Cody VanderKaay @ Oakland University Art Gallery

Cody VanderKaay, Installation image

Cody VanderKaay’s solo exhibition, Terrestrial Celestial, opened March 3, 2017, at the Oakland University Art Gallery, where Dick Goody, Art Chair, and curator at OUAG, turns inward to one of his associate professors to exhibit new work that takes the viewer in a variety of visual art directions. On the ground or in the sky, VanderKaay presents three-dimensional work that has delicacy as in the Orange Shed, versus blunt boldness, as in Six Views.

So where is this artist in his creative trajectory? I would say he is exploring an inner sensibility he has developed since his youthful years of art experience combined with his MFA at the University of Georgia, where he gives us his take on three-dimensional form.

Cody VanderKaay, Orange Shed, Latex on Basswood, 2016

The delicate relief, Orange Shed, using basswood and latex, reminds me of relief work from the 1950’s in the United States that was mostly decorative, with the exception of an artist such as David Smith. Smith combined found objects, worked in metal based on his experience working in a car body shop. The shared element with VanderKaay’s work is largely based on Constructivism, a modern art movement that flourished in Russia, then moved to Europe during the early parts of the 20th century. The central concept is placing the priority on the material employed, versus the subject matter or motif. The materials to express an idea dictate the form. The fundamental analysis of the material leads to the function. This idea shapes VanderKaay’s other work as well.

Cody VanderKaay, Six Views, Concrete 2017

Borrowing on ideas presented by Minimalist artists, be it Donald Judd or Robert Morris, the early 1980s brought a shift from Abstract Expressionism to a pared-down, three-dimensional object with little reference to real objects. The new vocabulary was simplified geometric forms created from humble industrial material. VanderKaay provides a repetition of nine “house-shaped” concrete objects in Six Views with an angled bottom that provides the observer with a parallel view.  It would seem variations on this theme could produce a body of work on its own, as the aesthetics are pleasing, even comforting to the eye, whether it appears in relief or as a taped drawing on the wall.

Cody VanderKaay, Bündner Schist, Crepe Tape on gallery wall, 2017

The large black-taped drawing on the gallery wall, Bündner Schist, reinforces elements in the overall exhibition, like a roadmap to his thinking.  He builds an amalgamation of trapezoids and variations that make his statement clear and concise, one that offsets the more three-dimensional work that dominates the overall exhibition. As part of the exhibition, we are confronted with the large assemblage of mixed media, Ball Drop, where the artist has presumably collected and large variety of materials and objects that met his fancy, not so different from when an artist collects things they like, placing them on a table (or wall) in the studio.  Not quite understanding how this fits into the overall exhibition, I asked VanderKaay to explain this in the last question presented in a short interview.

Cory VanderKaay, Ball Drop, 2017

Ron Scott: How and where did you first get interested in visual art?

Cody VanderKaay: I lived in both rural and suburban environments of the Midwestern, Southern, and Western United States. Periodic relocation and travel allowed me to experience a variety of living situations, routines, pastime activities and occupations that inevitably shaped my curiosity. As the son of a residential contractor, I was frequently exposed to architecture, trades labor, carpentry and the graphic art of drafting. As a young man, I trained myself in a number of related skills and techniques, when, eventually my proclivity for making art objects became my principal interest.

I studied sculpture at Northern Michigan University’s School of Art & Design and the University of Georgia Lamar Dodd School of Art, where I received my MFA. After graduating, I relocated to New Orleans to teach visual arts at Loyola University. Today, I am an Associate Professor of Art at Oakland University teaching sculpture, drawing, and fundamental art courses full-time.

RS: How has your worked evolved since college?

CV: The biggest and best change is an ability to identify when my intellect, technical ability and resources are in concert with one another, and encountering that moment again, in the finished artwork.

RS: How is it that you work in such a variety of material?

CV: I’m attracted to the range of qualities and technical constraints that raw materials and objects have; the combinations seem impossible to exhaust.

RS: What artists have most attracted your interest?

CV: Dil Hildebrand, Anne Truitt, Herman de Vries, Ilya Bolotowsky, Norman Dilworth, Tony Feher, and Richard Wentworth

RS: Your work seems to stand alone as single individual pieces. How does the large assemblage on plywood relate to the other work?

CV:The large plywood piece titled Ball Drop wasn’t conceived as an artwork per se, but rather as scaffolding or drawing of sorts. It’s evidence of the forms and subjects I was thinking through in the studio while making the other artworks in the exhibition. The title is a reference to the phrase ‘the penny has dropped’ and points to a realization or discovery that follows a long period of exploration and questioning. Many of the elements comprising the wall are residual, while a few are deeply personal. For example, the small oil painting of the Alps originally belonged to my Grandmother. The painting was given to her by her father when she left the Netherlands for the United States in the 1930’s. I coveted the painting as a child and acquired it after she passed. The wall doesn’t summarize the exhibition, but examining it closely will reveal more about the relationship between the other artworks on display.

RS: Anything else you would like to say?

CV: I find the challenges of working with self-imposed restrictions to be intellectually stimulating and personally significant. A large majority of my artwork is composed of irreducible elements and simplified forms, with surface qualities that raise questions about the substance and physicality of their forms. I often move between disciplines, on two or three projects at a time, and display finished work as a sequence or series of related artworks to bring formal and contextual concerns in closer harmony with one another. I use fabrication, mold making, casting, drawing and collage to produce my sculpture and two-dimensional artwork.

There are artists who focus on a subject for forty years, providing variations in size, color palette, composition and material. Cody VanderKaay is an artist who does not limit his expression to a genre. He is eclectic in his approach to creating his art and, most important, he is curious. Cody VanderKaay is giving an artist’s talk in the OUAG gallery on Thursday, April 6, at NOON.

Cody VanderKaay, Terrestrial Celestial, Open at OUAG – April 9, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

Lane & Senegal @ N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art

N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art opened two exhibitions on February 17, 2017: Emerging, which showcases the three-dimensional work by Artis Lane, and BLU BLK, the photography of Stephon Senegal. Known for representing African American artists, the N’Namdi Gallery has selected a young photographer from Brooklyn, New York, whose work explores the human form, often juxtaposing two images against each other, and a well-known sculptor from Los Angles whose work is prominent in famous social and political collections from New York City to Los Angeles.

Portrait of Artis Lane, and bronze sculpture of Rosa Parks

Born in Ontario, Canada, Artis Lane attended the Ontario College of Art, and later Cranbrook Art Academy in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. The sculptor has worked in the foundry for most of her life’s journey, working in bronze to create figures and busts that often convey a metaphysical message. Lane has been honored by the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery with an installation of her bronze portrait of civil rights leader and long time friend, Rosa Parks.

In a statement she says, “My Civil Rights images led me naturally to ideas about what and who we are outside race. I went from there to the most important body of work, the metaphysical images of a generic man and generic woman emerging out of the ignorance of material concepts and evolving into spiritual awareness.”

Artis Lane, Emerging New Women, Bronze, ceramic shell, resin, steel base, 73 x 28 x 12″ 1993

The sculpture with two figures reminds us of DaVinci’s Vitruvian Man. Two bronze female figures are encompassed by a circle One figure is full, polished and complete, and is set against a second figure containing remains of plaster and wire as if to the say the perfect and the flawed co-exists in our lives. It is a metaphorical conversation between the material and the moral.

Stephon Senegal “24a” Archival pigment print, 41” x 41”, 2014

The contrast of Stephon Senegal’s work could not be more obvious in his collection of large, dark color photographs, most containing two images next to each other. The exception is this image of a large leaf over a dark-skinned figure. Senegal attended Maryland Institute of Art, and has gallery representation by Washington D.C.’s Morton Fine Art, Senegal deconstructs the human form, creating an image that is visceral yet tangible. The viewer is perplexed by the mysterious leaf canopy that covers the head.

Stephon Senegal “037” Archival pigment print, 44” x 50”, 2014

In severe contrast is this large photograph of a nude, pregnant black woman against a hanging bag of paper, all on a stark white background. The imagery is beautifully strong and moving, as is the way Senegal creates the open and abstract space in between. He moves effortlessly between these two distinct images with weight, thought and expression.

