Fall Exhibitions 2017 @ BBAC

The Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center kicked off its 2017 fall season with exhibitions in all of its galleries, highlighting painting, sculpture, photography and ceramic work.

Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center, exterior, 2017

For a non-profit that was established in 1957, the BBAC continues to connect people of all ages with art from every part of the Detroit Metro Area.  These new exhibitions in all the galleries are good examples of how they provide venues for a large variety of artists.

The current exhibition in the large central gallery is an exhibition titled Simultaneous Contrast and illustrates how differently two artists approach figure painting. It is interesting that both artists came from the L’Anse Creuse High School program under the instruction of Ken Hoover during the early 1970’s and then went on to pursue their different paths in visual art. 

Christine A. Ritchie, Primary Passage VI, Oil on Canvas, 36 x 60″

In her painting Primary Passage VI, Ritche demonstrates her interest in process and the intrinsic qualities in oil paint where she delivers a loose abstract expressionistic interpretation of the figure(s). The surface, the brush-stroke action, and the moment, characterizes the way she renders the human form. Supported by strong gestural drawing the painting successfully communicates movement.  She says in her statement, “My work with the figure has been ongoing and is related to my interest in the qualities of figurative movement and the idea that there is a “shared” sense of the human figure moving through space that creates a “felt” or identifiable rhythm that belongs to and is uniquely recognized.” 

For this writer, the artist came along at a time when influences from the 1960’s, artists like Arshile Gorky and Willem de Kooning, were taking the art world by storm, supported by New York critics, Clement Greenburg and Harold Rosenberg.  But the language of painting the human figure as been with us since the art work done in the prehistoric caves of Dordogne, France and will be with us for some time to come. Christine A. Richie holds a MFA in Painting from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY where she lived and worked for 23 years before returning to a studio in Detroit.

Kip Kowalski, IGGNOIRANTS, Oil on Canvas, 30 x 38″

The contrast to Richie’s work is the Picassoesque figurative paintings by Kip Kowalski is dramatic, hence the title of the show, Simultaneous Contrast.  These satirical figure paintings incorporate a kind of surrealistic still life component. In the oil on canvas, IGGNOIRANTS, Kowalski dishes up a surreal one-eared female figure, a pear and a dead bird on a string with abstract elements in the wand and background.  He says in his statement, “My work is an audacious and blasphemous satire of human ignorance and apathy that confronts the absurdities I find in contemporary religious beliefs.  I tackle the biblical lore that is celebrated as fact over the findings of empirical science, such as the denial that evolution is real. My work is also a reaction to the pervasive attitude in many secular and non-secular societies, including our own, that women are the lesser gender.”  

Kowalski’s paintings are grotesque at times as he admits, in that it may cause uneasiness to the viewer.  Are these visual distortions metaphors for the imperfections in our anatomy?  In the end, most people have a visceral reaction to viewing a work of art as opposed to the intellect, directing them to say either I like that, or not for me.  I find myself going back to Picasso in this work, whose painting from the mid-1930’s, especially the women seated series, remind me that he was the most prodigally gifted artist of the twentieth century. So when viewing Kowalski’s work, I make an effort to see his measure of detachment, perhaps even skepticism that results in a form of intrigue.  Kip Kowalski graduated from The Center for Creative Studies with a BFA and maintains a studio in the Detroit area.

Russ Orlando, Modifiers, B&W Photographic image

In the Robinson Gallery, the work of Russ Orlando combines sculptures, collages, totems and a row of photographic self-portraits that portrays this artist as having a variety of interest in media and execution. The row of black and white photographs are self-portraits that stand together as one piece and seems to this writer to be theatrical in nature and not part of a body of photographical work. 

He says in his statement, “When I start a work, I tend to gather materials that I find may be useful to me. When combining the materials, I try not to make much sense out of my choices for fear of being too rational.  In the end, the work should serve as only a stopping point, prompting many questions but leaving them unanswered.”  

Russ Orlando, Untitled, Slip Cast Porcelain, Gold Leaf, and metal stand.

