Ryan Standfest @ WSU Art Department Gallery

Ryan Standfest: THIS MUST NOT BE THE PLACE YOU THOUGHT IT WOULD BE at the Wayne State University Art Department Gallery

Installation view with view of “Factory Heads” All Photo images by PD Rearick

Aside from the subversively compelling and diverse mix of genres and styles of his art making, the dominant feature of Ryan Standfest’s exhibition is his irreverent, comic graphic sensibility. Whether in dark comic video, social and political satire comic, joke books, painterly advertisements, agitprop theater, or comix strips, everything is subject to its scrutiny. In one of his remarkable “writings” found on his website he narrates the story of his boyhood adventure in a church parsonage storage shed, where he’d wandered, existential 9-year-old boy style, to experience an epiphany of the aesthetic value of comic books. There in the dark shed, in his prepubescent glory, sitting upon a stack of 15 years’ worth of discarded Detroit Free Press newspapers, dating back to 1968, he discovered and proceeded to search for, cut out and scrapbook, the “Dick Tracy” comic strips. The narrative itself is an arch-comic book style self-discovery! Most importantly it is where Standfest began to savor the essence of pulp paper culture and revel in its wanton working class virtues as well as create a method for art making. The rest is his story.

Ryan Standfest, “The Captain of Industry,” gesso, graphite, ink, enamel on cardboard, 34 ¾” x 42 ¼”,2018

The title of the Standfest’s exhibit at the Wayne State University Art Department Gallery “THIS MUST NOT BE THE PLACE YOU THOUGHT IT WOULD BE,” is typical ominous and foreboding language that you might find in a comic strip. Both physical and psychic displacement are the basic tropes of comic strips. In the small, but explosive, little boxes filled with minimal little drawings of “the comic section,” all sorts of mishaps, mysteries, surprises and aporia occur and– whether its Dick Tracy, Beetle Bailey, or Pogo—the comic strip world turns on the displacement of logic and the predictable; expecting Utopia and disappointingly ending in Dystopic visual gag of some kind. Standfest is all about language and his title here has it all: past tense, present tense, future tense; ironic surprise. Part of the issue of looking at his work is precisely unraveling the ball of time and space it encompasses. The exhibition itself proceeds a bit like a comic strip, going from inscrutable painting to painting, with only the barest of word play, letting the audience figure it out for themselves.

Standfest’s overall oeuvre is then one of bewildering sense of time and space, of nostalgia for promised future and the agony of a defeated utopia. His prime invention in this exhibition are the cardboard panels that seem to be 2-D “point-of-purchase” display cases of Standfest’s “Rotland MFG. Co., Detroit, Mi.,” and function almost as heraldic banners that parody the language of advertisements where things are either promised, promoting a bright future, or liquidated, suggesting collapse.  They suggest a time after World War l, when “Developers” were building Detroit and offering a utopian future for everyone.  Standfest’s “The Captains of Industry” painting is an ironic image composed of crisscrossed smoke stacks and canons (the mix of war and industrial culture can’t be missed) and filled with little token statuettes of, probably, Henry Ford, like the Catholic Dashboard statues of Jesus and Mary that people used to put on their car dashboards to protect them from evil. (There must have been a spiritual side to Ford.) There’s thirteen heraldic-like paintings and each, like heraldic coats of arm crests, celebrate moments (victories or defeats) of social and economic organization. “Unearthed Streetcar Rail” celebrates an ironic discovery of an already existing railroad system, made by workers when excavating Woodward Avenue for the new Q-Line and serves as reminder of the redundancy of Detroit’s city planning.  His painting “Vintage Union Handbooks,” ironically promotes the hand book as memorabilia of an institution (labor unions) that saved workers from abject abuse. Libraries, decommissioned schools and factories, dream houses, cheap land are all victims or promises of  utopia.

Ryan Standfest, “Welcome to Fordlandia,” Gesso, charcoal, enamel, and varnish on cardboard, 49 ½ x 31”, 2018

Complementing “The Captains of Industry” painting is Henry Ford’s experimental factory town in Brazil, Fordlandia, “celebrated” by a derelict looking banner painting suggesting the failure of Ford’s colonizing enterprise to build a Michigan style rubber factory in the Amazon jungle.

