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Taurus Burns: Defensive @ Detroit Contemporary

Taurus Burns, install opening reception shot, All images courtesy of Kim Fay except where noted.

The recently reopened Detroit Contemporary, now located at 487 West Alexandrine in Midtown Detroit, presents new work by Taurus Burns in Defensive. Taurus Burns’ primary focus is on figurative realism and the influence of race, politics, and history on the self, family, and community. His autobiographical scenes describe systematic racism through the use of portraiture, anthropomorphism, and allegory. The black and white palette was chosen to represent Burns’ biracial heritage and a distinctively divisive world view resulting from society’s relentless subjugating treatment of the Black race. In this exhibition, Burns explores his personal experiences and struggle to get through that oppressive societal wall.

Taurus Burns, The Graduate 48×48 oil on canvas

Burns was 17 and had just graduated from high school when Rodney King was brutally beaten. Shortly after, the LA riots ignited when a jury acquitted four police officers for the use of excessive force during the arrest of King. As a young biracial man lacking enough life experience and wisdom to fully process these incidents, they were mentally stored until the events of last summer erupted to bring them back to the fore. The Graduate begins to unpack the terror and trauma of what happened in Burns’ youth. In a snapshot, he describes utter hopelessness while an apparent necessity for self-defense takes root. Attention to detail, such as right-handed brass knuckles and a metal railing painted in perfectly executed perspective, allows the viewer to meditate on this life-altering account.

Taurus Burns, The Panther in Me II 22×22 oil on canvas

Burns has been using the panther image, inspired by the Black Panther Party, in recent works. Burns often paints his panther wearing the stripes of a zebra—a term sometimes used to describe children who have one black and one white parent. The Black Panther Party practiced open carry armed citizens’ patrols, or colloquially “cop-watching”, to monitor the behavior of the Oakland Police Department officers and challenge police brutality in the city. The Panther in Me II is heavily textured in thick layers of paint. The reflections in the sliding glass doors are so well rendered that the viewer sees the front yard and a glimpse of shelving and pictures inside the house. The panther icon is subtly placed on a T-shirt while the subject examines a rifle, preparing himself, mentally as much as physically, to protect himself and his home.

Taurus Burns, Training Day II 24×24 oil on canvas

In Training Day II, one generation passes down knowledge and wisdom for responsible gun ownership to the next; the teacher concentrates while the student pays close attention. The thin silhouette of the baseball cap on the older man’s head and the bend in its bill creates a visually tangible object while the wearer’s greying beard indicates he’s the elder of the two practitioners. Since these pictures are monochromatic, the use of shadow and light is critical to effectively communicate the subject and the space it occupies.

Taurus Burns, Triggered 36×22 ink on gouache paper, image courtesy of the artist.

Triggered’s double entendre fires both bullets and trauma in quick succession. This piece moves, the shots rolling across the paper. Ink and gouache’s light touch reveals the artist’s hand at work. The stop-action sequencing suggests the shooter is following a moving target. The work appears unfinished yet effortlessly delivers its warning.

Taurus Burns, Figure Study I 6×6 ink on paper

The figurative studies are lovely in that they afford a window into how Burns works. With very little material, gestural lines with a quick wash of shadow demonstrate the artist’s skill. The figure is in perfect proportion, gently resting her knee on the chair. A swipe of black behind her head grounds the space. The finished artwork is the culmination of years of study and practice. Figurative being one of the most complicated subjects to render well, these drawings indicate Burns is in command of his subject.

George Floyd’s murder was the flashpoint for all of the weight Burns has carried since The Graduate. Nick Cave is another Detroit artist who was moved to action by the Rodney King incident creating his first Soundsuit to hide a person’s physical appearance to escape judgment and the subsequent physical and/or verbal assault. Walking through life trying to at once hide yet defend your intrinsic right to not only exist but flourish is exhausting, maddening. Burns’ current work is polished and refined, thick and expressive. Burns has perfected his narrative and become a masterful storyteller.

Detroit Contemporary new location opening night

After an immersion into theater production and socially conscious endeavors, Aaron Timlin and Detroit Contemporary return, installed in a gorgeous indigenous house in the heart of Midtown Detroit. He’s put together his opening season with artists he’s known and respected for years: Diana Alva exhibited in August, currently showing Taurus Burns, followed by Clinton Snider in October, Ray Katz takes over in November, and fan-favorite the Biennial Actual Size Show is on for December. The gallery is on the first floor of this architectural gem, with plans for theater and multi-media pursuits coming soon to the second floor. This new space is set to be a hive of creative thinking, making, and exhibiting.

As Detroit, and the rest of the country, regains consciousness from not only the pandemic but our collective societal impact on both the physical and mental health of our communities, these two innovators don’t just talk about change. They make it happen.

On view through September 26th at Detroit Contemporary
487 West Alexandrine, Detroit
Artist talk September 25th 4P-6P

¿GENDƎR? @ Detroit Artists Market

DAM Gender Exhibition, Installation image, All images courtesy of DAM unless noted.

¿GENDƎR? is an exhibition of how artists depict gender, using their own thoughts and experiences. Some explore outdated gender stereotypes, roles, and sexuality while others confront societal norms. In the 21st century, the idea of gender has had many reformations, and the new lexicon reflects that: cisgender, binary, non-binary, gender fluid, androgyny, transgender, and gender pronouns. The show is but a glimpse into the myriad of possibilities. Curator Gary Eleinko invited artists, who regularly employ the figure in their narratives, to select works that calibrate perception toward the varied facets of gender.

Miroslawa Sztuczka, Under the Skin, 48” x 36” (each panel) mixed tech, collage, oil, acrylic

Miroslawa Sztuczka’s figurative diptych Under The Skin describes a gender spectrum through its striking palette in thickly applied expressive strokes. Those charged marks afford a noticeable contrast to the smoothness of the faces. The melee of figures are arranged in what reads like a glamourous party complete with fame hiding behind sunglasses. The left side of this piece contains those who identify as feminine, recognizable through the generally accepted symbolism of heeled red pumps accessorizing bare legs. To the right, pants resting on flat red shoes are cast as the masculine inverse. Humanity meets in the center blending into the gender fluid, agender and non-binary spectrum. The bold yellow figure exuberantly breaks free from social confines leaving the two mysterious figures at the bottom, symbolizing the constrained concept of binary man/woman only, to be squashed by the liberated throng.

Sue Carman-Vian, Women at Their Heights, 38” x 48”, graphite

Monumental statues of men presented in commanding poses advertising their power and achievements litter parks and public places. The glaring absence of legions of accomplished women yet to be immortalized in a similar manner is the subject of Sue Carman-Vian’s Women At Their Heights. Carman-Vian’s creatively nimble mind imagines a park elevating these uncounted women to their long denied status. The viewer is reminded of a woman’s long-standing relegated role of sexual appeal via high heels while the woman’s placement on a pedestal indicates the importance of one’s social and intellectual accomplishments. This imagery presented in graphite renders the scene dreamlike yet does not wilt. The strong narrative isn’t distracted by the pull of color. Fine detail executed by the direct hand of the artist makes this a very personal epistle.

Judy Eliyas, Untitled (Woman Hanging Stockings In The Bathroom, 42” x 42”, black and white gelatin silver print

Judy Eliyas addresses female roles with a  similar sensibility to Carman-Vian’s, though uses the medium of black and white photography to communicate her story. In Untitled (Woman Hanging Stockings In The Bathroom), Eliyas inserts herself into staged domesticity with a slice of humor by including the viewer who has ambushed the now annoyed subject in a private moment. Eliyas’ images harken to a softer Cindy Sherman-like genre in her autobiographical scenes. The absence of color combined with selected settings and costuming make these images feel dated yet they tackle very contemporary constructs.

Claudia Shepard, E-Male, 48” x 48”, oil on panel

Upon initial glance, E-Male is a bit of a compositional jumble. Traditional portraiture tends to a solitary figure relaxing in the center of the canvas; a sleepy gaze fixed somewhere out of the picture’s range. In this painting, Claudia Shepard has defied convention by drawing on the pioneering photography of Eadweard Muybridge to give us a body in motion. There is a discernible evolution-of-man sequence, representing the progression of the masculine and its changing perceptions. The circle is completed by adding leaping figures illustrating progressive thinking and interpretation of what it means to be male. This includes representation in the nude portrait genre, where the ubiquitous female form has dominated for centuries due to archaic concepts of beauty.

Sabrina Nelson, You Ain’t Never Gonna Fly, approximately 5 ft. x 6 ft pattern paper, thread, milagros, bird cage, tape, gold leaf, doily, black feathers. Image courtesy of Kim Fay.

Sabrina Nelson addresses the figure through what it wears, offering clues to a person’s identity while doubling as personal armor. When choosing to represent the feminine through wardrobe, the dress is a garment that universally registers as female energy. You Ain’t Never Gonna Fly employs fragile patterned tissue paper to illustrate human vulnerability as well as the skin itself. It looks good but can be torn easily. The birdcage represents the womb embellished with a ribbon of crimson hemorrhage. This imagery is significant in that only those who were born female possess a womb with the ability to gestate life. Nelson chooses to suspend her dress aloft, suggesting our self-identity and value precariously dangle on a delicate thin string. At a distance, Nelson’s dresses float and flatter. Upon closer inspection, the complications of negotiating one’s life is woven into the seams and imprinted on the skin.

This show makes a concerted effort to represent the multitude of voices in the gender conversation. A captivating self-portrait by Darryl DeAngelo Terrell remarks on a transgender experience. A thoughtful, fata morgana image by Feather Chiaverini portrays a non-binary account. John Hegarty delivers more traditional but harshly realistic portraiture. These works visually chronicle a sliver of a complex and evolving narrative on who we are as humans, revealing the beauty, tenderness, fragility and brutality that comes with embracing diversity. Many different flowers make up a bouquet. “Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilization.” -Mahatma Ghandi.

Participating Artists: Judy Eliyas, Jo Powers, James Stephens, John Hegarty, Teresa Petersen, Claudia Shepard, Bumbo, Darryl DeAngelo Terrell, Feather Chiaverini, Miroslawa Sztuczka, Sue Carman-Vian, Sabrina Nelson, Robert Schefman, Austin J. Brady, Betty Brownlee, Callie Hoskins.

On view May 7-June 5, 2021 at Detroit Artists Market 4719 Woodward Avenue, Detroit

 

 

The Salad Days @ Detroit Artists Market

The Salad Days, Installation shot 2021, Image courtesy of DAM

Curated by Holliday Taylor Martindale, “The Salad Days” is a Shakespearean idiomatic expression meaning a youthful time. The millennial renaissance of Detroit from 2000 through 2012 heralded self-made artist run spaces. With rent low and space unlimited, artists gravitated to this inclusive paradigm shift to bring engaging shows. Emerging from a prosperous decade and a world reshaped by the internet, it was a new beginning as much as an awakening. Salad Days explores the subculture and practice of artists who were working in Detroit in the aughts (2000s) while featuring current work reflecting an age of genesis and collaboration.

Taurus Burns, The Hunt For Equality, oil on canvas 48” x 72” Image courtesy of the artist

Straight out of a nightmare comes The Hunt For Equality by Taurus Burns. Wickedly spiked branches trap a fantastical half-human creature while its hunters lurk in the shadows behind the twisted bark of complicit trees. The black and white palette fosters a scenario where present danger is felt, but not clearly seen. Under a draped confederate flag, a manacle and chain waits for its captive. A cross burning behind ghostly, pointed white hoods easily identifies the assailants. A harbinger crow warns from a branch high above as a modern-day lynch mob torch strikes down.

Burns interprets, “With this piece I wanted to capture the feeling of being hunted because of the color of your skin, while depicting the challenge of navigating America’s often polarized landscape as someone who is biracial. The panther here is inspired by both the Black Panther Party and the White Panther Party, both of which fought for Black empowerment against systemic racism. This panther wears the stripes of a zebra- a term sometimes used to describe children who have one black and one white parent. Tiki torches recall the “Unite the Right” rally in 2017 where supporters of the rising white nationalist movement gathered together in a show of strength, and Heather Heyer was killed when one of them drove his car into a crowd of people protesting the rally.”

Scott Northrup, Wayward Boys and Assholes, paper on clayboard 16” x 20” Image courtesy of the artist

Scott Northrup communicates his always personal message in a quiet, but bold way that asks the viewer to slow down and pay attention to the details. The reductive techniques he’s honed through sculpture, printmaking and film narrows the focus to content. For Wayward Boys and Assholes he’s collaged three pieces of paper including a scrap of a photo printed across the fold of a magazine page. The assembled image is an upside-down oil can spilling its contents and embellished with a green tassel tip from an illustration of a whip. Cloaked in Northrup’s trademark snark is ruthlessly honest dialogue. He openly flirts with the viewer, teasing a response from a shy grin to an audible chuckle. He is the master of calling out well-guarded secrets.

Cal Navin, Liberty I, digital print 30” x 18” Image courtesy of Kim Fay

Cal Navin’s Liberty I spills a toybox onto the page inviting us to remember childhood afternoons immersed in enchanted landscapes and adventures with mystical friends. The series began with 3D images of nostalgic toys as a way to mourn her dearly departed brother; toys they had played with, things that reminded her of him. She translated those images into layered digital drawings to tell her story. Her imagery and palette convey playful delight. Navin creates her imaginative characters with love, kindness and a whimsy most of us set aside long ago. Her reminiscence indulges the relationship the random playthings have with each other and our formative creativity.

Chido Johnson, Ari, multi-media and video projection 8’ x 8’ x 8’  Image courtesy of DAM

Installed in the east end of the gallery is a loosely constructed but recognizable figure comprised from a cacophony of materials. Ari is a collaborative project orchestrated by Chido Johnson. He began by carving a left foot in stone, then invited sixteen artists to join him imagining a body. Halima Cassells contributed a cement cast heart embedded with her sister’s and grandmother’s jewelry representing family combined with plants depicting life itself. Graem Whyte attached a left arm, which he’d had for thirty years patiently waiting for a body. Floating, dripping scraps of translucent material cast using her own fingers, Lisa Tolstyka provides a transitional element through “touch”.

Living in the midst of Covid, each artist came into the installation space independently adding their contribution to Ari’s body. They recorded their experience with the body, which they shared online to be witnessed through a digital window to the public. In the tradition of an exquisite corpse, a method by which a collection of words or images is collectively assembled. they did not know what Ari would become. Although working in isolation, they called each other to better understand how they physically connected and functioned together. This in itself reflects the time we live in.

Since the exhibition’s cohesive thread is the artists themselves—when and where they were working during a particular period—the work is as varied as they are. Genres range from photographic collage, found object sculpture, abstract painting and loosely painted street scenes. Themes run the gamut from intense social commentary to pointed sarcasm. What is on display here is not only the freedom and brilliance of a simpler period but artists devoted to their practice with passionate support for each other and their community.

On view January 22-February 20, 2021 at Detroit Artists Market 4719 Woodward Avenue, Detroit

Participating Artists: Michael Nagara, Mukhliseenah Hajj, Scott Hocking, Andrea Eckert, Asia Hamilton, CeCe McGuire, Bryant Tillman, Anthony Divis, Dekilah Nazari, Simone DeSousa, Scott Northrup, Chido Johnson, George Rahme, Jeff Nolan, Martin Anand, Gilda Snowden, Cedric Tai, Sioux Trujillo, Taurus Burns, Erik Howard, Katie Hawley, Chris McGraw, Cal Navin, Undine Brod, Kevin McCoy, Steve Kuypers, Kate Silvio, Vincent Troia, Shoshanna Utchenik.

Ari artists: Chido Johnson, Dyani Douze, Fatima Sow, Graem Whyte, Halima Cassell, Heather Anger, Jessica Harvey, Kasper O’Brien, Kristina Sheufelt, Kyle Lockwood, Lisa Tolstyka, Manal Shoukair, Sabrina Nelson, Sean Maxwell, Sophie Eisner.
See exhibition: The Salad Days

Marcia Freedman & Ani Garabedian @ M Contemporary Art

Figuratively Dreaming: Marcia Freedman and Ani Garabedian

Installation, Freedman & Garabedian exhibition, 2020

The paintings by Marcia Freedman and Ani Garabedian in Figuratively Dreaming present a current interpretation and exploration of a genre that is versed and familiar but still evolving. Abstract painting rose from a multi-century evolution that moved away from the realistic religion-based storytelling of the Italian Renaissance through the French Impressionists and on to schools of thought like Dada. The devastating experience of World War II and its inconceivable human cruelty formed a new generation of avant-garde American painters leading to an explosion of creativity and the birth of cool in 1940s New York. Miles Davis and his contemporaries laid down the soundtrack for painters like Jackson Pollock whose artistic and political concerns were explored through their revolutionary work. Abstraction has since become part of the standard art vernacular while maintaining its mystique.

Ani Garabedian’s paintings capture nostalgic moments lingering between a state of reality and abstraction. She explores the notion of memories; how they decay over time and the tipping point at which they become forgotten or lost. In The Shore, Garabedian’s magnetic use of bright colors projects a playful joy that demands immediate attention. Her subject is a fond memory many of us share of summer days at the beach with–or as–children. The combination of a fully treated object, like a rendered ponytail, in contrast with merely the outline of a pail and the girls’ legs creates the sensation of a fragmented fading image. In the instant the memory is created, it is already evaporating.

Ani Garabedian, The Shore, 2020 oil on canvas, 60×48

In Family Portrait the focus is on the children as dominant parents tower out of view while the dog photo bombs in the corner looking to its loved ones for inclusion. The children communicate their sense of security through easy facial expressions and a cocked head. Simple lines over muted fields of diluted color demarcate one figure from another creating a friendly softness. However, the father figure’s crossed arms and a hand-held, unidentifiable object in the lower left disturbs the otherwise homogenous suburban scene.

Ani Garabedian, Family Portrait, 2020, oil on canvas, 48×36″

Long Time Alone is decidedly melancholy. The palette is somber; facial expressions somewhat nervous and wanting. A murky landscape sets a despondent stage through darker tones, aggressive motion and a jarring shot of pink in the distance. The trio’s legs and feet are barely visible, hopefully an indication this scenario isn’t permanent.

Ani Garabedian, A Long Time Alone, 2020, oil on canvas, 42×42″

Head I seems to be a detail from a larger painting where Garabedian gives us her favorite focal point: the face. Here she delivers a youthful expressionless face and employs similar compositional components like outlined neck and hair on a purely abstract background.

Ani Garabedian, Head I, 2020, mixed media on birch plywood, 16 ¾ x 16 ¾”

Marcia Freedman’s large sweeping abstract paintings have been an indelible fixture in the Detroit art scene for years. She’s consistently attacked her subjects with furious strokes and color. In On the Piano she continues to demonstrate her command of this genre. The limited palette allows the viewer to focus on the vigorous expressive brush strokes. The asymmetrical diptych format is critical to containment of the composition. Abstracted emotion at its best.

Marcia Freedman, On the Piano, 2018, oil on canvas, 48×108″

For this show, Freedman bent toward Garabedian’s portraiture with a somewhat recognizable subject in Muse 2. Her ghostly silhouette only slightly betrays full abstraction. Freedman’s trademark loose wide strokes grant a whisper of a subject to cling to rendering it hauntingly beautiful.

Marcia Freedman, Muse 2, 2020, oil on canvas, 36×36″

Shape #1 leans traditionally abstract with clear, albeit random, shapes on a deep background that calls to Garabedian’s compositions. Truly abstract, this piece delivers a minimal but well-organized space. Compositionally it holds while creating depth of field without the luxury of a recognizable subject to lean on.

Marcia Freedman, Shape #1, 2018, oil on canvas, 48×36″

In Walter Isaacson’s Leonardo Da Vinci he states, “Skill without imagination is barren.” Garabedian and Freedman explode with the imaginative syntax of both compelling moody palettes complemented with wildly expressive brush and mark making. In the linguistics of abstraction, they expertly run the gamut between soft reality and fully abstracted work. These visual narratives keep the viewer perpetually engaged in riddling out their mysterious messages.

M Contemporary Art 205 E 9 Mile Ferndale Michigan on view through October 17

 

 

KA Letts @ River House Arts

ANTHROPOCENE Paintings and Drawings for the New Normal

KA Letts’ title ‘Anthropocene’ refers to the current geological-time epoch where humans have the greatest impact on the Earth’s environment. The term was first introduced by Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen in 2000 and has gained popularity in elite scientific circles. Humans are the first species keenly aware of our drastic planet-scale influence causing mass extinctions of plants and animals, pollution of the oceans and alteration of the atmosphere. Letts’ work references this phenomenon through myths and stories from our shared cultural history.

KA Letts, Death of Phaeton, 2019, tinted gesso on paper, 18” x 24”

In Greek mythology, Phaeton is the bastard son of the sun god Helios. In an attempt to prove his paternity, Helios gives Phaeton permission to drive the chariot of the sun through the heavens for a single day. Phaeton is unable to control the horses of the sun chariot, driving them too close to the earth and scorching it. Zeus stops the madness with a thunderbolt, killing Phaeton. Letts draws on indigenous Aboriginal art using one-dimensional geometric shapes accompanied by a Seurat dot-style application that permeates Australian contemporary work. Her style strongly aligns with Native Alaskan artwork that conveys spiritual and physical activity through a similar use of line and shape. The black and white palette allows the viewer to focus on the characters whose physical expression communicates their emotional response to the lifeless soul crumpled at the bottom of the picture.

KA Letts, Encounter, 2019, tinted gesso on paper, 50” x 38”

The scale of Encounter immediately demands attention. Before unpacking the subjects and their message, the image twists and moves, inviting a closer look. Upon discovery of the intertwined figures, their intimacy is disclosed. Because one figure is flat black and the other is rendered in that primitive style, this could as easily be a tryst between lovers or a god tangling with its seeker.

KA Letts, Three Angels and a Harpy, 2019, acrylic on paper, 36” x 48”

In Three Angels and a Harpy, we are permitted colored pointillism that affords some warmth. Upon first glance, these bending and dancing figures immediately remind of Detroit’s Charles McGee’s striking graphic white patterns on black. There is a very subtle checkered line that snakes through this piece, belting the characters together. It’s difficult to separate the subjects, but no matter. This composition is lively and commands the eye to circumnavigate the picture excavating for interpretation.

KA Letts, Burning Earth, 2019, acrylic on dibond, 36” x 48”

Burning Earth’s character on the right seems to have pitched the erupting fireball while the character on the left shouts in horror “Don’t do it!”. Gods at odds and humans pay the price for their whims. What’s great about this piece is it reads like a mosaic. It’s only upon close inspection the viewer can discern the fastidious application of colored dots. These marks create an almost tactile background. The progressive color values grant necessary dimension behind flat subjects.

KA Letts, Martyrdom of St. Jezebel, 2019, tinted gesso on paper, 50” x 38”

Martyrdom of St. Jezebel is a dramatic piece. Jezebel has been released by judgmental hands, plummeting toward the vicious dogs of fate while an onlooker considers the matter. Letts’ training as a set and costume designer reveals in the stitching of the black structures. Jezebel’s tiny hands and feet are the only afforded color describing her delicate circumstances as well as her person. The text, although not particularly necessary, is well camouflaged and is secondary to the horror of the story taking center stage.

KA Letts, Reliquary, 2012, tinted gesso on paper, 38” x 50”

Reliquary resides in the small vestibule ahead of the gallery entrance and can be easily missed, which is tragic because it’s a fabulous piece. Dark and ominous, the skulls call to the European catacombs where overflowing cemeteries had to be relocated in subterranean tombs. Out of respect for the dead, the bones are mindfully organized and stacked in patterns. Several inscriptions, paintings, statues and ornaments can be found in these sacred tunnels, often depicting and exulting Christ. Most religions attach spiritual power to coveted relics. The Catholic Church would have inscribed any religious artifacts in Latin signifying its power. Letts leaves the translation of her mystical text to our imagination.

In a contemporary landscape of interdisciplinary and/or conceptual art shows, straight up painting, when it’s well executed, is a real treat. The skill it requires to invoke an emotional response without controversy, indecipherable imagery or optical tricks is to be admired and celebrated. At a distant glance, Letts’ work appears graphic and precise. Moving in for close examination, the meticulous craftmanship of the brushwork is evident. Artwork has to stand on visual merit, hopefully both compositionally as well as emotionally, or it’s not worth bothering with the written statements. It’s not entirely necessary to read into Letts’ myths and metaphors to enjoy her work. It visually captivates on face alone.

ANTHROPOCENE Paintings and Drawings for the New Normal by KA Letts is on view now through October 3, 2020

River House Arts, 425 Jefferson Ave, Toledo, US

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