The Untitled work of these three birds, slip cast porcelain, with the interior of gold leaf is interesting, assuming they are not commercially made and altered, which would make them found objects. The base height seems right, but I would prefer more attention is made to the base’s top material: not plywood, but stone, or glass. Perhaps these works are like the artist says, stopping points, prompting many questions, but leaving them unanswered.  Born in Detroit in 1964, Russ Orlando received his Bachelor of Fine Arts from Wayne State University, Detroit and his Master of Fine Arts from Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, MI.  As part of his Kresge recipient statement he says his work is informed by the lure of the sell, shaped from his many years as an advertising agency art director. His sculptures and performances-which he calls experiences-often employ his body as a flash point for social criticism and a viewer’s self-examination.

Rosemarie Hughes, House of Homage, Encaustic, Photo Transfer on Wood Panel

The BBAC has a Ramp Gallery that currently has the work of Rosemarie Hughes.  The smaller and more intimate work is base on a theme, The Home. In her statement she says, “My art is based on the idea of a home. I strive to create work that draws the viewer to take a closer look.”   Originally from the Detroit area, Rosemarie has lived and studied in Austin, San Francisco and London. She received a BFA and MA in photography but her passion for working with textures and a variety of materials ultimately led to her identifying as a mixed media artist.  She currently resides in the Detroit area where she divides her time between her studio and working as a licensed massage therapist.

The Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center is a model for communities through out the region to visit and learn how a non-profit can enrich their citizenry by offering classes, workshops, and exhibitions.

Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center 

Group Exhibition @ N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art

Jennifer Junkermeier Curates and Michaela Mosher Designs an Exhibition: Round in Circles.

Installation Image, Round in Circles, N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, All Image Courtesy of the Detroit Art Review

For a gallery owner to ask someone to curate an exhibition is both exciting and a little risky.  But George N’Namdi has been in this business for more than thirty-five years, and he knows exactly what he’s doing. By inviting a guest curator Jennifer Junkermeier, he is injecting new energy into his space, one that capitalizes on Detroit-based artists (33) and may very well bring new audiences into the gallery. Simone DeSousa has done something similar in her gallery, recruiting Nancy Mitchnik to curate some 70’s aging Cass Corridor artists (she is one herself) into her gallery, and both go outside the regular season because summer is the right time to do it.  This is N’Namdi’s third annual summer show of Detroit artists with an invited curator. In 2016 it was Essay’d VI by Steve Panton, and 2015 was Mundo ‘Mericas curated by Vito Valdez.

Opening June 16, 2017, Round in Circles, is a collection of Detroit-based visual artists that provide nearly every medium, including painting, drawing, sculpture, video, projection, and literary work on the wall. If you need to tie that together with an idea, why not use the circle as a place to start, if not literally in the work, then probably in the mind of the artist, or a metaphor that applies to almost anything, dating back about 3000 years. She says in her statement, “Yes, going round in circles is dizzying, at once nauseating and exciting, impoverished and plentiful, the form that implies nothing also embraces the possibilities of being everything.”

It’s a pleasure for a writer to pick out some favorites, and say a little something because it is almost impossible to write a review when there is such a variety of work as there is in this exhibition.

Graem White, You Are Here: Center of the Universe, Mixed Media, 11.5 x 14″

Graem Whyte is an artist that works with a wide variety of three-dimensional material, sometimes on the floor, sometimes on the wall.  Born and raised in metro Detroit, Whyte is based in Hamtramck, MI where he and his wife Faina Lerman oversee the community-based activity at Popps Packing. Whyte’s work always feels very unconventional, driven more by the idea than the material, illustrated in his one-person exhibition at Oakland University in 2012. In his work, You Are Here, it seems to play on the border, a manipulated LP record, a gold plate, and a burst of Mixed Media, suggesting that music can be concrete. Graem Whyte is an adjunct art instructor at the Center for Creative Studies.

