Elizabeth Youngblood @ 9338 Campau

 ” Righted” – A Trajectory of Work by Elizabeth Youngblood – A retrospective work in progres

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Elizabeth Youngblood, Installation

ElizabethYoungblood defines herself first as a craftsman. A quote that describes her trajectory well is a simple one- “I respect making.” The broad range of media she employs- textiles, drawing, basket-weaving, ceramics, wire sculpture- attest to her democratic fealty to a very personal, singular hunt. With Righted- A Trajectory of Work by Elizabeth Youngblood, Youngblood has transformed 9338 Campau’s sprawling Hamtramck gallery space into a hive of activity, presenting her work in an unprecedented format- a retrospective that includes works in progress that Youngblood is developing within the gallery itself. She is taking advantage of the vast amount of space there to both gather her work into one place large enough to give it breathing room, and realize large works on paper that she has long desired to explore but hasn’t had the space, until now, to properly develop. Youngblood’s residency at 9338 Campau feels revolutionary, both for an artist in full command of her powers with a distinguished career in the bag already, and for an explorer who makes the most of every space she is given for her work to take center stage.

Asked to qualify her vast body of work into a single context, she explains how one branch of her exploration leads, maintaining conceptual consistency, from one medium to the next. Youngblood’s devotion to mastering the strengths of every material that passes through her hands, and the joy she takes in immersing herself in the process of finessing each one, gently, into her lexicon, is doubly striking in the context of Righted, where one can view long-culminated works alongside raw, vulnerable works in progress. The very presence of the works in progress casts Youngblood’s retrospective work in an unusual light- as open-ended, questioning works in progress themselves. This impression suits Youngblood’s whole-hearted focus on process as a studio practice- allowing the current of her concept to carry her from medium to medium, presenting each work as a direct flowering from the clues unlocked, and the questions raised, in the last.

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Elizabeth Youngblood, Woven Black Piece, 1992-93 All Images Courtesy of Clara DeGalan

Talking with Youngblood about her work reveals the ultimate unimportance of form in her studio practice. This came as a surprise in light of the striking formal continuity I made out in her work- indeed, it was the first thing that enabled me to pass cohesively from one piece to the next, given what different media she ropes in. This formal consistency, it turns out, is Youngblood’s soul pattern, a template on which she explores such concepts as the dogged devotion of craftsmanship, the solitary joy of wreathing visions out of tactility, and the construction of planes out of lines.

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Elizabeth Youngblood,Untitled, 1995

Youngblood’s artistic chronology mirrors her bodies of work. Trained as a graphic designer, she has worked in that profession, on and off, since her tenure as an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan. She is quick to point out, rightly, the subtle craft demanded by graphic design. Between her design work, her teaching career, her years spent in New York, and interludes in craft-oriented industries such as bar-tending, she has snatched pockets of time to hone her planar exploration in various media at artist residencies such as Haystack and Penland School of Crafts. Her travels have pulled a variety of media into her exploration- her vision remains remarkably consistent as she applies it to different traditions of making. She emphasizes the importance of material and craft as a conduit toward greater understanding of place, such as North Carolina and its history as a hub of furniture craft (the baskets on display in Righted were created at Penland, inspired by the materials and methods of furniture-making.)

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Elizabeth Youngblood, Twin Baskets, 1999

This breath of Place, in turn, enriches Youngblood’s exploration of process as a path toward distillation of an artifact of conceptual, rather than utilitarian or formal value. Youngblood speaks with quiet admiration of the traditions of crafting she has been privileged to explore, and how they have added their own regional, historical voices to her practice.

As she continues to explore, chasing her vision of planes built of carful, joyous repetition, Youngblood pulls traditional craft forms, seemingly effortlessly, into a body of work that maintains an astonishing formal trajectory, presenting razor-sharp meditations on process in various media encased, almost like home-jarred preserves, within an all-encompassing, monolithic form. The form, seductive and enigmatic as it is, is no more than a ground for her process. Asked her opinions on the tension between fine art and craft, high and low art, she expresses less interest in that argument than in the status of media as “women’s work” versus “men’s work.” The large-scaled drawings Youngblood is developing during her tenure at 9338 Campau are an exploration into a quicker, more decisive way of making that has historically been associated with the bodies and thought processes of men.

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Elizabeth Youngblood, Large Drawing 1, 2016

“Men’s work” as Youngblood describes it, seems less a political appropriation on her part than a desire to master yet another craft- one she, for the moment, has the physical space to pursue. Spending time with Youngblood in her studio is a lesson in veneration for processes that unite, rather than polarize, the complex history of making as it indexes various times, places, social demographics, races, and genders. To sum up, 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. Youngblood’s is a true Twenty First Century studio practice- and she’s earned it.

