Detroit Art Review

Critical art reviews of Detroit galleries and museums weekly

Concerning Landscape @ Detroit Artists Market

An installation shot of Concerning Landscape at Detroit Artists Market, up through Feb. 18. Image courtesy of Michael Hodges.

Over the centuries, the venerable landscape painting has evolved far from the Dutch masters who first perfected the genre — a fact underlined by the heterogeneous work in Concerning Landscape, up through Feb. 18 at both the Detroit Artists Market and the new Brigitte Harris Cancer Pavilion at the Henry Ford Cancer Institute in Detroit.

Curator Megan Winkel has adopted a refreshingly ecumenical point of view in pulling this together. Works range from Ann Smith’s intriguingly peculiar sculptures with their bunched reeds and dangling root systems to Carla Anderson’s photographic prints of geologic forms, including lyrically striated rocks in a spring in Yellowstone County, Wyoming.

A fan of the grand view? Not to worry. Concerning Landscape also embraces figurative vistas, like Helen Gotlib’s meticulous intaglio print, West Lake Preserve II, or Bill Schahfer’s lush photo study, Lagoon Life.

Helen Gotlib, West Lake Preserve II, Intaglio print, carved birch panel, palladium leaf; 2021.  All Images courtesy of DAM

 “West Lake Preserve” places the viewer right in the tall weeds, looking up a small valley to a pond and woods, a highly satisfying view. The large print’s divided into eight separate panels, and with the exception of a little dull orange at the top, it’s mostly a duotone essay in sepia and black. The photographic print, Lagoon Life, by contrast, stars a white ibis posing beneath a jungle crush of palm trees that all loom, menacingly, over the elegant bird’s head.

Winkel comes at all this curation from an interesting vantage point. She’s the manager and curator for the Healing Arts Program at Henry Ford Health Systems in Detroit, tasked with buying art for the sprawling medical empire. “Curatorial projects for me are mostly big buildings now,” she said, “and thinking about all the ways people can experience art when they’re not seeking it out.” The landscape, she adds, has understandably long found a home in medical centers given its generally soothing visions of a natural world far beyond the reach of the artificial light of the hospital ward.

Landscape as an art subject, of course, has a long, respectable history. Both the ancient Greeks and Romans enjoyed the genre, and the walls in upper-class homes were sometimes painted with pastoral views. But the status of the landscape plummeted in the Middle Ages, when religion elbowed every other art subject aside. Indeed, the natural world was reduced to a mere afterthought, and one with generally lousy perspective, to boot.

Things began to turn around in the Renaissance, particularly during Holland’s “Golden Age” in the late 16th and 17thcenturies, when an exquisite sensitivity to landscape and weather welled up in many studios, yielding in the best cases – van Ruisdael comes to mind — breathtakingly believable clouds and storm-tossed skies. Indeed, an online essay by the National Gallery of Art notes that “with their emphasis on atmosphere, Dutch landscapes might better be called ‘sky-scapes.’” (The Detroit Institute of Arts, by the way, has an outstanding collection of Golden Age Dutch paintings, well worth seeking out on your next visit.)

Catherine Peet, Looking Up from the Deep, Mixed media, 10” diameter.

The one piece in Concerning Landscape that gives van Ruisdael a run for his money is the vertiginous, gorgeous, Looking Up from the Deep by Catherine Peet, which you’ll find at the Henry Ford Cancer Pavilion gallery. This delicate sunrise or sunset-tinged cloudscape feels like it should be peering down at you from the dome of some state capitol, an impression strengthened by its circular frame.

Sharing some of the same warm tones but at the far abstract end of the spectrum is Carole Harris’ mixed-media Desert Flower. The 2015 Kresge Artist Fellow has constructed an overlapping stack of hand-made fiber sheets that read like thick, highly textured paper, in colors ranging from cocoa to an alarming red peeking out beneath all the others.

The simplicity of this particular conceit is striking, as is Harris’ ability to make real drama out of colors that only emerge as narrow strips visible beneath the warm brown sheet on top. That Desert Flower pushes the boundary of “landscape” goes without question – so, too, the fact that it kind of knocks the wind out of you.