He says “My work is an exploration into the depths of maturation, chronicling the deconstruction and reconstruction of the human psyche and form. I build histories around obsessive notions and violent motivations while studying how those subsequent interactions convert into ritual and vice.” Senegal attended Maryland Institute of Art and has gallery representation by Washington D.C. at Morton Fine Art,

In these exhibitions George N’Namdi stays true to his mission, and although he has always exhibited artists of all racial backgrounds, his focus here is on the extraordinary talent of two African American artists.

N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art

Kehinde Wiley @ Toledo Museum of Art

Kehinde Wiley (American, born 1977), Morpheus. Oil on canvas, 2008. 108 x 180 in. (274.3 x 457.2 cm). Courtesy of Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, California; Sean Kelly, New York; Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris; and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London © Kehinde Wiley

Aside from having seen his work in print, I first saw the original work of Kehinde Wiley at the 30 Americans exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 2015. There I experienced his figure painting Sleep, an 11 X 25-foot oil painting from 2008, with a European Arts & Crafts-designed background. It was breath-taking, even overwhelming. As part of the Rubell Collection, this erotic figure called out as I described in that review, “like a painting of Christ after he was taken down from the cross.”

From the few works I saw back then, I was unable to ascertain the larger and broader work of Wiley, that is until his current exhibition at the Toledo Museum of Art, which just opened a large retrospective of Kehinde Wiley, A New Republic, on February 10, 2017. The exhibition presents sixty paintings, sculptures and stained glass works curated by Eugenie Tsai, the Curator of Contemporary Art at the Brooklyn Museum, and is a traveling exhibition.

When I first saw the work in Detroit, I asked myself: Is this about the scale of portraiture with decorative backgrounds? But one needs to see the scope of this exhibition to realize this is not about scale, as there are many small and intimate paintings that dispel that first impression. Wiley had taken his early study of art and acquired experience from undergraduate school at the San Francisco Arts Institute and combined it with an MFA from Yale to begin a crusade.

Kehinde Wiley, Conspicuous Fraud, Oil on canvas, 60 X 72″ 2001

Entering the exhibition, it was the painting in the first room, Conspicuous Fraud, Series #1, from 2001, Wiley’s last year at Yale, that I went back to after seeing the entire exhibition. The work seems like a major departure, a step forward that puts him on a trajectory that he develops and elaborates on over the next fifteen years. The painting is larger. We see an African American male in a suit with meandering black clouds. He notably breaks with the picture plane, clouds in both background and foreground. The larger than life figure in this painting disturbs the tropes of portraiture painting and intentionally elevates the subject’s status, juxtaposed to all preexisting social stereotypes. The road ahead is established and paved here in 2001. The idea of portraying young black men in power positions, be they political, social, or religious, will become Wiley’s focus, beginning in the United States on the streets of Harlem, but eventually expanding to include Senegal, Dakar, Rio de Janeiro and Mumbai, ultimately to become what Wiley would describe as the World Stage.

With his accomplished technical set of tools in hand, at Yale the issues that honed his perspective would be discussions surrounding identity, sexuality, gender and symbols of political power. The exhibition A New Republic focuses on African American males, Old Master portraiture and backgrounds, and then moves on to African American women, stained glass and sculpture.

Kehinde Wiley, The Two Sisters. Oil on linen, 2012. 96 x 72 in. (243.8 x 182.9 cm). Collection of Pamela K. and William A. Royall, Jr. Courtesy of Sean Kelly, New York. © Kehinde Wiley. (Photo: Jason Wyche, courtesy of Sean Kelly, New York)

“The magnitude of this exhibition will impress even those familiar with Wiley’s work,” said Brian P. Kennedy, TMA director, president and CEO. “He has taken the grandeur of portrait painting and translated it with his portrayals of contemporary African American men and women. Wiley bridges the gap between traditional portraiture and our daily lives, and in doing so, he raises questions about identity and how we perceive ourselves and others.”

Growing up in South Center Los Angeles in the late 1980s, Wiley began studying art early on, spending time in museums and seeing how the figure was presented over the last three hundred years. Africans were depicted as slaves, then servants, and ultimately as drug dealers, gang members and inciters of violence.

