All Aboard “BARN BOAT”: Talking Modern Mythology with Scott Hocking

Scott Hocking with Barn Boat Sculpture, 2015 Image courtesy of Amy Winship

Scott Hocking is a canonical artist in the Detroit art scene, internationally famous for his site-specific monument building, typically out of objects found and installed amidst Detroit’s urban ruins . Recently, he has ventured to the tip-of-the-thumb town of Port Austin, MI, to work on a massive rebuilding of a derelict barn into an ark-like vessel that is a rural twist on Hocking’s powerful practice of self-executed acts of mythology. We sat down for a discussion about the ins and outs of “Barnboat,” the stubborn and meditative process of solo monument-building, and the underlying belief that fuels Hocking’s unstoppable drive to create and abandon these structures.

Sarah Rose Sharp:    Okay, so can you walk me through, again, some of what brought you to Port Austin, and what’s happening there, in general, with the barns?

Scott Hocking:     Sure. Jim Boyle brought me to Port Austin. There’s an entire Boyle clan that lives in Port Austin. And Jim tells me the story of some old Detroit Cass Corridor artists moving up there—the Mikolowskis—which inspired him to bring Detroit artists up to Port Austin. The thumb is also, as everyone has told me a million times, a peninsula within a peninsula, so nobody passes through it.

SRS:     So you would think tourist town, but actually it’s really insular.

SH:        Right. It’s like going down a dead-end street, and then you’ve got to drive back.

SRS:     Yeah. But, it’s a great drive.

SH:        I’ve been taking different routes, and I’ve found some things.

SRS:     I saw a sign for “Petroglyph”—did you go see that? Is it a good one?

SH:        I did. The petroglyph is a large, flat sandstone outcrop, uncovered during the great fires of the thumb, which burned down most of the white pine. The petroglyphs were uncovered then, but I think that’s 120 years ago or more. And since then, the sandstone has just eroded.

SRS:     It’s interesting to me that as you’re building this project, you’re also collecting stories of the thumb. You’re doing kind of an anthropological study.

SH:        That’s a huge part of how I operate. It’s probably the reason I do artwork like I do, because of my amateur interest in this kind of stuff. It all informs the piece.

SRS:     Is there anything that’s cropped up about Port Austin reflected in the barn installation?

SH:        In every case, I’m really influenced by the environment. The location has literally shaped the object; it’s changed from what I originally thought it would be, which was an upside-down barn that looked kind of like a ship, to being a very aerodynamic wooden shape—that’s all based on the wind.

SRS:     The wind sprung immediately to mind—that you were talking about how much that impacted you.

SH:        Yeah, so I’m interested in mythology, but I’m also interested in how the ancient people were really beholden to the elements. I like working like that, too, where even if I’m in an abandoned building, I’m in a circumstance where the elements are hugely a feature of what I do. [For the barn project] I can’t work around rain—the machines won’t work, the tools won’t work. So suddenly I’m like a farmer, where I have to do everything based on what the weather tells me.

A lot of the objects I took out of there that are directly related to the history of the barn, of the family [that owns the barn]—parts of the barn itself, sections of the beams, beautiful wooden pegs and notches—they will be displayed in the grain silo, in a kind of reliquary.

SRS:     And in the past, you’ve been accustomed to being able to work long-term on big pieces, which is significant. One of the reasons that your pieces are awe-inspiring is because they obviously represent a huge amount of human labor.

SH:        I come from a background where the idea of art was kind of laughable. Like, such a working class opinion of the art world—but the one thing working class people appreciate about art is when they see that somebody worked really hard. And I think there’s still that in me. I mean, I’m stupid about it. I worked myself to the point where I can’t work. I also think I’m kind of stubborn; I want to do everything myself. I want to control everything. So taking on a project like this, when it’s really the kind of project where you should have assistance, but wanting to do it alone so badly—that’s me being stubborn. Because I could have had more help, if I had really pushed for it.