All of the banner paintings employ the graphic style of early 20thcentury Futurists and Russian constructivists, with their explosive, geometrical angularity, always suggesting machines and speed, such as the Italian and Russian designers Fortunato Depero and Gustav Klutsis; a mix of Industrial Capitalism and Bolshevik revolution, perhaps implying they were both failures. The image on the eroding Fordlandia banner seems to be a throne for Henry, the king of industry, himself.

There’s a host of Standfest’s heraldic-like paintings and images to unpack and sort through and they accumulate into a mapping of Detroit and Michigan’s industrial production and the havoc it rained on the city. There’s even a black painting of the outline of the mitten of the state of Michigan belching out a plume of oily smoke from Detroit, its catastrophic epicenter, and featuring locations of all of the products, from cars to copper, of the state.

Ryan Standfest, “A Child’s Picture Map,” gesso, acrylic, wood, oil, chalk, collage and mixed media on Arches, 47 ½ “x 47,” 2018

Standfest’s black humor, about which he writes on his website, is employed in a B&W digital video, “THE DIRT EATER,” which sees a broken Chaplinesqe character, Mister Ricky, played by himself, sitting down in a gloomy basement at a T.V. tray to eat a plate of dirt. Photos of Gramps, who was laid low by alcohol and tobacco, punctuate Mr. Ricky’s dinner of dirt, meanwhile Grammy sits by the old radio upstairs listening to Irving Berlin’s chestnut, “I Want to Go Back to Michigan,” a song about nostalgia for farm life in Michigan. The dirt that Mister Ricky eats is from Gramp’s garden behind the garage. While “The Dirt Eater” is a painfully humorous satire on the working-class nostalgia, it is a not a misrepresentation and is realistic in its portrayal of the dark, melancholia of the lives of the burned-out working family.

The diversity of Standfest’s art stretches to performance theater and is represented by an installation of three “masks,” called “Factory Heads,” that he employed in a performance at MOCAD with an accompanying musical composition of factory noise by created by Chris Butterfield and Mike Williams. In a sense Standfest’s “Factory Heads” sculptures and performance, covers of Bolshevik agitprop theater, are again in the Russian Constructivist spirit modeled after machine-like factory architecture with smokestacks and are accompanied by a Standfest poem that delineates the abject evolution of the working class.

Ryan Standfest, “Factory Head No.1,” archival inkjet on Epson, 32 ½ x 32 ½,” 2018

The quandary that we are left with in sorting out Standfest’s vision is the ultimate one that we are always left with: what to do with Modernism. Standfest’s comic satire of the machine age that left a wake of psychologically and physically maimed humans and a derelict social order was, at the same time, an emancipation from the tyranny of an old aristocratic ownership production and design. Standfest engages the Beckettian dilemma with a robustness which propels his excavations along with digging for and exposing another ironic gag.

Standfest is ruthlessly hilarious in his Dick Tracy-like comic strip satire of Adolf Loos’ famous critique “Ornament and Crime,” that helped define modernism, of how ornamentation in design is a crime against humanity. Standfest turns the scales, puts his detective Wolfe (Standfest’s version of Dick Tracy) on the case to expose the “villainous operation known as “International Style,” a crime wave of bare, spare, impersonal, and highly abstract architecture forced upon the innocent dwellers of the city by a group of European thugs.”  Humorously dark critiques of the festishization of modernist design and designers, including of LeCorbusier and Mies van der Rohe abound, as well the opposite, fetishization of worker’s clothing and lifestyle that fill out and balance Standfest’s salient humor.

Ryan Standfest, “Unearthed Streetcar Rail,” gesso, graphite, ink, enamel on cardboard, 36” x 20,” 2018

Ryan Standfest: THIS MUST NOT BE THE PLACE YOU THOUGHT IT WOULD BE –  at the Wayne State University Art Department Gallery  – through December 7, 2018. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sacred Art @ Marygrove College Art Gallery

Installation, Events in the Life of Jesus Christ, 2018

The contemporary chasm of indifference on the part of the haute art scene to Western religious art of a devotional nature (Christian art), is absolutely uncrossable to anyone in the world of art patronage and criticism. In rare instances, however, artists themselves have attempted tenuous bridges over that chasm. Georges Rouault managed to achieve recognition as an artist through his powerful images of Christian religious figures. Christian imagery, so long a significant theme of art in our culture has evaporated. The triumph of avant-gardism in a post-Christian secular age is dogma held with neo-religious fervor. In recent decades very few artists of renown have let it be known they might actually be devoutly Catholic. Andy Warhol was quiet about his Catholic faith but daily visited St. Vincent Ferrer Church in Manhattan for Mass or to pray. The cult of celebrity and splintering into theoretical camps keep artists of faith isolated from each other, but hopeful signs appear. There are some artists today who are actively working toward a re-emergence of a serious voice for Christianity in the arts, specifically, the visual arts. Catholic art societies have been established in New York, Chicago, and elsewhere. Artists who are Catholic are answering the call and challenge of St. Pope John Paul II in his “Letter to Artists,” to “enrich the cultural heritage of each nation and of all humanity.”

Ron Scott Teachworth is one such artist.

Mr. Teachworth has an MA from Wayne State University and has for years been an abstract and landscape artist, working primarily in acrylics on canvas and watercolors on paper. It was his encounter with Fra Angelico’s frescos at the San Marco Convent in Florence, Italy, particularly The Annunciation, which compelled Mr. Teachworth to express his own conversion experience through visual art. Beginning with an Annunciation of his own, he painted scenes from the life of Christ, not consciously working toward a series, but desiring to express his own deep allegiance to the Gospel. When his Annunciation was accepted into the juried biennial St. Vincent College Catholic Arts Competition in 2014, Teachworth was greatly encouraged to study the masters’ interpretations of the life of Christ. This effort would culminate in the current series of twenty paintings done over the course of a decade.

The exhibit is in the beautiful Marygrove College Liberal Arts building and is entitled Events in the Life of Jesus Christ. The watercolor paintings chronicling the life of Jesus are commensurate with Teachworth’s spiritual development as a Catholic. The works are an openly sincere expression of the faith that can transform a life by changing the heart. They contain nothing of the modernist’s obligatory irony, or the cynicism brought to bear when dealing with the main theme that formed and informed Western culture for two millennia. They are true, in the sense that they are an honest telling of the Gospel story by someone who believes in that story even now, in the face of brash materialism and hostile disbelief.

Ron Teachworth, Jesus Christ, 22 x 30″, Watercolor on paper, 2018

Upon entering the gallery space, one is met with an image entitled simply Jesus Christ, a recent painting (2018) of the mature Man Who’s story we are about to see unfold. Its composition is a fitting introduction to the manner of composition Teachworth employs in all of the paintings. Though the central figure or figures dominate, the backgrounds are always worthy of close scrutiny. They will contain other figures, symbols, buildings and landscapes whose meanings are sometimes obvious, other times open to interpretation. Always they are carefully patterned and painted, conveying a sense of thoughtful devotion to both the craft of the artist and the subject of the work.

Teachworth’s palette is richly chromatic but not overly so. His colors are lively without jarring, and though somber when appropriate, are never dreary. Forms are defined with subtle tones layered or placed next to each other to blend softly, while in other places, edges and values are sharply distinct to define contours; all done with an assurance of purpose. Watercolor can be an extremely difficult medium to control, but Teachworth seems to have accomplished it. The exhibit overall is consistently visually engaging and pleasing to look around at. Each piece shines on its own, and builds on what has come before; it then leads one to go on to the next painting and event in the story. Though done over a period of ten years, the paintings hold together well as a continuous narrative, making for a cohesive series and exhibit.

The majority of the pieces in the exhibit are based on incidents recorded in the Gospels. However, in Mary Visits Jesus, an incident is depicted which is not in the Holy Scriptures. Perhaps because the story is unfamiliar, the painting is all the more intriguing. The figures are shown outdoors. Jesus is shown as a young man at a workbench while His Mother is to the side as if having just entered the scene. Her right hand is on Jesus’ forearm; Her left hand and face seem to express an entreating manner. Jesus’ head is down, bent to His work, though He seems to be aware of His Mother’s presence. There is a river (the Jordan?) behind the figures, and on the other side, a continuous line of buildings indicating a city.

Ron Teachworth, Mary Visits Jesus, 22 x 30″, Watercolor on paper, 2012

Curiously, it is only Mary who has a halo of golden light around her head. Jesus does not have a halo, only a yarmulke. Does this indicate that she is, for this moment, the one inspired by the Holy Spirit? Is she entreating Her Son to look up from His work to the wider world beyond – across the river to the people who need Him? This is all reminiscent of a scene which is recorded in the Gospel of John, the wedding feast in Cana, when Mary simply informed her Son of a particular need, trusting the outcome completely to Him.

Ron Teachworth, Ascension of Jesus Christ, 22 x 30″, Watercolor on paper, 2017

In the Ascension of Jesus Christ, Teachworth demonstrates his graphic design sense to meaningful effect. The figure of Christ and three of His disciples (Peter, James, And John?) are shown enclosed in a column of light. Also in the light is the figure of a donkey, the animal Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, when the common people hailed Him as their King. Jesus is shown in the air above the three looking up at Him. Is the light surrounding them meant to show the close friendship these three shared with Jesus? The entire group of the disciples and Mary are shown in a peaceful and expansive countryside as they look up to Jesus’ accent. The setting seems to speak of the calm reassurance the followers of Jesus must have felt seeing Him alive again and hearing His promise to “be with them always.” The sky, however, is filled with large cumulous clouds. Could they indicate the storm of persecutions that will break out when this little band upsets the whole world with their preaching of the Gospel of Jesus?

Though it has been denigrated for many years, figurative painting is currently undergoing a strong and widespread resurgence of practice and interest (it has always been an essential component to the expression of the Christian faith.) It is to be hoped this renewal of interest in depicting, and honoring, the highest good of the created order, the image of God in humanity, continues with a vital urgency. Visual art has endured the greatest degradations in the post-modern art world, as compared to other art forms. For most people, contemporary art no longer amuses or befuddles. They simply ignore it. The current art scene serves no purpose in their lives; its products and its heroes appear openly hostile, when not merely aloof. Most people return the favor in kind, and are uninterested in art, or are baldly contemptuous of art world pretentiousness. A new type of artist is needed. One who, while conversant with developments in visual culture, is not enslaved by fashionable trends or blinded by the pursuit of infamy and mammon, but who is a practitioner of lucid visual languages. People have need of a space for contemplation, a window to transcendence, an idea that can uplift, ennoble, and provide relief from the burden of banality. Artists can give that to people.
With this exhibit, Ron Scott Teachworth has taken his place among such artists.

The Event in the Life of Jesus Christ at Marygrove College art gallery, 8425, McNichols, Detroit, Liberal Arts Bldg. 4th fl.- runs through December 30, 2018.

Open to the public 9-5 pm daily or by appointment. 248-321-2979

Larry Cressman @ K.Oss Contemporary Art

Larry Cressman, Installation, Fieldwork, All images courtesy of K.Oss gallery

Larry Cressman: Fieldwork Exhibition at K.Oss Contemporary Art

Like a straightforward black and white film liberated from the distractions of color and spectacle, the “Larry Cressman: Fieldwork” exhibition at K.Oss Contemporary Art, given its elemental hues, might have been titled “Black and White.” Upon entering the snug, spartan gallery, Cressman’s reductive, purified palette, content (“fieldwork”), and elemental format (rectangles abound) immediately cue visitors: striking displays lie ahead. Whether framed and portable or installational (bare branches hovering an inch or two in front of a wall), the dozen and a half compositions, essentially shallow reliefs, proffer a bevy of intricate, engaging configurations.

Birthed, as they are, from excursions into the fields near his home and studio, Cressman collects the raspberry cane, dogbane, and dried daylily stalks that initiate the process of gestation. Then, as the slender, fragile branches and twigs are joined one to another with nearly invisible wires, dusted with graphite, and mounted on the walls with thin, sturdy pins, his “linear landscapes” fill out and mature. As many as 200 or more conjoined branches may be necessary to scale up to an easel size armature.

Larry Cressman, On Line, raspberry cane, powdered graphite, matte medium, wire, pins, 60 x 90 x 12 inches, 2017-18

In One Line, for instance, a zig-zagging single line, fabricated from a gross of raspberry canes, begins or terminates at upper left or lower right. Swiftly, it carries the eye, body, and psyche some five feet across (and to heights of nine feet) along the jerky, twitchy pathway, like a marathon runner, rock climber, or artist. Further enhancing the journey are the myriad shadows thrown upon the wall that seem to double or triple the length and aesthetic thrum of the journey. Such adrenal feats, like a host of durational endeavors, literal or figurative, both exhaust and exhilarate participants.

Larry Cressman, Podcast IV, dogbane with seedpods, powdered graphite, matte medium, wire, pins, 60 x 36 x 19 inches, 2018

Podcast IV, another large installation drawing, measures six feet in height, and rather than composed solely of branches, incorporates intact the delicate seedpods of the dogbane plant. The seedpods, intended by nature to be wafted to the four corners of the earth, add a decided note of ephemerality to this singular structure. The way a podcast links listener and speaker, albeit fleetingly, is evoked by the flanking vertical forms to either side. Their charged and electric bond, suggested by the overlapping branches and seedpods in tandem with the whiplashing shadows cast on the wall the length of the central section, is delicate and intimate. This ecstatic, sensual interlacing projects from the wall fully 19 inches, the farthest of any of the works in the show. Such animated liaisons between two entities, albeit reciprocal and intense, may however be short and fleeting. So goes the way of all flesh.

Larry Cressman, Gathering Lines, Raspberry cane, powdered graphite, matte medium, pins, 13 x 41 x 2 inches, 2018

Another striking work, distinctly different in kind from others in the show, is Gathered Lines, an ultra- simple constructed drawing (Cressman’s term for framed vs. installation examples of his art). Here, a densely packed, horizontal sprawl of tightly packed, five inch raspberry canes, thirty-three inches in width, floods one’s peripheral vision. Its concise, dark form seems to belie its “soft” title: gathered lines (as in a family gathering/a gathering of friends). Little breathing space or respite is allotted an observer, as the tug toward the tiny, self-protective cluster envelops one’s whole being, effectively obliterating everything on the margins.

This potent, powerful work, like others in the exhibition, embodies the resonance and spectrum of readings that the artist’s “fieldwork” sets into play, while simultaneously offering aesthetic forms and pleasures. Perhaps Cressman’s summary statement, in which he describes “imagery reflective of the structure, randomness, and fragile nature of the constantly changing Michigan landscape” might be amended to embrace the “changing world” in lieu of the “Michigan landscape.”

“Larry Cressman: Fieldwork” is on view at K.Oss Contemporary Art, 1410 Gratiot Avenue, Detroit, through Dec. 29, 2018. Cressman, who received his BFA and MFA degrees from the University of Michigan, is a Professor Emeritus of the university. An Ann Arbor resident, he has lived and worked in Michigan throughout his career, while exhibiting his works across the United States and Europe.

 

 

 

 

Detroit Group Exhibition @ Oakland University Art Gallery

The Oakland University Art Gallery (OUAG) has opened an exhibition, Who Were They Then, on October 20, 2018, that puts together visual artists with ties in and around Detroit. Five artists working in different media create a biographical sketch of their work spanning back to what they might consider as early beginnings.

Morgan Barrie, Pest 1, 40 x 50″ digital archival print, 2018

Morgan Barrie photo collages are landscapes that usually include an animal, as in the example Pest 1, a 40 x 50-inch digital archive print, in which the artist places an animal on a pedestal and surrounds the subject with flowering plants native to the Midwest.  The formal arrangement and centered fox, with a solid background and this array of plants carefully placed, would seem to be an application in composition, shape, and color. Needless to say, all of these elements are brought into a digital environment, carefully placed, where the light varies slightly.  There are five of these vertical compositions, each with an animal at the center: a dog, a fawn and a cat.    Her work in Re: Formation, at 600 Jefferson Avenue, Toledo, Ohio where she places a female figure in the landscape with floating Plasticene bags in Future Seasons, suggests an interest in environmental issues. In fact, she has created a body of work dominated by these bags set against clean water and open sky as subjects.

She says in her statement, “I view landscapes as teeming with millions of constantly changing factors…I like to have sections of the frame that are overwhelming to capture that idea.  All my work is a way to have a dialogue with my fear and confusion as I try to understand the way we as humans relate to the rest of the natural world, or rather don’t relate to it.”

Morgan Barrie earned her Bachelor of Arts in photography from Columbia College Chicago and her M.F.A in Photography from Eastern Michigan University.

Mel Rosas, Rooftop III, 6.5 x 9.75″, lithograph, 1981

 

Mel Rosas, Professor of Painting and Drawing at Wayne State University takes us way back to his lithograph Rooftop III, 1981 as a starting point for his magical realism in a landscape. There are few artists from Detroit who have had a long and successful career being represented in New York City by a major gallery.  For Mel Rosas, it was 1991 when he began his relationship with Davison Contemporary then located on 724 Fifth Avenue, and in 2014 moved to Chelsea on West 26th street.

These images over the years have shared common components.  The apparent elements are his use of a flat picture plane facing the viewer, and always an opening to space beyond, whether it’s the ocean, a sky, a room or just around a corner.  The settings are Latin American culture and ethnic identity, an influence that may come from his father’s homeland of Panama. The symbolism included on his street walls is often of graffiti, old movie posters, religious iconography, traffic signs and automobiles from the 1950s. Occasionally the figure of a man in a white suit appears in his work, as in Searching for the Romantic, where he places himself in the painting. In visual art, as in literature, it’s hard to get beyond oneself.

Mel Rosas, Gentrification, 36 x 36″ Oil on Panel, 2016

In Gentrification, Mel Rosas gives us the iconography of a Latin urban landscape with suggestions of construction and rebirth. Traditionally, he places his focus on composition, color and space with extraordinary detail to texture in this one-perspective rendition of a street scene.  Most who are friends of the artist know he has always added two numerals indicating his age at the time he executed the work.

He says in a statement, “I have developed an interest in Latin American Literature, both realism (Bolano) and magic realism (Borges, Marquez). I am fortunate to have traveled through several Latin American countries; my research is an ongoing investigation addressing questions of place, culture, and ethnic identity.”

Mel Rosas earned his Master of Fine Arts from Tyler School of Art, Temple University, and he has been a recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts Grant, Charles H. Gershenson Distinguished Faculty Award, and a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, New York, NY, 2009.

Bryant Hillman, Honda Accord, 16 x 20″, Acrylic on Canvas, 2014

Bryant Tillman is a Detroit artist who has been painting Detroit expressionistic landscapes for over thirty-five years.  In this exhibition, he presents ten works of art, fluid representational compositions of cars, people and buildings.  These high-contrast acrylic works are probably executed in a short time, from start to finish before the acrylic dries. In his painting, Honda Accord, he paints in his shadow as he takes his image during low light.  Back in the studio, the “moment in time” gets rendered with a loose, painterly brush stroke with surfaces that grab the viewer’s attention.

He says in his statement, “Painting like a dead Frenchman, you tend to often think like one when selecting subject matter, locale, or method. Natural scenes and surroundings, like freshly manicured lawns and gardens or wildly verdant wooded areas, are not alien to Detroit.  Also, the impressionists often included subjects that are considered contemporary to that time…steamships and steam locomotives, for example. So I felt it only natural to include in my work an occasional late model car in my urban scenes.”

Selected as the Visual Arts Fellow in 2013 by Kresge Arts in Detroit, Tillman shows things as they are, and lets the viewer bring their experience to the work. With his use of long, low shadows of light and color, the viewer sees a more vibrant, fertile reality than what actually exists.  He puts a painterly face on the landscapes of Detroit.

Carole Harris, Time and Again, 43.5 x 37″, cotton, silk, linen, 2018

For this writer, what is interesting about the biographical sketch of Carole Harris is the earlier work, as in View from the Kitchen on Preston Street, from quilt/ fiber artist to abstractionist, as in Time and Again, 2018.  Having written about Harris’s work when exhibited at the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art and recently in her exhibition, Repetition, Rhythm, and Vocab, with Allie McGee, at the Detroit Institute of Arts, you see a unique path to non-representational art. Here in the OUAG exhibition, you view the 1999 piece, cluttered with improvisational polygons, triangles, rectangles and squares to the 2018 work, Time and Again, that depends more on the subtlety of stitchery, layers upon layers of cloth and color, while establishing a more distinct composition working from a dark background to a light off-set foreground.  One can trace back to pre-Reconstruction in the South, where quilts were necessities, and female artists went unrecognized for their aesthetics, but Carole Harris had her beginnings in textile work in the mid-1960s and gradually evolved to a pure abstract narrative, with original gestures, layered textures and innovative compositional ideas.

She says in her statement, “As an art student in college, I remember seeing the work of Romare Bearden as one of the first artists I can remember who depicted African American imagery, which made an impact even though, and probably because, it was abstract.”

Carole Harris earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Wayne State University and was the recipient of the 2015 Kresge Visual Art Fellowship.

Clinton Snider, The Last Winter, 42 x 84″, Oil on Panel, 2013

A familiar artist in Detroit, Clinton Snider’se work in this OUAG exhibition stands by itself in a separate corner space. His expressive post-industrial landscapes vary in both size and shape, occasionally including a figure.  In this sizeable rectangular work, Last Winter, Snider creates an eerie light that sets a mood as a low sunset casting long shadows across the snow.  It almost feels apocalyptic.  Trimmed and truncated trees surrounded by old debris speaks to a time gone by in a once thriving era, perhaps Detroit, waiting to be repurposed. The architecture in Snider’s buildings are almost always pre-world war II, reflective of an older neighborhood, and sometimes nostalgic, as in Back Forty, where the extra wide angle image plays heavily into the composition with extended shadows from objects spread out across a lush lawn.

Not many visual artists collaborate, and one collaboration that includes Clinton Snider is with fellow artist Scott Hocking. Most notably, their installation, Relics, consists of some 400 identical square boxes of Detroit’s discarded found objects and rummage, that were connected and set up as a grid in the exhibition Artists Take on Detroit at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 2001.

Snider says in a statement, “I think that simply growing up in and around a city with a post-industrial status like Detroit has had the greatest effect on my work over the years. It feels like walking through the texture and material substance of history. Still, within this crumbling of infrastructure and architecture, a spirit remained intact that manifests itself in creativity, innovation, and a tenacity of people, that changes one’s perspective on how society functions. “

Clinton Snider earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the College for Creative Studies and was represented by Susanne Hilberry gallery.

Who Were They Then was curated by Dick Goody, Professor of Art, Chair of Department of Art & Art History and Director of Oakland University Art Gallery. In recent years he has reached out to curate many new types of exhibitions that would include installations, conceptual work and leading types of experimentation by artists from all parts of the country and beyond. Here, Goody comes back to an exhibition of Detroit artists, largely made up of representational work (with the exception of Carole Harris) that survey the artists’ work over time, and in some way feels like he comes full circle.

Who Were They Then at Oakland University Art Gallery runs through November 18, 2018.

 

 

Arab & Cuban Artists @ N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art

Exhibitions, Mitli Mitlak, & Open Scene, Installation, All images courtesy of N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, and DAR

The N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art has a history of bringing art from various parts of the world to expand the exposure of cultural arts to the audiences of Detroit. This extensive exhibition is no exception.  Present is an under riding theme that rings true for many people, which is that in times of extreme tribulation, visual artist, musicians, actors, writers, and dancers endure hardships to tell stories.  There are two distinct exhibitions: Mitli Mitlak (Like You, Like Me) curated by Biba Sheikh, reflects the work of thirteen artists, many of whom are current residents of occupied territories throughout the Middle East; and Open Scene, the figurative expressionism by Manuel Lopez Oliva, one of the most recognized Cuban artists whose theatrical masquerades form the heart of his expression.

Sinan Hussein, Iraq, “Just a Concert”, Acrylic on Canvas, 63 x 85″, 2018

Part of the Iraqi Fine Arts Society and a member of the Union of Iraqi Artists, Sinan Hussein graduated from the University of Fine Arts in Bagdad. These large acrylic figurative paintings deliver a type of surrealism that is filled with whimsical characters, both human and animal that intrigue the viewer and pull them into his world.  The work, Just a Concert, could just as easily be titled Just a Wedding, where the setting is aglow with a couple standing side by side holding animals, some realistic, some contrived, with an observer to the left that is part human, part animal. These works by Hussein speak to the confusion in his world, where the uncertainty of life and the political and historical apparatus that surrounds him and his family are in flux.

Sinan Hussein, Iraq, Untitled, Acrylic on Canvas, 63 x 85″, 2017

This Untitled work presents the first-person perspective of figures in a state of limbo, in the interior of what looks to be a bathroom amongst flying surreal animal-like shapes with faces and wings. There is a noted concern for composition and color surfaces with textures and colors that keep the viewer searching for meaning. Who is to say what a profound effect in the lives of humans under such dismantled circumstances of life and survival, will produce expressions of such disjointed life.

“I hope that through this exhibition and in the future of the company Mediterranean Fire, the meaning can be of westerners or non-refugees coming to the realization that these people are not much different than them,” says Biba Sheikh. “That we have much more in common and are part of the same.”

These two paintings by Sinan Hussein, are among fifteen other artist works that include: Hani Alqam (Jordan) Thameur Mejri (Tunisia) Taghlib Oweis (Jordan), Wael Darwish (Egypt), Ahmed Nagy (Egypt), Klaudja Sulaj (Albania) Luca Paleocreassas (Greece), Manal Kortam (Lebanon), Abbas Yousif (Bahrain), Basel Uraiqat (Jordan), Mohammed al-Hawajri (Palestine), Haitham Khatib (Syria) May Murad (Palestine), and Hassan Meer (Oman).  All of these works give voice to a variety of media and themes that are dominated by the refugee experience.

Manuel Lopez Oliva, Robert le Diable, Acrylic on Canvas, 2005

The other exhibition that compliments the extensive collection of work from the middle east, is the solo work of Manuel Lopez Oliva, a Cuban artist: Open Scene,whose acrylic work on canvas mesmerizes his viewer with an allegorical collection of figurative portraits that imbue the surface with small designs of shape, line and color.  The deep and usually dark earthy background color field most often sets the stage for a variety of female motifs.

Manuel Lopez Oliva, “Ornamental Discourse” Acrylic on Canvas, 2015

The artist was present for this exhibition and described the influence of growing up in Manzanillo, Cuba, where his father conducted workshops for people who participated in the decorations of making carnival masks. He relates to me the influence of the theater on him as a young boy, caught up in the “art of acting and stage design” where symbolism would abound and dominate the magical transformation of regular people into characters of color and light. I asked the artist about the snake-like motif that dominates much of the work, and he describes the shapes coming from the head as thoughts, and from the mouth, representing language, both in the abstract.

These masks, with a refined technique, reveal a sensual utopian aesthetic and provide a formal, chromatic, ideographic and textural intensity. Working out of his house-studio, he lives in Leonor Perez district among the streets of Havana, Cuba.

Manuel Lopez Oliva, “Seduction has a Mask”, Acrylic on Canvas, 2009

Manuel Lopez Oliva is a consulting professor at the Superior Art University and Art History Faculty of Havana University.  The exhibitions Open Scene and Mitli Mitlakare now on display at the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art and run through January 5, 2019.