Wiley says, “Painting is about the world we live in. Black people live in the world. This is my way of saying yes to us.”

What seems to develop gradually is a complex multi-layered approach to his feelings about the lack of African Americans depicted in a positive way. He uses scale, Old Master settings, elaborate background patterns, and changes to the picture plane, all part of his tool bag to express the beauty and grandeur of normal people, something that has become his passion. He expands exponentially to include women, sculpture, stained glass and smaller paintings framed as if they were part of a cathedral altarpiece. All of this is an effort to attack the lack of existing works that depict African American subjects in a positive way. He has taken on the mission—I began by referring to it as a crusade—as one man, one artist, to fill the void in the complete history of Western Art.

Kehinde Wiley, After Memling’s Portrait of Man with a Coin of the Emperor Nero. Oil on wood panel in artist designed hand fabricated frame with 22k gold leaf gilding, 2013. With doors open: 24 1/2 x 29 x 5 in. (62.2 x 73.7 x 12.7 cm)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wiley comments, “What I wanted to do was create a body of work in which empathy and the language of religious and the rapturous all collide in the same place.”  What does the coin he holds say? “In God We Trust?” On closer observation, it replicates the Roman coin used in Hans Memling’s Man with a Roman Coin, 1471, oil on a panel.

Wiley says, “There is something to be said about the power of smallness. As an artist who is in love with the material practice of painting, I can’t help but be amazed every time I look at Hans Memling’s small panel portrait…the simplicity of the small mark made well.”

Kehinde Wiley, Anthony of Padua. Oil on canvas, 2013. 72 x 60 in. (182.9 x 152.4 cm). Seattle Art Museum; gift of the Contemporary Collectors Forum

An aspect of Wiley’s portraiture painting is the issue of his breaking the picture plane, using the background and then bringing it forward over the subject. This goes back to paintings by the Old Masters, where there was a sense that it was necessary to preserve the integrity of the picture plane, to provide a flatness under and above the illusion of three-dimensional space, a technique discussed by Clement Greenburg in his essay “Modernist Painting” in which he talks about this concept being used in modern art as well. Wiley knows this all too well and intentionally works against this concept to say to his viewer, this is not photorealism, in case you were wondering. The element is playful, colorful, spatial and defiant.

Kehinde Wiley seems inspired by historical paintings of aristocrats and royalty where he uses his models—many cast in the streets of Harlem—and has them do dress-up for his photo sessions. My guess would be that he begins with high-resolution images captured in the studio with the precise control of light. The images are then projected onto a large linen canvas where the drawing begins, including the intricate backgrounds, using skilled assistants to save time. He probably works with oil paint primarily on the figure(s), while the antique and wallpaper-like backgrounds are painted using others.

Looking back through art history at paintings by Titian, Gainsborough and Ingres, Wiley projects heroism onto his black men and women as subjects who are missing from the history of Western art. He has developed his own distinct vocabulary from these Old Masters settings juxtaposed with these young, quintessential models. A New Republic, as a state in which supreme power is held by people through their elected representatives, is code for new representatives missing from our past.

Wiley delivers these skillful masterpieces to provoke a conversation about gender, race, politics and religion.

Toledo Museum of Art   Kehinde Wiley, A New Republic, February 10 – May 14, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cope & Reichert @ David Klein Gallery

Gina Reichert & Mitch Cope, Illuminated Totem – TV Tray 2017, Wood stool, kitchen spice drawer with spices, glass fridge shelf, acrylic display box, milk cartons, crystal bowl, cathode ray tube. 40 x 18 x 16 inches All images courtesy of the David Klein Gallery

We see these documentaries on PBS about people who collect ordinary items over a long period of time, and sometimes a lifetime. They hoard collections in bedrooms, living rooms, bathrooms and the garage. The documentary will usually focus on the psychological anxiety disorder Compulsive Hoarding, a subset of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) where people equate certain mundane objects and material to their own personal identity. In extreme cases, entire houses belonging to such people become fire and health hazards.

