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

 

Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia @ Cranbrook Art Museum

 

Two exhibitions offer a preponderance of material objects to make sense of the past

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Psychedelic posters and printed matter, installation view

These days, the San Francisco Bay Area is neatly divided into two camps: you either are a tech bro, or you hate them. Back in my day as an errant Bay Area youth, there was a different kind of division: you either were a hippie, or you hated them. I, my friends, was certainly no hippie. Of course, in my time they weren’t even real hippies—although there were still a healthy number of Summer-of-Love burnouts quietly resisting the rising tide of capitalism. They were proto-hippies, the spawn of Baby Boomers, appropriating the fashion or rediscovering the music as it made its 20-year orbit in retrograde. Whether the die-hard originals or the new school posers, hippies were not, by any metrics, modern.

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Isaac Abrams, Hello Dali (1965)

In fact, the seeming paradox between hippie and modern sensibilities provides the immediate tension of Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia—a sprawling exhibition initially organized by Andrew Blauvelt during his tenure at the Walker Art Center, which has subsequently followed him to be presented at the Cranbrook Art Museum, where he took up the mantle of Director last year. Hippies are commonly associated with back-to-the-land movements, eco-sustainability, and the timeless human yearning for peace and simplicity. Modernism is more concerned with technology, rapid progress and development, clean, modular design, and spare, white spaces.

 

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Ken Isaacs, The Knowledge Box (1962-2009)

But, as Hippie Modernism proves, these odd bedfellows forged a powerful connection indeed (who wouldn’t hippies jump into bed with, really?), fused in a social pressure-cooker of late-60s radicalism and wartime unrest. This extremely dense exhibition is not so much an art show as it is a walk through time with an art-historical lens—one which captures facets of hippie culture that have been elided by a typical focus on the flashier and more simplistic culture of drugs, fashion, rock-and-roll, and sex.

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Works by Haus-Rucker-Co, (installation view)

These facets are loosely divided into three galleries: Turn On, Tune In, and Drop Out. Each of these examines a dominant theme of the time period, roughly the mid-1960s through the early 1970s—that of consciousness-raising on an individual level, social awareness on a geo-political level, and active rejection of certain cultural pressure of normativity and technological progress (to name a few). The objects and information on display demonstrate a deep interest in modern design not as an aesthetic exercise but a practical one, as applied to communal and off-the-grid living, mobile housing, and sustainable infrastructure; technology, not at as means of warfare but as a means for more direct powers of computing and personal representation; and tool use as a mechanism for exploring the inner workings of the mind. The exhibition, which occupies the entire main floor of Cranbrook is veritably papered in schematics of ergonomic living solutions, imagined vehicles, and visions of bio-domes (not to mention an actual geodesic dome that features an interactive and highly trance-inducing installation, The Ultimate Painting, by Clark Richert, Richard Kallweit, Gene Bernofsky, JoAnn Bernofsky, and Charles DiJulio.

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Superstudio, Prints from the Superstudio Series (1969-1973)

Many of the works bear collective credits, the products of communal discussion and creative efforts; many have the earmarks of what today would be considered “social practice art,” but at the time was considered radical politics—leaving the viewer to marvel at the subsequent commoditization of art in the 1970s and 1980s to defang its inherent power as a social catalyst! There are, as one might imagine, a room splashed with dozens of examples of psychedelic poster art—but the collection is not limited to the vivid band promo materials that probably still line the halls of the Fillmore (if they haven’t turned it into a vape bar or something). Rather, there is a kind of radical parallel to the Madison Avenue advertising culture that was taking hold of the market—a conscious and deliberate exploration of type, color, and imagery as a mechanism to promulgate messaging. There are, undeniably, quite a number of chill spaces distributed around the exhibition, and a good thing, too—with so much going on, the opportunities to stop, drop, and contemplate are welcome interruptions. These include a handful of audio/video screening rooms, a Relaxation Cube from Nomadic Furniture 1 (1973) with floor cushions and a soothing slide show, and a full-gallery installation of a work by Hélio Oiticica and Neville D’Almeida, CC5 Hendrixwar/Cosmococa Programa-in-Progress, complete with hammocks.