Carole Harris, Desert Flower, Fiber, 2023

Russian transplant Olya Salimova, currently on a one-year BOLT Residency with the Chicago Artists Coalition, gives us something entirely different with her Body into Dill, one of the most original and daffy conceptions in the entire show. The centerpiece of this photograph is a rectangular garden space – disturbingly, about the size of a grave – that’s dug into the patchy lawn of some unpretentious backyard. Metal garden edging sunk in the turned-up dirt sketches a simple human shape, rather like police outlines of dead bodies on the sidewalk. Within that human-like enclosure, someone – Salimova? — has planted dill weed.

Its obvious imperfections are part of what makes this image so compelling. The yard clearly needs work, and the plantings in the “body” are scattered, newly dug and unsubstantial — apart from some vigorous leaf action filling up the head.

Olya Salimova, Body into Dill, Photography, 2021.

For those who enjoy a little disorientation in their photography – And when well done, who doesn’t? – Jon Setter’s collection of a half-dozen large prints, all up-close shots of building details, is a delight to behold. Each reads as an abstract design in 1920s Russian Constructivist mode. But in one case you’re looking at parallel diagonals on the late, lamented Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, and in another, the Detroit Free Press building downtown on West Lafayette.  As a group, these deliberately confusing framings are both mischievous and fun to examine.

Jon Setter, Purple and Gold with Shadow (Detroit Free Press), Archival pigment print, 2021.

 Finally, Scenic Overlook 2 by Sharon Que, an Ann Arbor sculptor who also does high-end violin restoration, might remind you of a minimalist diorama minus the glass case. On a simple wooden shelf, Que’s sacked two smaller pieces of wood topped by a chalky white boulder or peak – part of the fun is the uncertainty — next to which sits a big, black, bushy… something.

Let’s stipulate that the white form is, indeed, a mountaintop. Call the spiky black, roundish thing next to it a plant, and you’ve got a surprisingly convincing perspective study of a bush and a white peak far, far in the distance – never mind its actual proximity in the assemblage.

Is it weird? Is it oddly compelling? Yes and yes.

Sharon Que, Scenic Overlook 2, Wood, magnetite, paint; 2016.

Concerning Landscape at Detroit Artists Market, up through Feb. 18.

Printmaking @ DIA

Printmaking in the Twenty-First Century at the Detroit Institute of Arts

Printmaking in the Twenty-First Century is on view at the Detroit Institute of Arts All image courtesy of Ashly Cook.

On view at the Detroit Institute of Arts is an exhibition that focuses on printmaking with over 60 works by local, national and international artists. Clare Rogan, who is the Curator of Prints & Drawings at the DIA, unpacks the magic of printmaking through placards that explain some of the most widely used processes and their history dating back to 700 AD in China. Since the first moment that ink was applied to a carved plate and pressed onto paper, it became evident that this new technology would change the trajectory of creative expression forever. Printmaking, unlike drawing or painting, allowed for the production of multiples, which gave artists a chance to produce more and reach a broader audience while still remaining true to their vision. Printmaking in the Twenty-First Century presents a plethora of practices including woodcuts, aquatints, linocuts, screenprints, lithographs, intaglios, relief collagraphs, letterpresses, monoprints, etchings, drypoints, spitbites, photo etchings and engravings. While the featured artists draw inspiration from a lineage over 1300 years old, the works in this exhibition span from the year 2000 until now.

The Schwarz Galleries of Print and Drawing is where you can find this show. Depending on which door you enter, you will receive the body of work differently; however, all guests will walk away, having witnessed the breadth of concerns these printmakers have addressed. Experimentation is particularly evident in works like Shadows II by William Kentridge, Arise by Fred Wilson, Aerial #3 by Susan Goethel Campbell, and Untitled by Tara Donovan. Each of these pieces participates in conversations of abstraction through investigations of material and process. Visually, experimentation by printmakers seems to have furthered aesthetic potential and often achieved deeply mystical outcomes. Many times the printmaker’s multi-step process of creating is mysterious; the informative literature throughout the show satisfies the curiosity a fascinated viewer may have.

Susan Goethel Campbell, Aerial #3, Monoprint printed in brown and black ink with hand punching on kozo paper, 2010. All images by Ashley Cook

 

Kota Ezawa, X3D, Color aquatint on paper, edition 3/35, 2009.