SRS:     Well, I mean, maybe I’m wrong, but I think it’s also this idea that you are learning about something by affecting it within yourself. When I drove up and saw you up on that lift working, I’m sure that’s how people felt about Noah. “Wow! There’s just a guy up there, working on a boat, totally out of context. What is he doing?”


Panorama of Barn Boat Sculpture, as Storm Brews, 2015, Image courtesy of the artist

SH:        And that has happened, plenty of times. People will stop their cars right in the road. They might actually drive down the road, and sometimes they’re yelling up to me while I’m on the lift. But I would say ten times, someone has said, “You’re like Noah, making the ark!” And in some cases they’re saying it like a ha-ha—in some cases they’re saying it like they’re in awe. I know I’m going to seem crazy. When I made the pryamid a Fisher Body , I can specifically remember people making comments like, “Dude, what are you doing? You’re acting crazy.” I push myself like that every time, and I just believe there’s going to be a lot of awkward stages but I’m going to figure it out. I have to believe that. But when you’re not in your studio, when you’re not in this confined space where nobody can see you—when you’re out on a lift along a road, then people are going to see you during those stages, and they’re going to see how crazy it is.

SRS:     I’m being a little playful, here, but I’m sure Noah had moments of self-doubt, too. I’ve never seen the pyramids in Egypt in person, but I remember finding out what they were, and having the reaction, “Wow, people made that.” And I don’t feel that way when I see a skyscraper in Shanghai. I think, “Industry made that, machines made that.” But the pyramids, Stonehenge—people cut massive stones out of cliff-sides and then rolled them on logs hundreds of miles, and stood them up in these formations. And there’s a human energy to that. I think, when you engage in a process that mirrors those, that’s how you know what that means. When you put your body through that experience, you can access something that is fundamental.

SH:        I think that’s true. With the barn project, I’ve been in awe of the people who made the barn. Every log that was hewn by hand—every log was made square by hand, and you can see the hatchet marks—every peg, every hole, so well done. The amount of effort and skill and time and patience blows my mind. So there is a feeling of respecting that, wanting to respect that, even though I’m not going to be doing anything near what they were doing. There is a part of me that likes being up there with a hatchet and a sledgehammer, and if something doesn’t fit, I’m going to pound it into place.

SRS:    I think that’s what an ark is, right? It isn’t a yacht, or a sailboat. It’s a mythic vessel, rough-cut out of the raw elements with very little help because everyone thinks you’re crazy.

SH:        I’ve worked before where I’ve layered wood in this way, where I feel like I’m just layering and collaging. I don’t want to make a perfectly sealed, perfect boat. This isn’t a boat—this is an object, this is a sculpture. It’s vessel-like, it’s ark-like, it’s ship-like, it’s boat-like.

SRS:     It’s nest-like, too.

SH:       Totally nest-like. Well, this is a great tangent to take, because I love birds. There were barn swallows living in the barn site, and I basically destroyed all their homes—they were pissed at me. Anyway, this is becoming a new nest for birds already. Every time I come back, the birds fly out. They’re already getting in there.

SRS:     It’s great, out of the wind.

SH:        They’re going to love it in there. It’s going to become a weird little bird sanctuary, so that excites me. One day I came in and there was a vulture on top—coming back to when you asked, have I been influenced? I’ve been influenced by the nature around me, for sure, in ways that I don’t know if anybody else really cares about. But I’m out there alone, spending time with the birds, a lot.

SRS:     Well, yeah, that makes sense to me. And it’s how mythology happens. Like, maybe Noah’s Ark is exactly what you’re doing right now. Some guy one day thought, “This barn is in terrible repair, maybe I’ll build it upside down to make a kind of boat shape,” and people said, “Uh, Noah, what are you doing?” And he started shouting, “THERE WILL BE A GREAT RAIN,” just to get them to leave him alone. And birds start flying around him, a lot of wildlife is drawn to his boat—and then there’s a really bad rainstorm, and he becomes a mythic figure.

