George Rahme @ Simone DeSousa Gallery

“A Soldier of Stars”  George Rahme at Simone DeSousa Gallery

George Rahme, Installation image, 2016

Lately I’ve been experiencing something of a crisis in my art writing. In light of the extremely dire roll-out of Donald Trump’s presidency, and the immediate and terrible effects of his first wave of legislation, writing about exhibitions at galleries feels, at best, a little disconnected, and, at worst, completely pointless. I can, however, work to draw connections between works of visual art and larger issues, political and personal, in the society that nurtures their creation. It seems important, at this moment, to focus on the dialogues art is quietly raising and pushing forward, beneath a climate of increasing fear, chaos and darkness. I’m lucky I have “A Soldier of Stars,” an exhibition of new works by Hamtramck-based artist George Rahme at Simone DeSousa Gallery, to write about.

George Rahme, Installation image, Simone DeSousa Gallery

The centerpiece of “A Soldier of Stars” is the show’s array of dignified, gracefully assembled collages, comprised of painstaking cutouts of photographic stills laminated onto weighty bolts of fabric. From a distance, the images might be embroidered with gold thread, or depict flower forms and undersea creatures. Up close, however, one instantly recognizes the lightening-speed shower of sparks emitted by the joining of metal part to metal part, through the medium of intense heat, at an assembly plant.

George Rahme, Clash Between Minds, 55 x 37″, Cut Photo on denim / canvas, 2014

Rahme’s work creates a new icon of industry, one that revels in the alchemical magic of fabrication while capturing, in formats that read somewhat like flags (proud, kinetic sculptures that proclaim identity and affiliation) and somewhat like reliquaries (the long swath of translucent fabric draped over one of the only small pieces, At Half Past Three in the Afternoon.

George Rahme, At Half Past Three in the Afternoon, Cut Paper on yardstick and fabric, 2017

These works feel especially relevant given the current discourse about America’s industrial decline, a dense, snarled narrative that is being spun by President Trump’s administration into the stuff of Shakespearian tragedy. Apparently, few figures have been more sorely betrayed, disregarded and ground under than the blue-collar American worker- the hands that once produced the sparks which Rahme preserves in his collages like butterflies in amber. The absence of visual context around these collages speaks to a dual reality- the true greatness of industry and the societies it once gathered around it (case in point, Detroit) and the fact of its diminishment, both from American shores (a process marbled with greed, racism, and shady exchanges of power that was well underway by the 1950’s) and from the hands of humans, as more and more industrial fabrication becomes automated. The pledge to return industry, and the jobs that once came with it, to economically depleted American cities is an impossible one- many of those jobs no longer exist.

The skill, craft and attention to detail that those jobs required are paid tribute in Rahme’s beautiful works. Ironically, at first glance it’s almost impossible to believe these collages were made by hand- the hundreds of tiny cuts and thread-thin lines required to collage such ephemeral, dynamic bursts of light boggle one’s mind with the thought of all that manual labor. Not so long ago, such labor wouldn’t have seemed so inconceivable.

George Rahme, Stay Gold, Cut Photo on fabric, 2015

Hand-skill, even in assembling huge machines, has a grace to it. It harkens back to some idea of a time of greater innocence. “A Soldier of Stars” includes a small stereo in a corner of the gallery, rigged up with headphones, on which one can listen to a vinyl recording of the famous text “The Little Prince,” richly intoned by Richard Burton. This story of a lost soul who encounters his own long-gone innocence in the form of a magical child from another planet amplifies a theme of loss, and beauty and optimism in the face of loss, that runs through “A Soldier of Stars.” In one part of the story, the Little Prince is looking after a rare, beautiful flower that makes increasingly sinister demands of him. She is absurdly proud of her thorns, declaring to the Prince, “Let the tigers come with their claws.” When the Little Prince realizes that thorns don’t really do much to protect the flowers that bear them, he experiences a spasm of despair that has more to do with the flower’s naiveté than the reality of its precarious state. Despite the flower’s egomania, obnoxiousness and ultimate unsustainability, he cannot bear to let so beautiful a thing die, because it represents the death of himself at one intense point of development. Rahme’s collages expand into a similar narrative- our belief in industry, and in the dream of prosperity it is so naively and intrinsically roped to, has a beauty worth preserving, even if the industry itself can never come back.

