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

Popps Packing In Hamtramck, Michigan

Popps Packing Gallery Façade, Hamtramck, MI

All the world’s a gallery in a time of closed doors and shuttered art spaces. So leave it to Hamtramck — Detroit’s microcosm of storied Eastern Europe and Middle East immigration, rustic industry, and old-world charm that embraces punk rock and pierogis with equal relish — to flex its creative chops to inspire, engage and welcome interaction. Gina Reichert and Mitch Cope’s latest project, Ride It Sculpture Park, combines skateboarding and public art. Chido Johnson co-founded the Zimbabwe Cultural Centre of Detroit serving artists by breaking down borders and boundaries. Chris Schneider continues his own practice as well as exhibits some of the best of Detroit at his Hatch Gallery.

Another of the standouts in this inspiring entourage is Graem Whyte and Faina Lerman, co-founders of Popps Packing and Emporium. There’s no shortage of press on this dynamic couple. I could easily provide a bunch of links and you’d get a solid picture of the buildings they’ve purchased and renovated; and the prestigious grants that allowed that to happen. You’d be well versed in their individual achievements as artists, each in their own right. What’s behind all that is their cultural and social contribution to the neighborhood they’ve helped to transform while raising a family under the same umbrella.

Popps Packing Backyard Sculpture Park and Playground

When entering Popps Packing for an exhibition, you’ll likely be greeted by their two dogs. Kids are welcome and are free to tear around the large backyard, inventing games using any of the unusual sculptural structures once elevated and gallery-presented now doubling as playground equipment. A favorite event there is the Pinewood Derby fundraiser. Local artists from all over the Metro area completely ignore all Boy Scout instructions to construct the wackiest, usually unbalanced, excessively heavy and very much, sometimes purposefully, flammable vehicles. These semi-functional contraptions are put to the test in a vigorous racing contest that causes competitors to double up with laughter and feigned agonizing defeat when their car loses to a LED illuminated octopus in a polka dot dress. The party lasts well into the night on beer, grilled cheese and Yuen Hom’s famous rum cakes.

 

Popps Packing Pinewood Derby Compound

 

Popps Packing Pinewood Derby Starting Line

These kind of events draw neighbors as well as artists in a convivial heterogeneous social brew. With a desire to “find space to continue to be fluid with programs that are spontaneous and responsive as opposed to contrived and formalized,” Lerman says. “It’s also walking a fine line between being credible as an art venue and still being a home that welcomes folks in.” While most traditional gallery spaces can present as a bit intimidating to the uninitiated, this easygoing approach welcomes all who are curious.

Popps Packing Exhibition Space

 

Popps Packing Exhibition Space

With the arts ecosystem severely limited right now, these innovators adapted to the current landscape by embracing The Pause to step back and reassess their message and mission going forward, emerging as a stronger, clearly focused arts platform. As a community-based ideal and an awareness that not everyone has access to the internet, they aren’t jumping on the Zoom bandwagon but choosing to stick with their holistic approach focusing on a residency-based infrastructure. It’s also afforded some much needed studio time to reacquaint themselves with their personal art practices that have mostly taken a backseat to the steady exhibition schedule and certainly the business of raising a family.

While we eagerly await new work, Whyte’s Remain Calm installation at the Oakland University Art Gallery returns relevant in our current circumstances. Whyte’s tenet that we must ‘remain calm’ in the face of potential catastrophes says, “I’d like to think we can change the course of history if we really want to, even if it seems impossible.”

Graem Whyte Make Love Not War, modified ping pong tables, wood paneling, aluminum steel, wheels. 6’4”x8’4”x11’

Whyte continues: “Remain Calm was in 2012, and there was a bit of buzz about the Mayan Calendar and the whole ‘the Apocalypse is coming’ thing, and the show was a response to that. There were four main pieces in the show, each one correlating with one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, but instead of death and destruction, my approach was to think of transformation. So instead of Death, Famine, Conquest and War, my pieces embodied Rest, Meditation, and Love/Play. Make Love Not War was a sort of ping pong vortex and was a nod to battle, but with the spin of play and positive interaction. I guess the concept of that show relates today as well, as we are all forced to pause and reflect in an uncertain time. And MLNW will be undergoing a transformation of its own in the next couple weeks as it is reworked into a new chicken coop for Popps.”

Popps Packing Compound Live Music

With such a concentration of ingenuity contained in a few square miles, it’s a clear illustration of how energy generated by one inspires another until an entire community is humming with creativity.  Whyte comments, “I’m generally of the opinion that positive thoughts go a long way in determining our futures.” Turn your babushka into a mask, throw on your docs, grab the kiddos and scope out a little hometown live art.

Public Art in Detroit

“There is a connection, hard to explain logically but easy to feel between achievement in public life and progress in the arts.” JFK

Culture is at the heart of any great city; integral to its experience and legacy. Without that, its buildings and streets stand cold, feral. The Detroit Institute of Arts’ world class collection was allowed to remain intact through the city’s bankruptcy and continues to be critical to anchoring a community where people don’t just want to visit, but want to invest, live, work and put down roots. The Heidelberg Project endured its share of scathing criticism, and arson, only to stand today as symbol of our fortitude. Charles McGee’s recent sculpture “United We Stand”, installed outside the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, continues that call to creative arms.

DAR archival image of Charles McGee’s United We Stand

Robert Schefman, Faculty Professor at the College of Creative Studies and an artist of over 40 years experience with public shows, commented, “For centuries, public art has been a responsibility for those who governed, and could afford the funding. In America, theoretically, we are the government, and democracy puts responsibility for public work, with the public. I will assume that there is some agreement on the benefits of placing artwork in public for everyone to enjoy, regardless of their position in society, because the communication of ideas and experiences through artwork of any discipline enrich us all.”

However, he continues, “When we talk about public art, we change how we relate to our spaces. Change is a double edged sword, and the changes are not always desired by current residents, no matter how much it will beautify, or improve an environment. A mural is placed in a space that draws more people into the area, and the look of the area, altering the way the current occupant feels about “their” space. People often fight change.” Case in point is the installation of “Waiting”, a 17-foot bronze sculpture by internationally acclaimed artist KAWS. The piece is sort of a cross between a Disney and an M. Night Shyamalan character. To say it provoked a strong response is an understatement. Whether attracted, repelled, confused by it, most can’t resist taking a selfie with it. It does what art is supposed to do, engage with the viewer.

“Waiting” KAWS, 17’ bronze sculpture, image courtesy of Kim Fay.

Born from a public art project on New York City’s High Line, John Sauvé enlisted students from a local school where arts funding had been cut. Very quietly and with little promotion, a silhouette of an orange man sporting a fedora began appearing on city rooftops. Now known as The Man in the City International Sculpture Project, the on-going installation is comprised of 60 sculptures located on the rooftops throughout the City of Detroit and Windsor. The Man in the City Project creates a metaphor for life that transforms the skyline and encourages people to look around. It’s an ingenious vehicle to highlight this city’s sensational architecture as well as prompt the viewer’s sense of their place within the city. In our increasingly busy lives, our faces habitually planted in our handheld screens, the sudden materialization of a bright figure incongruous with its architectural host gives pause and a moment to remember ourselves and our community.

John Sauvé, The Man in the City Project, courtesy Michigan Radio

Until recently public art traditionally consisted of elegant sculpture arranged in neatly manicured gardens or parks leaving two-dimensional art relegated to gallery and museum walls. Graffiti has been around since Lascaux Cave’s Paleolithic I-was-here paintings. Contemporary inscriptions became ubiquitous on any modern city’s decaying buildings. Rough and raw, quickly written, it was considered an emblem of decline and abandonment. As the global spotlight on Detroit’s ravaged neighborhoods grew brighter, images of that blight were distributed worldwide. What those images failed to convey was our soul. Detroiters know how to grind. Our resilience has been historically expressed through note and rhyme. Today, it’s described in canned brushstrokes, metals and ink. Indigenous graffiti has evolved from a name scrawled under a bridge somewhere into beautifully executed pieces displayed proudly where everyone can see them. Bold and immediately recognizable styles envelop buildings from Eastern Market to the Creative Corridor. As Schefman stated, there is resistance to change. Those first towering blasts of color, although legally commissioned, still carried the old stigma. Is it vandalism or is it art?

Pose, the Belt, Detroit, image Kim Fay

One the highest concentrations of street art in the world is The Belt/Z Garage’s international collaboration of writers. You can’t miss Shepard Fairey’s mural on One Campus Martius. His smaller piece “Pattern of Destruction” is part of the Belt, a culturally redefined alley between Broadway and Library Street showcasing a gauntlet of creative minds including Cleon Peterson, Nina Chanel Abney, Pose, Hoxxoh and our own Tiff Massey. Peterson describes his images of faceless street fighters as “a gray world where law breakers and law enforcers are one in the same; a world where ethics have been abandoned in favor of personal entitlement.” Tiff Massey references African culture in her work and says, “It’s always going to be large. It’s always going to be in your face.”  Their work turns a meal, a couple cocktails and a packed gallery opening into a raucous street fair.

Cleon Peterson, Nina Chanel Abney, the Belt, Detroit, image Kim Fay

Hoxxoh, the Belt, Detroit, image Kim Fay

This genre has gotten such attention Detroit hosts the annual event Murals in the Market organized by 1xRun and located primarily in Eastern Market. The sprawling festival draws artists from all over the world. It includes local writers Malt and Fel3000ft who collaborated on a piece for the festival. I caught up with artist Malt, who has prominent aerosol pieces in the Dequindre Cut, Lincoln Street Art Park as well as a few remaining underground tags from when he started writing in 1994. His style was inspired by skateboard graphics from the 80’s. Strong color, hard black lines. He says, “Graffiti has always been here. People evolved and got better. Everyone’s still doing their thing just on a larger scale.” Public interest has helped him out tremendously. Before it was all out of his own pocket. Now he gets commissions and has gallery representation. “There’s been a huge progression over the last 10 years. It’s rad. People respect it. It attracts more people to the city.” He adds, “I’d rather look at a colorful wall than beige cinder block.” Amen.

Malt-Fel3000ft collaboration 1xRun Murals in the Market, courtesy of the artist

Malt – Dequindre Cut, courtesy of the artist

No more cloak of darkness with a backpack full of cans. This art form is legit. Love it or hate it, the work is stunning, fun and livens up how we look at life. I still have mad respect for an old school tag dangling on a freeway overpass. As with any art form, how’d they do that?

*Malt and Freddy Diaz open their two-person show at M Contemporary tentatively April 17