SH:        That’s great. It’s possible. I mean, I have to tell you, there’s been a lot of people coming out of the woodwork, talking to me about barns now, and Noah stories. People have been sending me stuff about barns—“Hey, I saw the project you’re doing. Not sure if you knew this, but the Mayflower boat was turned into a barn.” Apparently that’s what they did with the Mayflower.

SRS:     That’s wild. I mean, of course you’re not going to waste a resource like a ship, right? And it’s interesting that settlers came to a new place, and the first thing they built was a barn.

SH:        Maybe it’s not so unusual to have this thought about the barn and the boat, like, that shape—that protective vessel shape—either, it’s keeping something in or keeping something out.

SRS:     So how long have you been working on this piece?

SH:        I started on June 1st, 2015—about 8 or 9 weeks so far.

SRS:     And can you talk to me about why don’t you own your art objects, once you finish with them?

SH:        I like practicing not owning anything, practicing letting go of things. Having attachment to material objects is something I’m not interested in, so through my art practice I started to become really good at letting go all the time.


View of Barn Boat Sculpture in progress, 2015, image courtesy of Amy Winship

SRS:     You use found materials to make your pieces, so you’re constantly picking things up, and then letting them go. You’re moving through things, without being attached to them permanently.

SH:        Yeah, and I think I’m that way in life, a bit. When I was 18, I threw out everything I owned, and I don’t think I’ve ever regretted that. I still kind of feel that way now; if this [his studio] all burned down tomorrow, there are things I’d miss, but I’d also be okay with starting over. This way of working with art is a reflection of the way I approach everyday life, and there’s something maybe spiritual about it, something maybe meditative about it.

SRS:     So you’re meticulous in the execution, but then it’s done and it sort of goes out of control.

SH:        The “I Ching” is very influential in my life, I’ve been doing it for years, and I’ve really connected with it, because it’s this belief in chance. You believe things happen certain ways, and you go with them and learn from them. Trusting that there’s a reason for things happening the way they are. Battling a feeling of, Wow, what the hell am I doing? with, You’re going to figure it out. You have to trust that it’s all going to work out.

SRS:     I find as an artist, sometimes the inspiration that comes to you in a flash takes unimaginable amounts of work to execute.

SH:        Sure. And in my case, I’m literally building this entire thing based on a flash moment. So there’s certainly doubt, and that’s another part of the process. It’s a process to constantly remind myself of what’s most important to me—and what’s most important to me is not the object, or possessing the object. It’s the process. So that’s the meditation that I go through.

SRS:     And it’s also the proof. “Can I do that? Yes, I can.”

SH:        You know, for most of my life, I had a kind of internal dialogue that was very negative. I came from a background where it was a lot of people talking about how terrible everything was—so much negativity. At some point, I really started to believe in myself, and it’s been this constant, slow, gradual climb, to where now I’ve got voices that say, “You’ll figure it out. You can figure it out.” It’s really great to be in that cycle now.

SRS:     And if you believe in that chance element, then whatever setbacks happen are going to inform your process in a way that is actually part of the plan.

SH:        That’s right. And there’s always little things that happen along the way, that to me are signs that everything is happening the way it should. I really believe ancient people understood that you have all the answers within yourself, but to get those answers, you almost have to trick yourself that you’re getting them from the outside. I feel like that still works really well to this day, and people still find the answers within themselves by believing that they’re coming from an outside source. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. In my opinion, if we’re talking about Noah hearing the voice of God, that’s Noah talking to himself. You have all the answers inside you. This blood, coursing through our veins, has never died. This is the same blood that all humans have had from the first human, slowly branching out from a tree, and I think that there is some latent, DNA-type memory.

SRS:     Right, that’s what I was saying about the pyramids, that it’s inside you. You’re enacting a process that enables you to connect with a human truth that fundamentally exists.

SH:        And artists, I think, are often the ones who figure out a way to tap into that. I think a lot of what my work ends up being, is me tapping into that.


Scott Hocking’s Barn Boat Sculpture by night, 2015 image courtesy of the artist

Scott Hocking’s “BARNBOAT” is visible from the intersection of Welsh Road and Fehner Road,

in Port Austin, Michigan. Hocking is taking a sabbatical from the piece in order to do an installation in the Lille 3000 Triennial , in Lille, France, and will complete work on the piece in October of this year.

The New Whitney Museum @ the Meat Packing District, NYC

Whitney NYC

Whitney Museum image – Photograph by Ed Lederman – 2015

 From its first space in Greenwich Village in 1931, to another home at Madison and 75th Street in 1966, to its new home at 99 Gansevoort Street, the Whitney Museum  has been deeply rooted in celebrating American art.

Sculptor and patron Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney was the driving force behind its development as she recognized the difficulty American artists were having exhibiting their work. Trying to keep up with its growth, it had established branches in various parts of Manhattan, and Stamford, Connecticut.

The new building at 99 Gansevoort Street is designed by the architect Renzo Piano, includes approximately 50,000 square feet of indoor galleries and 13,000 square feet of outdoor exhibition just east of the Hudson River. At the northern edge of the Meatpacking District, and the foot of Chelsea where the new High Line begins, is New York City’s newest and most unique public park.

As an artist and writer whose family is from NYC, the location choice for the new museum seems perfect, and at first glance, the interior space has an abundance of glass and terraced exterior space. One of the most impressive observations upon my first visit was the gallery interior wall. The fifth floor, for example, has 18,000 square ft. of open space where the 12” thick walls look and feel stationary, but, in fact, are movable. When you look up, you see a very thick steel grid that explains how these museum walls can be moved and repositioned based on curatorial design.

Chuck Close Installation

Chuck Close – Phil, 108 X 84, Acrylic and Graphite on Canvas, 1969 Image – Ron Scott

The first exhibition at the new Whitney Museum is America Is Hard to See, which provides a vehicle for its collection of American art that has been described as one of the arguments for moving into a new space. The collection includes over 21,000 works of art by more than 3000 artists who worked in the 20th and 21st centuries. The argument is that the Madison space never allowed for the proper leverage of the collection. This first exhibition, illustrates its capacity. Here in this installation image, Phil, 108 X 84, by the artist Chuck Close, one gets a feel for the gallery space. From his initial series in 1969, this acrylic and graphite on canvas presents a frontal portrait against a neutral ground. Close took an 8 x 10-inch photograph of his friend Phillip Glass, overlaid it with a penciled grid, and then painted a vastly enlarged blowup of each square onto the canvas using airbrushes to create a photographic image. In all the galleries, the flooring is reclaimed wide-plank pine from locations near the city and virtually column free.

Edward-Hopper-Early-Ssunday-Morning-1930 35 x 60 Oil on Canvas

Edward-Hopper-Early-Ssunday-Morning-1930 35 x 60 Oil on Canvas

The theatrical painting Early Sunday Morning, one of Edward Hooper’s most iconic paintings, takes its place in the exhibition as an example of social isolationism in this painting of Seventh Avenue, a north-south street, where light from the east cast it long shadows. Although Hopper is known as an archetypal twentieth-century American realist, his paintings are fundamentally representational. This painting demonstrates his emphasis on simplified forms, painterly surfaces, study of light and a thoroughly contemplated composition.

Jasper Johns

Jasper Johns – Three Flags, 30 X 45 Encaustic on Canvas, 1958

Three Flags is a signature image of Johns’, who got lumped into the Pop Art category by default when he decided to use everyday images in his work. Painting targets, maps, letters and numbers, Johns led some artists away from the abstract expressionism of the time. The familiarity and simplicity of his subject matter attracted audiences, often grounded in the imagery that was part of the everyday world at a time when the art world was searching for new ideas. In a statement, he says, “My work is largely concerned with relations between seeing, and knowing, seeing and believing, seeing and saying.” In Three Flags, he shifts the emphasis from emblematic meaning to a change of scale, discrete marks and surfaced texture.

David Smith

David Smith – Hudson River Landscape, 48 X 72, Welded & Stainless Steel, 1951


David Smith made what he called “drawings in space” using welded steel, as in Hudson River Landscape in 1951. Sometimes known as an abstract expressionist sculptor, similar to Pollock, Smith’s life was cut short when his pickup truck spun off the road in a crash near Bennington, Vermont at the age of 59. Best known for the Cubis, a series of stainless steel hand-brushed geometric shapes, his works have been included in exhibitions at the MOMA, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art represented by M. Knoedler & Co. and Gagosian galleries.Smith continued to paint and draw throughout his life, pieces that included landscape and figurative work. Most of Smith’s work is an object lesson in what scale means with respect to the viewer. His work was that of a welder, not a forger, and is often referred to when expressing the concept of Constructivism.

Two women W.diKonning

Image of de Kooning Woman and Bicycle, 75 X 49, Oil, enamel, Charcoal on Linen, 1952

For this viewer and many others I assume, the painting Woman and Bicycle is the 1950’s hallmark of Willem de Kooning’s work. Acknowledged as one of the most influential Abstract Expressionists, he says in his statement, “I’m not interested in ‘abstracting’ or taking things out or reducing painting to design, form, line, and color. I paint this way because I can keep putting more things in it–drama, anger, pain, love, a figure, a horse, my ideas about space. Through your eyes, it again becomes an emotion or idea.” The most distinguishing attribute in Woman and Bicycle are the two smiles where banality meets beautiful.

In addition to the new museum and its exhibition, the web site for the Whitney Museum is excellent, one of the best I have experienced. Extremely comprehensive and user-friendly, there are many short videos that explain everything.

As for what will become of the space on Madison, The Metropolitan Museum of Art plans to present exhibitions and educational programming at the Whitney’s uptown building for a period of eight years, with the possibility of extending the agreement for a longer term.


The Whitney Museum of American Art

America is Hard to See   May 1 – September 27, 2015

Upcoming: Frank Stella, A Retrospective   October 30 – February 7, 2016



Robert Sestok @ City Sculpture Park

Save the Planet 2008

Robert Sestok, Save the Planet, Welded Steel, 2008











I honestly have never experienced a sculpture installation like the one Robert Sestok opened officially on July 10, 2015 in the mid-town area of a Detroit neighborhood, mostly for the benefit of all the people who live there. The Cass Corridor artist, through a neighbor, found vacant land at 955 W. Alexandrine Street. Sestok met with the City of Detroit and proposed a 200 X 200-foot space on empty available lots, which he eventually purchased, not far from his house and the studio that he built in the 1980’s. His vision was to create a community art-based non-profit organization, with a mission to promote civic engagement and the possibility of hosting public art events. The City Sculpture Park, after the ground being leveled, has 800 feet of continuous fence and a commercial rolling gate. Concrete foundations were poured to support and facilitate the installation of large and mostly welded steel sculptures that were created by Sestok over the past 35 years.

He says in his artist statement, “Early in my career the ‘downtown’ experience inspired deconstructivist methods for creating art. People were using found objects and other non-traditional materials in their work, tearing things apart and reconstructing them, processes that harmonized with the reality of the Cass Corridor in the 60s and 70s, and in fact still does today. This period had a profound influence on my approach to art that is particularly apparent in my sculptural work. For my sculptures, I use positive cuts for the figure (a silhouette representing Man) and negative cuts to express architecture (environmental space and its baggage). Welded metal works for this, takes me physically and spatially into the metaphor … making different objects connect … that’s why I like welding. There’s also a specific kind of permanency that comes with the way welded steel withstands the elements, giving extended life to the work.”

Logic 2005

Robert Sestok, Logic, Welded Steel, 2005

The work itself appears to be thematic. Each piece has a thread, usually a shape, size, material or abstracted idea and are vertical by nature. The welded steel has oxidized unless there is paint or stainless present. Comparisons evoke Joel Perlman, Mark di Suvero, and David Smith. But the overriding virtue of Robert Sestok is his fortitude and his altruism as illustrated by his curatorial Big Paintings @ The Factory in the summer of 2014 where Detroit artists used a large, industrial setting in Highland Park for their work. Called the Midland Invitational (on Midland Street), Sestok and building owner Robert Onnes called on artists to submit very big paintings, typically sized 20 X 30 feet, knowing the old factory buildings would easily accommodate the large canvases.

Bob Sestock image

Robert Sestok, Photography Courtesy of Brandy Baker, The Detroit News

The new artists now working in Detroit that have graduated from art schools across the country and particularly in Southeastern Michigan, stand on the shoulders of artists like Robert Sestok. His artistic efforts and contributions have helped make Detroit fertile ground for a burgeoning artistic community.

Abstraction @ the Detroit Artists Market


Abstraction Installation Entrace Onward

Detroit Artist Market – Installation Photo – Courtesy of DAM

On May 1st, the Detroit Artists Market opened the exhibit Abstraction: Artist /Viewer /Dialog. The exhibit runs through May 30th and brings together 38 visual artists who work in the field of abstraction. Juried by Lester Johnson, a native Detroiter who just recently retired as a full professor from the College for Creative Studies, said, “Abstraction is improvisational with layers of meaning and a search for truth; A Lyrical blending of connected memory and interpretive thoughts. Listening to your inner voice makes abstraction your reality.”

As an art form, abstraction has been with us dating back to the turn of the century and the Russian artist Vasily Kandinsky (1866-1944) when the Bauhaus artist segues into abstraction in 1909 with his painting Landscape near Murnau with Locomotive and follows up in 1911 with Composition V. From there, movements such as Cubism, Dada, Surrealism, and Abstract Expressionism have all come under the abstract umbrella and, as demonstrated in the DAM exhibition, are alive and well today. Abstraction like other art forms, is a genre, not having a beginning, middle, and an end, but exists on a continuum. There are new movements today such as performance, installation and new media that present us with new forms, but this does not negate previous forms from co-existing as the art world moves forward, and as demonstrated in music, drama, and literature. The DAM exhibition is a good mix of painting, sculpture, textile, and photography.

Aimee Cameron, Garden

The Garden 49 X 82 Plaster on Fabric, Courtesy of DAM

Aimee Cameron’s work, The Garden, presents the viewer with a horizontal piece of fabric that is folded and arranged using layers of plaster followed by the application of color. She describes her work as, “My fascination with the relationship between materials, form, layers, and process, has played an essential role in the development of my current collection of work. The plaster and fabric base is created with a fast, intuitively uncontrolled process while the surface work is carefully composed in reaction to the base, revealing all the subtle substructures and complicated textual patterns.”

I would not hesitate to describe Ms. Cameron’s work as a form of Abstract Expressionism, and what is interesting to this viewer is both the material and her use of color that pulls the eye towards the center with a dance that works against the folds of fabric. The Garden presented here is ripe.

Bruce Giffin, Blackboard Jungle

Black Board Jungle 16 X 22 Color Print on Watercolor Paper, Courtesy of DAM

Bruce Giffin’s photograph, Black Board Jungle, does a good job reflecting his interest in capturing abstraction. Known for his years of commercial and editorial photography in Detroit where he has created a multitude of covers for the Metro Times, his wealth of personal photography is beautifully portrayed in the 16 X 22 color print, Blackboard Jungle, on watercolor paper where light floods a room creating an interplay of shape and form. The combination of object and shadow presented in an informal composition produces an attractive and mysterious moment for this viewer. “Minor White said it takes 20 years to become a good photographer,” Giffin says. “Twenty-five years later and after having a few good things happen to me, I’m still not good enough. Photography is an evil mistress.”

Janet Hamrick, Littoral Drift

Littoral Drift 24 X 30 Oil on Canvas, Courtesy of DAM

Janet Hamrick, painter and printmaker, delivers an oil painting on canvas that provides the viewer with a quiet execution of line and color in an exchange that is set up formally by dividing the composition using three vertical rectangles. In Littoral Drift, she presents something that could be described as pure abstraction where she creates a non-representational reality that effectively delivers a subtle background pattern. Working out of the Blue Spruce Studio and having exhibited with the Lemberg Gallery, Ms. Hamrick says, “My paintings are meditations found in my life, visually or musically. Littoral Drift comes from the subtle visual formation of ridges or lines in the movement of water.”

Guastella, Carnival-Garden of Plenty

Carnival, 48 X 50 Acrylic on Board, Courtesy of DAM

Carnival, the abstraction by Dennis Guastella captures a field of personal hieroglyphics defined by a grid that could be an Egyptian code or an aerial view of a festive part of Mexico City. The macro view illuminates sections of defined color located informally in the field. He says in a recent statement, “For several years I have integrated a systemic patterning of small beads and thin lines of paint in geometric formations. These patterns allude to woven girders or a framework in an explosion of color and supercharged cubist space.”   The abstraction in Carnival is executed with a kind of crisp precision of brush stroke applied in layers, uses a large color palette and resonates best as it invites contemplation.

Dorchen, Graffiti

Graffiti, 40 X 60 Oil Enamel on Canvas, Courtesy of DAM

Graffiti, the two connected gray panels, in Barbra Dorchen’s enamel oil on canvas, provide the viewer with an understated representation of abstract spaces, one that relies heavily on a field of underdrawn pencil and crayon; the other a red area near the bottom of the painting that hints at a relic of landscape gone by. She says, “My work is an ongoing exploration of imagery, inspired by remnants of past and present cultures. The process involves combining or layering a variety of media, including pages from old books, transfer images, paint, tar, wax, found objects, photographs on paper, wood and installation. My intention is to express a tactile manifestation of form and surface in works that evoke a sense of timeless mystery.”

Brian Pitman, Untitlled

Untitled, 18 X 9 X 14, Limestone, Wood, and Bronze, Courtesy of DAM

Abstraction has deep roots in sculpture. Think about Marcel Duchamp’s R.Mutt, in 1917. Brian Pittman delivers his three-dimensional work, Untitled, made of limestone, wood, and bronze. The symbolism can go in a variety of directions and would seem to intentionally ask the viewer for an interpretation. The heavy wooden base opens to a split piece of shaped limestone, where a bronze, tooth-like shape emerges. The strength comes from a contrast of the material as it works its way upward in this mysterious, abstract form. Mr. Pitman say in his statement, “My work is inspired by my life long investigation of nature and my place within. I explore thoughts on infinity, natural cycles and the balance of conscious and unconscious.
I like to create a personal connection to the material with the repetitive and meditative action of hand tools which also gives sensitivity to the essence of the form.”

A group exhibition of this size can be uneven in terms of quality, and I would submit that has much to do with the jurying process. When the juror makes selections from JPEGs (short for Joint Photographic Experts Group), there is a gap between the real and the digitally photographed image. As Robert Hughes, long-time critic for Time magazine says in his book, Nothing if Not Critical, “Art requires a long look. It is its own physical object, with its own scale and density as a thing in the world. Art is more… than an image of itself.” Across the board, all large juried exhibitions use JPEG images for their juried process, and more than likely, that is not going to change. Perhaps there should be two steps: One screening based on images, and the final selection requiring the real art to be present.

Detroit Artist Market Feature Artist – Catherine Peet

Catherine Peet Entrance

For more than a year now and with each new exhibition,  the Detroit Artists Market has been using the back wall near the desk, as a place for a featured artist. Catherine Peet is an artist whose body of work features a collection of intriguing creative constructs. She combines painting with assemblage to create imagery that incorporates ideas that she derives from mythology, nature, and spirituality. She blends the two techniques together to make political, religious, and pervasive cultural statements in her work.

Abstraction: Artist / Viewer / Dialogue    –  May 1 – 30, 2015

4719 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48201

(313) 832-8540


Tom Phardel @ Popps Packing


Installation-Courtesy of the Artist, Photo – Ron Scott

Popps Packing on the northeast side of Hamtramck is a gallery that describes itself as an experimental arts venue. April 25 through May 17, 2015, it hosts an exhibition, Inner-Core, with sculpture by Tom Phardel. The building has been converted from a 1930’s meat packing plant to a cookie factory and now a gallery that has an artist residency as part of its purpose. The large space serves to function as studio practice, architectural interventions, and alternative systems projects. Founded in 2007 by Graem Whyte and his wife, Faina Lerman, the upper portion of the structure also serves as their residence.

On a fundamental level, Mr. Phardel’s work could be described as modern, contemporary, and even conventional in comparison to installations that use waste material and found objects as their medium. All of the work in the exhibition would qualify as made-by-hand objects that vary in material from stoneware clay to fabricated steel. Mr. Phardel’s work in this exhibition is modest in size, and influences that come to mind are Ellsworth Kelly and John Duff. There are both reliefs and stand-alone pieces that do not radically break away from tradition, but rather find themselves on an evolving continuum of recognized work, accompanied by a high level of technical execution. The ceramic work is complex but accessible, but in pieces where the steel fabrication process is used, it goes beyond a layperson’s understanding. One might picture an object-mold made of plastic, plaster or wood being used as a form that provides the uniformity of shape. But the technical accomplishment of Mr. Phardel’s sculpture stands second to the conceptual ideas he presents. Duality of form, earth-like surfaces, and at times a sense of spirituality, provide the audience with a feeling that is old and new, organic and industrial, ancient, yet modern.

In a statement, Mr. Phardel says, “In my artwork I try to distill universal forms and experiences to their core essence. There are portals exposing hidden interior spaces, surfaces that have acquired a visual language of usage, time and ephemeral translucent elements that transmit only the essential outlines of form and color. These elements tell the human story, a yearning to understand the unknown. The work selected for this show, both new and old, are all based on the concept of revealing an inner essence of forms, the Inner-Core. I hope the pure love of making objects comes through clearly as well as the need to communicate deeper experiential thoughts within a simplified framework. ”

Red Bindu, Fabricated Steel 16 X 28














Red Bindu, Fabricated Steel  16 X 28, Courtesy of the Artist  Photo – Ron Scott

An example of duality is the steel fabricated piece with two holes vertically placed and the surface spray-painted and sanded many times to produce the radiant red. The title Red Bindu could refer to the gateway to the Himalayan Yoga tradition where people hunger for connection to the core of life through meditation. These Yoga Meditations combine philosophy, practice, and oral instructions passed on through time. Whether or not this is accurate, when experiencing the relief, we converge on an attractive meditation that takes us to a place that resonates. A place we understand.

Do I like some of these objects better than others? Sure, but it reminds me that we all bring our own experience and sensibility to the art experience, and the end result is different for everyone. In the case of Tom Phardel’s work, we get originality, exploration of form, unusual and sophisticated use of material, and at times a spiritual presence.

Golden Plateau, Salt fired black stoneware, Maple









Golden Plateau, Salt Fired black Stone, Courtesy of the Artist

Popps Packing

12138 Saint Aubin, Hamtramck, MI 48212    313-733-6793