Shanna Merola, Untitled 2, from series “We All Live Downwind”, Archival inkjet pigment print, 14 x 20″

The photograph by Shanna Merola, from the series, We All Live Downwind, seems driven by her interest in documentary photography, and a deep concern for social justice. This writer is not trying to figure out the context of these orange gloves holding a ceramic dish, rather – enjoying the surrounding and colorful pieces of torn paper. Merloa was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, 1980, earned her BFA at Virginia Commonwealth University, and an MFA Cranbrook Academy of Art.  She lives and works in Hamtramck, Michigan.

Todd Stovall, Untitled, Acrylic, Wood, 2 x 2′ 2017

Detroit artist Todd Stovall keeps the minimalist shaped canvas work alive in his work, Untitled, although this piece is entirely made of wood.  The context for this kind of approach might be artists like Charles Hinman, Ellsworth Kelly, and Frank Stella.  Stovall is not trying to do much with color, rather the simple power of shape, although the red wall is there to support his effort. 

Clara DeGalan, A Veiled Asking, Oil on canvas, 2016

This oil painting, A Veiled Asking, by Clara DeGalan reflects a deep and progressive direction from her earlier work in graduate school, an MFA from Wayne State University in 2015, and a two-person exhibition in 2016 at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center. It’s this idea of transparency and the illusion of dimension that creates a mystery that leaves us wanting, combined with an offset but a sturdy sense of composition. All of this held together by a circle and a piece of blue tape. Lovely. 

Round in Circles is a group exhibition that explores formal and metaphorical implications of the circular.” Says Junkermeier.  The exhibition could send a signal to other galleries, to experiment (certainly some do) during your summer months, and realizing there is limited space for thirty-three artists, at least I can mention their names as part of this exhibition.

Contributing Artistis: ‘jide Aje, Danielle Aubert, Corrie Baldauf, Davin Brainard, Tyanna J. Buie, Alexander Buzzalini, Shane Darwent, Clara DeGalan, Simone DeSousa, Erin Imena Falker, Jessica Frelinghuysen, Ani Garabedian, Richard Haley, Asia Hamilton, Megan Heeres, Eli Kabir, Osman Khan, Austin Kinstler, Nicola Kuperus, Timothy van Laar, Anthony Marcellini, Adam Lee Miller, Shanna Merola, Eleanor Oakes, Ato Ribeiro, Robert Platt, Marianetta Porter, Dylan Spaysky, Todd Stovall, Gregory Tom, Graem Whyte, Elizabeth Youngblood, and Alivia Zivich

N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art

Round in Circles through August 26, 2017

Anderson & Youngblood @ Galerie Camille

Carla Andersen, West Fjords 5, Iceland, Archival pigment print, 30 x 40″ 2016

There is a striking contrast between the work of Carla Anderson, photographer, and Elizabeth Youngblood, abstract artist using various mediums, now on exhibition as Chosen Silences, opened in midtown Detroit, at Galerie Camille, April 7 – 27, 2017.

These two artists share an attraction to abstraction and contemplation but deliver their ideas using different media. This certainly must have contributed to the idea of an exhibition together as the work is not presented in different spaces, but is intentionally integrated, with the purpose of bringing the viewer along as they peruse the gallery space. It’s a good idea.

Gallery director Melannie Chard says, “Chosen Silences blends the work of Anderson and Youngblood to create an environment of quietude and contemplation of form, texture, tension and light.  While each artist works in a different medium, both have chosen to communicate in that space of quiet. In that space of what would seem silent, but isn’t.”

Carla Andersen, West Fjords 4, Iceland, , Archival pigment print 44 x 52” 2016

Anderson’s photography reminds me, at times, of how I feel when I am looking at a color field painting. These large, 30 x 40” images (sometimes digital, sometimes film) are about the space in nature, captured beautifully using large format cameras, and presented in a way that does not go unnoticed. And I must mention scale, because these photographs would not have the same impact if they were printed in, say, 8 x 10”. The large-scale print brings the viewer intimately closer to the subject, as in West Fjords 5, photographed in Iceland, in a way that draws you into a universe of these small stones or in the reveal of an oncoming night sky in Emmett County.