Righted- A Trajectory of Work by Elizabeth Youngblood has percolated at 9338 Campau Gallery in Hamtramck, MI throughout the last breaths of summer. A public reception of her work will be held on Saturday, 9/24/2016 from 7-10 pm.

9338 Campau

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

“ECHOES”: Three Artists Resonate @ Galerie Camille

“ECHOES” at Galerie Camille is a three-person show featuring the work of Robert Mirek, John McLaughlin, and Paula Schubatis . The show demonstrates points of resonance that carom throughout the individual bodies of work, as well as creating a kind of visual conversation between the three artists, who would seem to have little in common, at first glance.

Mirek and McLaughlin are both established artists with long histories in the Detroit Metro scene. Schubatis is an emerging artist and recent graduate from University of Michigan Stamps School of Art and Design, and has been tearing up the Detroit scene lately, with a turn as a Red Bull House of Art resident, and a number of group and solo shows in the area.

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Installation Image, Robert Mirek, Mitosis – All Images Courtesy of Sarah Rose Sharp

Upon entering Gallerie Camille, the viewer is greeted by “Mitosis”—a large-scale wall-hanging sculpture by Mirek, composed of hundreds upon hundreds of tiny wood scraps. These are the remainders from his labor-intensive series of graphic shape sets, which he designs by computer and then cuts from plywood; two series face off against each other on the walls leading into “Mitosis”: the Strand series on the right, and the newer Thread series on the left. Mirek’s works have a feeling of alien archeology, and the interspersing of his work with that of Schubatis is nearly seamless. The two artists inadvertently echo each others’ palettes, and her abstract and lovely wall-hangings and humorous rock-based sculptures look right at home alongside his meticulous vocabulary of symbols and oil paintings that veritably leap off the page in their desire to achieve the greater dimensionality accomplished by his sculptural forms. “Mitosis,” with its many constituent parts, is the perfect centerpiece for the show, which features work that seeks to impose order upon a chaos of objects, symbols, and materials.

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John McLaughlin, Ground Floor (diptych) Painting / Collage

This is evident in McLaughlin’s work, which sits mostly apart from the others, in the deep-set black box gallery. Collage typically implies the layering of images—by contrast, McLaughlin’s mixed media drawings on paper are a colorful motif of stand-alone squiggles, each cut from media materials, which occasionally abut each other, but do not overlap. The effect is something like pouring a colorful jigsaw puzzle out onto a white table; there is a sense of some potential connection or relationship between these shapes, but it is not figurative and not explicit. The whitespace becomes equally as important as the particulates, and the eye caroms around the visual static, looking for imagery—a kind of highly mediated form of cloud-watching. Though his work stands physically and materially apart from Mirek and Schubatis, McLaughlin’s works collectively reinforce the effect created by ECHOES, with swarms of shapes hanging together that effectively echo Mirek’s symbol-clusters in the main gallery.

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Schubatis, Wall Hanging, flanked by Mirek’s Paintings

Schubatis has drawn her components into an even tighter matrix—that of the woven body. Her weavings have been, at times, highly experimental in her incorporation of odd materials, such as caution tape and other plastic waste, but even in these more conventional wall-hangings, her impeccable sense of balance and bold color choices make for dynamic and achingly lovely compositions. In the center gallery, which is almost entirely work by Schubatis, these are interspersed with sculptural oddities—improvisations on rock forms, embellished with melted candlewax, paint, and bedazzling gemstones. The combination of bold materials, mineral shapes, and paradoxically minimalist finish create a kind of paleo-futuristic effect; these works would be fitting interior decorations for the Starship Enterprise.

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Robert Mirek, Stand Series, detail view

Or perhaps, again, that influence is seeping through from Mirek’s work, which inescapably suggests alien art: mysterious shapes that beg for translation. The Strand series finishes his plywood forms in an exterior of gray pumice punctuated by sharp chartreuse pebbles of window glass. There is an undersea feel to these, like the superstructure of a reef, the rough irregularity of which has given rise to vibrant life. The Thread series reveals more of the underlying woodwork, and give the sense of architectural models for fabulously modern space-buildings and complexes, with the threads tracing out colorful infrastructure—water lines, green spaces, or transit systems (hovercrafts, one imagines). In the small transitional space between main gallery and the back room dominated by Schubatis, her work and Mirek’s mix almost indiscriminately. Here, a wall hanging is flanked by two of Mirek’s standalone wall sculptures, which tonally mimic each other so perfectly that the truth of that happy accident seems stranger than fiction. There, another woven piece by Schubatis provides a calm striation of undulant yellow-on-gold-on-brown forms, which make a harmonious landscape for several pieces from Mirek’s Scorch, series, which seem almost carved out of bone, with the darker backdrop material revealed, upon closer inspection, to be hundreds of tiny drawn and glued elements—replicating just like cells, alluded to in the title of Mirek’s sprawling centerpiece.

Altogether, much to be considered and enjoyed within ECHOES, proving that sometimes the best part of work is the visual echoes that emerge when visions bounce off each other.

Allie McGhee @ N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art

Installation image AM NNamdi

Installation image – Allie McGhee, All Images Courtesy of the Detroit Art Review

The N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art opened a large exhibition of work, Now & Then,  by the veteran artist Allie McGhee on April 15, 2016. A Detroiter who attended Cass Technical High School and completed his undergraduate work at Eastern Michigan University in 1965, McGhee was born in Charleston, West Virginia. “As an artist I have always been inspired by the diverse rhythms of our environment,” McGhee says. “It has been a great reserve of energy for my work. In my recent works instead of seeing the natural world as a rational observer, I see if from within as if through a telescope or microscope.”

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Allie McGhee – Similar Rhythm- Mixed Media on paper 2016

For the most part of this exhibition, these works hang on the wall as three-dimensional reliefs, made of paper and mixed media. These delicate creatures of raw substance seem as though they may start out as flat painted material and then folded to form a cumulative formal beauty underscored by a diverse paint surface. McGhee’s emphasis on discovered and spontaneous correlations that are twisted, crushed and crumpled, remind this writer of John Chamberlain, who worked in a similar fashion but mostly with metal and automobile parts. Given the time period of Allie McGhee’s formative years, the obvious influence here is Abstract Expressionism with shades of Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline that, despite a seemingly spontaneous appearance, maintains a balance of chaos and control.

Allie McGhee, Rainforest Mixed Media on Paper 2012

Allie McGhee, Rainforest, Mixed Media on Paper 2012

In his biography, McGhee says he favors using sticks to apply paint rather than brushes. Rejecting the brush, he pulls and scrapes the paint across his material, whether it is canvas or paper. The action of the stick allows McGhee’s hands to interact with the paint and the surface in a visceral way, where the thin paint spatters as he arranges his lathe-like constructions. In Rainforest, there are a variety of parallel bars that play against the light and abstract forms caused by the folds. These are forms we see in nature and our urban environment, making them familiar, if not inviting. He reveals his ability to make something interesting out of the mundane.

Allie McGhee, Visit, Mixed Media on Fiberglass 2015

Allie McGhee, Visit, Mixed Media on Fiberglass 2015

Not all of the work is on paper. Visit is a piece on folded canvas that has been coated in fiberglass and painted with loose strokes of paint. McGhee has said his work is informed by science, and refers to imagery that is close up, like through a lens, but it’s easy to see a shallow grid and re-jostled composition that works against formality. These works are a change from the flat abstractions of ten years ago with ovals and space-like compositions. The new works are flat ideas that have taken on the third dimension of physical depth and engage the viewer with draped compositions of muted color and a play on light.

 

 

Allie McGhee, Sacred Wrap, Mixed Media, on paper 2009

Allie McGhee, Sacred Wrap, Mixed Media, on paper 2009

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like a worship robe that hangs waiting to be used, Sacred Wrap, could be a garment waiting to be worn for a special ceremony. The subtleties in white, blue and black are mixed media material on paper that come off the wall enough to cast deep and dramatic shadows. Whether inspired by science or the music of Eric Dolphy, Allie McGhee brings a nostalgic feel to these texturally rich reliefs that feel both powerful and lightly sensitive.

Carole Harris, Fiber Construction

Carole Harris, Melody Lingers, Fiber Construction

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art opened a parallel exhibition by Carole Harris, a fiber artist who uses traditional quilting techniques to make abstract expressionistic compositions. “My work relies on improvisation,” Harris says. “I am fascinated by the rhythms and energy created when I cut and piece multiple patterns. I let the fabric and color lead me on the journey.”

For visual artists who quilt, Harris’s work transcends the traditional expectations we think of when mentioning quilting. In a reproduction, we see an abstract painting, dynamic in the use of color, line, shape and form. It’s only on closer observation that one realizes these are compositions executed using embroidery, stitchery and multiple patterns of cotton, silks and hand-dyed fabric.

N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art     Allie McGhee   Now & Then   April 15 – June 25, 2016