For those who prefer representation, this show also has what you’re looking for. While experimentation is still evident in pieces like Watermark by Nicole Eisenman and X3D by Kota Ezawa, there is as much concern for producing a legible illustration as there is for exploring the different ways to do so. There are also impressively complex representations of birds in Dying Words by Walton Ford and bugs in The Bestiary of Museum Visitors Notable Bird Beaks of American Museum History Exhibition Paradise and Perdition Thorny Territory by Mark Dion. These two, however, utilize more traditional methods of printmaking to explore the possibilities of realism, which highlights yet another of printmaking’s many facets.

 Further into the exhibition is On Press Project: Prints for Non-profits organized by Detroit-based printshop Signal Return which invited local artists to produce posters for non-profits in the Detroit area. There are 24 linocut and letterpress posters that were made between 2018 and 2022 that bring awareness to organizations including Detroit Hives, Black Family Development, Keep Growing Detroit, Freedom House, The Children’s Center and Greening of Detroit. Amongst them are posters for Detroit Will Breathe, an activist group that represents and supports Detroit’s participation in the global Black Lives Matter movement. These simple yet powerful protest posters silently shout DEMOCRACY FOR ALL! and remind us of the essential role that printmaking has held in the realm of activism throughout time. Signal Return spent much of 2020 producing protest posters for Black Lives Matter activists free of charge, which have fueled the demonstrations in the streets. This gesture is not new; researching images of human rights marches throughout history, we see that mass-produced messages designed by artists and produced by printmakers have been critical.

Clinton Snider, Greening of Detroit, Linocut, 2021.

This exhibition does not shy away from themes of colonization and the oppression of marginalized groups. It confidently moves on to explore more ways in which printmaking can be a functional approach to critiquing such realities while honoring and supporting those who are challenged with underrepresentation. Curated into the show is a series of printed medical-grade masks by world-renowned political artist Ai Weiwei. They were created in 2020 and sold to raise money for Covid-19 relief programs like Human Rights Watch, Refugees International and Doctors without Borders. Sultana’s Dream is a large-scale imaginative series that depicts the array of achievements of women who live in a world free from the laws and wars of men. The purpose of these images is to illustrate a short novel by Bengali writer and women’s rights activist Rokeya Sakhamat Houssain.

Ai Weiwei, Ai Weiwei MASK, Screen prints on polypropylene masks, unlimited edition, 2020. 

Additionally, the beautiful life-size works of artist Dyani White Hawk represent the dentalium dresses worn by indigenous women of North America. Roger Shimomura addresses anti-Asian racism through his depiction of childhood memories as a boy living in Japanese internment camps during WWII. Robert Pruitt illustrates the complexities of Black identities through an image of a female basketball player with the Black Panther Party slogan “Black is Beautiful” on her jersey. Hernan Bas presents the male characters of Hardy Boys mystery novels with fairy wings to challenge gender norms and the disparagement of homosexuality. It would be safe to assume that nearly half of the works on display in this exhibition were done as a product of material experimentation with something to learn. In contrast, the other half was done as a product of support with something to say. The common thread is that they all require a curious urge to explore and an open mind to appreciate.

Exhibition view of Printmaking in the Twenty-First Century.

Printmaking in the Twenty-First Century is on view at the Detroit Institute of Arts until April 9, 2023, accessible with the museum general admission pass.

 

Rocco Pisto @ Strand Gallery in Pontiac

Rocco Pisto, Installation image, Strand Gallery, 2023

The newly restored Flagstar Strand Theater in Pontiac opened its gallery to a retrospective exhibition of artwork by Rocco Pisto on January 20, 2023, spanning fifty years of painting that began in 1976. Watercolor is a medium that has been around for over several hundred years, yet often thought of as a secondary choice of paint to oil and acrylic. You might look at the early work of Albrecht Durer, Georgia O’Keeffe, Paul Klee, Winslow Homer, and John Singer Sargent to realize its place in history and its ability to withstand centuries. Where oil and acrylic paint are additive mediums, watercolor is subtractive, usually on paper, and translates its nature with its ability to have the strength and capacity of transparency. Watercolor is made of pigments suspended in a water-based solution, which refers to both the medium and the resulting artwork. Rocco Pisto’s 50 pieces range from 1976 to 2022 and reflect the artist’s unique techniques in controlling and experimenting with the watercolor medium.