Carla Andersen, Emmet County, Michigan, Archival pigment print, 30 x 40″ 2016

There is a large context for Andersen’s work, who was awarded her BFA from CCS, 1976 and her MFA from Cranbrook in 1978. Her influences could have been a combination of Carl Toth and George Ortman, both teachers at the studio-based Cranbrook Academy of Art during the 1970s. Probably more important would be her exposure to the work of Edward Weston who did abstracts of the desert, as in Oceano 1936, Eliot Porter, as in Pool in the Brook, 1953, or more recently, Joel Meyerowitz as in his large color image, Dawn Hardline, 1980. This work, sometimes called non-objective, relies less on representational objects and more on color, light, texture and form that conveys a feeling or an impression. I have always been drawn to the work of Man Ray’s series called Symmetrical Patterns from Natural Forms first exhibited in Germany in 1914, where he experimented with objects, light and form. The American, a Russian immigrant from Philadelphia would become close friends of Marcel Duchamp and engage in avant-garde photography throughout the 20th century. That’s not to say Andersen’s work is avant-garde at this point in time, because of the groundwork laid down for nearly a hundred years of photography.

Carla Andersen, Great Salt Lake, UT 35, Archival pigment print 30 x 40” 2016

The symmetry of Great Salt Lake stops the viewer in their tracks when they notice the reflection of the sky in the lake, and the two objects juxtaposed: the moon and a small log in the lake. The illusion makes one feel as though they are out in the lake viewing the sliver of landscape (when actually they could possibly be on a shore), and upon close observation, there is a one percent downward tilt to the right to the horizon. It is the combination of these subtleties that make this image so powerful. It’s worth mentioning that Larry Melkus at Fine Arts Printing executed the printing and mounting of these prints. He says, “Carla and I came up with a double archival cold mounting process. The print is flush mounted onto a 3mm white archival plastic sheet. This is then float mounted onto a larger sheet of white aluminum composite material. The effect is that the print is displayed on its own “pedestal” within the frame. In addition, John Rowland painted his frames to match the white of the print surround, resulting in a subtle display of visual strength surrounding, framing and showcasing the photographic work.”

Elizabeth Youngblood, #6 Flat Horizontal Wire and porcelain, 14″ 2013

Elizabeth Youngblood’s work is multi dimensional, a mixture of three-dimensional objects made from ceramic and wire, and a collection of black and white drawings on paper. The contrast between the porcelain bars and the strands of thin black wire, as in #6 Flat Horizontal, provide an interesting play between material and as a relief, the shadows from the light adds to the dimension. Youngblood was awarded a BFA from the University of Michigan and an MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art, where she studied design with the McCoys, who I have turned to several times for design work. No doubt they had an influence on her work, probably more about the process of developing conceptual ideas. It’s possible this eventually led her away from working as a graphic designer, more towards to becoming a fine artist.

Elizabeth Youngblood, Untitled Really, Wire and Porcelain, 2014

Clara DeGalan wrote about Youngblood’s work in fall of 2016 at 9338 Campau for the Detroit Art Review, saying “Youngblood respects making, and, though she is acutely aware of the cultural associations that come with each material she ropes into her vision, her devotion to process and skill-building manage, miraculously, to shed the oppressive political discourse that has hung around craft for decades and present it, unilaterally, as a vast conduit for exploration of an artist’s conceptual vision.”

It’s always a challenge to decide how large to make a three dimensional piece of work. If I were to dare to offer a constructive idea for her work, it would be to pay more attention to scale, pretty much across the board.

Elizabeth Youngblood, Large No. 3, Graphite on Paper, 42 x 45”, 2011

In contrast to the more didactic and delicate wire pieces, and in a minimalist fashion, Youngblood makes the drawing, Large No. 3, where she applies more graphite than is necessary to make a point about the material and the pressure applied. In this drawing, she illustrates ‘no fear’ in executing a powerfully bold and massive block composition, challenging her viewer to ponder her intent.

