Kimia F. Kline @ the Elaine L. Jacobs Gallery

“As Above, So Below” –  Kimia Ferdowsi Kline and the wise conduct of life

Installation shot

Installation Image, Courtesy of the Detroit Art Review

The culmination of Kimia Ferdowsi Kline’s residency at Wayne State University, funded through the Basil Alkazzi Detroit Residency and the New York Foundation for the Arts, is a jewel-like array of visual storytelling that is currently on display at Elaine L. Jacob Gallery at Wayne State University. The impressive body of work revolves around a famous book of fables, Kalila and Dimna, in which a succession of interrelated stories featuring animal protagonists unfold, like Russian dolls, one emerging from the next. This foundational group of stories, originating in India and evolving through Persia, became the inspiration for the fables of Aesop and the Brothers Grimm, among others. Kline’s appreciation for the ancestry of a work of art is apparent, not only in her choice of subject matter, but in the conscious homage she pays to such painters as Henri Matisse, David Hockney, and Richard Diebenkorn in her lush, engaging work.

Image1Sunland 2015 Diptych of two panels

Kimia F. Kline, Sunland 2015 Diptych of two panels – All Images Courtesy of Clara DeGalan

The fables become a narrative clothesline on which Kline strings visual flights of fancy rendered in a vibrant California palette (Kline earned her MFA at the San Francisco Art Institute and speaks eloquently of her love for the California painters and their granddaddy, Matisse.) The paintings themselves strike an exuberant balance between Modern Western painting (Matisse’s abstract, sublimely lit grids, Diebenkorn’s broad fields of pulsating color that congeal into horizon-less landscapes) and the illustrative tradition of illuminated Persian miniature paintings (the collapsed, vertical placement of figures and movement that propel a story from one frame of action to the next, and that influenced artists of Matisse’s generation to free themselves from the shackles of Western linear perspective). Kline is just coming into the full flower of her abilities, and slings the paint with a joyful abandon that projects a moment to moment experience of absorbing, and distilling, her subject and her influences. Her smaller paintings are bombs of formal beauty and technical virtuosity- the off-hand yet incredibly nuanced treatment of the female figure in “Woman Bathing Two Jackals” kept beckoning from the corner of my eye as I perused her larger pieces, drawing me back again and again to wonder at the light-hearted, yet incredibly serious montage of symbols dancing around the picture plane.

Image 2 Woman Bathing Two Jackals 2015 Oil on Panel

Kimia F. Kline, Woman Bathing Two Jackals, 2015 – Oil on Panel

“Pomegranate Warrior” gave me the same experience, with a cinematic twist, following the rider out of the picture plane and into unknown regions. Kline’s best work in “As Above, So Below” does exactly that- engages the eye with the unbridled joy of her palette and dynamic composition, then subtly embeds itself in the subconscious for later unpacking.

Image 3 Pomogranate Warrior 2016 Oil on Panel

Kimia F. Kline, Pomogranate Warrior, 2016, Oil on Panel

The title of Kline’s show, “As Above, So Below,” derives from Hermetic teachings about the nature of the universe. According to this philosophy, the individual is a microcosm of the universe, and the raw material of everyday existence bears within it the traces of the divine matter from whence it came. This divinity is parsed as it makes its descent through the ages, picking up influences from history and experience. Kline’s work is a perfect visual distillation of that idea- she continually weaves fresh content from the materials and narratives of her ancestors, cultural and artistic. Her work is a refreshing reminder of all that we still have to sift through and re-arrange from the wisdom of those who came before us- and the myriad paths such a practice can help us to experience.

Image 4 As Above So Below 2016 Oil on Canvas

Kimia F. Kline, As Above So Below, 2016 – Oil on Canvas

“As Above, So Below” is on view at Elaine L. Jacob Gallery at Wayne State University, Detroit, MI, through June 24, 2016

 

Dance! @ The Detroit Institute of the Arts

 DIA Presents a Multimedia Exhibition of Ninety works of American Art 1830-1960

How long have people been dancing? Probably longer than they were playing with fire. Nureyev captured the hearts of millions of ordinary people, while Baryshnikov stunned the critics and Martha Graham created the full-codified modern dance with her deviation from classical ballet.