Rocco Pisto, Telegraph Run, Watercolor, 34 x 42″, 1976

The early work Telegraph Run, done in 1976 during Pisto’s MFA work at Eastern Michigan University, illustrates a fluid construction that builds a composition using carefully placed primary colors and a delicate violet line structure that holds it all together. In his statement, Pisto says, “As a painter for over fifty years, I never tire of the experimental process of starting a piece and solving the design problems along the way to make it a finished work. Spontaneity, discovery, individuality, analysis, visual balance, contrast, and contradiction summarize my thought process.”

Rocco Pisto, Fire & Ice, Watercolor, 1976

Over time in Pisto’s work, we see various categories, including landscapes and figures, with all subjects that have evolved to the abstract expressionism in this field painting, Fire & Ice. The line that begins with the landscape and proceeds to abstraction is not straight. Pisto is back and forth throughout his career, keeping his thinking spontaneous and his trademark unique. He says, “The paintbrush becomes a performer, dancing across the paper, juicy and full of life. My work frees my imagination and provides many opportunities for magical accidents.”

Rocco Pisto, RenCen at Night, Watercolor, 53 x 42″, 2001

More recent is the large image of the Ren Cen at Night,  which relies heavily on the waterfront river reflection looking on from the Canadian side of the river. This watercolor has been used as a backdrop for a commercial poster for the 75th MWCS exhibition. Pisto says, “My painting technique abstractly by dripping, pouring, splashing, and brushing paint allows the work to evolve until it meets my criteria of what constitutes a successful piece of art.”

Rocco Pisto, Marsala Glow, 56 x 42″, Watercolor, 2021

The large watercolor in Marsala Glow is neither landscape, still life, figurative or pure abstraction. To this viewer, it is part aerial, part diagram, with a warm collection of color surrounding blue-green that suggests water, with a circular moat juxtaposed to an inner box. That leaves the interpretation up to the viewer to explain, whether broad or narrow. A viewer, as in all artwork, will bring their experience to the moment and draw a personal conclusion about the meaning of this work.

Rocco Pisto, The Fight for Ukraine, Watercolor, 43 x 55″, 2022

The painting, The Fight for Ukraine, is an example of creating art that draws attention to a current European event on everyone’s mind. What might be at first glance abstract, on a closer look, the viewer sees the bands of blue and yellow under siege with aerial bombardment resulting in the symbolism of the Russian armed invasion. The painting incorporates gouache, crayon, and India Ink, with watercolor to form a multimedia expression. Print sales from the original are currently being donated to first responders of the Ukrainian Army.

Rocco Pisto earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Fine Arts from Eastern Michigan University in 1974 and has been painting for over five decades. He is the recent President Emeritus of the Michigan Watercolor Society and holds a Signature Member and Great Lakes Fellow designation in that group. He also has membership in the National Watercolor Society, the International Society of Experimental Artists (ISEA), and the Brighton Art Guild. Rocco Pisto earned a Bachelor’s and Master of Fine Arts from Eastern Michigan University.

The solo 50-year retrospective at the Flagstar Strand Gallery in Pontiac will run through March 31, 2023.

Luxe @ David Klein Gallery Birmingham

Mary-Ann Monforton, Luxe, installation, David Klein Gallery, 163 Townsend St., Birmingham MI

The breathless hype, the eye-watering price tags, the manufactured scarcity—we all recognize the strategies that the makers of designer goods use to promote luxury items. But Detroit artist Mary-Ann Monforton is having none of that. In her first solo exhibition at David Klein Gallery in the upscale Detroit suburb of Birmingham, she presents Luxe, a collection of 10 slightly oversized, comic replicas of well-known luxury brands that are both an homage and a send-up of late capitalist getting and having.

Monforton knows plenty about the world of red velvet ropes and status objects. Though she grew up in the Detroit area, her professional life has been centered in New York’s gallery and club scene, where she has lived several simultaneous lifetimes as a music promoter, art curator, visual artist and cultural media publisher. She has rubbed shoulders with late 20th and early 21st-century arts stars in her prolific and varied career–Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf and Jean Michel Basquiat, among others–and occasionally has collected their work.