Such is the subject of the new exhibition at the David Klein Gallery: Organizational Strategies for the After Life, by architect Gina Reichert and painter Mitch Cope. The exhibition is a combination of sculptures made from found objects, paintings from found fabric patterns, plaster castings and jars of assorted small objects, all of which were meticulously obtained from a deserted neighbor’s house in Detroit.

Gina Reichert & Mitch Cope Stella’s Infinite Clothes Rack, #1 – 15. All paintings based on the fabrics of the ( never worn) clothes.

Gina Reichert & Mitch Cope Stella’s Infinite Clothes Rack, #1 – 15. All paintings based on the fabrics of the ( never worn) clothes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The exhibition represents the culmination of six years of working together as a husband and wife team to distill and categorized the home of a person with Compulsive Hoarding Syndrome. In a statement they say,

“At the risk of being overly nostalgic for a past time, we pressed on in our search to reveal what we now believe is less a picture of the past, and more of the afterlife. Too often we romanticized past generations, especially here in Detroit, as being better or greater, cleaner or safer, than it is now, but we have become quite easily convinced through our research, that although the physical aspect of the houses were in a better shape than now, (they were brand new then) the last hundred years of life on Klinger Street were not necessarily a better time.”

Over time, both the painter and the architect, became increasingly interested in the house next door, abandoned by its owner, forcing them into a process of finding and categorizing thousands of materials produced over multiple generations that went back a century. Part of this exhibition is a video presentation of the documentation process, using four video screens with audio support. The video helps the viewer understand the magnitude of their work and the transformation of materials into objects of art.

Is there a context for their repurposing of an enormous amount of material for an art exhibition? Certainly, there is a history of found art objects. The amassment and display of found objects for their aesthetic qualities dates back to at least the 16th century, when the collections of individual enthusiasts were displayed in private “cabinets of curiosities,” or what the Germans called “Wunderkammer.” But it wasn’t until the 1900s that artists began to incorporate found objects into sculptural works as an artistic gesture in 1917, where Marcel Duchamp created his “readymade” The Fountain, consisting of a porcelain urinal signed R. Mutt.

 

Gina Reichert & Mitch Cope, Gathering of the Scattered – Vision 2017, Electronic tubes, bell jar, tape. 11 x 5 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches

But where this current exhibition breaks from found art objects repurposed as art is this idea presented by Cope and Reichert where they write,

“ What if the things we use and collect in our lives carry more than the representation of what they mean to the individual who owns them, but also carry a small part of their spirit?” They go on to say, “Or if the spirit of things attaches part of it to its user?” They raise many interesting questions about the spiritual relationship between the owner and the object, all of which is explained in their writing that is available as part of the exhibition.

Gina Reichert & Mitch Cope, lluminated Totem – Root Cellar 2017, Marble book ends, preserves in glass jars, acrylic display box, glass furniture feet, enameled steel tub, assorted glass servingware. 32 x 15 x 15 inches

 

Putting this aside, many of the paintings and sculptures are quite beautiful and stand on their own, without the complex environmental project that surrounds and embodies their creations.

Gina Reichert holds a Master of Architecture degree from Cranbrook Academy of Art and a Bachelor of Architecture from Tulane University. Mitch Cope, a native Detroiter, has lectured widely throughout the US and Europe. Cope holds a BFA from College for Creative Studies, Detroit and an MFA from Washington State University.

Banksy on Vinyl: The Record Covers

Banksy, Dirty Funker, Let’s Get Dirty, 12” Single 2006, Record album. 12 x 12 inches

The British artist Banksy – graffiti master, painter, activist, filmmaker and all-purpose provocateur – is also a prolific designer of album covers. Since 1998 Banksy has designed the cover art for almost 40 albums. Many of the albums were produced by small independent record labels for obscure British bands and were usually not commercially successful. As a result, Banksy album covers were not widely distributed and only a small number have survived. A collection of fifteen record covers and the actual albums, all framed and behind glass, comprise the exhibition Banksy on Vinyl in the second room at the David Klein Gallery.

Banksy, Various Artists, We Love You So Love Us, 12” album 2000, Record album. 12 x 12 inches

David Klein Gallery

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