Salvador at Podium Dance 3.2016

Director Salvador Salut-Pons at Podium introducing the Dance! 1830 – 1960 exhibition

 Coming off a very successful 30 Americans exhibition, Salvador Salort-Pons took the podium to introduce the new exhibition Dance! American Art 1830-1960, at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Opening March 29, 2016 the multimedia exhibition surveys the history of Dance in America as seen through the eyes of American Artists.

“This is the first major exhibition to explore visual art related to American dance. Dance has such a rich history and has touched all segments of American society,” said Salvador Salort-Pons, DIA director. “This exhibition is not only about the representation of the art of dance, it explores how artists were inspired by how Americans move, how they interacted with each other and experienced the rhythm of music.”

It was clear from her remarks at the media preview that curator Jane Dini had been working on this exhibition since her time spent working at the DIA, and that this exhibition had been in development over the past five years. In Dance!, Ms. Dini has been able to create her life’s dream.

“In addition to the outstanding works of art, it was important for me to have the voice and expertise of dancers within the exhibition itself,” said Jane Dini, now associate curator of American Painting and Sculpture, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and curator of the exhibition. “They help illustrate how dance as an artistic form had an enormous impact on the fine arts, especially painting and sculpture.”

Video

Video of Dancers – One of several through out the exhibition

 I never danced, but my parents were both professional dancers, which gave me some built-in personal interest. My parents were both recruited by a New York dance company in the mid-1930’s. In addition, in the 1980’s, I facilitated an artist-in-residency program in the Utica Schools, where we brought the Detroit City Dance Company, under the direction of Carole Morrisseau, into our forty schools over the period of a school year. Getting to know the day-to-day lives of dancers is something that stayed with me. I learned they lived in a physical world and often from moment to moment. The dancers had a unique devotion to their bodies, especially their ankles and feet.

Ms. Morrisseau is now a visual artist practicing in Detroit, and I caught up with her at the Scarab Club, “The concept of the current exhibit at the DIA is a credible one and exceptional in its undertaking. I believe there is a very strong relationship between the visual and performing arts. Hopefully this exhibit will expand the public’s view of the art of dance and visual art.” Carole Morrissieau will exhibit her visual artwork opening this month at the Scarab Club.

Arthur B. Davies

Arthur Bowen Davies, 1862 – 1928, Dances, 1915

Arthur B. Davies (1862-1928), often called an Ashcan painter, was an avant-garde American artist who spanned the boundaries between the 19th-century romantic tradition and early twentieth-century modernism in the United States. He was born in Utica, New York and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1878 and at the Art Students League in New York in 1887. His idyllic figurative pastorals are often said to harken back to Botticelli. Davies supported the new abstract movement and participated in the early formation of MoMA in New York City. His work was collected ahead of its time by the Phillips Collection. In Dances, 1915, Davies used faceted planes of color to define the moving figures, resulting in a pattern of color evoking a dance celebration.

Eastman Johnson Negro Life at the South

Eastman Johnson, Negro Life at the South 1859, Oil on Canvas

Genre painter Eastman Johnson (1824-1906) had a turning point in 1859 with the exhibition in New York of his Negro Life in the South. His ambiguous picture of the leisure activities of a group of slaves was a sensation at a time when the topic of slavery was being universally debated. In the painting, a mother encourages her son to dance to the music of a banjo player. Born in Maine, Eastman Johnson was educated in Europe, where he was inspired by the work of Dutch Masters. He is best known for his realistic portraiture and as a co-founder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Henry Joseph Sharp, The Harvest Dance 1894

Henry Joseph Sharp, The Harvest Dance 1894, Oil on Canvas

Joseph Henry Sharp (1859-1953) was an American painter best known for his work painting Native Americans. Sharp was born in Bridgeport, Ohio to Irish immigrant parents and studied at the Academy of Fine Arts at Antwerp. Sharp’s first trip to the West was in 1883 at age 24. He visited pueblos in New Mexico, Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Tucson. In his work, Harvest Dance, Sharp illustrates a strong skill set for painting the figure and depicting the sunlight on his subjects. Sharp went on to become one of the six founding members of the Taos Society of Artists.

