Tag Archives: sculpture

From Bits and Pieces

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.

Aviva Alter

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.

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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

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.”

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Untitled/Working title Cocoon/Tree Bones #4, #5, #1, #2 by Marzena Ziejka

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.

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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.

Susan Aaron Taylor at NCRC Galleries

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Guide,  cholla cactus, shells, handmade felt, petrified wood, animal skull, agate and banded iron. 12″ x 29″ x 14″

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.

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Unplugged, handmade felt, shells, electrical plug, 17″ x 18″ x 10″

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. Winter Rat‘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.

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Polar Bear, wood, handmade felt, geodes, porcupine quills, cabochon and beads, 19″ x 17″ x 13″

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

Kathyrose Pizzo: After A Thousand Mornings

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Installation: After A Thousand Mornings by Kathyrose Pizzo

The mother/child relationship over time, through sickness, care and–finally–death, forms the emotional core of Kathyrose Pizzo’s  moving solo exhibit After A Thousand Mornings, now on view through March 25th at Hatch Gallery in Hamtramck. Multiple sclerosis, her mother’s diagnosis, has given the artist a front row seat at this most mysterious and universal human rite of passage, and she has clearly thought long and deeply about the experience of her mother’s decline and her part in it.  She observes in herself the shifting emotional dynamics of care and conflict, love and resentment, grief and recovery, rendering them in physical space through the patient assemblage of sticks and strings.

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Departure (foreground)

The artworks are binary in nature, with wooden constructs that seem to either support or confine cloud-shaped gray pillows.  The softness of the cloth clouds, juxtaposed with the hardness of the provisionally composed structures, shifts in meaning  from piece to piece, the cloud in one artwork seeming to refer to the artist, in another, to her mother. Sometimes the cloud is  imprisoned by the scaffolding and at others it seems to float above and away.  Throughout, the two elements circle and collide, metaphors for a kind of emotional dialog between these intimately connected human beings.

Caught eloquently captures the dilemma of the cared-for and the caregiver, mutually trapped by circumstance. A wire net  that mimics the failing synapses of her mother’s brain confines both the cloud and the wooden support to the ground, metaphorically trapping both mother and daughter beneath the disease.

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Caught

Pizzo is also interested in examining the end of life through the lens of  social rituals in cultures past and present. She particularly acknowledges the influence of Joseph Campbell, a philosopher known for his work in comparative mythology and religion. She says of these rites, “Tributes to the departed are the events that make us human, that define the distance between us and the stars.”

This influence is most directly referenced in Departure. The artist has created a small scale replica of a funeral pyre, upon which a lovingly pillowed figure rests.  Underneath,  a chaotic and disordered pile of kindling  mirrors the artist’s mental state.

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Calypso

Many of the works in After a Thousand Mornings refer to the passage of time and convey a sense of waiting.  Wall pieces such as Calypso and Episode 1: The Ladder are improvised and complex structures created  by the artist using aluminum tape, which is then partially stripped away as the composition emerges. The title work of the show takes on the theme of time’s passage most directly, with 30 tiny wooden scaffolds topped by cotton clouds and arranged in a grid –a kind of  calendar–quietly  and elegantly filling one wall of the gallery.

The incremental passage of time that forms the rhythm of life and death is the ultimate theme of After A Thousand Mornings. The artworks are a physical manifestation of this process, small moments turning into large ones, one moment adding to another, making up a life and bringing us inevitably to its end. Kathyrose  Pizzo has found meaning here:  “Personally witnessing both how disease can bring forth  greater understanding of the human condition and the unavoidable destiny of all life is central to my work.”

For more information about Hatch Gallery and After a Thousand Mornings, go here.

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After A Thousand Mornings

New Fibers 2016

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Look Out by David Brackett, New Fiber 2016 First Place Prizewinner

In light of current events, art can seem powerless, superfluous, beside the point.

Gun violence, terrorism and war, racism, misogyny and income inequality are very much in the news and on the public mind. And the result of a political election that highlights the division within the country seems to render an artist’s quiet work irrelevant. Yet, in the absence of an alternative,  artists keep working.