Mary-Ann Monforton, Hermes Birkin, 2022, wire mesh, plaster gauze, paint, 24.5” x 17” x 4”

Now that she is back in her hometown, Monforton is prepared to share a few thoughts on the pretensions inherent in the easily recognizable signifiers of status. Sharped-eyed but not unkind, her observations take the form of wonky and slyly ironic designer bags and shoes made of humble materials that loosely imitate prestigious consumer commodities.

The artworks in Luxe are installed in David Klein’s middle gallery, now painted blushy pink in a kind of shorthand nod to a high-end boutique.  Artful silver wire stars hang from the ceiling and overhead a handmade imitation of a fancy chandelier casts a fictive glow on the bags and shoes below. Effortlessly holding the center of the space is an oversized replica of the iconic Hermes Birkin bag, in coral “ostrich,” for the fashionable giantess. Said giantess might also be interested in Monforton’s golden Valentino Garavani slipper with its pointy toe and (literally) spikey heel.  The chic send-up of the Manolo Blahnik open-toe stiletto is likewise a winner in the Brobdingnagian fashion department.   My personal favorite, though, is the improbably elegant black Louboutin Ballerina Ultimate, which manages to be both larger-than-life and dainty.

Mary-Ann Monforton, Valentino Garavani, 2022, wire mesh, plaster gauze, steel spike, string, paint, 11” x 6” x 17″

Monforton has some fun with the surface textures, colors and patterns of her fashionable facsimiles.  On her Louis Vuitton “Speedy” bandouliere, she subverts the well-known, militantly regular Louis Vuitton surface pattern, exploding it into an irregular constellation scattered across the satchel’s surface–less elegant perhaps, but more expressive. The intertwined C’s on her Chanel Bucket bag are both instantly recognizable and hilariously awry.   The materials that she references, lizard, ostrich, crocodile and precious metals–now rendered in plaster, wire mesh, and the odd metal spike–gleefully poke fun at the pretensions of the originals.

There is a kind of liveliness in these objects. They are imbued with character and seem ready to dance and move. Unlike the highly finished, larger-than-life sculptures of Claes Oldenburg, to which Monforton’s work is sometimes compared, these friendly avatars of luxury are approachable and relatable.  In some ineffable way, they are human.

Mary-Ann Monforton, Louis Vuitton “Speedy” 2022, wire mesh, plaster gauze, paint, 14” x 5” x 9”

In addition to the three-dimensional artworks in Luxe, Monforton has created a series of drawings of her designer creations in pencil, pastel and paint on paper. Rather than preparatory drawings, the nine renderings were created after the fact in a kind of object portraiture that captures the soul of each subject, as any good portrait should.  The drawing of a Chanel Bucket bag and Louboutin Ballerina Ultimate high heel, paired in imaginary conversation, make a harmonious comic duet. A drawing of a pair of Louboutin leopard peep-toe platforms surrounded by stars, like the other drawings, reveals the affection of the artist for the objects she has birthed.  These animated images invite an immediate association to Andy Warhol’s 1955 drawings of fashion shoes, though the comparison is only glancing; Warhol’s shoes seem conventional and rather deadpan when compared to Monforton’s lively representations.

Mary-Ann Monforton, Louboutin Ballerina Ultimate, 2022, wire mesh, plaster gauze, paint, 12” x 5” x 9”

The artist’s history as a collector prepares her uniquely for her explorations into how we assign value to objects. In her artist’s statement, Monforton is clear about her aims: “These objects explore the psychology of fame, fortune, mega-wealth, and privileged consumption.” She continues, “The broader concepts of ascribing value to things is played out in this line of luxury goods that defy perfection and are rife with failure and humor.” The imperfect simulacra on display probe human preoccupations with social prestige and how it is related to craft and economy.

In Luxe, Mary-Ann Monforton combines her childlike joy in the making of a thing with a very adult moral framework that proposes the exchange of one set of values for another. She suggests a more humane ethic that privileges vulnerability and emotional expressiveness over materialistic status-seeking, perhaps a good new year’s resolution for 2023.

Mary-Ann Monforton, Chanel Bucket and Louboutin Ballerina Ultimate,2022, paint, pencil, pastel on paper, 18” x 24”

Luxe is on view at David Klein Gallery, 163 Townsend St., Birmingham, Michigan, through February 4, 2023.

Owlkyd @ Image Works

Owlkyd (AKA Darius Littlejohn) has a solo exhibition at Images Works in Dearborn, MI

Installation image courtesy of DAR

Installation image courtesy of the gallery

Image Works opened the Detroit-based artist Darius Littlejohn’s artwork on December 2nd with Expressionistic figures produced in a lushness of high contrast color using computer-based software and printed on paper using a large inkjet printer. Chris Bennett, owner and curator of Image Works says, “Deeply impacted by the Neo-Expressionist works of Jean-Michel Basquiat and the Surrealism of Pablo Picasso, Owlkyd melds his love of Realism with the abstract ideals pioneered by the two to find beauty in the clash of these disciplines.”

Owlkyd, What’s It To Me, 40 x 50”, Digital artwork on paper. 2022

To place the artist Owlkyd in context, I recall following a similar artist in the mid-1970, Richard Lindner, the American/German artist born in Hamburg who moved to the United States in 1941 and taught at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. Lindner’s works from this period are often characterized by a vague sense of nostalgia and sexual undertones. In Linder’s figurative work, he created powerful images that were both exotic and surreal in concept and bold in their use of high-contrast color.   Lindner’s figures are reminiscent of those by Fernand Léger

Richard Lindner, The Grand Couple, oil on canvas, 60 x 72”, 1971

The works by Owlkyd are created in a digital environment using XP-Pen 15” drawing tablet, connected to his workstation using PaintTool Sai software, and printed out 40 x 50” using a large inkjet printer. These images are fluid Neo-Expressionistic portraits that use profiles of people with small design images spread out over the compositional spaces and set against various backgrounds.

Owlkyd, Regal, 40 x 50”, Digital artwork on paper. 2022

The work Regal has the figure set against a simplistic landscape with a figure that could be considered a self-portrait; again, dispersed throughout the composition are small design elements. At the same time, one arm is rendered in a realistic, painterly fashion, while the other has a flat white outline with three fingers. The childlike background contrasts with the uniformed figure, part realistic, part cartoonish. The expression of that contrast reaches out and grabs the viewer.

Owlkyd, Is My secret safe, 40 x 50”, Digital artwork on paper. 2022

This three-quarter realistic female portrait, Is My Secret Safe, is heavily expressionistic in its surroundings, with small symbols contrasting against an abstract background. Separate from the first two portraits, the figure looks directly at the viewer with a listless expression that draws the viewer in. Owlkyd, in our conversations, mentions the artists who have been influenced well known most, like Picasso, Basquiat, and then Ten Hundred (Peter Robinson), a Michigan artist who specializes in bright, colorful, imaginative character work inspired by cartoons and anime, and graffiti, childlike imagination, comics, and world cultures.

Ten Hundred, (Ted Robinson), Bass Player, Digital Artwork example.

More evident in this figure, No More Opps, with cartoon images on and around the face, is again a self-portrait dressed in regal apparel.

Owlkyd, No More Opps, 40 x 50”, Digital artwork on paper. 2022

Owlkyd, (AKA Darius Littlejohn) supports his livelihood by working in the auto industry managing auto inventory systems for Chrysler. When asked about art school, he says,  “Like many, I didn’t really have the means to pursue any formal training so I am wholly self-taught standing on my various influences.”

Owlkyd, Galactus, 40 x 50”, Digital artwork on paper. 2022

Throughout these portraits are words that express the message, “Not Drugs” and in this work Galactus, it is prominent.  The message appears in the female portraits only and not in male portraits.  It leads this writer to believe it is a statement that has particular meaning for females and reflects the artist’s need to send them a message.

Image Works, located on the far east side of Dearborn, specializes in archival pigment printing, also known as giclée or inkjet printing, for reproducing photographic and fine art imagery. Housed in a storefront on Michigan Ave, it uses the all-glass entrance as its gallery.

The Window Project at Image Works is on display through January 28th, 2023 – Closing Reception: Saturday, January 28th, 1-4 pm

Page 1 of 66

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén