Frederic Edwin Church @ Detroit Institute of Arts

Church: A Painter’s Pilgrimage

Church: A Painter’s Pilgrimage, currently on view at the Detroit Institute of Arts, presents a dazzling selection of works made by one of America’s most well-known and successful Nineteenth Century painters. Frederic Edwin Church is best known for highly rendered visions of manifest destiny- expansive, breathtaking views of the American west and South America. Church traded mainly in paintings of virgin land- land untampered with by humans (the people who had made their homes in such landscapes for millennia are mostly absent from Church’s paintings, save as the odd bit of picturesque window dressing). Land that was considered the God-given right of Church’s audience, described by the DIA as “white, Protestant, American.” One thing that A Painter’s Pilgrimage makes clear- through an excellent guide of subtly pointed remarks provided by the DIA- is how much the romance of that Nineteenth Century American, white, Protestant narrative is still with us, buried deep in our cultural bedrock.

A Painter’s Pilgrimage showcases an unconventional body of work for Church- paintings made during a journey the artist took around the Middle East and the Mediterranean in the region then known as the Levant. Church rarely dealt with human history directly in his iconic American landscapes- in A Painter’s Pilgrimage, stately ruins and picturesque cityscapes layer over one another like condensed timelines of Western civilization’s cradles.

Frederic Church, Nature and Civilization, Sunrise in Syria, Oil on Canvas, 1874

Wandering the dimly lit galleries (necessary to protect the paintings) it’s difficult not to be swept away in the grandeur of Church’s vision- every single work is simply dazzling. Church was, first and foremost, a great painter. A devout Christian, he invested all his works with spiritually symbolic shifts in light, focus, and atmospheric cataclysm. His wildly billowing clouds, lurid red skies, and sublime scale speak to the greatness of his God’s creation. The visual rearrangement and condensing of human monuments that he engaged in while painting Middle Eastern landscapes speaks to the desires of the artist and his audience, who clearly felt a sense of ownership of this ancient landscape and how it ought to appear. The dreamy genre painting Al Ayn (The Fountain) combines various types of architecture from different places and eras to describe the arch of civilization’s rise and fall.

Frederic Church, The Fountain, Oil on Canvas, 1882

It also features human figures placed in the foreground, an unusual move for Church, but one that completes his romantic vision of the East. Al Ayn could be an illustration of the history of Orientalism- problematic as the image is, it’s so beautiful that one can’t help but be drawn in by it. This frisson persists throughout the show- how does one look at paintings that are so vested in the West’s destructive view of landscape and people, that are themselves posters for Colonialism, racism, manifest destiny, etc…. and yet are so intoxicatingly lovely?

Frederic Church, Erechtheum and The Parthenon Study, Oil on Paper, 1869-70

Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives is the stunner in a galaxy of stunners. Just beginning to get over Church’s grand but achingly overdone visions of Classical architecture (his Parthenon is so painstakingly rendered and devoid of the freshness of his smaller, on-site studies, which are sprinkled throughout the galleries like shimmering dewdrops, that it quickly gets exhausting to look at) an encounter with Jerusalem renews the eyes and stops the breath. It’s clear that this was probably the most significant site in the Middle East for Church- the epicenter of the Holy Land.

Frederic Church, Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, Oil on Canvas, 1870

The painting is just what its title says- a view of the ancient walled city from atop the Mount of Olives, where twisted, gnarled trees reach toward the sky, symbolizing the suffering of Christ. The sublime distances roped into the view. The layers of light. The sunlit olive branches pulsating over the deep-shadowed valley. The pure, blinding light at the focal point- the Dome of the Rock at the city’s apex. Here, Church breaks atmospheric perspective- everything is far too sharply in focus for the distance, which increases the otherworldly feel of the view. The odd little comb of perfectly angled shadows of the row of columns to the right of the Dome. The dazzling tips of roiling storm clouds massing along the horizon- the vast, perfect lapis blue of the sky beyond. This is a genre painting that transcends genre- an enormous confection of kitsch that transcends its kitschiness. This is the paradox of Frederic Edwin Church- a painter with truly sublime vision and (for contemporary viewers) deeply problematic politics. That vision makes the seduction of those politics hard to resist. These paintings present a crystalline vision of my childhood daydreams of a vast, mythic, mysterious East. This strange familiarity suggests that Church’s vision- the vision of manifest destiny- is still with us. A Painter’s Pilgrimage is canny to that vision, and provides a great contextual, historical lesson in its making.