Today’s dark mood is reflected in many of the 39 works selected by artist Jennifer Angus for New Fibers 2016, on view in the University Gallery at Eastern Michigan University until December 7. Angus, known for her Victorian wallpaper-inspired installations of wall-mounted insects, is drawn to work that explores the intersection between fiber arts, technology and nature while maintaining a somber atmosphere throughout. In her juror’s statement she states, “My search was for pieces that I felt had heart, raw emotion, an unapologetic political stance, or were life affirming  There is a great range of work in the exhibition with some very contemporary and original ideas.”

Eric Hazeltine’s monochromatic, minimal squares of charcoal, paper and string (Compositions I, II, III), Xia Gao’s luminous dark arch To Own Buddha-Xuan and Liz Robb’s Icelandic wool and horsehair weaving Icelandic Hestur are only a few of many minimal or post-minimal pieces that set the solemn tone.

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Icelandic Hestur by Liz Robb

However, in spite of the generally somber mood of the work in New Fiber 2016, fresh ideas and unusual uses of material abound.  Teresa Paschke’s Train Station with Kites features a digital photographic print on fabric with applied  embroidery and stenciled clouds, her dreamlike vision describing the border  between  the mundane and the visionary. Also lively and original is a video entitled  I AM MY OWN MASCOT (residue) by J. Casey Doyle. In it, a figure shrouded in yellow ribbons dances silently, performing  a  series of slow-motion gestures that seem to combine a cheerleading routine with yoga poses.

References to natural structures provide inspiration for many of the works in New Fibers 2016. Mount by Micaela Vivero recalls the work of industrious ants. Susan Aaron-Taylor’s cute-but-creepy felted creatures both repel and attract.  Lichen Party Frock by George-Ann Bowers  looks like a wasp’s nest re-imagined as fashion statement, and the very stuff of nature is incorporated into the site-specific grass works braided and woven into swirls and lines by Lucy Ruth Wright Rivers.

Anxiety is also a recurring theme of much of the work in this exhibit.  Michael Rohde’s Asora depicts a menacing hooded figure and  At the End by LM Wood suggests  ghostly limbs confined beneath a hazy screen as they reach for an untouchable thread. Heather Beardsley’s embroidered maps contain packed allegorical figures in a kind of comic horror vacui of unknown dangers and ominous cultural icons.

As might be expected in an exhibition that emphasizes the slow process of craft-based repetition and accrual to make a larger visual statement, New Fibers 2016 reminds us that art is a series of intentional processes that amount to a meaningful whole. And while this whole may seem weak and small right now in the face of current social and political disruptions, it is, nonetheless, important over time. The writer Katherine Ann Porter says it well:

The arts live continuously, and they live literally by faith; their names and their shapes and their uses and their basic meanings survive unchanged in all that matters through times of interruption, diminishment, neglect; they outlive governments and creeds and the societies, even the very civilization that produced them. They cannot be destroyed altogether because they represent the substance of faith and the only reality. They are what we find again when the ruins are cleared away. 

The artists who create the works in this exhibition remind us that life and current events may be fleeting but art endures.      

 

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Train Station with Kites by Teresa Paschke

 

New Fiber 2016  is the seventh biennial exhibit of fiber arts sponsored by the Fiber Arts Network of Michigan, an organization founded on belief in the handmade, one-of-a-kind fiber object and dedicated to promoting its value in contemporary life and art. For more information about FAN, go here.

Artists included in this exhibit: Susan Aaron-Taylor, Heather Beardsley, George-Ann Bowers, David Brackett, Adrienne Callander, Chanjuan Chen, J. Casey Doyle, Holly Fischer, Xia Gao, Eric Hazeltine, Nancy Koenigsberg, Lily Lee, Skye Livingston, Cynthia Martinez, Teresa Paschke, Leslie Pontz, Liz Robb, Michael Rohde, Amanda Ross, Adrienne Sloane, Lauren Sobchak, Peeta Tinay, Betty Vera, Micaela Vivero , Jenny Walker, LM Wood, Lucy Ruth Wright Rivers.

For more information about University Gallery of Eastern Michigan University go here.

Big Sculpture

 

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Kiwi by Robert Onnes

The Detroit art scene is in the midst of changes. Over the last year or two, shiny new galleries like Wasserman Projects, David Klein  and Gallerie Camille have established themselves in downtown and midtown, with regular hours and regular shows. But for those of us who like to hunt for art in less established–and less gentrified–corners of the city, there are still new discoveries to be made.The Factory at 333 Midland in Highland Park is one of them.

This rambling, 23,000-square-foot industrial complex, formerly the Lewis Manufacturing and Stamping plant, was recently purchased by New Zealand-born sculptor Robert Onnes and provides studios  for himself and 17 other artists. The space is still in the process of being upgraded–they are raising money to put in heat this winter– but that hasn’t stopped them from putting on an ambitious group show that is installed throughout the  main building and its nearby, newly-opened exhibit gallery. Big Sculpture@The Factory includes work by over 50 artists and displays more than 200 sculptures and installations, both large and small. It is open on weekends only until October 22. Music, food, drink, and scheduled artist talks are thrown in for good measure. On the day I attended there were plenty of visitors taking it all in.

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Melancholy Hammer by Adnan Charara

Artists in Big Sculpture range from emerging to eminent, with a few of my favorites represented by some of their most ambitious work.  Mega Bat, by Tim Pewe, has a wingspan of over 17 feet, and hovers overhead in the studio of the owner, Robert Onnes, who makes visually massive but lightweight formalized figurative sculptures. His Kiwi, a birdlike shape that rests outside the building in an open courtyard with other large scale sculptures, elegantly references his land of origin.

Some of the smaller works in Big Sculpture are displayed in a room  adjacent to the main studio,  and include the delicate, toy-like yet slightly sinister assemblages of Catherine Peet.  Wall sconces made of old metal toy trucks by Alvaro Jurado light the hallway. One of my favorite pieces in the show, Hell in a Handbasket by Sandra Osip, leans up against a wall nearby.  A collection of tiny houses made from scraps of demolished Detroit homes is piled high in a wheelbarrow, stacked and ready to be discarded like so many of the city’s derelict structures. It’s both playful and sad.

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Hell in a Handbasket by Sandra Osip

It’s impossible to describe all of the imaginatively conceived and well-made works in Big Sculpture.  In spite of the rough surroundings, the overall mood of the exhibit is light-hearted and inventive.  There were plenty of visual puns like Melancholy Hammer by Adnan Charara and Chris Zagacki’s Hook, Line and Sinker. Single Digit, by Rick Cronn, literally gives us the finger.

The new exhibit space in the smaller building adjacent to the main structure houses yet another trove of excellent work; Inuit Spirit by Tom Phardel and Beings Connected by Charles McGee were standouts.  A newly constructed balcony  wraps around the periphery of the gallery.  It provides a more intimate venue for smaller works like Architectural Exploration by Leah Waldo, one of a series of block-like objects of cast glass, steel and low-fire soft brick.  Also  notable are the felt and wood constructions of  Susan Aaron-Taylor. I particularly liked Fears, which shows a mouse-like creature trapped in a ribbed structure.  Ann Smith, one of the artists I met during my visit, told me that other exhibits will be scheduled in the new gallery space, though there is no published schedule yet.

There’s still time to see Big Sculpture! The exhibit is on view until October 22 and by appointment.  For more information and to check on scheduled events,  go here.

Artists exhibiting in Big Sculpture: Susan Aaron-Taylor, Anita Bates, Richard Bennett, Peter Bernal, Robert Bielat, Betty Brownlee, Coco Bruner, Scott Campbell, Doug Cannell, Cruz Castillo, Hannah Chalew, Adnan Charara, Christina Cioffari, Leslie Cislo, Rick Cronn, Joe Culver, Olayami Dabis, Pam Day, Sergio De Giusti, Todd Erickson, Mark Esse, Eric Froh, Sean Hages, Al Hebert, Alvaro Jurado, Ray Katz, Dawnice Kerchaert, Eno Laget &Jerome Brown, Terry Lee Dill, Jay Lefkowitz, Lindsay McCosh, Charles McGee, Steve Mealy, Robert Mirek, Carlos Nielbock, Israel and Erik Nordin, Robert Onnes, Sandra Osip, Catherine Peet, Tim Pewe, Scott Pfaffman, Tom Phardel, Kathy Rose Pizzo, Sharon Que, Hayden Richer, zmichael Ross, John Sauve, Robert Sestok, Richard Skelton, Ann Smith, Jeanette Strezinski, Lois Teicher, Kathy Toth, Eric Troffkin, Leah Waldo, Graem Whyte, Albert Young, Chris Zagacki.

 

 

 

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

 

 

Echos in Ypsi

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Fascia by Riva Jewell-Vitale

Ypsilanti is the next Brooklyn!

Okay…maybe not, but there is definitely something going on in the town we,  here in Michigan, affectionately know as “Hipsilanti.”

After years of suffering by comparison to nearby Ann Arbor’s more affluent economy, Ypsilanti shows signs of becoming  a magnet for area creatives. Cheap work space and the presence of a particularly vibrant studio arts department at Eastern Michigan University are making the logic of locating an arts practice in Ypsi inescapable for many. Look no further for confirmation of this than the terrific work from Ypsi Alloy Studios,  on view now until August 28 at 22 North, a newish art gallery on Huron Street in Ypsi’s downtown.

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Portal by Cathy Jacobs

 Echos is the inaugural exhibition for this talented collective  of artists and makers, many of them graduates of Eastern Michigan University’s art program. 22 North’s exhibit space is thoughtfully renovated, with the rich patina of vintage plaster walls still visible behind pristine white gallery panels that show off these uniformly excellent and well-conceived artworks. Objects on display range from an industrial strength rocking chair by Rob Todd to  ethereal layered weavings by Cathy Jacobs. The exhibit is notable for the variety of approaches and processes demonstrated in the production of artworks.

I particularly liked the aluminum, white gold and thread piece Broken Flag by Aaron Patrick Decker, as well as the felted wool and burl Invasive by Ilana Houten and Stripped/Burned by Lauren Mieczko and Molly Doak.  And as ever, I remain a fan of the death-in-nature sensibility of Jessica Tenbusch’s delicate metal, wood  and bone pieces.

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Rocking Chair by Robb Todd

My hands-down favorite piece, however, was the grave and comic Fascia by Riva Jewell Vitale. This collection of found fragments from the back yard of the artist treats us to a kind of implied storytelling through the  curation of objects. Each shard and scrap seems both ancient and recognizably contemporary.  The careful arrangement of these bits of detritus hint at the unobserved, untold and unknowable everyday history of things and people.

Fascia is also typical of a trend that I  notice in art being made right now. Artists are collecting and curating existing objects and images rather than creating them.  It is as if there is already so much rich material in our world that we no longer need to produce fresh content. And judging from the satisfyingly complex and poignant emotional effect of Fascia, maybe that’s true.

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Broken Flag by Aaron Patrick Decker

Ypsilanti’s downtown is clearly on the upswing. Many of the gallery’s  adjacent storefronts have been purchased and are under renovation according to 22 North gallerist Maggie Spencer.  A number of new restaurants and retail stores (and an ice cream shop!) have opened recently.  There is ample parking and an active First Fridays program, the next one of which is scheduled for September 2.

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.  Find out more about the gallery’s exhibits and events (it’s also an active music venue)  here.

Or call:  501.454.6513

Artists in Echos: Kenzie Lynn, Aaron Patrick Decker, Cathy Jacobs, Riva Jewell-Vitale, Ilana Houten, Jessica Tenbusch, Meagan Shein, Lauren Mleczko, Molly Doak, Alexa Borromeo, Elize Jakabson, Lorraine Kolasa, Rob Todd

Are you an Ypsi artist?  What do you think about the art scene there right now?  I’d be interested to hear what you think.

 

 

 

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.

dana depew-america's creed
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.

sheida soleimani-sakinah-shirin
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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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