was taken to Beirut, Lebanon as a child to study in a Catholic convent. During a lull in the unrest, her family moved her back to Turkey, but after her marriage and the birth of her 5 children – of which Kegham was the youngest at 1 year old–the entire family relocated to Lebanon with the support of the French government. Tazian’s father died when he was 4, and his mother carried on raising the family alone. Their first years in Lebanon were difficult. “My mom is my hero,“ Tazian says. “She couldn’t read or write, but she spoke 4 languages… She never asked for any help.” Tazian recalls, “[when] I was 7 years old, along with my 3 brothers and my mom, we would walk some 8-10 miles one way to pick potatoes and onions.”
Tazian developed an early ambition to become an artist, even though he had very little exposure to the arts. “My background was completely zero in art. There were no classes in elementary school or high school. I went to two different high schools, and none of them had art, but in my mind I always planned to be an artist.”
“The only person [who encouraged me] was my 5th grade English teacher, Olivia Balian,” he says. “She really opened the doors of art for me. She said, ‘Those students who are interested in art can stay behind after school and I will show you how to paint and draw.’ Somehow [that] changed my life– she gave me that spark.”
When one of Tazian’s older brothers started a successful button-making business, giving the family some stability and making study abroad financially feasible, Tazian came to the U.S. to study at St. Francis College in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Tazian humorously recalls his lack of preparation: “When I came there … to an art school, I had no idea what an art school [was]!” Somehow, in spite of this, he earned a bachelors degrees in art and a masters in art education, and then managed to get admitted to Wayne State University in Detroit, where he went on to receive an MFA in sculpture in 1966. For the next 47 years, he taught art at Oakland Community College’s Orchard Ridge Campus in Farmington Hills, while maintaining an active studio practice, showing his work regularly in galleries around the country and fulfilling numerous commissions for public art in the Detroit area.
Kegham Tazian is a kind of magpie artist, always on the sharp-eyed lookout for materials that spark his creative impulse. Ruined styrofoam from a job site, a cow bone, a battered oil pan, a discarded circuit board – all of these apparently un-prepossessing materials have found their way into his work. He collects and combines objects he finds in the environment and enters into a dialog with them to create a finished painting or sculpture. “I’m open minded …If I see something in nature, then that becomes part of my art work… More than anything else I’m curious about how I can express myself, in what medium.” He continues, “I never know from one day to the next what I’ll do. It all happens in that moment. One of the luxuries I’ve had is teaching – a steady income – so I never [had to] weigh doing something the public likes so I can make my car payments or house payments.”
Asked about his creative influences, Tazian takes a panoramic view. “When it comes to… the idea of uniqueness, I always say, I’m indebted to the first person, man or woman, who did something in a cave.” He is dismissive of the idea of the artist as a solitary, heroic figure. “To me, it’s all work,” he says. “We’re all walking that same road, just maybe in a slightly different way… the idea of originality – I don’t really believe in it…all you’re doing is making a variation on what others who have preceded you have done. So you put your own stamp on it.”
Since his retirement from teaching in 2014, Tazian has, if anything, increased his creative output. He is currently preparing for a solo show of his recent work at Detroit’s highly respected Galerie Camille, from October 3 – 10. Among the planned 40 artworks on display will be new limestone and bronze sculptures, multi-media paintings and computer-aided works on paper, evidence – if any were still needed – of the artist’s continuing curiosity and restless energy.
For more information about the exhibit Kegham Tazian: A Journey Through Art go here
I recently wrote my first review as Detroit correspondent for Chicago’s New Art Examiner. The May/June issue, which has just been published, focuses on exhibits of work by women artists, including Looking Forward, Looking Back by Howardena Pindell at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and Nina Chanel Abney’s Royal Flush at the Chicago Cultural Center. Rebecca Memoli, who reviews Royal Flush, concentrates her comments on Abney’s latest large, graphic works, which struck me as being very Stuart-Davis-like. My preference is for her earlier, more expressionistic paintings, but Memoli’s essay is a good introduction to Abney’s work. Pindell’s exhibit, reviewed byAniko Berman, is on view until May 20, and it’s well worth a visit.
I want to thank NAE Managing Editor Tom Mullaney and Editor in Chief Michel Segard for giving me this opportunity to get the word out on exciting contemporary art being shown in Detroit and environs. You can read my review of Shaina Kasztelan and Heidi Barlow’s D3PR3$$10N N4P at Hatch Hamtramck here.
Animals. They share our beds, our homes, our back yards. We love them, as friends and as dinner. And in some ways our relationship with them reflects a confused and self-contradictory understanding of our place in nature, a place that is being reassessed in the early 21st century as we confront climate change, animal cruelty and mass extinction.
Our fraught relationship with animals forms the premise of Thinking with Animals, a thoughtful collection of exquisite artworks currently on view at River House Arts in Toledo. Artists Jessica Tenbusch and Morgan Barrie have curated this exceptionally beautiful show, and share the gallery walls with the work of fellow artists Julie Bahn, Emily White and Breanne Sherwood.
Jessica Tenbusch employs silver and bronze casts of natural objects such as animal bones, insect exoskeletons and bits of plants in dialog with highly refined manmade materials to create a series of lapidary landscapes displayed in a grid pattern. The overall effect is one of beauty and order that invites close looking. Each single component of her piece Artifacts/Ecofacts is a complete work of art but together they constitute a world of minute perception.
Morgan Barrie’s two large photo collages riff humorously on the well known Netherlandish Unicorn in Captivity tapestry owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She adapts the decorative plants from the original tapestry by introducing plants native to the upper Midwest, such as purple coneflowers, black-eyed susans and joe pye weed, digitally collaged on a dark background. In the center of the composition formerly occupied by the mythical unicorn are life-size domestic companion animals, the dog and the cat, surrounded by what appears to be modern storm fencing of the type available at Lowe’s or Home Depot. The dog in Tapestry is a handsome boxer and, as it happens, her own family dog . Though chained, he seems to be comfortable in his confinement, while the feral-looking cat in Captivity lurks within the fence, scheming to escape.
Fiber artist Breanne Sherwood is clearly in love with the substance of nature. She shows a particular affinity for the decorative qualities of bird plumage in Relics of Santiam, embellishing disembodied avian wings with carefully embroidered and appliqued threads and tulle. They retain their anatomical identity but the delicacy of the artist’s handling imparts reverence to these relics of departed creatures. Sherwood’s more ambitiously scaled One Yard, One Bird applies human organization and emotional tenderness to a fatal event.
The intimidatingly-sized and accomplished paintings of wild animals native to North America in Emily White’s two artworks Reintroduction II (Grey Wolf) and Velvet (a truly disturbing life-size rendering of a moose shedding the velvet skin of its antlers) dominate the gallery. They look as if they could easily grace the walls of a natural history museum. The landscapes in which the animals stand are surrounded by highly finished birch plywood, framing the wilderness in civilization. Easily missed in the paintings are the artist’s sly additions of human technology into the natural environment.
Julie Bahn’s work is the most directly political of the group. She addresses human consumption of animals for food and consumerism in One Hundred Twenty Eight Days of Protein. A silver plate is piled high with the broken bones of consumed animals, embellished and be-dazzled by Swarovski crystals, ready to be re-cycled and re-consumed as art. Her soft sculpture Hug Me, is a tantalizing visual enigma. The large vinyl fish with strangely human eyes hangs limply from the gallery ceiling, a glittering tag around its neck, inviting us to engage with it as a fellow creature, not just as dinner.
Artists, always the shock troops of changing cultural attitudes, are thinking hard about the way forward in our relationship with nature, and in the process creating art that resonates, questions and inspires with its beauty. The work in Thinking With Animals ably addresses the complexity and ambivalence of our evolving thoughts about animals, humans and our place in the environment.
For more about Thinking with Animals and River House Arts, go here . If you’d like to read more about animals and art, go here.
It’s that time of year–gray, dreary, damp and dark–when gallery hopping feels like a chore. But the art is out there and it must be seen, polar vortex notwithstanding. An encounter with Geometrix at Galerie Camille until February 24, can make the effort seem worthwhile, and might just get you through the worst of winter, 2018.
In their art practice, Clark Goeman, Franklin Jonas and James Benjamin Franklin take the manipulation of geometry as a point of departure. It’s hardly a new concept, but the work by these three results in remarkably divergent bodies of work and proves once again that a universe is possible within the limits of a simple premise.
Clark Goeman delivers a series of well crafted and carefully conceived objects in various media that suggest energy under pressure. Two large, aggressively corporate sculptures occupy the interior of Galerie Camille and vibrate with silent presence. The Death Star-like Black Matter is solid, monumental and threatening, while the more open and lyrical Icosahedron describes the same geometric shape in wood, minus the menace.
Goeman shows off his considerable skills in both clay manipulation and ceramic glazes with a series of fairly small, clenched objects that suggest projectiles. These weaponized artworks look vaguely dangerous, like hand grenades or land mines, and their metallic-glazed surfaces reinforce the impression. They seem as if they could explode at any moment, projecting peril far out of proportion to their size. If I saw one lying unattended on a bus seat, I might consider calling Homeland Security.
“The perfection of geometry fascinates me,” says Franklin Jonas. That may well be, but it appears to me that the true fascination of this work lies in its manipulation of color and pattern within the bounds of the constructed shapes. In The Star Project, Jonas applies saturated hues that might be ripped from a Pantone Formula Color Guide in tightly rendered stripes that follow the contours of the five-pointed figures. Idiosyncratic, insistent, pugnaciously decorative color combinations move restlessly around, intersected and interrupted by flat white shapes that violate their integrity, setting up a rhythmic counterpoint. With their buzzy optical vibration, The Star Project suggests the visual equivalent of techno music.
The Embryo Series projects a more serene effect with its ovoid outer shapes repeated adroitly within each of the 4 artworks. Jonas describes his color choices in The Embryo Series as referencing a “mathematical color algorithm.” He claims that “the information contained in each circle accurately predicts the color scheme of the other three.” Fortunately, it’s not necessary to understand this rather abstruse technical explanation to appreciate the visual charms of Jonas’s work.
James Benjamin Franklin takes his geometry with a playful grain of salt. Ten fairly small, eccentric shapes rest on a gallery shelf, leaning against the wall on their spindly legs. These lively, vaguely anthropomorphic figures in flat, waxy crayon colors line up like a class of restless toddlers ready for an outing. Franklin’s ingratiating pictograms add an element of humor and sly charm while remaining inscrutable. They are deceptively simple, childlike but knowing. Two larger pieces round out Franklin’s installation. A large refrigerator-shaped slab of yellow (with a handle!) made me want to open it and search for treats inside. To its right rests a red …thing, that might be a web or a window, alternately barring the way or inviting us through.
If the gray of winter and the icy damp of Detroit’s streets is beginning to get to you and a trip to someplace warm isn’t in the cards, Galerie Camille and Geometrix offers an alternate destination. A whiff of danger, a pop of color and some smart fun can help to pass the time, and pretty soon spring will be just around the corner. I hope.
When two artists show their work together, the urge to compare and contrast is almost irresistible. “On the one hand this, and on the other hand that” becomes the template for evaluation and appreciation. Artists Aviva Alter and Marzena Ziejka invite this even more, because they do, in fact, have quite a lot in common. Their 2-person show, From Bits and Pieces, is on exhibit at Firecat Projects, 2124 N. Damen Avenue, Chicago, until November 11, 2017.
Alter and Ziejka share their eastern european heritage. Alter is a second-generation American with German and Polish roots and Ziejka is a more recent arrival from Poland. The pair met several years ago at an art exhibition, got to know each other and became close friends.
As they began planning From Bits and Pieces, both had recently lost a parent, a shared experience that each processed in her own unique way. Alter says, “For me, the death led me into artwork about the body, death, life, healing and decay.” Ziejka struggled to understand how her creation of an object could somehow stand for the longed-for and absent parent. Her father was constantly mending and tending, and Ziejka recognizes this impulse in her own art practice. “Isn’t it a process of our lives? We are collecting, arranging and re-arranging things until we are lost in them or in the process or both.”
Both artists have strong backgrounds in traditional crafts, but neither is content to work within accepted traditions, and each seems compelled to push the boundaries of her craft and art. They are hunter-gatherers, (Alter in an urban setting and Ziejka in the country), collectors of inspiration from the detritus of civilization and nature.
Alter began her life as an artist in ceramics, working as a studio potter (and later director) at Lillstreet Street Art Center. She grew and adapted along the way, adding fiber and printmaking to her skill set, mixing and matching her various abilities to produce hybrid artworks that resist easy categorization.
She learned to crochet as part of the gloriously luxuriant Crochet Coral Reef Project and subsequently led the development of the Cambrian Reef shown at the Chicago Cultural Center, the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum and the Smithsonian.
Alter’s recent work, exhibited here, takes an ad hoc approach to art-making. The technical requirements of a particular craft vocabulary have been jettisoned for an experimental, provisional process that yields smallish constructs that might be improvised cricket cages or handcrafted internal prosthetics. She describes her process: “[it] began with my obsession for gathering discarded bits of information, assembling and reassembling them to create an order of my own invention… focusing on processes that disguise the original function of the found objects, these forms become amalgamations of broken bits and pieces of my world.” The results are ephemeral-seeming objects that feature fragile, sheer and translucent materials held together by irregular stitching, tying and wrapping. Sticks, wire and found fragments form the armature, and are covered by gauze, string and metal mesh, overlaid by waxy color.
Marzena Ziejka has worked as a professional weaver of tapestry, miniature painter, graphic designer and illustrator. Born and raised in Tarnow Poland, she grew up on a farm and was attracted to the earthy qualities of farm materials: soil, unprimed canvass, horse hair and sticks. The natural materials she employs speak of her past, her absent father and exile from a lost place and time. She writes, ” I am from the land where soil, earth is not called ‘dirt’/Where it is called Mother-Earth, Mother-Breadwinner.”
Through accretion and repetition, Ziejka arrives at a series of cocoon-like images. Her creative process is based on unorthodox weaving techniques using natural materials. She calls the sticks that she uses “tree bones” and the materials she employs inevitably create shapes arising from her means of production. It is a kind of nature-based constructivism. The resulting ovoid shapes look like empty mummy cases or the discarded shells of transformed bodies. They project simultaneously a sense both of ominous presence and poignant loss, as if the still-living are in dialog with the recently deceased. These artworks, while not closely resembling the more figurative work of her fellow countrywoman Magdalena Abakanowicz, convey the same pensive mood of alienation.
One of the great mysteries in art is how two artists who start with similar premises, materials and methods can end up with work that is uniquely and completely their own. It explains on some level how the individual creative impulse is the one great variable that any artist brings to her work, and that each of these artists has in abundance.
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.
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,  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.
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.”
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.”
Sam G. Fecteau Brown
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.
Attractive and repellant, humorous, tragic and tortured, the otherworldly figures created by visionary artist Susan Aaron-Taylor live on the shadowy boundaries between what we know and what we imagine. In her solo exhibition Strata, now on view in the Connections Gallery of the University of Michigan’s North Campus Research Center, the artist pulls 14 individual figures from her unconscious mind and presents them to us, hoping to awaken the sense of a shared, but often unseen, emotional and spiritual reality.
Made of felt and found objects, the sculptures in this exhibition blend alchemy, dreams, rituals, mythology, and shamanism with the detritus of matter to create a persuasive but disquieting world suggestive of malevolent fairy tales or ambiguous dreams. Aaron-Taylor claims to appropriate the power of what she calls the “shadow side”, a term of Jungian psychology referring to a “composite of personal characteristics and potentialities that have been repressed and underdeveloped in our conscious lives.” Her creatures are fetishistic archetypes, stand-ins for the unconscious, and spirit guides to unexplored psychological regions. In their combination of fabric wrapping over found natural armatures and amulet-like appliques, they strongly resemble the mummified animals of ancient Egyptian tombs.
The figures often seem to be in pain. In Polar Bear, the armless animal snarls as it tries usuccessfully to free its head from the rungs of a ladder. WinterRat‘s paws are extended upward, as if to escape the implied danger of the surrounding pool. The eyes of the creatures are often hazed, and bones, claws and teeth protrude.
Aaron-Taylor describes her art practice: “My intense exploration of mediums and techniques over the year’s gives me the freedom to incorporate a wide range of materials. Found wood, fleece, minerals, cactus, porcupine quills, beads, shells, bones, and kozo fiber have all been appropriated. Blending the accumulated strata creates autobiographical narratives where rhythm, balance, and harmony invite the viewer’s participation. My intention is to connect the spiritual and the physical worlds.”
One might wonder at the selection of this artist’s work for a venue that is devoted to science and the pursuit of the quantifiable, but bringing provocative and thoughtful art to the NCRC’s campus is part of the gallery’s mission as described by NCRC Art Coordinator Grace Serra. “What I want to happen here is … not just a nice enhancement of quality of life [or to] offer an environment that is stimulating,” she says “…but maybe some of these shows can be the catalyst for thinking differently about the problems [researchers and scientists] are solving in their labs.” She envisions additional events relevant to the NCRC exhibition schedule and says, “I’d like a little more programming around the exhibits, so maybe we can get people thinking about what’s going on here and how it can relate [to their research].” She points out that linking the arts with the sciences is very much part of the University of Michigan’s mission. She adds, “It can help people to become global thinkers.”
Strata, located in Connections Gallery on the lower level of Building 18 of the North Campus Research Center, 2800 Plymouth Road, Ann Arbor, will be open to visitors until December 12, 2017. The gallery is open Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. For more information about the NCRC Art Program go here