George Rahme, Flowers and Feathers, 8 x 8′, Cut Paper on fabric / canvas, 2014

“A Soldier of Stars” is on display at Simone DeSousa Gallery from January 14 through February 26, 2017.

 

Kline & Giffin @ Galerie Camille

Kline & Giffin, Jive Nights, Mixed Media, 36 x 45, 2016

Two artists, Bowen Kline and Bruce Giffin, collaborated on several pieces of artwork for Jive Detroit, a two-person exhibition opening at Galerie Camille, January 20, 2017. In the 1920’s the word Jive referred to Jazz or Swing music, and was used later as jargon to describe a kind of teasing or putting someone on. In Jive Detroit, Kline and Giffin are working together on several photo collage/paintings. What is compelling about this collaborative work is the obvious coming together of a photographic image combined with painting to form a kind of expressionistic realism of mostly urban settings in and around Detroit.

Gallery Director Melannie Chard says, “Jive Detroit is a collaboration between photographer, Bruce Giffin, and painter, Bowen Kline. With access to 30 years of Bruce’s photographs, Bowen has constructed mixed media paintings that forge impressions of a city in constant change and the many faces of its residents.”

Bowen Kline, Bruce Giffin, Neighborhood, Mixed Media, collage on board, 34 x 38″, 2016

This approach differs entirely from what Photoshop can do in a digital environment, where it is used to combine a variety of images into one photographic image. There is no trickery attempted here. I am not sure what comes first in this collaboration, the photo images or the idea for a painting, but it doesn’t matter. It is an example of the synergy that can come from collaboration. In the work Neighborhood, it is the combination of “capturing a moment” between the two figures and the depth of field in the urban housing environment, laced with graffiti, that draws the viewer in.

Bowen Kline, Portrait of Bruce Giffin, Oil & Acrylic on board, 2016

Bruce Giffin, Portrait of Bowen Kline, Photograph on Paper, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I guess that the idea of collaboration with Bruce Griffin was Kline’s idea as this is not the first time he has sought collaboration. In 2013 he exhibited with Tony Roko. Both artists worked on primarily figurative paintings at the Janis Charach Gallery located in the Jewish Community Center in the Detroit Metro area. He relies heavily on black line and contrast, using a combination of oil and acrylic paint. Painting from a studio barn in Romeo, Kline’s work is dominated by expressive portraits and subdued figure paintings.

Bruce Giffin has been shooting images in the City of Detroit for 30 years and was the recipient of a Kresge Fellowship in 2011 for visual art, largely based on “The Face of Detroit,” featuring evocative, hyper-close portraits of Detroiters. He must have walked the backstreets and alleys of Detroit for years to capture many of his personal images of ordinary Detroiters and desolate buildings. I first wrote about his image, Black Board Jungle, which does a good job of reflecting his interest in capturing abstraction in an exhibition at the Detroit Artist Market. That image is also in this exhibition. He has worked as a staff photographer along the way, shooting covers for the Metro Times, and for a long list of publishers, where Giffin has provided product and people images. In addition, he has a collection of infrared images, like Winter Coaster, that is included in this exhibition.

I hope this exhibition is not jiving us, and instead highlights and reinforces artistic collaboration, something we frequently experience in the fields of music, film, and dance. In the end, this show illustrates a young painter collaborating with a seasoned photographer to create something new. One plus one equals more than two in this situation, but to be constructive, and in the long haul, Bowen Kline will have to stand on his individual work, something that Bruce Giffin has already accomplished.

Galerie Camille  – January 20 – February 4, 2017

 

NAIAS 2017 @ Cobo Hall, Detroit

2017 Charity Preview

2017 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) Charity Preview Event

What is now known as the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) began as an event in 1899. The first official Detroit Auto Show was held in 1907 at Beller’s Beer Garden in Riverview Park, where a total of 33 new motor vehicles were shown by 17 vendors, and spectator admission was 50 cents.

So, you wonder, why are you reading about a car exhibition in the Detroit Art Review? We’ll answer that question with a question: How many people who are responsible for the creation of an automobile attended art school? Plenty, as it turns out.

Every week, we at the Detroit Art Review explore the work of artists in galleries and museums in the Detroit Metro Area, but we’ve never tipped our hats to the men and women who contribute to the aesthetics of an automobile. Because we are doing our work here in Detroit, the home of the automobile and most of the automotive industry, it seems fitting to mention an annual event that contributes $500 million to our local economy. More than 800,000 attendees last year and press from all around the world gathered to see the new cars produced that provide a basic staple of American culture: Individualized Transportation. NAIAS has displayed the wares of the automotive industry, a million square feet of it, at Cobo Hall since 1967.

Not to take away from the prestige of the event over all, but the design work that goes into an automobile is recognized by EyesOn Design Awards, which are the sine qua non design awards in the industry, sponsored by the Henry Ford Health System, Department of Ophthalmology. As proof of design excellence, consider a production car that rises to the top in terms of aesthetic appeal: the 2017 Lincoln Continental.

Lincoln_Approach_Detection_2017_Continental

Ford Motor Company, Lincoln Continental, 2017

The understatement of line, shape and proportion provides the viewer with a feeling of strength and security. It is not a pointed, aggressive look, but a mature profile in its approach to visual stability. The lines curve down and inward, an aesthetic seen sometimes in European sports cars. The repetition of roundness is soothing. Stylish elements abound, like the way the E-latch door handles provide a graceful inset in the side door, and five LED lamps create a slender design to what used to be a larger headlamp. The front grill is refined, delicate and proportionate to the front profile, unlike the majority of cars these days that feature a sweeping, forward design with pointed grills, like the V-Motion Nissan sports look, something you might see on a Star Trek movie set, or the Lexus grill that reaches down so low to the street it seems designed to collect debris.

Ford Motor Company, Lincoln Continental, 2017

Growing up and now working in Detroit, I was always acutely aware of the design and engineering sensibility in the metro area that dominated our psyche. For instance, the Sunday New York Times relegates automobile coverage to the business section, while there are two sections devoted entirely to the Arts. In Detroit, there has always been an Auto section in the Sunday Detroit newspapers and no Arts section. Yet the people of Detroit and the tri-county area supported a millage to keep the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) intact. They knew intrinsically that the fine arts were important to our quality of life, and voters made a substantial ten-year commitment to help support the DIA in a time when bankruptcy threatens our city. The Center for Creative Studies has developed an extraordinary Transportation Design program that works closely with the automotive industry to help prepare young designers to meet the technological needs of a changing work force. I know clay sculptors who form the full-scale prototypes at the General Motors Technology Center, and they often exhibit their hand thrown pottery at local art exhibitions.

So at the beginning of each year, the North American International Auto Show displays the new products of an American industry in which artistic design elements, both interior, and exterior, play a vital role. I, for one, am proud to be from Detroit and active in its art community, which includes all the men and women who work to design beautiful products. For those who attend the show or see the Lincoln Continental on the road, take a close look at the design elements and how they personify the rich aesthetics of a luxury car, and remember the Continental was made by artists and engineers here in Detroit.

 

 

 

 

Laurie Tennent @ Oakland University Art Gallery

giant fern I II III

Laurie Tennent, Giant Fern, 30 x 135″, Polychrome on Aluminum, 2016

One of the oldest surviving photographic images, a daguerreotype still life from 1839, carefully depicts objects made of plaster cast sculptures and a wicker-wrapped bottle. In that same year, William Henry Talbot created a photo image of a leaf, Leaf with Serrated Edge, by placing a plant leaf on a piece of light-sensitive paper before exposing it to a light source. Later, that same year, the Magazine of Science published photograms from work by Anna Atkins that were botanicals placed directly on photosensitive paper.

Science Magazine

Magazine of Science, School of Art, William Talbot samples, London, 1839

Blue photogram

Anna Atkins, Poppy, Cyanotype, Vitoria & Albert Museum, London, 1839

From those beginnings through the following 160 years we have seen photography develop in myriad ways, which brings me to the current exhibition of photography at Oakland University Art Gallery, Hiberna Flores, by Laurie Tennent. The Birmingham, Michigan-based commercial photographer has worked hard to produce a body of work comprised of botanically-based images. These relatively large-scale photographs (40 X 72”) are digital images printed on aluminum. One assumes they are real plant objects set up in a studio and captured with a large format camera that sits on a tripod, providing the artist maximum control over focus and exposure.

She says in her interview, “Complexity of character, masculine and feminine, intimate yet bold, sensual yet strong: My photographs are an exploration of these dualities. By exaggerating the inner architecture of plant life, I offer the viewer a chance to at once become confronted by and immersed in nature.”

oriental poppy

Laurie Tennent, Oriental Poppy, 36 x 70″, Polychrome on Aluminum, 2014

While many photographers are shooting events, people, fashion, cars, wars and outer space, there are photographers who have devoted parts of their careers to capturing flowers. In the late 1980s Robert Mapplethorpe devoted part of his oeuvre to capturing botanicals in both black and white and color. They often get overlooked in his total body of work because of his focus on the fetish, but they stand out elegantly in composition and scale. Around that same time, in the mid-1980s, Bulfinch Publishing released Harold Feinstein’s book, 100 Flowers. Feinstein was the first to use a scanner as his camera. His work was covered  by Life magazine and received a Smithsonian Award for digital photography in 2000.

But Tennent brings her signature to her work primarily in her selection of plants and her approach to the composition. The image, Oriental Poppy (36 X 70”, 2014) produces a feeling similar to Grande Odalisque, by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, the French Neoclassical painter, 1819. Soft light stretched out on this horizontal botanical composition against a black background creates a similar feeling in the experience of the viewer: How beautiful!

For this review, I asked Tennent a few questions:

Ron Scott – How did you get interested in photography, early on?

Laurie Tennent – My interest in photography started in high school with a love of science and biology. After an introduction to College for Creative Studies, I decided to pursue photography. It was the darkroom that really amazed me.

RS – What lead you to fine art photography?

LT – Having an education in both fine art and commercial photography, I have practiced both for over 30 years. After college, I worked in the gallery business first at the Rubiner Gallery then opened The Eton Street Gallery in Birmingham, Michigan. To support the gallery, I worked in the fashion and commercial photography business.

RS – How would you describe the technical approach in capturing and printing these images (what degree of post production in the work is done)?

LT – All of the images are created in the studio. Plants and botanical specimens are photographed with digital capture and then dust and pollen are removed in post. They are printed on aluminum with a heat transfer process called dye sublimation. I only print a limited edition of 5 to 10 prints of each image.

RS – What photographers (past and present) influenced your work?

LT – Locally, my mentors are Balthazar Korab and Bill Rauhauser. Korab made a huge impression on me with his work ethic and ability to blur the lines between fine art and commercial images. Rauhauser was my professor and thesis advisor at Center for Creative Studies. His knowledge of history and passion for photography is infectious. In addition, I was also influenced by the work of Imogen Cunningham for the pattern and detail in her photographs and the sculptural scientific images of organic structures by Karl Blossfeldt .

Kalanchoe

Laurie Tennent, Kalanchoe, 40 x 60″, Polychrome on Aluminum, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With an acute sensitivity to today’s persistent digital noise, Tennent’s collection of intimate portraits commands attention by returning us to our most primitive and organic roots. Isolating delicate living structures and amplifying them on a massive scale transports the viewer to a serene space where we are encouraged to breathe and to reconnect with the simple beauty of these objects.

ranunculus

Laurie Tennent, Ranunculus, 48 x 69, Polychrome on Aluminum, 2013

 

Oakland University Art Gallery