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John Glick: A Legacy in Clay, installation view

John Glick: A Legacy in Clay @ Cranbrook Art Museum

It bears mentioning that Hippie Modernism is not the only spectacular exhibition currently on display at Cranbrook Art Museum, though it certainly warrants a visit all on its own. A career survey of ceramic artist John Glick—John Glick: A Legacy in Clay—is a dazzling walk through the life work of a virtuosic artist who managed to find fresh takes on vessels and forms as old as human society. From the wall of teapots, to the hanging friezes, to the physical timeline of Glick’s singular and beautiful ceramic forms, laid out in an engaging and accessible 360-degree display that mimics the sort of tables where they might otherwise be found, the Glick retrospective offers eye candy at every turn.

Food for thought, vessels for food, and much to take in at Cranbrook Art Museum!

Michigan Fine Arts Competition @ BBAC

Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center Hosts the 35th MFCA

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BBAC / MFAC Installation Image – Courtesy of DAR

The Michigan Fine Arts Competition (MFAC) exhibition opened June 24, 2016, and is one of the best they have had in their long existence, beginning in 1982. Not many know that the competition was previously held by the Detroit Institute of Arts, but with their demise of leadership in contemporary art, they were pleased to find a home at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center (BBAC). The key to this year’s success is Terence Hammonds; the juror selected to make this year picks. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, he attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston for his BFA, and Tufts University for his MA. One of the factors that make this exhibition so exceptional is that it draws on a mid-west region, where more than 500 artists compete from Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.

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Gerald Moore, Late September Field, Oil on Canvas

Gerald Moore is an expressive landscape painter who holds an MA in painting from Central Michigan University. He says “I work opposite the Oriental painting philosophy that ‘less is more.’ ‘More’ is the engine of my work; ‘more’ is more.” His large landscape painting seems to draw on the landscape as a subject, but flirts with abstract field painting and gives us a little of both. Color field painting, championed by Clement Greenburg in the 1950’s characterized this expression as solid color creating an unbroken surface and flat picture plane. One might view the Wheat Fields of Van Gogh to see early examples.

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Mary Brodbeck, Blanket, Woodblock Print

Maybe it’s because we don’t see a lot of artists working with wood-cut printmaking, that this landscape with rings and melting snow is so attractive. She says in her statement “ Affected by my travel and study in Japan, notably by visiting traditional Japanese gardens, my landscape prints are carefully designed in abstract and stylized ways that are intended for viewers to have a contemplative experience. “ These Zen-like impressions made by the woodblock can transport the viewer to a place that blends design, craft and a spiritual aesthetic. Ms. Brodbeck holds a BFA from Michigan State University, and an MFA from Western Michigan University.

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Mario Inchaustegui, Into the Unknown, Digital Print

Mario Inchaustegui’s digital print “Into the Unknown” draws purely on composition for its power and interest. The geometry along with perspective leads us to four figures on the edge of some type of a concrete pier. This middle school teacher at West Bloomfield Schools has been part of photo exhibitions in Metro Detroit, most recently at the Scarab Club.

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Susan O’Connor, Can I Get Some Water, Clay

Susan O’Connor, who teaches hand-built ceramics at the BBAC, grabs the audience with a pop art object, that also carries a current social message. So, she got me with this Fire Hydrant from Flint, Michigan where the water has been contaminated by a decision leading to elements of lead in the water supply.

This exhibition has many generous prizes totaling $5800 and goes a long way to showcase artists in the Midwest. I will mention here that I usually stay away from covering these large competitive exhibitions, largely because they jury the work from jpegs, which makes the process more of a challenge. In this particular case, I give Mr. Hammonds a lot of credit for getting most of his decisions right. I have heard it many times, that it is the only practical way to conduct such a large undertaking, however when only viewing an image of an artwork, mistakes are made.