Frederic Edwin Church: A Painter’s Pilgrimage is on View at the Detroit Institute of Arts from October 22, 2017 through January 15, 2018

 

Joyce Koskenmaki @ CCC Arts Center’s Kerredge Gallery

Configurations, New Work by Joyce Koskenmaki at the Copper Country Community Arts Center’s Kerredge Gallery

Configurations, CCC Art Center’s Kerredge Gallery, Installation image photo of artist and director by Eric Munch. Photos of art courtesy of artist.

For many years, my wife and I have kept an eye out for the art work of Joyce Koskenmaki. Every time we pass through the town of Hancock Michigan on our return to our home in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula we stop at the Copper Country Community Arts Center hoping to see, among other artists, a new Koskenmaki drawing or painting. Her remarkable palette, finely constructed surfaces, eloquent drawing and moody allegorical sensibility never fail to translate the northern landscape into unique lyrical compositions.

During our last trip, we had the opportunity for a brief visit to her studio in an old Hancock elementary school building, as she was preparing her paintings for her exhibition, “Configurations, New Work by Joyce Koskenmaki,” at the Community Arts Center. Serenaded by what sounded like Sibelius sonata, roughly, but touchingly, performed somewhere in a distant classroom by music students, we found our way to her studio.

A little hindered by a recent fall and surgery she introduced us to her studio and new work and as we explored she told me a little about herself and the new work. After studying painting at the University of Iowa and a full career teaching art in a number colleges, including eight years at Kenyon College, she returned to her home in the Keweenaw to settle and make art. Being of Finnish descent Koskenmaki might find a particularly homey familiarity in the Finnish culture there in Hancock–many streets have Finnish names, Finlandia University is located there and even the Kaleva Café is named after the visionary Finnish Epic poem, The Kalevala—and the atmosphere of this northern town smacks of typical towns in Finland. Most importantly the enchanting landscape of the Keweenaw, albeit much of the forests were decimated by a hundred years of copper mining, inspire Koskenmaki’s dialogue with nature.

She explained that at the University of Iowa she worked in a mainly abstract expressionist style and her encyclopedic website has many extraordinary examples of her abstract sensibility as well as an array of figurative and abstract oil paintings, water colors and pencil drawings.

Joyce Koskenmaki, “Two Old Birches,” acrylic on panel, 20”X20”

Koskenmaki knows trees. Unlike most landscape artists who struggle with the seeming chaos of the forest, Koskenmaki knows the tree through the forest. She knows how to see the bush, its unique moments and its articulate statements, like only a northern forest woman can.

She clearly listens to them and knows their idiosyncrasies. She knows their moods and the relationship between them and in characterizing them she uses all of her talents. Her drawing of trees could be said to be anthropomorphic but that would minimize their stature. They are their own beings. Their complexion is composed of amazing tinctures of light and dark from a panoramic cosmetic kit. Her drawing explores with delicate sympathy their articulate lines and are composed of deft touches of the brush and the spaces between them carry a rich theatrical presence.

In the Kalevala, this great oral epic poem of the Finland, nature is an active drama, and its characters—ancient mythic characters, trees, plants, the sky, animals, the sea—play out the drama of the origins of the Finnish people. It is a passionate battle between poets, warriors, and lovers in the northern wilderness. In the past Koskenmaki has illustrated the Kalevala with great understanding and brings that vision to her characterization of trees in the new work.

Joyce Koskenmaki “Three old red pines,” watercolor, color pencil, casein, “18×24”

In her watercolor of three old red pines the complexion of the bark is saturated in deep reds and orange and the prickly, out-reaching branches explain the edgy, tentative relationships of that world. There is a passage in the Kalevala of dialogue of three pines that she may be illustrating but the watercolor itself does the job of creating an almost Shakespearean stage for them.

Joyce Koskenmaki, Joyce Koskenmaki, Two old birches, acrylic on panel, 20”x20” “The Heart,” pencil and color pencil, 8”x8”

Koskenmaki’s drawings of the birch tree perhaps more than the watercolors show an anthropomorphic indulgence in the representation of their bark being sutured together like so many parts of the human body. Her own and her husband’s recent surgeries have perhaps sensitized her to this perception of the fragility of nature itself. In fact, in many of the birch tree renderings there is a direct depiction of the interwoven twigs and branch system that correlates to the architecture of the human heart. In all of her work there is an omnipresent sense of her own being, her dramatic hand, in the making of her work.

There’s an active art scene in the Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula area with many interesting painters especially. The nearby town of Calumet has two galleries including former Detroiter Tom Rudd’s Galerie Boheme which shows Rudd’s smart sculptural work and his wife, Margo McCafferty’s fine architectural landscapes. In the past the Copper Country Community Center has shown many Detroit artists including “Driven: Motor City Art,” (2007), an exhibit curated by Rick Vian and Sue Carman Vian which included an amazing selection of 21 Detroit artists.

Joyce Koskenmaki and Kerredge Gallery Director Cynthia Cote

 

“Configurations: New Work by Joyce Koskenmaki” continues at the Kerredge Gallery through November 4, 2017.

 

 

A Family Affair @ Ellen Kayrod Gallery

Parish, Parish, Parish –  An exhibition of painting by Tom, Shirley, and Erin Parish

Installation image, Courtesy of Shelia Kniffin, 2017

In downtown Detroit, where Grand River Ave. meets and Griswold St. in the Zemco Textile building, circa 1977, Tom & Shirley Parish lived and painted in a loft on the 6th floor. They each had a studio, as did the young daughter, Erin who has just turned 12 years old. At the time, Detroit was going through some of its hardest times, making this kind of space affordable for artists but back then, the family had some concerns about safety. Fast forward thirty years, Tom Parish, Emeriti’s Professor of painting from Wayne State University now works in his studio in Southfield, as does retired art teacher Shirley Parish, and Erin Parish has just opened a one-person exhibition Meet Me Halfway at Art & Art Gallery, in Miami Florida. This will be her 32nd solo exhibition. These three artists from one family are presented together in the current Ellen Kayrod exhibition, Parish, Parish, Parish, in mid-town Detroit, connected by oil paint and an incredible sensibility of purpose to their paintings.

Erin Parish, Shirley Parish, Tom Parish, (left to right) Image Courtesy of Lucille Nawara

Erin Parish, after her undergraduate work at Bennington College and an MFA at Queens College, NY established herself as a Miami-based artist who paints fields of colorful abstract forms. Most recently these circular forms are activated through a vivid palette of repetition that evokes a sense of space, depth, and volume. The work is a combination of canvas, mixed media and, polyester resins that communicates contemplation as it draws the viewer into this new abstract experience.

Erin Parish, Auspicious Flying Dream, Oil on Canvas, 2008

She says in her statement, “Things, in my paintings as in life, are always in the process of becoming: the edge of things about to be, flux, impermanence, thawing, growth, and the change of the seasons. Spring was a most joyous time of year after a long white winter with low gray clouds and a little sun in my hometown of Detroit. This touches on the Buddhist insistence on impermanence and how this resonates with me.”

And in a recent book by Deepak Chopra, The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire, he captures an idea that resonates with her paintings, “At a deeper level, there is really no boundary between ourselves and everything else in the world… we are all constantly sharing portions of our energy fields, so all of us, at the quantum level, at the level of our minds and our “selves”, we are all connected.

Shirley Parish, Red Bird, Oil on Canvas, 2017

Shirley Parish, Egret, Oil on Canvas, 2017

Shirley Dombrowski Parish has been working with oil paint imagery for forty years and has exhibited extensively through out the Detroit Metro Area since the late 1970’s. This new work based on bird symbolism comes after a period that focused on cloud creations where she described that work for the Detroit Art Review, “The painting of the sky began after many years of studying landscape. I try to capture light and breeze. I am aware of the constant shifting of light reflection of the sky, the sunset, water. The light is forever changing. These paintings are perceptions of experience, a visual poetry.”

But in recent years these elongated bird creatures have provided the subject matter that brings representational ideas out of abstraction. The painterly surface, rich and controlled, provides a bookmark for her recent work. She describes her several summers of vacationing on Beaver Island as an influence on her interest in the bird motif. She says in her statement, “After studying birds for two years, I decided to give a new twist to the sky. Creating the paintings has been a great adventure. These works of large birds capture feeling that can only arise through the painting of birds. The consciousness of the bird has empowered my creativity, gathering information through the inner-self, manifested through conscious and subconscious intelligence.”

Tom Parish, Sogna, Oil on Canvas, 2017

In Detroit, the Ellen Kayrod Gallery has become a familiar space for artist Tom Parish to reveal new work. For nearly thirty years he as made a sojourn to Venice, Italy to capture the architectural compositions of water and light. His time in Venice is always spent on observation and capturing images photographically during a two-, sometimes three-week stay. The images are both inspiration and part informational in creating what I have called a magical realism.

In the work Sogna, the image is a salty worn section of architecture and swirling reflections of light on water combined with reflection-struck water in the turbulent canal. The underlying strength in Parish’s work is always compositional. Here we get a slice of sky and a corner of open sea with a building facade having exterior and interior space to ponder. Parish reaches back to everything he had experienced in his reading to his observations of Cezanne, combined with a lucid imagination, to form special longitudes of form and gentle reflections of light.

It took an American painter, Thomas Parish, from Hibbing, Minnesota, home to the musician Bob Dylan, to find the landscape in Venice, part of the shallow Venetian lagoon and an enclosed bay that lies between the mouths of the Po and the Piave Rivers. His Venetian landscapes expose the beauty of both, the architectural setting and swirls of reflective water that transcends a soft blend of magnitude and mystery.

Ellen Kayrod Gallery Parish, Parish, Parish –  on view until December 8, 2017

 

Matthew Hawtin @ David Klein Gallery

Matthew Hawtin, Installation image at the David Klein Gallery, image courtesy of DAR

In his Solo Exhibition, Matthew Hawtin Presents Minimal Abstraction

It seems fitting to mention that abstraction has been with us since the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky migrated his landscape to a purely abstract form on canvas sometime in late 1910. I always make the comparison to music, since instrumental music is abstract by nature—it does not try to represent the exterior world, but expresses in an immediate way the artist’s inner feelings, from Mozart to John Cage.

The David Klein Gallery opened the Matthew Hawtin exhibit September 9, 2017, with pure minimalist abstract objects executing perfected forms and pristine surface qualities. These shaped canvases rendered in primary/secondary colors, could not be executed more flawlessly. Some are on “torqued canvas,” others on fiberglass panels, all accompanied by a variety of exquisite surfaces. The copiousness of Hawtin’s invention, and his conception seem to allow him to explore each and every multiplicity of these ideas uniquely.

Matthew Hawtin, Stargazer, 45 x 45 x 19, Acrylic on Fiberglass paner 2017

Hawtin says, “Although each series has its own technical demands, they all live in aesthetic parallel that blurs the line between artistic disciplines. There is a determination to continually push the work forward through aesthetic variations, technical refinements and experimenting with new materials. Within this forward trajectory, there is an overall vision to create art that is ‘other-worldly’ and in a sense, futuristic.”

Matthew Hawtin, Cardinal, 42 x 44 X 12, Acrylic on Fiberglass Panel, 2017

The basic context for Hawtin is the color minimalist from the 1970s, including Ellsworth Kelly, Frank Stella, Kenneth Nolan, and Anne Truitt. The secondary would be the shaped canvas artist, revisited recently in an exhibition by Luxembourg & Dayan in New York, with artists like Lynda Benglis, Elizatheth Murray, and Charles Hinman. Hawtin’s work is a hybrid of these two concepts that fights hard against representational artwork and abstract expressionistic painting, with a large degree of success. The new works that fit into corners are particularly interesting and unique. These works, composed of parallelograms, diamonds, trapezoids, rhomboids, and circles, are reductively streamlined, solid in their color and simplified in their forms that, forty years later, remain robust and encompassing in an array of approaches, especially with respect to the surface material.

Matthew Hawtin, Working in the studio, 2017, Courtesy of Artnet

Born in England, and then moved to Windsor, Canada in 1979, Matthew Hawtin earned a bachelor of fine arts degree from York University in Toronto and an master’s in architecture from the University of East London, in London.

 

Bryan Graf’s Photographic images: DEBRIS OF THE DAYS

Bryan Graf, Interstates, Shortcuts, A Factory an Open Field and a Few Homes, 2016 c-Prints mounted with cleats, 40 Unique, 8 x 10″

In the second gallery at the David Klein Gallery, the artist Bryan Graf focuses on Photograms, one of the earliest forms of photography, to create abstract tension between text and image, in a variety of scale.

Photograms are images made without a camera by placing objects directly onto the surface of a light-sensitive material, such as photographic paper, and then exposing it to light. Like drawing or painting, the process is like creating a collage without the need for scissors or glue. Rather, Graf has become highly skilled at controlling the process in the darkroom using color, shape and composition.

Bryan Graf, Chromatic Aqueduct, 40 x 74″ 2016, Unique Photogram and C-Print

Director of the David Klein Gallery, Christine Schefman says, “The photographs in Debris of the Days originate in a garden. It is a cultivation of ongoing works not limited to themselves, but rather a procession of generative images. Graf integrates his own gestural activity into the work by utilizing materials gathered on site as well the use of manipulations in the darkroom. His inquiry into the positive tension between text and image, as well as literary and musical influences, are evident in the arrangement of works for this show. His practice continues to reveal his interest in the history of photography and its relationship to design, painting and narrative fiction.”

Bryan Graf earned a bachelor of fine arts from the Art Institute of Boston and a master of fine arts from Yale University in 2008.