Sargent Johnson Dance Hall Study

Sargent Claude Johnson, Dance Hall Study, 1935, Tempera, Watercolor, and Graphic on Illustration Board.

Born in Boston on October 7, 1887, Sargent Johnson was the third of six children of Anderson and Lizzie Jackson Johnson. Anderson Johnson was of Swedish ancestry, and his wife was Cherokee and African American. As a member of the bohemian San Francisco Bay community and influenced by the New Negro Movement, Sargent Johnson’s early work focused on racial identity. Johnson’s art ranged from African American masks to producing paintings of local folks and creating small, figurative sculptures. Dance Hall, a study in watercolor and graphite, was a study for the San Francisco Housing Authority mural.

Robert Henri Salome Dancer

Robert Henri, Salome Dancer, 1909, Oil on Canvas

Robert Henri (1865 – 1925) was a leading figure in the Ashcan School of American realism who helped organize a group known as “The Eight.” Henri studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia and under Thomas Anshutz, a protégé of Thomas Eakins. Art critic Robert Hughes declared that, “Henri wanted art to be akin to journalism. He wanted paint to be as real as mud, as the clods of horse-shit and snow, that froze on Broadway in the winter, as real a human product as sweat, carrying the unsuppressed smell of human life.” When Henri painted the dancer in the role of Salome, a seductress from the New Testament, in 1909, it was rejected by the National Academy because the exposed leg was considered too controversial by the fine arts world. Robert Henri was a popular and influential teacher at the Art Students League of New York.

Paul ManshipDancer & Gaselle

Paul Manship, Dancer & Gasell, Bronze, 1916

Paul Manship (1885 – 1966) was born in St. Paul, Minnesota and began his art studies at the St. Paul School of Art in Minnesota. From there he moved to Philadelphia and continued his education at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. At one time the country’s most famous exponent of Art Deco, he embraced archaic vocabularies of Greek, Roman and Indian art to create decorative, stylized, Neoclassical works. The statue in the fountain in New York City’s Rockefeller Plaza, Prometheus (1933), is one of his most famous works. The bronze Dancer and Gazelles, was completed in 1916 and won the National Academy prize in 1917. The tension in the small areas between the figures emphasizes the dancers’ gestures, which command the gazelles’ movements.

Dance Diagram A Wharhol

Andy Wharhol, Dance Diagram, 1962, Casein and Graphite on Linen

Andy Warhol (1927 -1987) a leading American Artist who ushered in the Pop Art movement, began to make paintings of iconic American objects such as dollar bills, mushroom clouds, electric chairs, and the most famous Campbell’s Soup can. The New York opening at the Stable Gallery on November 6, 1962, was Warhol’s first one-man show and also where he first debuted Dance Diagram. It was presented in a series featuring six additional Dance Diagrams with the source material taken from the Dance Guild’s 1956 book Fox Trot Made Easy. It shows Warhol’s interest in selecting objects from American culture as subjects for his artwork.

Biba Bell, a Detroiter who recently completed her PhD in performance studies at N.Y.U., says, “The ways that dance is taken up symbolically within visual art is so interesting! I’m imagining that each piece produces these figures and forms in diverse and unique ways, but there is something about the dancer, the body that is dancing, filled with movement and the moment and a kind of excess of life/ liveliness that is astounding and so important when depicting any culture.”

If you’re not a dance aficionado, Dance! American Art 1830 -1960 at the DIA might spark your interest, and while you’re in New York City, get tickets to see An American in Paris, by the Tony Award-winning choreographer Christopher Wheeldon who has created a critical and commercial success breaking new ground by bringing ballet to Broadway set to the music of the Gershwins.

I recall, my father watching black & white films of Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers for hours, and he tap-danced into his eighties. When I was very young, attending a family wedding, my parents did something rare; They danced. Everyone gathered around to watch them exhibit their talents publicly for maybe the last time. I was so very proud.

The Detroit Institute of Arts deserves credit for this curatorial creation of its own that will travel to the Denver Art Museum, July 10 – October 2, and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, October 22, 2016 – January 16, 2017.

Exhibition tickets are $14 for adults, $10 for Wayne, Oakland and Macomb county residents, $7 for ages 6–17, $5 for Wayne, Oakland and Macomb county residents ages 6–17, and free for DIA members. Admission is free every Friday. School groups need to register in advance. Tickets at dia.org or 313-833-4005

 

“Doubly So” @ CCS Center Galleries

Duplicity from Without and Within: Molly Soda, Sheida Soleimani, Sofia Szamosi, and Dessislava Terzieva

Image 1 Installation Shot Doubly So

Installation Image – “Doubly So” All Images Courtesy of Clara DeGalan

“Doubly So,” an exhibition conceived and curated by Samantha ‘Banks’ Schefman of Playground Detroit, that opened last Friday at Center Galleries at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies, features four up and coming artists exploring identity within social media from a (surprisingly illusive) outside perspective. The four engage with what builds an identity in the age of social media which, essentially, comprises being constantly seen, and our conflicted desires both for privacy (another increasingly illusive phenomenon) and for maximum exposure. That frisson between a desire for and retreat from exposure is grappled with most tellingly in the work of two of the artists, Molly Soda, and Sofia Szamosi. Both primarily feature their own faces and bodies in their work in “Doubly So,” and the impression is that they are objectifying themselves in an aim to draw discourse of the exhibitionism of the female body in popular culture back into the hands of women.

Image 2 Molly Soda Mary Kate 2015 Printed Fleece Blanket 60 in x 50 in

Molly Soda – Mary Kate 2015 – Printed Fleece Blanket 60 in x 50″

This practice has been pretty widespread in women’s art since the 1970’s (Szamosi’s archive of selfies strongly reference Hannah Wilke’s photographic self-portraits in content and form, and her film “Tarred and Feathered” channels the visceral imagery of the Abjectionist movement.)

Image 3 Sofia Szamosi Tarred and Feathered 2015 Digital Print with frame 31 in x 22 in

Sofia Szamosi – Tarred and Feathered – 2015 Digital Print with frame 31 in x 22″

In “Doubly So,” Szamosi’s identity unpacking feels a bit outdated at first look- the knee-jerk response is that this argument has already been made, again and again, and is past its vital currency. However, it still possesses the power to unsettle. Moving along Szamosi’s selfie chronology, taken in photo booths between 2005 and 2015, I couldn’t tell whether I was tired of seeing her body or jealous of its beauty. This uncertain response that wells up in me pretty much every time I am confronted with such work is a clue that our relationship with depictions of the female body, even by other females, is far from liberated or resolved.

Image 4 Sofia Szamosi 10 Years of Photobooth Self Portraits detail 2005 to 2015 194 original photo booth strips 8 in x 23 ft

Sofia Szamosi – 10 Years of Photobooth Self Portraits detail 2005 to 2015 194 original photo booth strips 8 in x 23 ft

Molly Soda has gained critical acclaim for her work in and about social media, and she plays with its tropes really cleverly. Her website (mollysoda.biz) is hilarious- for a moment you truly fear you’ve stumbled onto a bit of porn-saturated malware that is going to eat your computer alive, tiny gyrating women and pixilated graphics abounding. Her work in “Doubly So” follows Szamosi’s in winking exhibitionism that seeks to subvert assumptions about the exposure of women in social media. Soda poses as various celebrities caught in paparazzi shots as they fill parking meters, climb out of cars, pause for an ill-fated moment of unselfconsciousness while wading in the ocean.

Image 5 Molly Soda Selena 2016 Printed Fleece Blanket 60 in x 50 in

Molly Soda – Selena 2016 – Printed Fleece Blanket 60 in x 50″

There is an interesting commentary here on the scorn heaped upon these women for daring to appear in public in an un-camera-ready state. The large-scale portraits are printed on fleece blankets in a nod to commemorative kitsch- and perhaps a suggestion that we draw comfort from the exposed humanity of these pop culture goddesses. But should we? Are these images not as objectifying and offensive as the idealized, photo shopped guises we are used to seeing celebrities in? Soda’s work in “Doubly So” left me with a grim suspicion that autonomy of image in social media still alludes women, and it’s a problem we are going to have to spend a few more decades thinking our way around.

Soleimani and Terzieva, by contrast, do not place their likenesses into their work in “Doubly So,” which creates a wholly different dialog with identity’s plight in social media. So much of our engagement with the online world revolves around the persona we create for ourselves there, it’s easy to forget what that world is doing outside of our identity-building enterprise, and how the signals we receive (and do not receive) from it are informing or misleading us. Terzieva’s sprawling installation of twining USB cords, false flowers, and technological baubles in various states of decay comments on the mounds of obsolescence we leave in our wake in our hunger for ever swifter, sexier, newer conduits. Her sculptures of moss-coated smartphones embedded in piles of organic material are beautiful, and could have stood on their own without the prefabricated environment installed around them, which becomes a bit distracting. Terzieva’s best sculptures have old-school magnifying glasses affixed to them, through which one sees these objects blown up into delicate terrarium-like landscapes, in which the cell phone becomes strangely monolithic, or dissolves altogether into glittering shells and pebbles.

Image 6 Dessi Terzieva Nostalgia Feels Like Deja Vu 2016 Acrylic Concrete Seaweed Wax Cell Phone Battery iPhone 8 x 7 x 3 in

Dessi Terzieva – Nostalgia Feels Like Deja Vu – 2016 Acrylic Concrete Seaweed Wax Cell Phone Battery iPhone 8 x 7 x 3″

Soleimani’s work, bright and bubbly though its surfaces are, instantly grounds this digital universe in the grimmest of real calamities. Her series of archival pigment prints, and their accompanying soft sculptures, present portraits of Iranian women who have been publicly executed for what the governing regime in Iran defines as crimes, such as defending themselves from rape. Voices of dissent under a totalitarian government are rapidly squelched- the freedom with which we share our political beliefs on Facebook, and other social media is as much taken for granted in the United States as is the objectification of women’s bodies for worship, derision, or personal affirmation. Soleimani’s work achieves ever refining tension between sensual beauty and hard-hitting political content- her elaborate collages juxtapose brilliant colors and moist glittering surfaces with dismembered body parts and visual fever dream montages of oppression, control, rebellion, and terror. Her work in “Doubly So” tones things down a bit formally, maintaining the bright palette but letting the subjects of her portraits engage the viewer more quietly and directly, with stunned but defiant gazes and wringing, desperate hands.

Image 7 Sheida Soleimani Delara 2015 Soft Sculpture

Sheida Soleimani – Delara 2015 Soft Sculpture

 

Image 8 Sheida Soleimani Sakineh 2015 Archival pigment print with frame 41 in x 28 in

Sheida Soleimani Sakineh 2015 Archival pigment print with frame 41 in x 28 in

Soleimani’s soft sculpture portraits of these doomed women call to mind a passage from Lewis H. Lapham’s preamble essay to the Spring 2016 issue of Lapham’s Quarterly, the theme of which is “Disaster.” “…( a joint venture of money and machine), the danse macabre surrounding us onscreen reduces human beings to things- broken toys, smashed dollhouse furniture… Too far removed or arriving too late on the scene, the camera doesn’t grasp the human response in the eye of the storm.” The doll-like construction of Soleimani’s sculptures evokes the loss in translation of the real horror of these women’s lives and deaths, glimpsed briefly via digital stream. As the press release for “Doubly So” is careful to note, “Though it has been an ongoing political struggle for American women to fight for gender justice and equality, it pales in comparison to the totalitarian government of Iran that will sentence one to death for speaking up against them on such social media streams as Facebook.” “Doubly So” attempts to find common ground between the struggle for autonomous identity faced by American women and the daily life-and-death struggle Iranian women must undergo, yet, as the press release cannot help but state, the former struggle simply pales when juxtaposed with the latter.

“Doubly So” is on display at Center Galleries at The College for Creative Studies March 19 through April 23, 2016

 

Marie Woo @ the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center

The Clay Menagerie: The Life and Work of Marie Woo

Marie W intallation view

There are funny shapes and objects all over Clay Odyssey: A Retrospective, a survey of work at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center by ceramicist Marie Woo, spanning a 60-year career that has always aspired to push ceramics past function and into experimental realms. There is not a symmetrical form among the 50+ works on display. There are stacks of thin, rigid forms, peaked like high hats from drum kits, rendered in matte clay and punctuated with little nubbins. There are collections of forms that look like hot stones under dilapidated and rusting wire enclosures—like the contents of a charcoal pit, or the steam-producing unit in a sauna. A delicate branch suspends a collection of azure clay beads on lengths of wire in a static, freeform arrangement that resembles a frozen rainstorm. Inside a rectangle of glass sits a loose pyramid of lumpen white balls. Irregular wall pieces suggest nests containing clutches of dinosaur eggs. The majority of pieces are finished in chalky, matte glazes that give the room a sense of antiquity. Everywhere are shapes of prehistory, primordial roots.

Bowl with lid

There is great intentionality in the way that Woo has slashed and broken her forms – even those resembling traditional vessels have scarred-over cuts along their exterior surfaces, strategic tears and gouges, or oddly pinched handles on the lids of pots. Based on Woo’s background, studying under famed ceramic artist Maja Grotell, founder of the ceramics program Cranbrook Academy of Arts—as well as her subsequent involvement in the experimental ceramics collective, the Clay Ten, and her fervid dedication to researching and preserving the traditions of Chinese folk pottery, that Woo understands how to make a flawless form. The question then becomes, why does she so categorically refuse to do so?

Brown Plate

Perfectionism can be a real mind trap. Training on the pottery wheel demands precision, symmetry, replicability of form. And yet, in a world where perfect bowls, mugs, and plates can be created by machine and readily purchased at the local Crate & Barrel, that there is little practical need for a ceramic artist to focus on making functional or “perfect” forms. Rather, Woo seems to be obsessed with the hand of the artist as a reflection of her own capacity for human error and variance—there are literal castings of (presumably) her own hands in several wall pieces. As is aptly demonstrated by the recent group show at Pewabic curated by Cranbrook’s Head of Ceramics, Anders Ruhwald, This is the Living Vessel: person. This is what matters. This is our universe , there is an opportunity to treat ceramic vessels as an expression of the individuality of their maker—of all people, as living vessels. This seems to be at play in Woo’s oeuvre.

beads on string

Additionally, there is an examination of the clay body that demonstrates a deep meditation on the nature of her material at its baseline. In an essay written by Dennis Nawrocki for Essay’d, Woo teases out some ideas in her most recent work, which deals with unfired clay exposed to natural elements over time, leading to the inevitable decompensation of unfixed forms. This body of work is represented in hanging triptychs of pictures that document the journey from structured clay body to regressive, melting lumps. It sees natural, in a world driven by capitalism and consumption, so replete with objects, that an artist as enamored with process and creation as Woo would find a way to focus on the making, leaving the results to unmake (or simply alter) themselves over time. Central to the exhibition is a piece that corrals dozens of fired vessels into a tube of chicken wire, which collectives forms a kind of urn holding a stand of dry grasses. The clean, formal construction of the object’s base indicates precision in its making, but it looks like nothing so much as a mass grave for discarded objects, marked with dried-out flora. Perhaps this stands as a monument to the death of ideas that need to be permanently fixed in objects—as is the case for many who reach their octogenarian years, there is a lessening interest in the material world, and more of a focus on the life of the soul, the spark within the vessel.     http://bbartcenter.org

Two hands

“Transitions” @ the Galerie Camille

The Art of Shifting Stillness: Brian Day and William Harris

Galerie Camille Install-1 (1)

“Transitions” at Galerie Camille, Installation View, Courtesy of Galerie Camille All other images Courtesy of Clara DeGalan

Galerie Camille’s current show features the work of two artists at two very different points in their careers- Brian Day, an established Detroit area photographer, and William Harris, a painter and former student at College for Creative Studies. At first glance, the two couldn’t be more different, stylistically, technically, or conceptually. That is part of the point, says Melannie Chard, director of Galerie Camille, a recent addition to Midtown’s mushrooming gallery district. “It is actually my intention to continue to exhibit established artists with newer artists, and you will see this theme in upcoming shows as well… I like that it provides an opportunity to introduce collectors to new work, and the artists seem to enjoy the collaboration which ultimately strengthens the artistic community.” Chard’s conviction that there is room for everybody in Detroit’s exhibition roster, and her commitment to showcasing new and potentially risky work, is welcome news that immediately sets Galerie Camille apart in a scene that can feel insular and difficult to gain exposure in.

The work of Day and Harris shown side by side is proof that Chard’s formula is potent. In nearly every respect, Harris is the Appletini to Day’s Grey Goose, neat- both get you there, via different styles, materials, and combinations. Both, however, derive from the same culture, and are hunting down the same distillation- the human figure as it inhabits, symbolizes, and claims its stake in iconic architectural structure.

1 William Harris Onementum Oil on Linen 40 x 30

William Harris, Onementum – Oil on Linen 40 x 30

SONY DSC

Brian Day, In The Air Tonight, Photograph on Paper, 11.5 X 17.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harris is a hitherto self-taught painter whose style is in a state of fraught transition, as it becomes overlaid with academic techniques and compositional tropes. His work, at this point, maintains an ardent, romantic floridity and an endearing improvisational use of materials that speaks both to his naiveté and his sincerity. His subject matter involves various experiments in dissolving figural repetitions into cavernous architectural spaces, drawing imagery from Surrealism, documentary images of derelict architectural spaces, and what I can only define as a romantic music video aesthetic.

3 William Harris Empirical Light Oil on Linen 48 x 36

William Harris, Empirical Light – Oil on Linen 48 x 36

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

His technique and subject matter are still finding their way- his rendering of hands is particularly problematic, especially juxtaposed with his incredible facility with faces, and eyes in particular- his figures manage to be both iconic of the structures they are overlaid onto, and autonomous characters in their own right, who engage the viewer, from one piece to the next, with an unsettlingly steady, appraising return gaze. Harris’ technical foibles would be less distracting if they were more intentional and canny- which might, ironically, throw off the crystalline sincerity of his work.

Day, by stark contrast, is a mature artist in full command of his powers. His photographs are fluent masterworks, each finding a balance between content and form that evokes the early Constructivist photography of Alexander Rodchenko.

4 Brian Day Feel No Pain Photograph on Paper 7.5 x 11.5

Brian Day, Feel No Pain – Photograph on Paper 7.5 x 11.5

Like Rodchenko, Day grounds his work in a deceptively straightforward, documentary style that speaks simultaneously in a more subversive formal language, conjuring gorgeous abstractions in light and shadow even while capturing candid moments of human passage through urban space. Day’s documents of action, while political in their content (his body of work “Planet Detroit” depicts the ravages of house fires in run-down neighborhoods, seen up close as fire fighters battle with them, or at a distance, as grim vertical plumes of smoke rise against a scene of daily urban transit) dwell in the formal beauty of these arrangements of light and shadow as well, with a lightness of touch that offsets the potential for objectification that lurks in his subject matter- Day is able to see both horror and beauty from ground level.

The two artists share an interest in the vital role human action plays in the life of architecture, and, in turn, how the narrative of that architecture informs the culture that inhabits it- the embattled maintenance and slow decay of the structures that define our landscape becomes part of our viscera, as well as the scenery of our daily movements. It will be interesting to see where Harris takes his exploration of the figure’s physical and metaphorical weaving into structures. The formal lushness of Day’s work supplements, rather than distracts from, the problematic grittiness of his subject matter. Finding visual rhymes and formal touchstones between the two artist’s pieces is one of the great pleasures of “Transitions.” Both are asserting themselves as vital voices in this epochal moment that work made in and about Detroit is experiencing.

“Transitions” is on view at Galerie Camille from March 11 through April 1, 2016.       http://www.galeriecamille.com/