Roy Feldman @ M Contemporary Art

Photographer Roy Feldman’s exhibition at M Contemporary Art: Truth & Grace In Hamtramck

Roy Feldman, Untitiled, Archival Pigment, signed and edition numbered prints, 11 X 14″ All images courtesy of M Contemporary Art.

Truth & Grace in Hamtramck was in the planning for a year and scheduled to open on March 20, 2020, at the M Contemporary Art in Ferndale, but the state order to “Stay at Home” by Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan made those plans impossible.  As a result, I asked the gallery owner, Melannie Chard, to allow me to view the images online and proceed with a review. I had viewed Feldman’s photographs over the years and seen several images in person, which gave me enough perspective to proceed in this peculiar and highly unusual endeavor: write a review from art viewed online.

In the image Untitled, where a woman applies mascara, four planes of focus are: the foreground, head, hands, eyeliner brush, followed by the reflection in the mirror, followed by the interior of the salon, followed by the houses across the street. The viewer is drawn into the center of the image where it is split in half near the eyelid, asymmetry that almost goes unnoticed. All of this feels conscious and unconscious as Feldman probes the variations from black to gray to white.

Roy Feldman, a Detroit-based photographer and Emmy award-winning filmmaker with many years of experience as a photojournalist, grew up in Detroit and earned his BFA from the College of Creative Studies and worked for several years as a commercial photographer. Feldman worked for the Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp., the U.S. Department of Energy, the North American International Auto Show, the Detroit Jazz Festival Foundation, and Big Boy Restaurants International (to mention a few) to earn a living, all the while he maintained his personal art of still photography.

Roy Feldman, Untitiled, Archival Pigment, signed and edition numbered prints, 11 X 14″

Photography, in general, has undergone a revolution over the past fifty years.  The digital revolution that began with the production of stand-alone cameras, then evolved to the high-quality camera in every smartphone, has had a tremendous effect on the commercial photographic industry.  It has put freelancers out of business, shifted imagery to large stock image corporations like Getty Images, Shutterstock and Adobe Stock, and in combination with the Internet delivery capacity, it gave their images access to clients worldwide.  Also, it instantly made every person with a smartphone a photographer.  I say this because it did not make everyone an artist. It is the gray matter which resides between ones ears, that creates the artist, not in any type of technology old or new.  As we trace that core concept from Daguerreotype, Eastman Kodak, Louis Lumiere, 35 mm Leica, Canon, and Nikon single-lens cameras, Hasselblad and the digital work that began at the AT&T Bell labs in1969, for capturing and creating an image based on pixels, the artists and their application has been the same since the mid-1840s. The capture of a photo image takes place in our hearts, our heads and our souls.

The work of Roy Feldman is a product of seeing and creating an image, no matter what the recording device. I purposely did not ask him about his process, nor these tools, whether digital or film, darkroom or computer because it doesn’t matter. Feldman said. “I wanted them to look like they could have been taken yesterday or 40 years ago. I really want to make it a piece of art. When you take a picture of something, you’re personally involved.”

Roy Feldman, Untitiled, Archival Pigment, signed and edition numbered prints, 11 X 14″

Historically there is a large body of black & white artwork by world-renowned photographers, mostly from the 20th century, that may put Feldman in context: Andre Kertesz, Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Robert Frank, to name only a few. Feldman’s image of a man at a bus stop reminds me of early Kertesz while in Paris, by approaching his subject from above and developing this high contrast crisscross composition, with white-glove action surrounded with the geometric shapes. Feldman works hard at bringing reflections into his images, as he does here with the circular tree grate reflection off the bus stop glass, reminding me of Otto Steinert’s  Pedestrian’s Foot (1950).

Roy Feldman, Untitiled, Archival Pigment, signed and edition numbered prints, 11 X 14″

The strength in Feldman’s composition here at this street fair is the formally centered and dominating woman sitting in the middle of a street, down very low with a wide-angle lens and the right amount of light that provides this kind of crisp focus on the subject and a backdrop of soft-focus using depth of field. In this one point perspective image, the evenness of light is seen on a cloudy day, with a small shadow cast from the concert-style chair, as this young woman views her smartphone. She reminds us of our own humanity.

