Heloisa Promfret & Neha Vedpathak @ N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art

Heloisa Promfret & Neha Vedpathak Exhibition Installation image, 2018

There is definitely a synergy in the new exhibition at the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary art. These non-objective abstract works go beyond being executed by two female artists, working with unconventional material, approximately the same scale. The director of the Center fo Contemporary Art, George N’Namdi, is bringing together two artists that share a sensibility that involves an unexpected process. The exhibition opened April 13, 2018 with the work of Neha Vedpathak who works picking at Japanese paper and Heloisa Promfret who involves the palimpsest process where layers of paint are scratched to reveal paint beneath. The synergy that I speak of here is the juxtaposition of energy, both physical and psychological, creating work you cannot ignore.

Neha Vedpathak, Detroit, Plucked Japanese handmade paper, acrylic paint, thread, 70 x 68″ 2017

The large, 70 x 68” paper construction, titled Detroit, is layered in a way that allows for transparency to play a part in the composition.  Neha Vedpathak uses shades of yellow that surround this broken cross and dominates the interior.  She uses the term “plucking” when she picks the surface of the paper, appearing both solid and transparent, while occasionally using acrylic polymer for strength.

She says “I am drawn to paper, it is familiar, flexible and a giving natural material. I have been using Japanese hand-made paper in small parts in my paintings over the years. But since 2009 ”paper” has become the main focus of my investigation. After playing with this paper for a while, I developed a technique I call ‘plucking”. ”Plucking” is the main technique used in all my paper sculptures and installations. Here, I separate the fibers of the Japanese hand-made paper using a tiny pushpin. The resultant paper resembles a lace fabric, which I then use to make individual works.”

Neha Vedpathak, Hold Tight, Plucked Japanese handmade paper, acrylic paint, thread, 34 x 34″ 2018

The piece Hold Tight resembles a terrain map with colors differentiating borders of countries around a body of water.  Here the contrasts between solid and textured surfaces are more evident. The efflorescent paper delicately creates a latticework that draws the viewer close.

Heloisa Pomfret, Untitled (Threshold Series), Oil on Canvas, 34 x 39″ 2018

When first confronted with the work of Heloisa Promfret, as in Untitled, 34 x 39” this viewer gets a feeling of seeing the cross section of a walnut when cut in half using a band saw to reveal the interior design. But on closer observation there is a transformation from this first impulse to acknowledging a more mark-making technique that involves color and texture. In what she describes as her Threshold Series we see canvasses that are cut, re-stitched, and the paint is scratched with metal blades revealing the colors below.

She says “My work is about the energy, order and chaos that occurs during
psychological or physical stress, which serve as theoretical support to the mark-making and constructs of my work. The surface is often an analogy to the body and memory, in which experience occurs and is transformed. The visual elements of the brain, along with its scientific charting and diagrams, serve as inspiration and a starting point of abstraction for paintings/drawings and installations, in both traditional and non-traditional materials.”

Heloisa Pomfret, Clarity II (Threshold Series) Oil on canvas, 33 x 53″, 2018

In Clarity II there is a strong feeling of the feminine for this viewer, almost like an embryo in its early stage of development. The dominating symmetry is something we would find in nature, like a seed, plant or early development in an insect.  This flat high contrast image takes on a sense of three dimension using light and color to create a sculpted form. In addition, her work includes “Maps”, an installation of over 250 images cut from truck tire inner tubes.

Helosia Promfret’s work here, is called “Threshold”. She earned her MFA from Wayne State University in 2002.  Helosia Promfret was born in Soa Paulo, Brazil, lives and works in Detroit, Michgan.

Neha Vedpathak in her work called “Of The Land”.  She earned a five- year diploma in Fine Arts from Abhinav Kala Maha Vidhyala, Pune, India. She currently lives and maintains a studio in Detroit, Michigan.

These two solo shows will be on display at the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art through May 5, 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Objects and Place @ The Scarab Club

A Spring Offensive

Be sure, on your next visit to the Scarab Club, to ascend the staircase to the lounge and “history” rooms above the first floor exhibition space. Upon arrival, make your way past the newly installed wood and yarn screens that momentarily obscure and mystify the familiar doorway into the capacious members lounge. There, awaiting your arrival, you’ll discover “Objects and Place,” a smart, telling transformation, by a collaborative trio of artists, of the dusky, fireplace dominated space.  Marie Herwald Hermann, Laith Karmo, and curator Addie Langford, have reconfigured and refreshed the familiar, cluttered space. Fusty vintage furniture (sofas, tables, and chairs) has been shifted to the margins of the room, drawing attention to the two patterned carpets that sprawl across the floor. Nor are any paintings visible on the dark, wood- paneled walls.

Installation view “Objects and Place”, 2018 – Photographic images by Jenna Belevender

After a brief scan, a few, widely spaced objects stand out: beefy white ashtrays dot sturdy oak tables (Karmo), disembodied vacuums pop up underfoot here and there (Langford), and hundreds of tiny multicolored pins, like an insouciant riff on mille-fleurs, adorn two walls (Hermann). Karmo’s stolid ashtrays, titled Meditating on Misogyny, elicit images of a brace of cigar-smoking men of an afternoon or evening opining on art, pulchritude, and the state of the world in an odiferous, nicotine-stained, smoke-filled man cave. Quills of aromatic incense stud the ashtrays, at the ready to exorcise the stale, tobacco-heavy ozone in favor of fresh air—and, presumably, fresh, alternate topics of discourse. One might also note that Karmo, no fan of prescribed, columnar pedestals, has found especially apt and congenial perches for his chunky stoneware receptacles on the Club’s vintage tables.

Laith Karmo, Meditating on Misogyny #1, Stoneware and incense, 2018

For her part, Langford’s wrecked, dismembered vacuums, shorn of handles and refuse bags, focus on the flat, distorted contours of the housing for motor, wheels, and brushes of a standard upright vacuum. Adding overlapping strips of tape in their wake, she suggests the back and forth, overlapping movements of her Sweepscompulsively scarfing up the accumulated dust and dirt—until they crash. While bearing a resemblance to roombas (said another viewer), Langford’s porcelain wrecks seem much more akin to powerful electric machines at the end of a fruitless, abandoned mission to tidy and neaten up the parameters of art and life. Perhaps too, at this point, a visitor, like this writer, belatedly realizes that the pale, lumpy object laid out on a bench on the landing of the Club’s staircase is in fact a porcelain rendering of a hollow vacuum cleaner bag.

Addie Langford, Scarab Club Lounge, Sweep/Head/Pink, Porcelain and mixed media, 2018

Hermann’s contribution to the “less is more” facelift of this dowdy room, except for her psyche altering screens at the entrance, might be overlooked at first. Absent the bevy of members’ paintings usually enlivening the walls, Hermann and Langford have inserted an array of colorful pins into the holes made by nails that secured thousands of pictures gracing the walls of the lounge since the completion of the club’s building in 1928. Now two multihued waves fifteen feet wide drift and flow freely and joyfully across the gravy-toned walls. Like a wide screen view of masses of swallows wheeling across the sky they evoke something of the tenor, breadth, and sheer number of artists and artifacts embraced by the Club over its long and memorable history.

Marie Hermann & Addie Langford, 28 – 62 #2, (detail) Pins, 2018

Admittedly, this décor altering re-do by team Hermann, Karmo, & Langford tweaks and pokes at the vintage ambience of the grand old Scarab Club housed in its venerable Arts & Crafts building, and its storied practices and programs. More significantly, what “Objects and Place”—and its renovating trio of makers–also sensitively and knowingly acknowledge, in concert with the interventions of generations of exhibitors, is the Club’s long-lived, broadly supportive aesthetic legacy. This eye-opening, conceptually savvy installation, albeit short-lived, now becomes part of its institutional history: perhaps in years to come as the spicy, spirited spring cleaning of 2018?

Scarab Club “Objects and Places” continues at the top of the stairs through May 19, 2018.

 

 

Al Held @ David Klein Gallery

Installation image of Al Held at David Klein with “Orion V,”1991, Acrylic on canvas,198”X192” and “Duccio VIII,” 1991, Acrylic on canvas, 108”X108”   Photography provided by Robert Hensleigh

 

In 1979 Detroit’s Cass Corridor art scene was thriving and, while he didn’t represent what was to become the iconic Cass Corridor aesthetic, Wayne State University painting professor John Egner was making interesting art. It was that year that he painted “Burnt Umber,” which eventually was purchased by then Director of the Detroit Institute of Art, Fred Cummings, and hung in the administrative offices of the Detroit Institute of Arts for a while before eventually hanging in the Modern Galleries. “Burnt Umber” is a monumental sized, stunning oil painting of almost spiritual implications, that bridges hard edge geometric abstraction and abstract expressionism with an interesting optical element as well. Incredibly energetic and busy, it was a unique painting for the Detroit art scene and was the centerpiece of Egner’s solo exhibition at the Susanne Hilberry Gallery. It was a very visible painting to all who lived in the Cass Corridor. It was in fact a painting that inspired poets to write poems and this poet to begin writing about painting.

Al Held, “Geocentric IV,” 1990, 96”X144” and “Scand III,” Acrylic on canvas, 72”96”

Walking into the Al Held exhibition at the David Klein gallery this week, it was overwhelming to experience the imposing presence of his geometric abstract painting, “Orion V,” 1991. Immediately reminiscent of Egner’s big painting of nearly 40 years ago in its monumentality (actually the same size) it is what a Renaissance painting is supposed to be and do. Like Egner’s it is awe inspiring.  Like the constellation Orion’s prominence in the night sky itself, the painting demands immediate attention and defies immediate description.  Of course, like the constellation the painting looks nothing like Orion the hunter, after whom it was named, but you make it fit because that is what Held called it. It is ripe with all manner of geometric shapes and perspectives—instead of angels, cherubs and saints, hollow cylinders looming out of a distant sky, a quixotic, puzzle-shaped plane of vibrant orange, concentric rings floating in imagined ether, a pure purple triangular wedge—in fact other than a distant blue sky-like back drop, the colors seem purposely mystifying and the composition is anything but modern. The acrylic paint is seamlessly laid on like powder-coating on a custom car.  Because of the strange, bottomless, topless, perspective the viewer is somehow disembodied amidst the gyre of movement in the painting. Held was inspired by the abstract formulations of Mondrian but because Mondrian was firmly planted on earth, with a stubborn horizon that wouldn’t let him escape, he eventually painted with horizontal and vertical lines. Inspired by Renaissance conceptions of the universe, Held was out in the universe where there is no up and down or in and out, and “Orion V” describes that.

Al Held, “Umbria XXIV,” 1992, watercolor on paper, 49”X 56 ½” and ”Primo V”, 1990, watercolor on paper, 49 3/16” X 57 ½”

Because of its title “Orion V” might be read metaphorically. It could be a celebratory image related to space travel, certainly prominent at the time, but, more likely it could simply be a secular version of the Renaissance vision. Defying famed art critic Clement Greenberg’s prescriptive ideas of flatness, “Orion V” thrives on and exhilarates in the illusion of deep space. It combines the minimalist elements of simple geometry with a hallucinatory landscape.

Another big canvas, “Geocentric IV,” 1990 is more readily grounded in nature, with an emerald green backdrop composed of hollow cylinders, cubes and triangles of heated up primary colors. With a title that sees the earth as the center of the universe, “Geocentric,” a confection of kitschy colors explodes this onslaught of primary forms, reductively standing in for the fundamental forms of nature. A tsunami of these primary forms seems to hurl toward us from a single point in the upper right hand corner. A collection of pinkish-brown cubes in the distant background serves as a substratum (earth?) for the foreground’s explosion of the primary forms. Held spent 1981-2 in Italy at the American Academy studying Renaissance painting and it could be that “Geocentric IV” is as close to a religious painting as he ever painted. Or perhaps more akin to a “Big Bang” Creation myth image, cascading, fluorescing red cubes join with brilliant blue cylinders surrounding a brilliant yellow triangle, cone and cube floating off into space. The classical compositions are unmistakable.

The remaining two paintings are also composed of a multicolored, seamlessly painted, arrangements of triangles, cubes and cylinders, and while they abound in hard-edged geometric shapes, there is a sense of an expressionistic energy behind their composition. There is a playfulness, then, in Held’s painting and brings with it a challenge to sort out perspective and the arrangement of shapes as if in a wilderness composed of a forest of forms.

The backrooms of the gallery include eight watercolors and a black and white painting. It is difficult to compare them to the acrylic painting but they are, it seems, from where the title of the exhibition, “Luminous Constructs,” is derived. Quite simply they exude light as if lit from within. “Umbria XXIV,” 1992, which probably takes its title from Held’s travels to Umbria, the magnificent Italian region of natural beauty and culture, is composed of a brilliant tangerine-orange, cruciform shape, constructed of various sized rectangular forms. The floor, the only reference to a built space in the exhibition, is emerald green and yellow checkered and the cruciform, has red, halo-like rings floating above and around it. The transparent glow of the watercolors give them an immediate, sketch-like or cartoon but sure-handed quality. Of course, the imagery of the forms are Held’s play on Christian iconography.

