Lane & Senegal @ N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art

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

Portrait of Artis Lane, and bronze sculpture of Rosa Parks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art

Will Ryman @ Center Galleries, College for Creative Studies

Looming like a sci-fi phantom, a gossamer, spaceship-like car floats in the mercurial light of Center Galleries. It is an actual sized sculpture of the 1958 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz– framed with resin and then shrouded in white, embossed Bounty paper towel–and is the fabrication of New York artist Will Ryman. The thing astonishes with its implausibility. We in Detroit wait every year for the latest and greatest version of automobiles but this particular moment, 1958, called for something different.

Will Ryman, 1958 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz, Wood, Resin, Paper towel, 2017

Post World War II life is often referred to as the moment when America was great, as in “Make America Great Again.” The United States had emerged from WW ll as a savior of the Western World and the soldiers returned to an explosive economy that inspired and encouraged a new and better life. The soldiers got the GI Bill which was money for fighting the war. The brilliant technologies developed to build planes, ships, tanks, and guns were ready to be employed to build a new American infrastructure. After a few post war years of stagnant auto sales, Harley Earl, head of General Motor’s “Styling Department,” employing a strategy called Planned Obsolescence, found a way of making a new car, an alluring “object of desire,” every year and one for every purse. It was a very big deal! From Chevy, Pontiac, Buick, Oldsmobile to Cadillac every American wage earner could have a car that represented their class and level of economic status. The cars slowly evolved with modest cosmetic changes every year—a curve of a fender here, a piece of chrome there, a new palette of tantalizing colors, sumptuous upholstery or push button radios with front and rear speakers. Each new year model made last year’s version less attractive, less sexy. The American economy was the wonder of the world.

Will Ryman, Installation image, all images courtesy of Robert Hensleigh

The 1958 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz, a hybrid of the P-38 fighter plane, a horse drawn carriage of the Victorian aristocracy and avatar of female goddess, was at the top of the heap. Its name says it: three names all denoting power and wealth– Cadillac for the historical founder of Detroit; Eldorado, Spanish for gold and the lost city of gold in Spanish mythology; Biarritz the French resort on Basque coast made famous by actress Bridget Bardot and the hangout of the very rich.

Will Ryman (b.1969), playwright, sculptor, painter, and, conceptual artist, has most recently composed what seems like a trilogy of poignant installation/sculptures that turn on American politics and history, culture and identity. Each uses apt materials to perform dramatic vignettes focusing attention on the collision of American ideals. Ryman’s “America,” (2013) is an actual-sized model of Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood home and is now housed in the New Orleans Museum of Art’s permanent collection. The cabin is made of real logs but coated with a rich gold resin patina and has an interior brimming with tesserae of bits that compose the history of American labor and production. The interior walls are a mosaic of everything from cottons balls and slavery shackles to pills, bullets, iPhones and arrowheads.

Will Ryman, The Situation Room, 2012 – 2015

More contemporary and polemic is Ryman’s “The Situation Room,” (2012-14) a life-size sculpted tableau of the famous and bizarre photo of President Obama and his closest circle, including Hillary Clinton, watching a live-feed from Pakistan of the assassination of Osama bin Laden by Navy Seals. Appropriately composed of crushed coal, turning the tableau into a shadow in the American memory bank, it serves as frightening meditation on the all too intimate scale of war and global politics. Perhaps because he was a playwright, Ryman’s sense of history and drama are dead-on as he seems to choose subjects and materials that point poignantly at the vital issues of our culture. Few artists of our time have been able to deal so directly with our political landscape.

Will Ryman, Detail, 1958 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz, 2017

“Cadillac” (2014) is a haunting installation that, as you spend time with it, accumulates gravity and puts American history in strange relief. Beyond its initial novelty, a mashup of art history with its winged tailfins, sculpted with Art Nouveau’s whiplash fender lines and wraparound windshield, bounteous breast shaped bumper guards and covered in Bounty paper toweling, it possesses an uncanny, funereal presence. Like the painted white ghost bikes along the side of the road that memorialize children being killed by cars, “Cadillac” summons bigger thoughts about life and mortality and our collision with the industrial landscape. Bounty toweling, with its art deco (the symbol of cosmetic superficiality) embossed pattern and tag of “Bounty” on every sheet, creates an ironic commentary on the excesses of corporate America that was called attention to by President Eisenhower in his Farewell Address (1961). He warned of the threat of the Military Industrial complex that had taken over American culture and industry and that has become a part of everyday life.