Roy Feldman, Untitiled, Archival Pigment, signed and edition numbered prints, 11 X 14″

Roy Feldman, Untitiled, Archival Pigment, signed and edition numbered prints, 11 X 14″

Here in this image of a woman walking in the rain we notice the format 2 x 2 provides the square frame.  Feldman’s lens gets wet, creating a spontaneous blur that he likes and keeps.  In addition, for this exhibition, he converts a color image to black and white that fits nicely into the other photos. The strength in the color image is the red coat and blue umbrella center stage, grabbing our attention on the woman holding the umbrella, perhaps on the way to her car.

Roy Feldman, Untitiled, Archival Pigment, signed and edition numbered prints, 11 X 14″

One of the hallmarks of many photographers I have mentioned before is the “moment in time” concept.  There was a time when people would debate calling a photograph art, and this concept would be used in an attempt to differentiate photography from painting or drawing. This artistic prejudice has faded over the years and is now a thing of the past, but more importantly, does it really matter?  I think not. The image that catches a young girl about to jump out the window of a parked van, probably being used as a clubhouse, not so different from Robert Capra’s Death of a Loyalist Soldier (1936), both weighing heavily on a moment in time.  The young girl is looking directly into Feldman’s camera, wondering if she has gotten caught in her escapade, while soft tree leaves in the foreground frame the subject like a 1970’s Kaufman & Broad illustration of their tract homes. (I used to paint those on illustration board for Detroit architect David Hamburg)

What ties the exhibition together is more than the format or dominance of black & white photography. It’s the honesty and humanity of Feldman’s work. He searches out the world of Hamtramck, a separate city with borders inside the City of Detroit, once a working-class Catholic Polish community and now the gateway to more than fifty nationalities. The elderly wooden homes are packed together like sardines, and the artists that live in and around them, live on the edges of life, eking out an existence and a celebration of truthful nomads.

In his statement, “My current ongoing series is devoted to creating an aesthetic event, where there is no political agenda, no documentation, with no intent to describe a subject or place.  If my picture is easily summed up in a sentence, I feel I will have failed. I’d rather it be described as “well you really have to see it.”

Let’s hope that at some point in time, people will be able to do just that.

Photographer Roy Feldman’s exhibition at M Contemporary Art: Truth & Grace In Hamtramck

 

 

Stewart & Stewart Fine Art Prints @ BBAC

Installation Image, Glimpse: Fine Print Selections from 1980-2020 is on view in the Kantgias-DeSalle Gallery, All images courtesy of Stewart & Stewart

The Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center opens and celebrates forty years of independent printmaking and publishing by Norman and Susan Stewart. Glimpse: Fine Print Selections from 1980-2020 is on view in the Kantgias-DeSalle Gallery. 

From the beginning of the 1980 decade, not far off Telegraph and Quarton Road, sets a small bungalow converted from a gardener’s house, once part of the Book Family summer estate, on Wing Lake that would become the studio for the master printer Norman Stewart.  Fresh from his MFA at Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1977, he continued his work as an artist, and began the process of inviting artists to come and reside in the studio to create their editions in printmaking. Likely one of a kind in the country, the renovation included living quarters to the visiting artist leading to a vibrant and productive relationship that would last for many years.

Although there are several exceptions, the majority of work presented by Stewart & Stewart is screenprinting, (occasionally known as “silkscreen,” or “serigraphy”) where ink is pushed through an applied stencil on a stretched fabric frame against the surface of the paper. Sometimes there is only one screen (Martha Diamond, Vignettes) in this exhibition and as many as 32 screens ( Hugh Kepets, Astor and Catherine Kernan, Traversal I) for a single print.  Unlike many other printmaking processes, a press is not required, as screenprinting is essentially stencil printing and usually produced in editions.

Although early roots of screenprinting can be traced to the ancient Orient,  the artistic expression that began in the United States was in the 1930s. Among the earliest were Harry Gottlieb, and Ruth Chaney, that went on to include nationally known artists such as Josef Albers, Bridget Riley, and Andy Warhol. Although we see other printmaking techniques by artists used in this exhibition that include archival pigment prints, relief prints, lithographs, cliche’-verre, and intaglio prints such as etchings and aquatints, none of these execute the kind of cumulative range of modulation, color, and transparency, and surface treatment as thoroughly as the screenprinting process.