When John Egner was an entering art student at Yale University,  he was placed at Al Held’s interview table.  Egner told Held that he was there specifically to study with famed Abstract Expressionist Jack Tworkov.  Held called over to Tworkov’s desk and said “Hey Jack this one is for you.” Egner got up and went over to Tworkov for the interview.  Years later Egner told me, “I guess for many years at least if I was asked who was my favorite painter I would have replied “Al Held.” A little Detroit art history to go with a vibrant and rare view of an American master.

Al Held, “Victoria VIII,” 1991, watercolor on paper, 43 5/8” X 49 ¼” and “Plaza IV, 1993, watercolor on paper, 49 ¼”X63”

Al Held one-person exhibition at the David Klein Gallery through April 28, 2018

James Collins @ Simone DeSousa Gallery

Exploring the Tributaries

James Collins, Installation image, 2018

The Simone DeSousa Gallery opened an exhibition of work by James Collins on March 17, 2018, with a body of abstract paintings that exude both simplicity and complexity. A few of the paintings have an op art feel but not to their detriment, rather to their intrigue.

In these three paintings, Collins uses acrylic over a substrate made from clear vinyl shower curtains, and then uses a squeegee that he customizes from a rubber door sweep to apply the paint. He cuts notches in the rubber sweep that provide the line work he desires, using oil paint over the acrylic. He relies on the fact that oil and water do not mix. Therefore the oil and acrylic repel one another while still in their fluid state. It is a catalytic event as the different mediums repel each other momentarily. If the chemistry is off, and the painting does not work, it has to be destroyed, and he starts over. The extraordinary result is light, delicate and playful. What more could you ask for?

James Collins, Untitled, 60 x 48″, Media on Vinyl, 2018

In this 60 x 48” abstraction, the viewer can see the stretcher frame through the translucent shower curtain, but it is the dance with paint that draws us closer. It’s worth noting that these particular pieces leave us with an experience not well captured in an image, but come alive in person.

In the gallery statement about Collins work, it says, “Detroit-based artist James Collins is known for minimalist op art and abstract works that are created through a variety of imaginative processes that embody chemistry and chance. These processes create a spacious and gestural sense of predictable unpredictability. In his multidimensional line-heavy chance-based works, Collins applies a custom process in which oil paint and water-based acrylic interact in a fluid state and repel each other.

James Collins, Untitled, 60 x 48″, Mixed Media on Vinyl 2018

It’s the handling of and application of paint that conveys the spontaneity in Collins’ art. In this untitled orange-ish painting, the stretcher frame is even more exposed, intentionally. Each painting embodies an element of chance and little regarding the predetermined outcome. The artist’s goal is not solely to create new imagery but to coax the painting to life through the gestures in its making. In conversation, when I asked Collins about other artists he looks at with interest, he mentioned Bernard Frize, Wade Guyton and Jason Dodge.

James Collins, Four Untitled, each 20 x 16″, Mixed Media on Vinyl 2018

These square blue canvases are abstract fields of cloth imprints with oil paint. Each varies based on the type of rag or material used to create an impression. The consistent elements in these four paintings are the size and the color of paint, but the impressions are random patterns of folded cloth.

James Collins grew up in Superior, Wisconsin and lived in Minneapolis before moving to Detroit six years ago. He lives and works in the Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood, on the canal. If you find Superior on a map, water and open space abound pretty much in all directions. How much of that early life determines the unconscious foundation in an abstract artist? I am not sure, but this work is original, powerful and refreshing.

Collins has shown in a number of group exhibitions, including An Anonymous System at the Rogaland Kunstsenter in Stavanger Norway; A Painting Show at Simone DeSousa Gallery in Detroit; 99 cents or Less at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit; Summer Group Show and What Birds Can See at Document in Chicago, IL; New American Paintings at the Elmhurst Art Museum, Elmhurst, IL; On the Blue Shores of Silence at Tracy Williams Ltd., New York; FOG Design and Art with Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; Library Street Collective, Detroit; Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts, Grand Rapids, Mich. and at the West Michigan Area Show, Kalamazoo, where he was awarded the Grand Prize in 2012.

Exploring the Tributaries, work by James Collins at the Simone DeSousa Gallery, runs through April 15, 2018.