The 35th Annual Michigan Fine Arts Competition – June 24 – August 26

Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center

Ceramics and Watercolor @ Flint Institute of Arts

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

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

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Pippin Drysdale

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

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

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Adrian Arleo

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

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

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Andy Nasisse

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

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

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

Moving Toward the Light

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marie Woo @ the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center

The Clay Menagerie: The Life and Work of Marie Woo

Marie W intallation view

There are funny shapes and objects all over Clay Odyssey: A Retrospective, a survey of work at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center by ceramicist Marie Woo, spanning a 60-year career that has always aspired to push ceramics past function and into experimental realms. There is not a symmetrical form among the 50+ works on display. There are stacks of thin, rigid forms, peaked like high hats from drum kits, rendered in matte clay and punctuated with little nubbins. There are collections of forms that look like hot stones under dilapidated and rusting wire enclosures—like the contents of a charcoal pit, or the steam-producing unit in a sauna. A delicate branch suspends a collection of azure clay beads on lengths of wire in a static, freeform arrangement that resembles a frozen rainstorm. Inside a rectangle of glass sits a loose pyramid of lumpen white balls. Irregular wall pieces suggest nests containing clutches of dinosaur eggs. The majority of pieces are finished in chalky, matte glazes that give the room a sense of antiquity. Everywhere are shapes of prehistory, primordial roots.

Bowl with lid

There is great intentionality in the way that Woo has slashed and broken her forms – even those resembling traditional vessels have scarred-over cuts along their exterior surfaces, strategic tears and gouges, or oddly pinched handles on the lids of pots. Based on Woo’s background, studying under famed ceramic artist Maja Grotell, founder of the ceramics program Cranbrook Academy of Arts—as well as her subsequent involvement in the experimental ceramics collective, the Clay Ten, and her fervid dedication to researching and preserving the traditions of Chinese folk pottery, that Woo understands how to make a flawless form. The question then becomes, why does she so categorically refuse to do so?

Brown Plate

Perfectionism can be a real mind trap. Training on the pottery wheel demands precision, symmetry, replicability of form. And yet, in a world where perfect bowls, mugs, and plates can be created by machine and readily purchased at the local Crate & Barrel, that there is little practical need for a ceramic artist to focus on making functional or “perfect” forms. Rather, Woo seems to be obsessed with the hand of the artist as a reflection of her own capacity for human error and variance—there are literal castings of (presumably) her own hands in several wall pieces. As is aptly demonstrated by the recent group show at Pewabic curated by Cranbrook’s Head of Ceramics, Anders Ruhwald, This is the Living Vessel: person. This is what matters. This is our universe , there is an opportunity to treat ceramic vessels as an expression of the individuality of their maker—of all people, as living vessels. This seems to be at play in Woo’s oeuvre.

beads on string

Additionally, there is an examination of the clay body that demonstrates a deep meditation on the nature of her material at its baseline. In an essay written by Dennis Nawrocki for Essay’d, Woo teases out some ideas in her most recent work, which deals with unfired clay exposed to natural elements over time, leading to the inevitable decompensation of unfixed forms. This body of work is represented in hanging triptychs of pictures that document the journey from structured clay body to regressive, melting lumps. It sees natural, in a world driven by capitalism and consumption, so replete with objects, that an artist as enamored with process and creation as Woo would find a way to focus on the making, leaving the results to unmake (or simply alter) themselves over time. Central to the exhibition is a piece that corrals dozens of fired vessels into a tube of chicken wire, which collectives forms a kind of urn holding a stand of dry grasses. The clean, formal construction of the object’s base indicates precision in its making, but it looks like nothing so much as a mass grave for discarded objects, marked with dried-out flora. Perhaps this stands as a monument to the death of ideas that need to be permanently fixed in objects—as is the case for many who reach their octogenarian years, there is a lessening interest in the material world, and more of a focus on the life of the soul, the spark within the vessel.     http://bbartcenter.org

Two hands