Chosen Silence, Galerie Camille     April 7 – 27, 2017

 

Rick Vian @ Janice Charach Gallery

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Rick Vian, Installation image Courtesy of Glen Mannisto

“Keeping a Wet Edge: A Retrospective of the Abstract Work by Rick Vian”  &  “Detroit Abstraction: Featuring 41 of the Most Noted Abstract Artist with ties to Detroit”.

The experience of being alone in the bush, as we call it in the far north of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, deep in the thicket of the woods, is a tricky business. From immobilizing awe over its beauty to a vertigo over its map-less chaos, a walk in the bush can wreak psychic havoc. The current retrospective of Rick Vian’s painting at the Janice Charach Gallery offers a marvelous mirror of Vian’s engagement with the painting of trees in the bush over the past fifteen years. But first before finding himself in the bush of the Upper Peninsula, Vian was a worker, an industrial painter (it’s probably where his no-nonsense work ethic comes from) literally painting factories—the infrastructure of gas, water and electrical lines, the dangerous machinery of industrial production, — and living the inherent design and experiencing the drama of industry.

 

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Rick Vian, “If You Only New” Oil on Canvas, 40 X 68, 2004

There are a few paintings in the current exhibition that took inspiration from that time and they explore with dramatic shading and coloring, with scumbled surfaces and jagged lines, the interconnected and interlocked spaces of a unique and almost cartooned or animated geometric abstraction. They don’t much look like any geometric abstraction from art history though they might suggest kinship with the Russian Constructivists. “If You Only New,” 2004, a charcoal drawing, dramatized with smears and layered palimpsests and composed with the triangular stencils of drafting tools, looks gothic in its theatrical play of prime geometric shapes. “Nice Condition,” 1999, carves figurative contours out of classic blade shapes such as intersecting ellipses and truncated spheres, dramatizing the edginess of the industrial landscape.

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Rick Vian, “Nice Condition”, Oil on Canvas, 48 x 40″, 1999 All images Courtesy of Glen Mannisto, and the Artists.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These earlier geometric abstractions set us up for the big hit of the retrospective and his latest project which is the push/pull relationship between Vian’s figurative and abstract painting of nature. He seems to have turned away from his industrial abstraction and industrial life (he quit the commercial/industrial painting gig) to paint nature. Exploring the wilderness of Northern Michigan’s upper peninsula, where he built a rustic camp in the woods, Vian has engaged the forest and its parts, the tree. Translating his early explorations of the grid, that classic modernist notion, and the physics of sight, Vian has alternated between strictly realist renderings of the forest and a fervently energetic expression. His paintings have become a moment of conscious realization of both the forest and the painting as a signing of that relationship.

 

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Rick Vian, “Stormbreak”, Oil on Canvas, 59”x 84”, 2005

“Stormbreak,” 2005, a dramatic and acutely stark representation of the existential state of a skeleton of a tree is a haunting and certainly metaphoric description of the vulnerability of that tree. In a conversation, he said “I have painted it many times. Its right off Lake Superior’s Keweenaw Bay just past Baraga.” Lest we say Vian has painted it so often that he has almost become its biographer and in that there is the best characterization of a regional artist as a partner and caretaker of the local. One senses a devout relationship with that tree and in the radical shift back, again, to his abstracting of the bush, there seems to lead to a reading of the forest as an emancipating energy and scripted choreography of the forest.

This dramatic relationship infects and determines most of the remainder the current work typified by “The Gathering Pool,” 2010, which “gathers” the surrounding forest or audience of dark shapes, of abstracted squiggles, smears and vertical black shadow-like slashes (figures?) into a focus of brilliant light or frothy foam. In contrast to the surrounding darkness, this brilliant moment is a crescendo of light, perhaps a symbol of spiritual transcendence gleaned from the dark bush. Vian pays homage frequently to his interest in both Italian Renaissance painting, which employed color and brilliant light to dramatize Christian scripture, and to Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic disciplines which use the mandala to diagram the cosmos or in Jungian psychology the unity of the self or personal identity. At the same time, he has kept an eye out for a deep, perhaps objective structure, a former preoccupation of his painting, and found a three-dimensional grid suggested in the “The Gathering Pool” by a faint network intersecting lines.

 

As a disciplined and investigative sojourner, Vian’s bushwhacking has even led him to study the language of the native Ojibway people entitling some of the painting in the Ojibway language which one senses gives a sympathy to the surrounding landscape and to its original inhabitants and interpretors.

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Rick Vian, “Stormbreak,” Oil on Canvas, 59”x84”, 2005

 

DETROIT ABSTRACTION Group Exhibition

As an extraordinary compliment to his own paintings Vian curated “Detroit Abstraction: Featuring 41 of the Most Noted Abstract Artists with ties to Detroit,” a remarkable collection of painting, sculpture, ceramics, and fiber works revealing the profound depth and width of the Detroit’s artistic landscape and of course another testimony to the sincerity and fidelity of Vian’s overall artistic project.

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Holly Branster, “Bracket,” 72”x36”

There is too much to say about the phenomena of abstract art especially in this post-digital age, but quite simply one is overwhelmed with the diversity of ways of seeing and of the use of materials and processes that are represented in Detroit. The stereotyped mainstay of abstract art is painting and the standouts in Detroit Abstraction don’t surprise: Holly Branstner’s stunning “Bracket” is composed of an elongated rectangle with a monolithic, effortless stroke of brilliant yellow with strokes and drips of dark bloody reds. At the other end of psychic spectrum is Janet Hamrick’s smaller oil on canvas, “Undulating Drift,” a subtle reckoning of three panels of alternating stripes in a quiet pallet of taupe and mauve overlaying a series of diamond shaped rectangles. It is excruciatingly subtle and beautifully nuanced and impossible to describe. That’s why it’s a painting. It goes like that: from explosive abstract expressionism to minimalistic painting strategies, from biomorphic and surrealist automatism, to action painting, and the whole wonderful gamut of assemblage wall reliefs composed of cement, wood, metal, glass to cubist formalist sculptures, kinetic whirly gigs and textile hangings, ceramic vessels and Japanese inspired altar-like constructions.

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Janice Hamrick, Undulating Drift, 24 x 30

The explosion that was/is Detroit’s art scene is beautifully realized in Vian’ s deft selection of artists. The diversity of materials and processes speaks of the battle against encrusted formalism that has been a preoccupation of Detroit artists and is a fulsome reminder of the tremendous will and passion of this place-in-the-straits to give shape to the world.

Vian’s paintings occupy the first floor of the spectacular Janice Charach Gallery and the Detroit Abstraction exhibition occupies the second floor. Both are stunningly installed in this amazing space that is part of the Jewish Community Center campus. It is a revelation even to the most experienced art appreciator to see the quality, complexity and integrity of the Detroit’s scene.

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Group Abstract Exhibition, Installation image, Courtesy of Glen Mannisto

The artists included (and Vian bemoaned that there wasn’t room for others he had selected) in the Detroit Abstraction exhibition include: Diana Alva, Anita Bates, Robert Bielat, Holly Branstner, Coco Bruner, Jim Chatelain, Terry Lee Dill, Barbara Dorchen, John Egner, Gary Eleinko, Todd Erickson, Marcia Freedman, Brenda Goodman, Dennis Guastella, Carole Harris, Janet Hamrick, Al Hebert, Meighen Jackson, Lester Johnson, Dennis Jones, Ray Katz, Brian Lacey, Addie Langford, Charles McGee, Allie McGhee, Robert Mirek, Erin Parish, John Piet, Tom Phardel, Sharon Que, Curtis Rhodes, John Rowland, Douglas Semivan, Gilda Snowden, Robert Sestok, Dayton Spence, Ron Teachworth, Nancy Thayer, Russell Thayer, Lois Teicher, Albert Young.

Rick Vian will talk about his work and the Detroit Abstraction exhibition in the Janice Charach Gallery December 4th at 1:00PM. The two exhibitions close Thursday December 8th at 8:00PM.

 

Tom Phardel @ Simone DeSousa Gallery

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Tom Phardel, Install image, Photographs by Tim Thayer and Robert Hensleigh, courtesy of Simone DeSousa Gallery

Tom Phardel’s exhibition, Inner Core, opened at Simone DeSousa Gallery, October 15, 2016. The work continues in a direction that I first viewed when I wrote a review of Phardel’s exhibition at Popp’s Packing in May of 2015. Normally I would not write something this close to that period of work. However, this new work demands attention, exploration and, quite honestly, tribute.  The strengths in Phardel’s work are originality and a preponderance of skillful execution of materials that is not limited to clay, stone, glass or metal, but rather touches on all of these and more. He says in a statement, “It’s here, in the inner unseen spaces, that my interest lies, where the wisdom, power, and soul resides.”

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Tom Phardel, Red-Bi-Lobe “Listening” 2016 Fabricated steel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In R-Bi-Lobe “Listening”, which is similar to but refined from an earlier work, Phardel uses fabricated steel to create a perfect form, two ovals intersecting, and an interior oval with two valve-like openings. On a technical level, the work makes the viewer wonder how it was created or fabricated. Then there is a lustrous paint finish and a sanded edge that reveals the metal in a precise way. The object feels like a cross-section, but of what? These are all the qualities that make the sculpture so strong that it leaves the viewer with a longing for an explanation. This quality is what artists seek to find: The Mona Lisa smile quality that brings the viewer back for a closer look, seeking an explanation or understanding.

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Tom Phardel, “Inner Mountain” 2016 Ceramic

Here, with Inner Mountain, we are presented with a clay object thrown on a wheel with a clay object inside. Within this interior mound, there is an indentation of two circles, what this viewer might consider an infinity symbol. This object presents questions: Is it stoneware with a crackle glaze or raku, as the darkened edge suggests, and how many artists are making sculpture that incorporates wheel-thrown forms? There are ceramic artists that have used wheel thrown forms, but Phardel goes beyond that. We know Mr. Phardel has been the Chairperson of Ceramics at the Center for Creative Studies since 1988 and oversees the philosophy of clay-made forms, and now we know why. He demonstrates that we are not limited by the material and its conventional use.

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Tom Phardel, “Union of Two Points” 2016, Ceramic, granite, glass

In The Union of Two Points, Phardel gives us an object that feels spiritual, as it rests on these two pieces of steel (looks like wood) that act as a base. It seems to this viewer that he is using a router to indent the granite in a precise and uniform way. The clay object in a circular indentation creates the illusion that it is levitating. Again, a meditative and spiritual piece of three-dimensional artwork so new in its form, we are left to contemplate the careful selection of material and execution.

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Tom Phardel, Tea Wisk & Bolder – “Whispers from the Rock” 2016 Steel, glass & gold leaf

Above is the large and overwhelming sculpture, Tea Wisk & Boulder – “Whispers from the Rock,” in which the combination of materials and how they are used is unbelievably inspiring. Mr. Phardel must have spent some time in Far East countries where a small Tea Wisk is commonplace, and he internalized the form and made it his own, not from bamboo, but many times larger and fabricated in stainless steel. What we experience is a face-off between the Tea Wisk and the large stone boulder, only to be moderated by a small vertical opening in the large inch-thick square of plate glass.

In this exhibition of three -dimensional art, Mr. Phardel distills form to its core essence and presents a hidden interior that gives way to the love of making original objects. All great literature, music, dance and visual art appeal to people when they bring their experience to the art form, and this is where Phardel succeeds. Phardel’s focus on meditative and contemplative form separates his work from many artists who work in three-dimension, not just in the Detroit metro area, but also in the world at large. If there is a time when an artist arrives at a place where his or her work demands greater attention, I would say that time has come for Tom Phardel.

If the Detroit Institute of Arts had a contemporary curator, they would, or should be all over this exhibition.

Simone DeSousa Gallery