Critical art reviews of Detroit galleries and museums weekly

Author: K.A. Letts Page 1 of 6

Writer

Ivan Montoya @ Playground Detroit

Opening night reception for “Semillas” at Playground Detroit, October 22, 2023. Photo by John Sippel

Human beings are a storytelling species–it’s how we make sense of the world. In his solo exhibition “Semillas,” now at Playground Detroit until November 19, Ivan Montoya has painted an idealized origin story as he tries to make sense of his adopted country while also preserving ties to his Hispanic cultural heritage. Based on early memories of his birthplace in Chihuahua, Mexico, and his immigrant childhood in the U.S., the paintings in “Semillas” tell a story of transition and displacement, loss and possibility.

The exhibition title is inspired by the Spanish proverb “hoy semillas, mañana flores,” which can be translated “seeds today, flowers tomorrow.”

That Montoya is aware of the provisional nature of the story he is telling is evident in the storybook quality of the 17 paintings in the exhibition.  Along two walls of the gallery, he has strung together several of his artworks in an implied narrative, each sequence bookended by decorative floral panels as if they are the covers of some mysterious folk tale. The paintings, while presented in a line that suggests a series of events, are stand-alone images that might be disjointed childhood memories or mythical scenarios drawn from dreams.

Ivan Montoya, Setting of the Altar, 2022, acrylic on birch panel, 24” x 36” photo courtesy of the artist and Playground Detroit

One row of paintings includes Setting of the Altar, among others, and seems to center on scenes of more-or-less harmonious community life.  The compositions are bathed in warm colors that give an idyllic air to the timeless Edenic visions. Montoya avoids placing the scenes within a recognizable time and place—they are once-upon-a-time visions that are no place and every place, but they exist in the artist’s imagination most of all.

Ivan Montoya, Inciter, 2022, acrylic on birch panel, 24” x 24” photo by K.A. Letts

The warm, late afternoon light of Montoya’s family-centered paintings gives way to mysterious nocturnal illumination in another loosely narrative series on the opposite wall of the gallery. Once again framed by floral panels, this line of images takes us in a different, more archetypal direction. Inciter and Guardian, a pair of paintings that depict two single but related figures set among the pillars of what appears to be a monumental temple structure at night, imply–but don’t insist–on a story. The Inciter is an impish trickster character, caught in the act of spilling and breaking, all energy and mischief.  The companion painting, Guardian, is occupied by a tired-looking maternal figure wearily cleaning up Inciter’s mess. Like the two paintings flanking it, the central painting, Latchkey, features two masked, child-like figures that convey an air of playful mystery.

Ivan Montoya, Guardian, 2022, acrylic on birch panel, 24” x 24” photo by K.A. Letts

The painting that most clearly references the immigrant experience is found in Paladarium, where a man and woman carry a large glass vessel through a snowy landscape. Two axolotls are contained within. The axolotl is a species of salamander native to Mexico, but which these days is mostly native to research labs, its native habitat having been degraded by urban development and climate change. The species is known for its almost miraculous ability to regenerate damaged limbs, as well as for the fact that it has both lungs and gills. Legend has it that the salamander represents the Aztec god of fire and lightning, and clearly it (along with the jaguar) has significance for Montoya as a metaphor for his dual identity as an immigrant and an American. He explains, “My immigration definitely is something I drew from for this [painting], but more specifically I intend to shed light on the hope behind relocating or changing environments. Paladarium refers to a tank that replicates the biome in which reptiles and amphibians live. This piece references the fact that some creatures only grow as large as the environment that they live in allows them to. Which is essentially many immigrants’ purpose for emigrating.”

Ivan Montoya, Descanso (Rest), 2022 acrylic on birch panel, 24” x 36” photo courtesy of the artist and Playground Detroit

Montoya paints in a straightforward figurative style, with surfaces that are signboard matte on wood panels. No obvious painterly flourishes mediate our experience of the light-filled compositions rendered in saturated colors. The pictorial space of each painting is often filled and activated by two or more stocky figures drawn in a manner reminiscent of mid-twentieth-century Mexican painters like Diego Rivera or Jose Clemente Orozco. Like these artists, Montoya delivers a strong sense of the 3-dimensionality of the figures in his compositions, and there is often an underlying archetypal subtext. But where Montoya’s artistic forebears draw inspiration from the political upheavals of their time, Montoya’s preoccupation is with a more personal journey.

“Semillas” gallery installation, photo courtesy of the artist and Playground Detroit

The artist credits an eclectic group of Mexican artists as further influences in the development of his style. The surrealist painter Rufino Tamayo, the expressionist Jorge Gonzalez Camarena and the academically trained Saturnino Herràn have all influenced his work in subtle ways. He pays particular attention to Rufino Tamayo’s surreal, earthy humanist themes and the idiosyncratic style that sets him apart from the more political work of his contemporaries. Montoya has studied, too, the pre-Hispanic motifs and reliefs found in Mayan or Aztec culture, combining all these influences in pursuit of an authentic Mexican-American cultural identity.

In his debut solo show at Playground Detroit, Ivan Montoya has clearly mapped out his path toward a worldview and an art practice that makes space for mystery and spirituality while allowing scope for both his American experience and his Hispanic heritage. Whether he is rendering the warm light of a late afternoon in an orchard or moonlight shining on a luminous sea, this hybrid way of being becomes ever more clear in the artist’s work.  Perhaps Montoya says it best:

My cultural identity is the core of what I am trying to understand and make peace with. I’ve grown up in two worlds and I don’t always feel like I belong to one or the other too firmly. So to me, understanding how I’ve been molded by both is super important to how I communicate and create especially because of how many other people feel like I do.”

“Semillas,” gallery installation, preview dinner, photo courtesy of the artist and Playground Detroit

Playground Detroit presents Ivan Montoya’s solo exhibition “Semillas,” now on display until November 19, 2022.

Confluent @ WSU Elaine L. Jacobs Gallery

Elaine L. Jacobs Gallery Installation

The exhibition Confluent, now at the Elaine L. Jacobs Gallery until December 9, combines pieces from the Wayne State University Art Collection with artists creating work in Detroit now, many of whom have current or historical relationships with the university.    It’s a reunion of sorts, and quite a party.

Over the past 50 years, Wayne State has been the repository of the University Art Collection, an ever- growing assortment of works by many significant artists who have lived and worked in Detroit.  Some were here for a time and left, often going on to success in art scenes on the east and west coasts. Others have stayed put, finding in the frayed edges and vacant spaces of the city a congenial home for their talent. Confluent re-unites artists working here now with a Detroit diaspora.

Jeanne Bieri, The Dance, 2022, army blanket, silver lame’, rayon, wool silk, cotton, army suture cotton from Korean police action lined with repurposed dyed quilt.

 

Ellen Phelan, Untitled (Shield) 1971, acrylic on cut canvas, photos: K.A. Letts

For the purposes of Confluent, an eclectic group of artists chosen by the collection’s curator, Grace Serra, has been invited to select a work—or several–from the collection that corresponds in some way to their own art practice. Three of the artists, Darryl DeAngelo Terrel, Mary Fortuna and John Rizzo, have chosen to make work specifically for this exhibition. Part of the fun of a visit to the gallery now is to be found in tracing the similarities and contrasts among the artists and their chosen pairings and in making connections of our own.

Sandra Osip, Pop-Pop, 2022, fabric, wood, flocking, acrylic paint, foam board, photo K.A. Letts

Upon entering the gallery’s main floor, we find Sandra Osip’s colorful vegetal constructions. She has chosen to pair her work with two pieces from the collection, Douglas James’s decorous oil paintings, both from 1973, Stalked Tomatoes and Untitled (Stalked Tomatoes).  While the thematic connection is apparent, Osip’s three-dimensional, shocking pink and aggressively feminine Pop-Pop seems also to be engaged in a little side flirtation with Tom Pyrzewski’s nearby louche and bulbous wall-mounted Birth, Re-birth and Moving Parts (2021).  Pyrzewski has partnered himself with a beautiful and dignified mixed media wall relief Copernican Communication-Molecular Systems (1983) by Gordon Newton (1948-2019.)

Tom Pyrzewski, Birth, Rebirth and Moving Parts, 2021, mixed media, photo courtesy of the artist.

 

 

Gordon Newton Copernican Communications- Molecular Systems, 1983, wood construction, photo: K.A. Letts

Across the gallery, Jeanne Bieri’s improbably beautiful mashup of silver lame’ and old army blankets, The Dance (2022), fits comfortably on the wall with Ellen Phelan’s 1971 Untitled (Shield), a triangular, fringed canvas tapestry.

John Rizzo’s tall, skinny Jenga-like wooden obelisk Ascending (2022) points the way to the upper gallery where more discoveries await. At the top of the stairs, Rizzo–there he is again—modestly frames a tiny piece by Judy Pfaff, Al’s(1974) with his nicely crafted and subtly colored hoop sculpture Contemplative View (2022.)

John Rizzo, Contemplative View, 2022, maple, poplar, paint, lacquer.  And Judy Pfaff, Al’s, 1974, wood, tin, oil paint on wood, photo courtesy of John Rizzo

Donita Simpson’s intimate portraits of Detroit’s artists and other cultural figures sit side-by-side with Kurt Novak’s (1945-2019) prankish scanner photographs. The contrast in the bodies of work by these two artists is a reminder of the infinite variety within the medium of photography. Simpson’s dignified portrait of arts writer and Wayne State educator Dennis Nawrocki, backed by his collection of vintage ceramics, Literary Artist Dennis Nawrocki (2017), is a foil to Novak’s comic image of the same writer’s (much younger) face smashed up against the glass of a scanner, Dennis Nawrocki (Detroit Portrait Series, 2003-2005). Both say something true, though different, about the subject.

Donita Simpson, Literary Artist Dennis Nawrocki, 2017, courtesy of artist.

 

Kurt Novak, Dennis Nawrocki (Detroit Portrait Series), 2003-2005, archival pigment print on cotton.

Abstract painters Anita Bates and Marcia Freedman have paired their work with Ron Weill (1945-2019) and Don Willett (1928-1985) respectively, but there is a case to be made that their similarly scaled artworks, installed opposite each other, make for interesting gallery companions on another level. Bates’s painting From Way Up High (2022) is all surface and translucence, shimmering metallics and dense blacks that seem to have arrived on the painting’s surface by some kind of alchemy rather than through the prosaic application of paint. By contrast, Freeman’s painting Cuz(2022) sets up a dark and mysterious fictive space within which a glow like that of a blast furnace pulses.

Anita Bates, From Way Up High, 2022, mixed media, photo courtesy Elaine L Jacob Gallery

Around the corner, a monumental, welded steel sculpture Sentinel for Martin (2022) by M. Saffell Gardner, is paired with a small painted steel saw blade Untitled: Happy Birthday Jim (1973) by John Egner (1940-2021). Egner was a teacher and mentor to Gardner and in spite of the disparity in scale, the two pieces share a sense of connection with the larger community that resonates.

Marcia Freedman, Cuz, 2012, oil on canvas, photo: K.A. Letts

Three humorously improvisational assemblages by Mariam Ezzat, Nothing Lasts Forever, Saint Sophia; Nothing Lasts forever Except you: Animus Possession and Nothing Lasts Forever Except You: Earth Angel (2022) play well with The Offering (1983) an arresting early painting of comic menace by Brenda Goodman.  The work of these two artists, though created 40 years apart, expresses a spirit of irreverence and experimentation—an attitude of what-the-hell and why not?–that is very Detroit.

Brenda Goodman, The Offering, 1983, oil on canvas, courtesy of Elaine L. Jacob Galley.

 

Mariam Ezzat, Nothing Lasts Forever, Saint Sophia; Nothing Lasts Forever, Except you: Animus Possession; Nothing Lasts Forever, Except You: Earth Angel (all 2022) mixed media.

The artworks from the University Collection, shown alongside the recent output of Detroit artists, begins to bring the unique creative spirit of the city into focus–improvisational and often cheeky, but serious and hard-working too.  As Curator Grace Serra says in her exhibition statement, “The collection is special and unique; I believe it is the only collection that directly mirrors the diverse styles and artists of the community, capturing the depth and breadth of the cultural landscape.” Her bold claim is backed up by the diversity and quality of the work in Confluent and it’s a powerful argument for keeping  the collection on permanent public display to provide context and inspiration for artists working in Detroit now, while honoring and preserving the city’s shared art history.

Saffell Gardner, Sentinel for Martin, 2022, welded steel.

 

John Egner, Untitled (Happy Birthday Jim) 1973, oil on the circular saw blade, photos: K.A. Letts

Artists in Confluent:

Anita Bates, Jeanne Bieri, Darryl Deangelo Terrell, Sergio De Giusti, Mariam Ezzat, Mary Fortuna, Marcia Freedman, M. Saffell Gardner, Laura Makar, Sandra Osip, Tom Pyrzewski, John Rizzo, Donita Simpson, Diane Carr, John Egner, Brenda Goodman, Susan Hauptman, Douglas James, Gordon Newton, Kurt Novak, Judy Pfaff, Ellen Phelan, Robert Quigley, Ron Weil, Robert Wilbert, Don Willett

The exhibition Confluent, now at the WSU’s Elaine L. Jacobs Gallery until December 9, 2022

Dog Days of August @ Detroit Art Review

MOCAD-Installation, Nep Sidhu, Paradox of Harmonics, photo: Charles E. Letts

An atmosphere of renewal marks the summer of 2022 in the Detroit arts community as the city’s creatives have returned to action after two years of COVID isolation, Mighty Real/Queer Detroit started the season off during Pride Month in June with a comprehensive and inclusive exhibition of work by 150 LGBTQ+ artists in 17 galleries throughout the city.  This wide-ranging series of exhibits, performances and events was the first–but will not be the last–celebration of gender diversity in Detroit. The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCAD) had an especially impressive roster of summer shows: remarkable paintings, sculpture, tapestries, performance and video  by multi-media Toronto artist Nep Sidhu, along with dream hampton’s Freshwater, an elegiac video of flooding in Detroit, artworks from the James Dozier collection of Black Detroit abstract artists and Sterling Toles’s S(h)elves? a community-based project at the Mark Kelly Mobile Homestead.

During this relatively quiet month of August, a couple of group shows have opened–one at Belle Isle Viewing Room and the other at David Klein Gallery–that hint at what we can anticipate for Detroit art this fall.

Allie McGhee, 2008, Self Portrait, enamel and acrylic on paint sticks, photo: Belle Isle Viewing Room

 

Carlo Vitale, 1979-1988, The Embrace, acrylic on canvas, 51.5 x 72.25 photo: Belle Isle Viewing Room

Belle Isle Viewing Room is a relative newcomer to the Detroit gallery scene.  Nik Pence, the gallerist behind the enterprise, opened a small one-room space on East Jefferson eighteen months ago, and in the short time he has been in operation, has attracted a formidable collection of talent. The group show that opened on August 13 includes nine of the artists whose work Pence has shown since the gallery opened.  Allie McGhee, fresh from his recent solo exhibition Banana Moon Horn at the Cranbrook Museum of Art, has contributed two artworks that reprise elements of his retrospective.  A large painting entitled The Embrace by Carlo Vitale–whose work was new to me–occupies a lively corner of the space with fizzy, dotty abstraction.  Martha Mysko’s monumental, wall-size piece Forecasting incorporates elements of home décor from the final edition of the Sears catalog and touches on themes of class and consumerism. The current show coincides with a doubling in size of the previously modest gallery space.

Martha Mysko, 2022, Forecasting, digital prints on vinyl on wood, house paint, spray paint, sublimation dye prints on aluminum, chrome display grids and hardware, wood shelves, cast plastic, ice cube trays, ceramic mugs, plastic margarita cups, ceramic vases, plastic bowls, plastic drinking cups, and wire-mesh cup holder, measuring cups, necktie, wooden box, shoes, fabric, plastic colander, hand weights, hand juicer. 192” x 12” x 96”, photo: Belle Isle Viewing Room.

August Selections, which opened at David Klein Gallery Detroit gallery on August 13 and continues through September 2, is an eclectic assortment of work by many of the gallery’s artists. Kelly Reemstra’s murderous debutantes share a wall with a painting by Marianna Olague, Blond Grass. The portrait, which features the artist’s sister, shows the subject’s face in shadow and adds an element of emotional resonance to Olague’s characteristic flat southwestern light.  Silvain Malfroy-Camine’s confetti-infused pink-and-blue party of a painting, Riviere, is an exercise in spirit-lifting alchemy. Kim McCarty’s giant, diaphanous watercolor butterflies combine art and entymology. Selections features four pieces by Scott Hocking, a preview of sorts for his upcoming solo show at the Cranbrook Museum of Art in November. Celestial Ship of the North (Emergency Ark) aka The Barnboat and Detroit Nights, Boblo Boat , Rouge Reflection are photographic  documentation of the fugitive artifacts for which the artist has become well-known, while two small copper wire sculptures occupy the windows of the gallery and hint at what’s coming to Cranbrook this fall.

Silvain Malfroy-Camine, Riviere, 2022, oil and colored pencils on six canvas panels, 23” x 67” Image  courtesy of the artist and David Klein Gallery

 

Kim McCarty, Blue Butterfly, 2021, watercolor on arches paper, 30” x 22” Image  courtesy of the artist and David Klein Gallery

 

Marianna Olague, Blond Grass, 2021, oil on canvas, 40” x 30” Image courtesy of the artist and David Klein Gallery

 

Scott Hocking, 2015, Detroit Nights, Boblo Boat, Rouge Reflection, archival inkjet print, 33” x 49.5”, edition 2 of 11 images courtesy of the artist and David Klein Gallery

Anyone curious about the plans of Simone DeSousa, whose Edition gallery space was closed for renovation during the summer, will be interested to know that the gallery has been reconfigured to provide a more classic display setting for the artists she represents and will re-open this September 16 with a solo show featuring work by the reliably brilliant textile artist Carole Harris. The opening is planned as a celebration of renewal, with music on the patio from jazz musicians selected by Harris. The gallery is now a pristine white box–with improved lighting–and includes an adjoining private viewing room for clients. Many of the prominent artists DeSousa represents–Michael Luchs, Robert Sestok, Brenda Goodman and Kathryn Brackett Luchs—are slated for exhibitions in the 2022-2023 season.

DeSousa has not given up on the Editions concept, which she describes as “a space focused on accessible and collectible art and design.”  It will be part of a re-imagined cultural campus the gallerist is developing in cooperation with real estate entrepreneur Philip Kafka in Detroit’s Core City neighborhood, with April 2023 as the date of a planned launch. The complex will include a café and a bookstore along with the Edition space, as well as a gallery for experimental work by young, emerging artists and a pocket park for outdoor installations.

Carole Harris, Motor City Blues, 2021, Commercially printed cottons, raw silk and thread, cotton batting, 455” x 45”, photo courtesy of Simone DeSousa Gallery and the artist.Carole Harris, Other People’s Memories, 2016, commercially printed cottons, raw silk and thread, cotton batting, 57” x 39,” photo courtesy of Simone DeSousa and the artist.

Carole Harris, Motor City Blues, 2021, Commercially printed cottons, raw silk and thread, cotton batting, 455” x 45”, photo courtesy of Simone DeSousa Gallery and the artist.

In this moment of stasis, when the summer shows have ended and the fall art season has not yet begun, we sense that beneath the quiet of this moment that there is plenty of activity in preparation for upcoming events. The one constant in Detroit is change, and these exhibitions foretell what we can anticipate in the art season to come.

The Detroit Art Review looks forward to reviewing visual art exhibitions in the Detroit Metro area and beyond.

Family Ties @ David Klein Gallery

Family Ties, David Klein Gallery, Detroit, installation,  photo by Samantha  Bankle Schefman and all other images courtesy of David Klein Gallery

The four artists in Family Ties, now on view at David Klein Gallery in Detroit through August 6, demonstrate a kind of taxonomy of relationship—a way of claiming kinship while comparing and contrasting thought processes, techniques, and materials. As in any family where resemblances like the arch of an eyebrow, a laugh or a sense of style can demonstrate common ancestry, these artists share ways of making and thinking that illustrate the complex interaction of their shared, yet distinct histories.

Ceramicist Ebitenyefa Baralaye, who organized the show, says in his curatorial statement:

Family Ties touches on the multi-layered bonds that connect our given and adopted family members, friends, and community. These bonds are manifested in traditions, shared history, common spaces, and elements of identity encompassing everything from the rituals and patterns of styling hair, the particulars of gathering places for meals, and the textures and shades that mark bodies.

Ebitenyefa Baralaye, Grace, 2022, stoneware, slip, 21” x 14” x 14” photo: courtesy of David Klein Gallery

 

Ebitenyefa Baralaye, Aishetu, 2022, stoneware, slip, 23” x 13” x 13” photo: courtesy of David Klein Gallery

 

Baralaye sets the tone of the exhibition with his 4 compact yet monumental stoneware heads. They are vessels turned upside down and presented as stylized sculptural portraits. These chunky heads bear a passing resemblance to folk art stoneware face jugs traditionally made by African American slaves, re-purposed to celebrate Baralaye’s female ancestry. There is an element of affectionate caricature here, as well as a liveliness in the slight irregularity of their coiled clay construction. Grace and Anna depend mostly upon the surface application of rolled clay on unadorned fired stoneware for their features, while with Apreye and Aishetu, Baralaye does a particularly masterful job of balancing the three-dimensional low relief surface detail with painted-on black markings–no mean feat.

Shea Burke, Vessel Portrait III, 2022, porcelain, glaze, 10” x 8” x 5” photo courtesy of David Klein Gallery

Shea Burke, Clothed Vessel, 2022, brown stoneware, porcelain, glaze, 20” x 15” x 15”

Shea Burke, a ceramic artist from Rochester, New York, shares some of Baralaye’s methods and themes; they use coil construction to build Vessels, Portrait I, II and II, but the coils have escaped the constraints of the classic shapes to suggest wild, snaky topknots of exotic ceremonial headdresses. The artist places particular importance in the temporal process of building, layer upon layer, an object that is a record of time’s passage. “While coil-building I shape the vessel as a place to put the things that slip through our fingers. There is comfort in the idea of having a place to store what we struggle to hold onto: memories, traditions, and moments that are eroded by time,” they say.

Things take a homely turn with Burke’s earthily tactile, coiled and pinched vessels, contrasted with slick, shiny porcelain sheets draped over and around, a kind of metaphoric clothing for the fleshy clay.

 

Patrice Renee Washington, Onyx Peak, 2022, glazed stoneware, concrete, 36” x 15” x 15”

 

 

Patrice Renee Washington, Dirty Jasper, 2022, glazed stoneware, 20.5´x 13” x 13”

Formal family resemblance continues in the work of Patrice Renee Washington, originally from Chicago, but now living and working in Newburgh, New York. She hand-builds her pagoda-shaped vessels and decorates them with twisted and braided clay applique reminiscent of African hair weaves. The gray color and pointy tops of Onyx Peak and Dirty Jasper take these vessels into the realm of fantasy architecture—or perhaps they are reliquaries. A hidden meaning may be contained in their interior, but it remains inaccessible, mysterious.

Patrick Quarm, Royal Ama, 2020, mixed media, oil and acrylic paint on African fabric, 65” x 54” photo: courtesy of the artist

Patrick Quarm, The Obverse, 2020, mixed media, oil and acrylic paint on African print fabric, 43” x 33” inches photo: courtesy of the artist

To this otherwise intimately-scaled collection of three-dimensional ceramic pieces in subdued earth-tone colors,  Ghanian painter Patrick Quarm adds color as well as the implication of a broader relationship of the artists in the exhibition to the family of African and African American artists worldwide. In relational terms, Quarm could be called a cousin to Kehinde Wiley and Yinka Shonebare, both of whom use the patterns of African textiles and brilliant color to tell complex stories of European colonialism and the African diaspora. His contribution to the cultural conversation is a thoughtful yet intuitive visual analysis of the complex interactions, some positive and many not, of civilizations at their point of contact.

Quarm’s paintings are acts of synthesis, weaving veils of pierced, painted and patterned fabric into a meaningful whole from the disparate elements of his past. Stories of his father’s life in colonial Ghana are added to his own experience as an inhabitant of cultural and social spheres in Africa and the U.S. Many of Quarm’s pieces feature separate sheets of painted fabric loosely fluttering from battens which, viewed from the side, look three dimensional. But from the front they coalesce into a unified composition, perfect metaphors for his aim to create a coherent identity from the diverse and sometimes antithetical parts of his history. He says of his work, “My task or duty as an artist is to strip each layer after the other to bring clarity, to understand the past and how the past shapes the present.”

Not everything about any family—or this family of artists–can be known. There is an interior conversation among these four that must remain a mystery outside its sacred circle, even as it nourishes the creativity of its members. But Family Ties gives us an intriguing intimation of the usually unseen lines that connect them. As Baralaye says, “Family ties are a reminder of the commitment and the persistence of connection even in hard times and through complicated realities.”

Family Ties,  on exhibition at the David Klein Gallery, through August 6, 2022.

Nick Doyle: Farmers and Reapers @ Reyes/Finn Gallery

Nick Doyle, Please Let me Go, 2022, collaged denim on panel, 90” x 125” (belt), 11” x 36” (lighter), 72” x 15” (spoon) All photos: Adam Reich

The perils and attractions of consumption driven by the dynamics of corporate greed—when what we are conditioned to want might just kill us–forms the theme of Nick Doyle’s current exhibition Farmers and Reapers at Reyes Finn, on view in the gallery from June 4 – July 16. Doyle has chosen deceptively beautiful images to lure us toward the revelation that we may be the unsuspecting victims of our own desires.

In his previous show with Reyes Finn, Paved Paradise, the artist examined and seemed to celebrate—or at least feel nostalgia for–the assumptions inherent in the American Dream of limitless expansion and endless possibility. But with Farmers and Reapers, his vision has sharpened and darkened to tell a cautionary tale about the perils of falling for the false promises of capitalism.   Or as Doyle says in his artist’s statement:

Today, as we experience an opioid epidemic, everything has become a drug.  Social media, advertisement, market research: all born out of attempts to create false desires in a population with no actual resolution to those desires, only a constant cycle of momentary satisfaction that intends on keeping us locked in a state of perpetual, hankering consumption.

Of course, Doyle’s subtle jeremiad wouldn’t resonate with his audience if the artworks he has created were not attractive.  And they are. His beautifully crafted and carefully constructed images of pretty flowers, shiny cutlery and glittering disco balls—even his wall-mounted portrait of a black garbage bag containing who-knows-what—are (sanctioned) pleasures for the eye, given force by their titles. Hence the disco ball is entitled Death Star, his lush bouquet of poppies is called A Siren’s Symphony. Even as we viscerally feel the attraction, we are brought up short by the artist’s ominous caveat.

Nick Doyle, Body at Rest, 2022, collaged denim on panel, 51” x 40”

 

Nick Doyle, Siren’s Symphony, 2022, collaged denim on panel, 95” x 89”

All except one of the artworks in this exhibition are handmade out of quotidian denim, the fabric of the common man and Doyle’s signature material. The artist has meticulously cut and laminated shapes reminiscent of paint-by-numbers kits to silhouettes made of shaped medium density panels. Individual pieces like Cold Sweat, an oversized, pink, melting popsicle, and Morning Shake, a cup of coffee surrounded by a spill, are disturbingly specific images of personal addiction. Please Let Me Go combines magnified images of drug paraphernalia—a belt, a spoon, a cheap lighter—in an unholy trinity.   It’s impossible to look at Putting Two and Two Together without imagining the sensation of physical shock that comes from sticking a fork in an electrical socket.

Nick Doyle, Putting Two and Two Together, 2022, collaged denim on panel, 72” x 10” (fork), 40” x 25”

The poppies in Farmers and Reapers introduce an unexpected lyrical note—and possibly a sly irony–into Doyle’s visual vocabulary, which up to now has consisted mostly of manufactured objects. Doyle employs images of mass-produced items–still ubiquitous, pandemic-related supply chain issues notwithstanding–as a kind of shorthand for capitalism and colonialism, and in a broader sense, American individualism and toxic masculinity. The opioid-producing poppies, sourced mostly from Southeast Asia and Latin America, might represent the revenge of the third world, which has now created a reciprocal addiction.

Nick Doyle, Cold Sweat, 2022, collaged denim on panel, 67” x 47”

Only one of the artworks in Farmers and Reapers is a three-dimensional miniature similar to those that have appeared in Doyle’s previous shows. Gone, a doll-size, perfect replica of a hospital bed, is made of wood and comes complete with rumpled hospital sheets and blanket. It is a poignant comment on the ultimate price that many will pay for their addiction. Positioned on a low pedestal, we see the bed from above, the ghostly point of view of a departing soul. The sensation of looking down is shocking, but already we feel the remoteness that must accompany the passage of the recently deceased.

The undeniable attractions of the artworks in Farmers and Reapers heighten the emotional charge of their dark subtext by simultaneously seducing and repelling the viewer. These poppies and mirror balls, these garbage bags and spoons and forks, together constitute both a warning and a lament for the destructive yet often unacknowledged power of invisible economic forces. As Reyes/Finn partner Bridget Finn says of the artist, “He opens conversations on addiction, destruction and capitalistic greed and the ways in which they are opposed to the fallacy of the American Dream, thus using the fiber of American culture to craft its critique.” With Farmers and Reapers, Nick Doyle seems intent on raising awareness of the traps laid by malign elements as the first step toward moving beyond them.

Nick Doyle, Gone, 2022, maple, cotton, wax, 2022, 13” x 22” x 11”

Nick Doyle: Farmers and Reapers at the Reyes/Finn Gallery through July, 16.   All images courtesy of the artist and Reyes/Finn, Detroit

Page 1 of 6

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén