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






Fall Exhibitions 2017 @ BBAC

The Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center kicked off its 2017 fall season with exhibitions in all of its galleries, highlighting painting, sculpture, photography and ceramic work.

Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center, exterior, 2017

For a non-profit that was established in 1957, the BBAC continues to connect people of all ages with art from every part of the Detroit Metro Area.  These new exhibitions in all the galleries are good examples of how they provide venues for a large variety of artists.

The current exhibition in the large central gallery is an exhibition titled Simultaneous Contrast and illustrates how differently two artists approach figure painting. It is interesting that both artists came from the L’Anse Creuse High School program under the instruction of Ken Hoover during the early 1970’s and then went on to pursue their different paths in visual art. 

Christine A. Ritchie, Primary Passage VI, Oil on Canvas, 36 x 60″

In her painting Primary Passage VI, Ritche demonstrates her interest in process and the intrinsic qualities in oil paint where she delivers a loose abstract expressionistic interpretation of the figure(s). The surface, the brush-stroke action, and the moment, characterizes the way she renders the human form. Supported by strong gestural drawing the painting successfully communicates movement.  She says in her statement, “My work with the figure has been ongoing and is related to my interest in the qualities of figurative movement and the idea that there is a “shared” sense of the human figure moving through space that creates a “felt” or identifiable rhythm that belongs to and is uniquely recognized.” 

For this writer, the artist came along at a time when influences from the 1960’s, artists like Arshile Gorky and Willem de Kooning, were taking the art world by storm, supported by New York critics, Clement Greenburg and Harold Rosenberg.  But the language of painting the human figure as been with us since the art work done in the prehistoric caves of Dordogne, France and will be with us for some time to come. Christine A. Richie holds a MFA in Painting from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY where she lived and worked for 23 years before returning to a studio in Detroit.

Kip Kowalski, IGGNOIRANTS, Oil on Canvas, 30 x 38″

The contrast to Richie’s work is the Picassoesque figurative paintings by Kip Kowalski is dramatic, hence the title of the show, Simultaneous Contrast.  These satirical figure paintings incorporate a kind of surrealistic still life component. In the oil on canvas, IGGNOIRANTS, Kowalski dishes up a surreal one-eared female figure, a pear and a dead bird on a string with abstract elements in the wand and background.  He says in his statement, “My work is an audacious and blasphemous satire of human ignorance and apathy that confronts the absurdities I find in contemporary religious beliefs.  I tackle the biblical lore that is celebrated as fact over the findings of empirical science, such as the denial that evolution is real. My work is also a reaction to the pervasive attitude in many secular and non-secular societies, including our own, that women are the lesser gender.”  

Kowalski’s paintings are grotesque at times as he admits, in that it may cause uneasiness to the viewer.  Are these visual distortions metaphors for the imperfections in our anatomy?  In the end, most people have a visceral reaction to viewing a work of art as opposed to the intellect, directing them to say either I like that, or not for me.  I find myself going back to Picasso in this work, whose painting from the mid-1930’s, especially the women seated series, remind me that he was the most prodigally gifted artist of the twentieth century. So when viewing Kowalski’s work, I make an effort to see his measure of detachment, perhaps even skepticism that results in a form of intrigue.  Kip Kowalski graduated from The Center for Creative Studies with a BFA and maintains a studio in the Detroit area.

Russ Orlando, Modifiers, B&W Photographic image

In the Robinson Gallery, the work of Russ Orlando combines sculptures, collages, totems and a row of photographic self-portraits that portrays this artist as having a variety of interest in media and execution. The row of black and white photographs are self-portraits that stand together as one piece and seems to this writer to be theatrical in nature and not part of a body of photographical work. 

He says in his statement, “When I start a work, I tend to gather materials that I find may be useful to me. When combining the materials, I try not to make much sense out of my choices for fear of being too rational.  In the end, the work should serve as only a stopping point, prompting many questions but leaving them unanswered.”  

Russ Orlando, Untitled, Slip Cast Porcelain, Gold Leaf, and metal stand.

The Untitled work of these three birds, slip cast porcelain, with the interior of gold leaf is interesting, assuming they are not commercially made and altered, which would make them found objects. The base height seems right, but I would prefer more attention is made to the base’s top material: not plywood, but stone, or glass. Perhaps these works are like the artist says, stopping points, prompting many questions, but leaving them unanswered.  Born in Detroit in 1964, Russ Orlando received his Bachelor of Fine Arts from Wayne State University, Detroit and his Master of Fine Arts from Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, MI.  As part of his Kresge recipient statement he says his work is informed by the lure of the sell, shaped from his many years as an advertising agency art director. His sculptures and performances-which he calls experiences-often employ his body as a flash point for social criticism and a viewer’s self-examination.

Rosemarie Hughes, House of Homage, Encaustic, Photo Transfer on Wood Panel

The BBAC has a Ramp Gallery that currently has the work of Rosemarie Hughes.  The smaller and more intimate work is base on a theme, The Home. In her statement she says, “My art is based on the idea of a home. I strive to create work that draws the viewer to take a closer look.”   Originally from the Detroit area, Rosemarie has lived and studied in Austin, San Francisco and London. She received a BFA and MA in photography but her passion for working with textures and a variety of materials ultimately led to her identifying as a mixed media artist.  She currently resides in the Detroit area where she divides her time between her studio and working as a licensed massage therapist.

The Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center is a model for communities through out the region to visit and learn how a non-profit can enrich their citizenry by offering classes, workshops, and exhibitions.

Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center 

Epicenter X @ Arab American National Museum

Exterior, The Arab American National Museum, Dearborn Michigan, 2017, All images courtesy of the AANM

Epicenter X is a small exhibition, but as the Michigan’s first significant show of contemporary art from Saudi Arabia, it carries some cultural weight. Featuring works by 20 emerging and mid-career artists, this traveling show, supported by Saudi Arabia’s newly established King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, has already worked its way through six other venues as it travels across the country; future stops include New York and Washington D.C. Through October, Epicenter X can be viewed at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, a city famously home to the nation’s largest concentration of Arab Americans.

In the exhibition catalogue, Devon Akmon, director of the AANM and curator of the show, writes that although Saudi Arabia is a crucial ally of the United States in the Arab World, little is known in America about its people or its culture. Redressing this, Epicenter X seeks to challenge stereotypes of Arab culture by amplifying the voices of contemporary Saudi artists with a particular emphasis on the exploration of “urbanization, globalization, religion and the impact of American popular culture in Saudi society.”

Ahmed Angawi, Wijha 2:148 – And everyone has a direction to which they should turn, 2013, Digital Lenticular Print mounted on Aluminium

The exhibition features photography, graphic design, performance, video, sculpture, and painting, frequently delivering traditionally Arabic forms (particularly calligraphy) through modern media. While much of the art on view is clearly rooted in hundreds of years of Arabic visual culture, other works are emphatically contemporary, making conceptual, politically-charged statements on current issues like immigration, Guantanamo Bay, or the 2011 Arab Spring (its reverberations still echoing in Syria today).

Qamar Abdulmalik’s Asylum of Dreams, for example, presents viewers with a functional mechanical-claw arcade game filled, not with toys or plush animals, but passports from several dozen countries; they’re teasingly on display, yet, like political asylum itself, frustratingly unattainable for many people. The work is a poignant metaphor of the plight of those with no state-established identity– people who, as Abdulmalik movingly states, “are homesick but have no place to be homesick for.”

Qamar Abdulmalik, Asylum of Dreams, 2017, Crane Machine installation with printed passports

Similarly addressing a serious issue with understated humor is Musaed Al Hulis’ Ideologies for Sale, a vegetable cart ironically equipped with a prominent mihrab, the ornamental architectural element found in any mosque which indicates the direction of Mecca, toward which all the world’s Muslims pray. In this wry juxtaposition of a fixed point with a mobile pushcart, Al Hulis criticizes “cheap ideologies, seasonal beliefs, and lack of direction…toying with compliant minds, solely in the pursuit of power, supremacy and profit.”

Musaed Al Hulis, Ideologies for Sale, Mixed Media on Wood, 2013

Many works on view inventively translate traditional Arabic culture into a 21st century visual language, such as Nugamshi’s visually hypnotic “calligraffiti.” There’s a calligraphic work created on site in the show’s primary exhibition space, but a video on the AANM’s second level shows the artist at work on other projects, and his process is thoroughly mesmerizing. Nugamshi spreads canvass on the ground and enacts a sort of dance with a large paint-loaded brush (which looks like a broom), which he gracefully swoops across the canvass in rapid strokes while somehow maintaining absolute control over the subtle variations in the value and thickness of each calligraphic swipe. The result is something which has both the curvaceous elegance of traditional Arabic script and the raw intensity and large scale of street graffiti.

While Epicenter X is intimate in scale, there’s an impressive variety of media and diversity of participants (among the artists include a dentist, an architect, and a Facebook developer). The show comes with a helpful complimentary exhibition catalogue (available online), itself easily worth the $8 price of admission, but to get the most from the experience, perhaps time your visit to correlate with the culinary walking tours the AANM offers of the surrounding markets. Many of us too often treat the pan-Arabic world as a monolith, and in adding even just a bit of nuance and texture to our understanding of Arab culture, this show fosters increasingly-necessary cross-cultural dialogue, and serves its purpose well.

Arab American National Museum




Butter Projects @ Wasserman Projects

Have+Hold, a collaboration of Wasserman Projects and Butter Projects

Showing me around the exhibition Have+Hold, a collaboration between Wasserman Projects at Eastern Market and Butter Projects, formerly based in Royal Oak, curator Alison Wong mused about the concept she and her partner, John Charnota, envisioned when they founded Butter Projects, a multi-purpose gallery space, studio, and community hub for artists that’s been fighting the good fight since 2009. Like the ubiquitous dairy product of its naming, the space was conceived, Wong told me, to encapsulate that essential quality, oft overlooked, that makes everything it touches better. For artists those essentials include space to work and a community engaged in opening dialogs and forging new friendships. Wong and Charnota now command well-earned respect in Detroit and beyond for their brilliant aesthetic and their knack for assembling beautifully serendipitous group shows.

Have+Hold, Installation image, Wasserman Projects, all images by PD Rearick

The dearth of prominent female curators has been a topic of conversation around Detroit this summer. Wong, who curates for Wasserman Projects as well as Butter Projects, is on the vanguard of bucking that trend. She has easily transitioned from the intimate scale of Butter Projects to the off-puttingly huge Wasserman space with a cluster of exciting exhibitions. Have+Hold, however, breaks the Wasserman mold somewhat. There’s a warmth to Have+Hold that I haven’t seen in previous Wasserman shows. There’s a healthy emphasis on craft and the (often literal) presence of the hand- the human figure and how it meets and draws nourishment from its environment is the subject of many works. The works don’t feel enshrined in the sprawling space. Each is as inviting and approachable as it would be in the artist’s studio, with the space around them allowing for a more lingering, meaningful exchange. Even still, the works flow and accentuate one another- this is genius curating.

The show begins with a haunting wall of water media paintings by Loren Erdrich, comprising snapshot-like portraits and intimate, raw studies of limbs.

Loren Erdrich, Firecracker, Raw organic pigments on paper

Erdrich’s paintings encompass the most traditional approach to the figure in the exhibition, despite their striking palette and unusual perspectives. From here, things get more wayward. Like stumbling across a sprawled couple in a dark house at night, it’s a bit of a shock to come from the paintings to Kasper Ray O’Brien’s sculpture “Take Me Home.” Made especially for Have+Hold, the piece places two pairs of legs extending across the floor in suggestive semi-undress. The couple’s feet cross just slightly in a gesture that could imply either platonic or sexual intimacy. The dismembered state of the legs ought to feel macabre but doesn’t at all- they evoke a physical turning of joints toward the warmth of another body that you remember in your own flesh while interacting with the piece.

Kasper Ray O’Brien, Take Me Home, Mixed Media

Juxtaposed with O’Brien’s work are two films by Margaret Hull. “Lightly Touched By” is a beautiful meditation on the surfaces of the body, with the artist drawing a latticework of lines onto her hands and feet with a makeup crayon. This ritual body mapping reinforces the visceral response that “Take Me Home” begins to evoke. The nature of tactile memory is further explored in installations by Shane Darwent and Sophie Eisner. Eisner’s assemblage of objects made from cast silicone, titled “Soft and Heavy,” suggests a utilitarian space of platforms and mundane vessels, soap cups, washtubs. Her creamy pastel palette and soft, drippy material render these objects not only seductively tactile but almost edible. Darwent is rapidly establishing himself as a young artist to watch. His structures, which use architectural materials and razor-sharp, life-sized digital prints blur the lines between actual objects and renderings of them, trafficking in a new spin on trompe l’oeil. Heaviness, the inevitability of collapse, the awkwardness of exurban sprawl, and the arbitrariness that defines what is “well-built” all find their way into his work, with unsettlingly cinematic lighting straight from David Lynch.

Ellie Krakow’s mixed media sculptures that combine finely wrought casts, hand built ceramic of torqueing elbows and shoulders with photographs of arms and hands mimicking the cast positions meditate in a cooler, more conceptual way on the nature of embodied movement, while Margo Wolowiec’s woven pieces are a delightful surprise, roping yet another handcraft into Have+Hold and resembling the layered, slightly offset strata of thought processes and memory.

Sophie Eisner, Soft and Heavy, Mixed Media

Shane Darwent, Joseph’s Garden, Mixed Media

Don’t visit Have+Hold if you’re in a hurry- it’s worth it to take in the broad sweep of the show then slow down and spend a little time with each work. The warmth of the show I referenced above opens most fully with a little lingering and savoring- a harkening back to when life was made up of such moments. Movement, touch, intimacy, homing, and connection well up in a visceral, embodied experience of work well conceived and wrought with love. Have+Hold reminded me that a good show should grab hold of all your senses and leave them stirred and warmed.

Have+Hold, a collaboration of Wasserman Projects and Butter Projects by Alison Wong and John Charnota, is on view at Wasserman Projects in Detroit through August 26, 2017.