15 Steps: Perspectives in Drawing @ Red Bull House of ART

Capturing the process and dispersive outcomes of one of humanity’s oldest expressive forms

15S4 Install

Class Portrait by Tyanna Buie – Installation view, All images courtesy of Sarah Rose Sharp

Red Bull House of Art has made its name in Detroit by showing some of the most cutting-edge young artists in town. Now, as the residency/gallery space transitions to get an international influx of artist in the mix, a palette-cleansing show, 15 Steps: Perspectives in Drawing, curated by local artist and organizing powerhouse Tylonn J. Sawyer brings the focus back to the basics of drawing.

15S2Sawyer

Tyson J. Sawyer, Cabal: Class of 2016

“When I lived in New York, I attended drawing shows all the time, yet I can’t think of any in the surrounding area, other than the DIA Drawing and Prints gallery,” said Sawyer, regarding his motivations for the show’s theme. “Drawing is very instinctual practice. As children, we are compelled to pick up crayons and scribble. Early on in mankind people felt the need to record their daily lives on caves as in parietal art.  I think there is an honesty in drawing and in the process of drawing.  To do it well takes repetition, practice and caring.  For many of the artists (in this show), drawing is not their primary art form, but it remains somewhere in their creative process.”

15S8 RANKINE

Leto Rankine, Figure in Pink and Gold

Despite its thematic foundations in drawing, the show has some unexpected outcomes as the result of these various creative processes, including an augmented piece of found object art by one of Sawyer’s fellow MOCAD employees, Leto Rankine, and a breathtaking large-scale print work by Detroit newcomer and CCS Professor of Fine Arts and Printmaking, Tyanna Buie. Buie’s piece, Class Portrait, works from imagery lifted from one of her own childhood class pictures, universalized by the obscuring of the facial features of the children pictured, yet still somehow achingly personal.

“What prompted me to make this particular piece was my response to what is happening within the public school system in our country, but specifically in Detroit,” said Buie. “My memory of my time in a public elementary school in Chicago, IL, was not made clear until I received documentation of my achievements and class photographs from that school. I thought the schools that I went to was not special and didn’t teach me anything of importance. However, once I looked at the class photo, I began to analyze it…I realized how much the principal took pride in the school and how the teachers worked hard to make sure we also had a since of pride in ourselves. The school I once went to from 1990-1993 is still standing, but is now a charter school. I wanted to make a piece that would give a subtle nod to public schools for making a difference in our communities through the children despite the many challenges faced.”

By what Sawyer characterizes as the “happiest accident ever,” Buie’s work is directly in conversation with a large-scale piece by Sawyer himself, which applies a similar technique and aesthetic to a large-scale class portrait of another kind. “In Cabal: Class of 2016, I am presenting the institution of law enforcement standing tall and proud as one collective or brotherhood, ready to do their sworn duty to enforce the law of the land,” said Sawyer in an artist statement about the piece. “Yet we live in a time where literally hundreds of videos and news reports highlight police officers behaving less than professionally, and the majority facing no consequences. I imagine the institution of law enforcement struggling to maintain integrity in the public eye, and this struggle visually manifesting itself in the form of officers physically falling apart or melting away. I purposely removed all the faces because when I think of police officers, I don’t think of them as individuals, but rather parts of a whole.”

15S12 Batten install detail

Christopher Batten – Chronicles of Kobi (A Japanese Chin) – installation/detail view

Other contributions to the show are more lighthearted and more strictly limited to drawing as a final process, rather than a foundational one. A collection of 16 drawings by Christopher Batten take, as their subject, a Japanese Chin named Kobi. In an era where the internet threatens to collapse beneath the ponderous bulk of adorable pet pictures, there is something endearing about the process of capturing a (presumably) beloved pet in this more analogue form. Batten’s work is face-to-face with a colorful wall of visual and performance artist http://baileyscieszka.com/—a kind of insane clown posse unto herself—who also has a few pastels on display in a show of local talent at What Pipeline, Ever get the feeling we’re not alone in this world?

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Jennifer Wroblewski , Clones v.1,

Truly, there is no lack of innovative approaches and gratifying results, an outcome that Sawyer consciously cultivated with the group of 15 artists on display. “I don’t know if I would characterize this collection of artists, especially in any monolithic terms,” he said. “That’s kind of the opposite of what I was going for. Diverse is the first thing that comes to mind. Some of the artists are documenting life as they see it, some are trying to negotiate traumatic experiences, and others humorously reflect on some of the worst aspects of our current society. I asked each artist to contribute more than one piece, so that viewers can see that the work presented in the House of Art show is not a lark, but rather a small glimpse into the creative practice of each individual.”

15S9 DeMags Install

Collection of works by DeMags, Circles of Routine – Installation/detail view

The appreciation that Sawyer, and House of Art curators Matt Eaton and Robert-David Jones have for the arts, artists, and viewers is evident in the open process that permeates both the HOA residencies and the construction of 15 Steps. It’s a brilliant showcase of a wildly diverse range of talent and approaches, one that’s definitely worth taking a few steps out of your way to go experience!

15 Steps: Perspectives in Drawing will be on display Saturdays from 10-3 (or by appointment) at the Red Bull House of Art through July 9. For an appointment, you can make contact at redbullhouseofart@us.redbull.com.

John Corbin @ Susanne Hilberry Gallery

 John Corbin’s exhibition: Level and Plumb

“In the last several years the Monarch’s (butterflies) population has decreased for some known (logging in Mexico) and some unknown reasons. It might be that the Monarch has been rendered obsolete. I haven’t found the app that replaced it yet.”  – John Corbin, Some Thoughts about My Work and Becoming Obsolete

John Corbin’s solo exhibition Level and Plumb, which opened at Susanne Hilberry Gallery on June 10, is a deconstructed, re-assembled encyclopedia of romantic obsolescence. The visually discordant pairings of Corbin’s sculptures, composed of found clocks and carpenter’s levels, and his collages of dissected atlas maps, instantly provoke curiosity and invite closer analysis. These parallel bodies of work gradually break down into a bizarre, insightful history of the chronology of both time and space. The objects Corbin uses to explore this history- clocks, carpenter’s levels, printed maps, and globe-trotting migrant birds and butterflies- eulogize the laborious, beautiful process of gaining understanding of the workings of the universe through trial and error, meticulous inch-by-inch progress, and miraculous leaps of logic.

Corbin installation shot

John Corbin, Installation shot – All images courtesy of Angela Pham and Susanne Hilberry

Corbin’s deconstructed map collages, both intimately and massively scaled, are beautiful objects in and of themselves- the honeycomb-like patterns and delicate tonal grades that deconstruct atlas maps into swirling, undulating atmospheric studies traversed by iconic migratory creatures- cranes, monarch butterflies- speak both to the original function of these objects- to cast sublime amounts of space into understandable terms for people- and to their total functional obsolescence now- an abundant natural resource for repurposing into studio practice.

Image 2 Two if by Sea 2012-16 Acrylic Map collage 68in x 88in

John Corbin, Two if by Sea, 2012-16 Acrylic Map collage – 68in x 88in

The same feeling comes through in Corbin’s sculpture- the assemblages of levels and clocks begin to communicate their quaint insistence on the perfect right angle, the perfect orb, hard-wired to the wall, veiled in white. They’re no longer tactile tools, but studies in contemplation of the universal truths that they are indexical to.

 3 Spirit Level III 2016 Levels and Hourglasses 11.5in x 20in x 1 and one quarter inch

John Corbin, 3 Spirit Level III 2016 Levels and Hourglasses 11.5in x 20in x 1 and one quarter inch

One word that comes repeatedly to mind while exploring Corbin’s show is ephemera. The masses of printed information and measuring, calibrating objects that, not so long ago, were as essential to us as our thumbs. As one delves deeper into Level and Plumb, the realization gradually dawns that the source materials that make up all of the works in the show bear an uncannily simultaneous familiarity and distance. Where have these tactile measuring tools- clocks, levels, puzzles, maps- disappeared to? When did they leave us? Why are they simply no longer a part of our lives? Seen in this light, Corbin’s sculptures and collages begin to read like effigies, and in his statement for Level and Plumb he places the blame for the vanishing of these miraculous objects squarely upon Apple Inc. The huge scale of this leap- timepieces, maps, measuring tools, means of communication, means of documentation, all pouring into one handheld electronic device, bears the same sublime quality as a bound atlas that lays the whole world out before your eyes. It captures the frisson that accompanied one’s first realization that a clock that measured the hours in a day was also documenting the movements of the sun and stars. The compression and deconstruction Corbin subjects his source materials to echoes, as well, the bizarre compression of millennia of human development into ever smaller and more disposable projections of our most inspired leaps of understanding. There’s a tragedy whispering alongside the uncanniness of Corbin’s work- is it not a little sad that these tools, once so essential to our navigation of our world, now take up residence in the stillness of gallery space, as functionally ambiguous to culture as any other work of fine art?

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John Corbin, Installation image

Are the gallery and the museum now the storehouses for the dictation from the stars that once sparked our highest aspirations that we’re not sure what to do with anymore? What is the relationship of those aspirations to the objects we hold in our hands today? Though conspicuously absent visually, the iPhone is a constant, silent presence in Level and Plumb, appearing in ironic relief in your own hands every few seconds to check the time or take a picture, insisting on its appropriation of the delicate structures of time and space that Corbin’s materials used to hold the keys to. Level and Plumb is an important, and timely show, in the way it quietly and beautifully reveals the evolution (or possibly devolution) of human mastery of the discernable world to us. The ephemeral tools we used to rely on to gauge the world around us may seem unwieldy and quaint now, but Corbin’s reworking of them remind us that they were beautiful. They sang of the universe. And, even removed from practical use and deconstructed, they still carry insights that make the most user-friendly smartphone suddenly feel blunter than a flint hand-axe.

Level and Plumb is on display at Susanne Hilberry Gallery June 10 through August 6, 2016.

 

Ceramics and Watercolor @ Flint Institute of Arts

Flint Institute of Arts Exhibition: Function, Form, Fantasy: Ceramics from the Robert and Deanna Harris Burger Collection

Ceramic work is one of the most ancient arts in the world, but in the United States and many parts of the world, has evolved over the last hundred years from what was once traditional functional craftwork to a high form of creative art that competes with painting and sculpture. This current diversity of ceramics has evolved dramatically as illustrated by the Burger Collection, now on display at Flint Institute of the Arts. Function, Form, Fantasy is currently on exhibit in three jointing galleries. The Function section has ceramic work that is traditional as it relates to its use: bowls, vases, plates, etc., Form moves away from being utilitarian, and experiments with shape, clay properties, and glaze, where as Fantasy uses a new freedom to create a narrative that could be comic, industrial, surreal, futuristic; You name it.

Function

Pippin Drysdale

Pippin Drysdale, b. 1943, Horizon Traces, 2010, Stoneware

Horizon Traces, was created by Pippin Drysdale, a ceramicist from Australia that creates the perfect shaped vessel while revealing fine lines of multiple colors. She says in her statement she is inspired by the desert sands.

Form

Adrian Arleo

Adrian Arleo, b. 1960, Dreaming of Rama Teapot, 2001, Stoneware

The titled Rama, refers to an Indian king of lore, where the American artist Adrian Arleo, creates two human forms contrasting in size and glaze selection. Rama, the blue-tinted man, represents the perfect form of man, full of virtue, justice, and peace. The highly created textures assist in creating dimension and contrast to the forms.

Fantasy

Andy Nasisse

Andy Nasisse, b. 1946, Untitled, 2006, Stoneware

The American, Andy Naisise, creates Untitled, 2006 where he incorporates male and female, good and evil as opposites in this figurative piece of stoneware. In his statement, he says, “I think of figures as “part of a family of images that find their way through my hands and into the outer world.”

This exhibition offers the audience a view of recent ceramic work, beginning in the 1060’s to present day. Dr. Robert Burger and his wife have been collecting works of art since the 1970’s and have donated nearly 250 works of art to the FIA. Mrs. Burger has ties to Flint, having enjoyed ceramic classes at Flint Institute of Arts in her youth. You will find large and small works, simple and complex, by well-known artists that are elegant while thought-provoking works of clay that go a long way to blur the line between craft and fine art.

Moving Toward the Light

New Cycle

Joseph Raffael, American, b. 1933 New Cycle, 2009–10 Watercolor on paper 73 1/2 x 89 x inches Courtesy of Nancy Hoffman Gallery, New York, NY

On exhibition in the Graphics Gallery during these summer months, the artist Joseph Raffael has an exhibition of unusually large watercolor paintings, courtesy of the Nancy Hoffman Gallery, NYC, NY. This collection of eleven large watercolor paintings celebrates flora and fauna where Raffael captures a deep view of floral life, both in and out of focus. Growing up in Brooklyn, Raffael helped his mother with the fruits, vegetables, and flowers in her garden, where he came to regard the changing of seasons as a form of magic. He says “Seeing blossoms come alive is the same as watching a painting come forth out of the white space of a page or a canvas. The garden is another example of how one begins with nothing but seeds and the brown-colored space of the earth from which, little by little, the garden emerges.”

Orchids Dream

Joseph Raffael, American, b. 1933 Orchids Dream, 2013 Watercolor on paper 55 x 78 x inches Courtesy of Nancy Hoffman Gallery, New York, NY

The scale and intensity of these paintings provide the viewer with a combination of the representational subject matter set in a personal world of abstraction. His backgrounds and borders bring compositional strength to the composition and heighten the vision of watercolor. These large-scale works depict flowers, water, and fish swimming in in ornamental ponds. The artists say, “I don’t paint flowers; I paint energy.”

Those traveling north from Detroit this summer will find pleasure in stopping by for both exhibitions at Flint Institute of Arts, just a few blocks off I-475.

The Flint Institute of Arts is located in the Cultural Center Park just two blocks off I-475 between UM-Flint and Mott Community College. Hours are Mon-Wed & Fri, 12p-5p; Thu, 12p-9p; Sat, 10a-5p and Sun, 1p-5p. Admission to the exhibition is free to members and children under 12; Adults $7.00; Senior Citizens and Students $5.00. Saturdays are free thanks to First Merit Bank. For more information call (810) 234-1695 or visit www.flintarts.org.

Nancy Mitchnick: “Uncalibrated” @ MOCAD

Install NM MOCAD 2016

Nancy Mitchnick, Installation at MOCAD, 2016 – Courtesy of MOCAD

Nancy Mitchnick has had a spate of exhibitions this past year. She had a great show at Hamtramck’s Public Pool, showed a few earlier works in a cool three-man exhibit at the iconic Detroit gallery, Alley Culture, and really opened some eyes with new paintings at Wasserman Project. The exhibitions signify a return to and embrace of her hometown after she escaped from the Cass Corridor art community in 1973, and lived and worked as a painting professor and artist for years in New York (Bard College), California (CalArts), and Massachusetts (Harvard). She was also honored as a Kresge Fellow in 2015, and most recently was selected by the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Letters as a recipient of the organization’s 2016 art awards. Quite a homecoming!

The most recent iteration of her work is in the big room of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD). The huge gallery of MOCAD seems like it was made for Mitchnick and she comfortably fills the space with what at first seems a most curious selection of paintings—ranging from two portraits of a friend and three portraits from her “Wonder Women” series, to a work in progress recovered from what she herself calls a “bad” painting (about which she recently lectured at MOCAD), a couple of expressionistic still lifes, two landscapes and nine houses from her old neighborhood, and two new “narrative paintings.” In a sense the show constitutes a mini-retrospective of the range of Mitchnick’s work over the past thirty years—portraiture, still life, landscape—and two new, auspicious paintings that signify a leap into her future. But much more poignantly, “Uncalibrated” (the title of the exhibition) seems to explore Mitchnick’s quest over the years to mine the vast rhizoid root system of painting, to find out what being an artist is and what it can do, and what it will come to be. (In mock despair she exclaimed, “Sometime my studio looks like a group show.”) “Uncalibrated” is fundamentally a self-portrait, or perhaps a memoir, of Mitchnick as painter.

Virginia Woolf 48 X 48

Nancy Mitchnick, Oil Painting 48 x 48, “Virginia Woolf”, 1990-91        All following Images Courtesy of Glen Mannisto

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the entrance of MOCAD are three early portraits, from the Wonder Women series, of Virginia Woolf, George Eliot, and Frida Kahlo. Painted in grisaille-like, gray shades that produce a classical sculptural effect, the heads of these three great, prototypical, feminist artists have a heroic scale and echo both Renaissance sculpture and certainly Enlightenment ideals. That they are outside of the main gallery, at the entrance, provides a hint of what part these heroic women might play in Mitchnick’s life as a painter. All three were experimental, independent, rational and investigative, secular beings and certainly, like Mitchnick, lived large lives. They also suggest a classical meta-literacy—to challenge the status quo, to invent, hybridize, psychoanalyze, to utilize—that is certainly part of Mitchnick’s own strategy as an artist. In her conversation with Jens Hoffmann,
 MOCAD’S Susanne Feld Hilberry Senior Curator at Large, she admits to being a voracious reader, which somehow parallels and infiltrates her work as an artist.

rough eye

Nancy Mitchnick, Eye Detail, Oil Painting, 1992 -” Davy Butler First Hit”

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Nancy Mitchnick, Detail of Eye Painting, 36 x 36 “Davy Butler  Finished” – 1992

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Her two portraits of a friend and patron, “Davy Butler: First Hit,” and “Davy Butler: Finished,” are elegant illustrations of Mitchnick’s carpentry skills in building these paintings, readily apparent throughout all of her work since. (“My father was a cabinet maker, but sometimes had to frame houses to make money.”) In “First Hit,” eyebrows and eyes are a dozen or so quick brush strokes—they are elegant and deft, making a sketchy, speculative architecture. “First Hit” is more mysteriously suggestive than descriptive, framing the first marks of the physiognomy of identity. Then in “Davy Butler: Finished,” the painting confidently assembles itself around the subject’s eyes. The head is smaller, more contained, and from each part of the facial landscape—the nose, the lips and mouth, and the eyebrows are precise—a commanding, almost Roman presence emerges. While making portraits to earn money, Mitchnick disavows a preoccupation with likeness, with making a painting that looks like the subject: “”Making likeness is not good painting, I’m making great paintings.” Her process, she says, is “all trial and error,” sometimes “losing whole beautiful passages to erasure, to get it right, to make a good painting.” In an offhanded aside she adds, “you writers just keep a record in your computers of every version of what you do. I lost a beautiful turtle here,” she muses pointing to a spot on the recent painting “Night Heron.” However not surprisingly, “Davy Butler: Finished” (the portrait of the friend who attended her recent MOCAD conversation with Hoffman), is not only an extraordinarily articulate painting, but an ennobling likeness as well.

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Nancy Mitchnick, Two Portraits, “Davy Butler First Hit” , “Davy Butler Finished “, 1992, both 36 x 36

 

The heroic scale that she is given to (“I didn’t realize at first that I was a heroic scale painter”), necessitates a physicality and energy apparent in most of these recent works (as well as in her person). Fortunately disregarding all of the foreboding claptrap about “Ruin Porn,” Mitchnick took scores of photos of her old neighborhood near and around Hamtramck and began working from them during her first return to Detroit after losing her Harvard position to a “Conceptual artist.” (“I wanted to do something with Detroit.”)

First House

Nancy Mitchnick, “First House”, 34 x 45 Oil Painting, 2006

The centerpieces then of “Uncalibrated” are the nine flat, elevation portraits of Detroit houses in various states of devolution. Depicting mostly the homes of working class people and perhaps middle-class families who ran small businesses or auto industry management, these are not memorials nor documentation of the state of derelict Detroit, but exquisite paintings that celebrate a presence of people who built and inhabited this place. Even the smallest painting, “First House,” exudes a very particular ethos and an aesthetic filled with a humanizing spirit.

Torn Orange 59 X 99

Nancy Mitchnick, “Torn Orange”, Oil Painting, 59 x 99, 2009

In reminiscing about her Cass Corridor days, Mitchnick talked about wanting to be an abstract painter but was never able to escape narratives but perhaps, ironically, that has finally (almost) been achieved in two of the most monumental paintings in the exhibit. “Torn Orange” is the painting of a surgically exposed side of a store. Composed of modulated tones of orange colliding with a diagonal green and yellow slash, it features the typical markings of a classic abstract expressionist work, but Mitchnick keeps the context of the building by depicting the surrounding light and air of the city. “Big Burn” is a triumphant exploration of the remains of a home that, in its abandoned state, is slowly rotting and returning to the earth. Exposed rafters, plaster lath and crumbling foundation are astonishingly caressed into a derelict geometry that made Mitchnick blurt, “I felt like I was composing a symphony!” It is triumphant painting that in itself is a marvelous history lesson.

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Nancy Mitchnick,” Big Burn”, Oil Painting, 129 x 59, 2006-20016

Each of the house paintings has a complexly charged presence. “Buffalo Street” is of the house in which Mitchnick grew up, and while it was in its last stages of devolution, Mitchnick’s painting still captures what seems a classical bearing, with its gabled roof and three-windowed dormer still erect and proud, and still evincing the colors that it once wore. It is difficult to imagine Mitchnick’s mindset when revisiting and painting this moment of her life and prompts the question of whether this is an elegy for the Buffalo Street house or an objective portrait.

 

Buffalo Street 99 X 88

Nancy Mitchnick, “Buffalo Street”, Oil Painting, 99 x 88, 2008-09

One of the most interesting aspects of Mitchnick’s work is the lesson that she teaches with each composition, which is that it takes a long look to realize a painting. Her latest pieces, “Night Heron” and “White Front,” seem almost recklessly whimsical compared to the disciplined, graphic painting of the abandoned houses. Populated with strange bits of ocean coral, odd mythic creatures (snakes, birds, turtles), and a Persian Princess, they are a gargantuan leap into another mind space. However, after one spends time with them, they gain traction, and their amazing palette of colors (throughout “Uncalibrated” her palette is symphonic) begins to tantalize, and an almost fairytale narrative gathers. It might be the story of a new Hamtramck or not, but it certainly signifies another trajectory for Nancy Mitchnick’s painting to mine.

Night Heron 77 X 111

Nancy Mitchnick,”Night Heron”, Oil Painting 77 x 111 – 2016

 

“Uncalibrated” will be at MOCAD until Sunday, July 31, 2016.