The 1958 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz broke every rule and standard of “Good Design” (a phrase that also meant good economics) set by most thoughtful modernists. While car design became a form of pop culture and post war novelty and spectacle, American design had become ostentatious, superficial, a symbol of conspicuous consumption and in the long run bad economically. In 2017 it is a ghostly reminder and presence incarnating all of the worst impulses of American culture and economics and not simply a kitschy tableau. Ryman’s chimera of our past absorbs (“Bounty is the thicker, quicker picker-upper”) and exudes our strange history. Ryman recently said that, instead of editorializing on his art, he has learned to let his materials speak for themselves and his “Cadillac” Eldorado Biarritz is stunningly articulate.

As part of the current Center Galleries exhibition Alumni & Faculty Hall is exhibiting Jeff Cancelosi: Picturing Us, featuring engaging, large format color photos of some familiar faces of artists and prime suspects of the landscape of Detroit art.

Jeff Cancelosi, “Artist Bailey Scieszka” Photograph, 2016

CCS Center Galleries –     Will Ryman: Cadillac  –   January 28-March 4, 2017

Kline & Giffin @ Galerie Camille

Kline & Giffin, Jive Nights, Mixed Media, 36 x 45, 2016

Two artists, Bowen Kline and Bruce Giffin, collaborated on several pieces of artwork for Jive Detroit, a two-person exhibition opening at Galerie Camille, January 20, 2017. In the 1920’s the word Jive referred to Jazz or Swing music, and was used later as jargon to describe a kind of teasing or putting someone on. In Jive Detroit, Kline and Giffin are working together on several photo collage/paintings. What is compelling about this collaborative work is the obvious coming together of a photographic image combined with painting to form a kind of expressionistic realism of mostly urban settings in and around Detroit.

Gallery Director Melannie Chard says, “Jive Detroit is a collaboration between photographer, Bruce Giffin, and painter, Bowen Kline. With access to 30 years of Bruce’s photographs, Bowen has constructed mixed media paintings that forge impressions of a city in constant change and the many faces of its residents.”

Bowen Kline, Bruce Giffin, Neighborhood, Mixed Media, collage on board, 34 x 38″, 2016

This approach differs entirely from what Photoshop can do in a digital environment, where it is used to combine a variety of images into one photographic image. There is no trickery attempted here. I am not sure what comes first in this collaboration, the photo images or the idea for a painting, but it doesn’t matter. It is an example of the synergy that can come from collaboration. In the work Neighborhood, it is the combination of “capturing a moment” between the two figures and the depth of field in the urban housing environment, laced with graffiti, that draws the viewer in.

Bowen Kline, Portrait of Bruce Giffin, Oil & Acrylic on board, 2016

Bruce Giffin, Portrait of Bowen Kline, Photograph on Paper, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I guess that the idea of collaboration with Bruce Griffin was Kline’s idea as this is not the first time he has sought collaboration. In 2013 he exhibited with Tony Roko. Both artists worked on primarily figurative paintings at the Janis Charach Gallery located in the Jewish Community Center in the Detroit Metro area. He relies heavily on black line and contrast, using a combination of oil and acrylic paint. Painting from a studio barn in Romeo, Kline’s work is dominated by expressive portraits and subdued figure paintings.

Bruce Giffin has been shooting images in the City of Detroit for 30 years and was the recipient of a Kresge Fellowship in 2011 for visual art, largely based on “The Face of Detroit,” featuring evocative, hyper-close portraits of Detroiters. He must have walked the backstreets and alleys of Detroit for years to capture many of his personal images of ordinary Detroiters and desolate buildings. I first wrote about his image, Black Board Jungle, which does a good job of reflecting his interest in capturing abstraction in an exhibition at the Detroit Artist Market. That image is also in this exhibition. He has worked as a staff photographer along the way, shooting covers for the Metro Times, and for a long list of publishers, where Giffin has provided product and people images. In addition, he has a collection of infrared images, like Winter Coaster, that is included in this exhibition.

I hope this exhibition is not jiving us, and instead highlights and reinforces artistic collaboration, something we frequently experience in the fields of music, film, and dance. In the end, this show illustrates a young painter collaborating with a seasoned photographer to create something new. One plus one equals more than two in this situation, but to be constructive, and in the long haul, Bowen Kline will have to stand on his individual work, something that Bruce Giffin has already accomplished.

Galerie Camille  – January 20 – February 4, 2017

 

Laurie Tennent @ Oakland University Art Gallery

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Laurie Tennent, Giant Fern, 30 x 135″, Polychrome on Aluminum, 2016

One of the oldest surviving photographic images, a daguerreotype still life from 1839, carefully depicts objects made of plaster cast sculptures and a wicker-wrapped bottle. In that same year, William Henry Talbot created a photo image of a leaf, Leaf with Serrated Edge, by placing a plant leaf on a piece of light-sensitive paper before exposing it to a light source. Later, that same year, the Magazine of Science published photograms from work by Anna Atkins that were botanicals placed directly on photosensitive paper.

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Magazine of Science, School of Art, William Talbot samples, London, 1839

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Anna Atkins, Poppy, Cyanotype, Vitoria & Albert Museum, London, 1839

From those beginnings through the following 160 years we have seen photography develop in myriad ways, which brings me to the current exhibition of photography at Oakland University Art Gallery, Hiberna Flores, by Laurie Tennent. The Birmingham, Michigan-based commercial photographer has worked hard to produce a body of work comprised of botanically-based images. These relatively large-scale photographs (40 X 72”) are digital images printed on aluminum. One assumes they are real plant objects set up in a studio and captured with a large format camera that sits on a tripod, providing the artist maximum control over focus and exposure.

She says in her interview, “Complexity of character, masculine and feminine, intimate yet bold, sensual yet strong: My photographs are an exploration of these dualities. By exaggerating the inner architecture of plant life, I offer the viewer a chance to at once become confronted by and immersed in nature.”

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Laurie Tennent, Oriental Poppy, 36 x 70″, Polychrome on Aluminum, 2014

While many photographers are shooting events, people, fashion, cars, wars and outer space, there are photographers who have devoted parts of their careers to capturing flowers. In the late 1980s Robert Mapplethorpe devoted part of his oeuvre to capturing botanicals in both black and white and color. They often get overlooked in his total body of work because of his focus on the fetish, but they stand out elegantly in composition and scale. Around that same time, in the mid-1980s, Bulfinch Publishing released Harold Feinstein’s book, 100 Flowers. Feinstein was the first to use a scanner as his camera. His work was covered  by Life magazine and received a Smithsonian Award for digital photography in 2000.

But Tennent brings her signature to her work primarily in her selection of plants and her approach to the composition. The image, Oriental Poppy (36 X 70”, 2014) produces a feeling similar to Grande Odalisque, by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, the French Neoclassical painter, 1819. Soft light stretched out on this horizontal botanical composition against a black background creates a similar feeling in the experience of the viewer: How beautiful!

For this review, I asked Tennent a few questions:

Ron Scott – How did you get interested in photography, early on?

Laurie Tennent – My interest in photography started in high school with a love of science and biology. After an introduction to College for Creative Studies, I decided to pursue photography. It was the darkroom that really amazed me.

RS – What lead you to fine art photography?

LT – Having an education in both fine art and commercial photography, I have practiced both for over 30 years. After college, I worked in the gallery business first at the Rubiner Gallery then opened The Eton Street Gallery in Birmingham, Michigan. To support the gallery, I worked in the fashion and commercial photography business.

RS – How would you describe the technical approach in capturing and printing these images (what degree of post production in the work is done)?

LT – All of the images are created in the studio. Plants and botanical specimens are photographed with digital capture and then dust and pollen are removed in post. They are printed on aluminum with a heat transfer process called dye sublimation. I only print a limited edition of 5 to 10 prints of each image.

RS – What photographers (past and present) influenced your work?

LT – Locally, my mentors are Balthazar Korab and Bill Rauhauser. Korab made a huge impression on me with his work ethic and ability to blur the lines between fine art and commercial images. Rauhauser was my professor and thesis advisor at Center for Creative Studies. His knowledge of history and passion for photography is infectious. In addition, I was also influenced by the work of Imogen Cunningham for the pattern and detail in her photographs and the sculptural scientific images of organic structures by Karl Blossfeldt .

Kalanchoe

Laurie Tennent, Kalanchoe, 40 x 60″, Polychrome on Aluminum, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With an acute sensitivity to today’s persistent digital noise, Tennent’s collection of intimate portraits commands attention by returning us to our most primitive and organic roots. Isolating delicate living structures and amplifying them on a massive scale transports the viewer to a serene space where we are encouraged to breathe and to reconnect with the simple beauty of these objects.

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Laurie Tennent, Ranunculus, 48 x 69, Polychrome on Aluminum, 2013

 

Oakland University Art Gallery

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.