The exhibitions by Matthew Hawtin and Bryan Graf run through October 21, 2017

David Klein Gallery

Sharon Que: Vaporous Quill @ Simone DeSousa Gallery

Sharon Que, “Vaporous Quill,” 2017, Steel, aluminum, paint   –  All photos by PD Rearick, Courtesy of Simone DeSousa Gallery

 

The title of Sharon Que’s current exhibition at the Simone DeSousa Gallery is  taken from one of her sculptures, “Vaporous Quill” which is also a phrase from a poem, “Not a Word in the Sky,” by British pop singer Shiela Chandra. Both Chandra’s poem and Que’s sculpture have an elemental simplicity that beguilingly explores the universe. The poem, in a voice of miraculous clarity, negotiates the sky, searching for some perhaps existential explanation, a language or word, in the vaporous horizon. The sculpture is composed of two amber-yellow, quadrilateral metal panels that, juxtaposed, mirror each other. One panel is subtly inscribed across the top with brass rivets from which fall, like rain, faint blue streaks. Attached to the adjacent panel is a thin strip of aluminum, finagled and caressed into the shape of a wisp of smoke. This is how it goes with Que: enigmatic objects elegantly finessed of hand wrought materials– wood, steel, bronze, glass—arranged in a conscious geometric scheme.

Another sculpture, “Listening Device” is composed of a 3-dimensional, geometrical shaped wire figure embraced by a small painted root and twig system which is “connected” to a small, golden funnel shape. Its title suggests that it is a technological instrument or machine. Both pieces take time to negotiate as does each of the seventeen, small sculptural works in the exhibition.

In the brief gallery guide for the exhibition Que has written: “There is a scaffolding system that exists for each of my sculpture exhibitions made of the interactions with people, nature, music and art that I have come across accidentally or made great efforts to experience.”

This is not, it seems, a simple prosaic statement but one of specific structural purpose. Each of these elements is part of her system of perception and selection of materials and each of them figures into the creation of the final object. There is a strange science at work here. In the same statement, she says “My imagery can take the form of data visualization algorithms.” This isn’t the usual account that an artist might make about how their art looks and works. This is language that comes out of the complex world of information engineering. Que is setting up a platform, the ontology, for her sculptural works.

Sharon Que “Listening Device,” 2017, Steel, wood, paint

With this in mind, “Listening Device” becomes a complex metaphor about the process of hearing and consciousness. The poet William Carlos Williams said “The poem is a small machine made of words.” Que’s sculpture is similarly a machine. From the complexity of roots and branches interconnecting to the complex crystal structure of nature (illustrated by the wire figure) to the funnel shape of satellites, “Listening Device” is a model or prototype of a hearing machine.

Que regularly references her family’s engineering background and she, herself, was a wood model maker in the auto industry before translating that profession into a violin restoration career. Thus, her art exhibits some considerable skill in handling a diversity of materials—including metal casting and fabrication, wood working, drafting skills, letter press printing–and the inventive forms that her sculptures take suggest a larger, macroscopic, engagement with the world.

Throughout “Vaporous Quill” there are images and illustrations of the elusive phenomena of magnetism. In each of the three “Quiet Revolution” sculptures, for example, there is a print of a woodcut that Que tooled, illustrating the polar forces in an electromagnetic field. “Quiet Revolution 2” appears to diagram the dynamics of a group of orbiting bodies, suggesting in their overlapping trajectories the possible intimacies of their interrelationships. Modestly constructed on a piece of varnished plywood it is beguiling and provocative. Que wrote in her introduction to the Vaporous Quill: “This exhibition is a three-dimensional journal.” The sculptures then function as journals do, notes and speculations on her perceptions of everyday life. It’s a lovely idea.

Sharon Que, “Quiet Revolution 2,” 2017, Wood, paint

With this science in mind then, “Capture,” a small, almost jewelry sized sculpture, composed of cast bronze balls and steel chain, seems to illustrate one of the prime phenomenon of particle physics, the incomprehensible “electron capture.” If “Capture” is considered metaphorically, in the realm of Que’s world, it may lead to speculation on everything from love to nuclear holocaust. I think there is a bit of the comic in Que.

Que is an artist of ideas, as well as beautiful objects that explode into a long trail of speculations and readings of what they are “about.” Her art is much less abstract than one might at first think. One imagines her advancing into the world, exploring for more and more connections, and bringing back from her sojourns pieces of the world to connect herself to the world and its infinite magnetic connection.

Sharon Que,  “Capture,” 2017, cast bronze, steel

 

 

Simone DeSousa Gallery       Sharon Que: Vaporous Quill  through October 8, 2017