Nancy Sojka former curator of Prints and Drawings, Detroit Institute of Arts remarked,  “These prints are a small part of Norm and Susan Stewart’s living legacy which currently stands at more than two hundred editions — excluding additional 100-plus monoprints by several different artists from among the thirty-five with whom they have collaborated. This prodigious body of work could not have been realized without having a bold vision tempered with sound judgment, extremely hard work, good bookkeeping, and a persistently positive outlook. Over the course of these last four decades the Stewarts have remained true to a central guiding principle.”

Judy McReynolds Bowman (American),  Mom in Harlem, 22″ x 30″ archival pigment print, 2020.

Judy Bowman’s work has arrived on the art scene in Detroit after a hiatus from working as an educator in the Detroit Public School System and raising her family of ten children.  After graduating from high school, she began taking art classes at Spelman College, Atlanta, while adding  classes at Morris Brown College and Clark Atlanta University, majoring in Art.  The large paper collages as in Mary Don’t You Weep,  flatten perspective and call out to Romare Bearden to appear, are reflections on her rich life experiences.  Her focus relies heavily on composition and color, and folk felt subjects that seem to be filled with images of family, relationships, love and faith, and the African American community.  The honesty of Bowman is in full force in these slices of colorful cut and pasted paper.

Janet Fish (American), Leyden, 12-color screenprint,  28.5″ x 41”, 1991

Janet Fish is known primarily for her densely detailed, richly colored, complexly composed still life work often lit with an intensity that matches its informational overload, Fish revels in the delightful inherent contradictions of her elective craft. The objects that serve as armatures for color and light in her work are exuberant in their state of flux.  The conceptual, formal, and iconographic history of the still life genre confirms our own experience.  Fish earned her MFA from Yale in 1963 and is an artist who does oil painting as well as printmaking, lives in New York City, and Middleton Springs VT, and is represented by the DC Moore Gallery. During her evolution, her fellow classmates included Chuck Close, Nancy Graves, Robert Mangold, and Richard Serra. The tight-knit group who formed an intense, ambitious, competitive genus that motivated one another to develop and defend their work. In her work, Leyden, light plays the leading role in both subject and background. Janet Fish created ten fine art screenprint editions in residence at Stewart & Stewart’s Wing Lake Studio starting in 1991, and her impressive body of work included a fine art screenprint edition commissioned by the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1996.

Jane E. Goldman (American), Ellen’s Window 20-color screenprint, 29.75″ x 21.75″, 1990.

In her work, Ellen’s Window, the 20-color screenprint, looks down from above with this elegant diagonal composition of a bowl of fruit, cups on a tray, and window reflections. She says in her statement, “I make art to wake up, to dream, to understand, to speak to my colleagues, the world. My media includes painting and printmaking.” A nationally recognized painter and printmaker, she has taught at Massachusetts College of Art, UCLA, Rice University, and Hartford Art School; and been a visiting artist at many institutions, including Harvard University and Artist Proof Studio, South Africa. Jane Goldman was born in Dallas, Texas, and earned her B.A. degree from Smith College and M.F.A. from the University of Wisconsin.

Richard Bosman (Australian)  Rear View Night B, monoprint/hand painted, 21.75″ x 29.75″,  2017

Richard Bosman’s  Rear View Night B, is one monoprint/hand painted, as part of a series of images that include this review view mirror composition. The print image has a naturalistic palette with expressionistic additions of white, pushing toward the viewer with a kind of aggressive intimacy. Over the years, he has a list of themes that have driven the work: Profiles, Copy Cats, Doors, Artist’s Studios, Modern Life, Rough Terrain, American History, and Wilderness.  Bosman was born in Madras, India, in 1944 and raised in Egypt and Australia. He studied at the Byam Shaw School of Painting and Drawing in London from 1965 – 69 and at the New York Studio School from 1969 – 71. Bosman is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, and his work has been exhibited extensively, including solo shows at numerous international galleries, as well as in group exhibitions at venues including the Museum of Modern Art, the Walker Art Center, the Whitney Museum, and the Brooklyn Museum. The artist lives and works in New York City and Esopus, NY.

Hunt Slonem (American) Lucky Charm, 3-color screenprint,  41″ x 28.5″, 1997

Since 1977, Hunt Slonem has had more than 350 exhibitions at prestigious galleries and museums internationally. His work, Lucky Charm, is just a part of his many portraits of exotic birds, insects, and a variety of animals executed in a loose and expressionistic style that often includes the repetition of bright, colorful images with black outlines. His Neo-Expressionistic paintings of rabbits and tropical birds may be based on his personal aviary.  Slonem says. “But I’m more interested in doing it in the sense of prayer, with repetition… It’s really a form of worship.”  He studied painting at Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture in Scowhegan, ME; of Painting & Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN; and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the Tulane University of Louisiana. Slonem’s works can be found in the permanent collections of 250 museums internationally, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Joan Miro’ Foundation.

Those who specialize in printmaking, understand that there is a close collaboration that is required between an artist and a printer in realizing any print, of course with an occasional artist who works entirely alone based on a specialized set of circumstances. Stewart’s approach is a balance between his own sensibility and that of the artist supporting the creative thought and conception with the technical sequence required by the process.  The outcome is a paradoxical blend of formal and non-formal elements that the viewer reads simultaneously. The appearance of around the clock ease masks the strenuous work, complex technical skill, and long hours that actually define the activities of the artists.  Stewart, often accompanied by assistants, has brought hundreds of new editions and monoprints, into being for the last forty years.

For a partnership in printmaking that has endured for forty years, it is important to recognize Norman and Susan Stewart and their steadfast years of work.  Both were born in Detroit, and attended the University of Michigan for their undergraduate work. Norm’s graduate work at the  University of Michigan and Cranbrook Academy of Art, and Susan’s graduate work at the University of Michigan provided the base for their success. It is a relationship where each skill set has complimented the other to produce a world class collaboration of art, design, and master printmaking.

Stewart & Stewart has published an on-line catalog:  Collaboration in Print, now available at StewartStewart.com to read and/or download for later reference.

Each artist name in this exhibition and catalog has a link to his/her images and biography.

Jack Beal, Richard Bosman, Judy McReynolds Bowman, Nancy Campbell, Susan Crile, Martha Diamond, Connor Everts, Janet Fish, Sondra Freckelton, John Glick
Jane E. Goldman, C. Dennis Guastella, Keiko Hara, John Himmelfarb, Sue Hirtzel, Sidney Hurwitz, Yvonne Jacquette, Hugh Kepets,  Catherine Kernan,  Clinton Kuopus, Daniel Lang, Ann Mikolowski, Jim Nawara, Lucille Procter Nawara, Don Nice,  Mary Prince, Mel Rosas, Jonathan Santlofer, Jeanette Pasin Sloan, Hunt Slonem, Steven Sorman, Norman Stewart, Paul Stewart, Richard Treaster, Titus Welliver

The Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center’s exhibition Glimpse, produced by Stewart & Stewart now runs through June 4, 2020 by appointment.  Simply call the BBAC at 248.644.0866 in advance of your planned visit.

 

Explorations in Wood @ Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum

Installation image, Center for Art in Wood, 2020

A traveling exhibition from the Center for Art in Wood, based in Philadelphia, opened January 24, 2020 at the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum with a selection of 70 objects that range in size from an egg to a motorcycle, and are extraordinarily rich in the variety of wood types. The works come from all parts of the globe and have been gathered for over a forty-year period. The decision to bring the touring exhibition to the MFSM was made by the now retired director Marilyn Wheaton two years ago and in addition to the Henry Luce Foundation,  was made possible with support from the Michigan Council For Arts and Cultural Affairs.

Ted Hunter (Canada), Once Upon a Sandbank, Cherry, 1985

From the CAW museum’s collection of over 1,200 objects, this exhibition was curated by Andy McGivern who says in his statement, “Our dependence on – and love for – wood cannot be overstated. It’s integral to our very existence in a range of ways, encompassing our man-made environments as well as both utilitarian and decorative items. The organic qualities of wood, our ability to manipulate its shape, its abundance, and its renewable potential are among the reasons wood permeates our culture – including the art world. The seventy objects  comprising Explorations in Wood are a small sample of the work held in the collection of Philadelphia’s Center for Art in Wood, gathered over a forty-year period.”

Hugh McKay (United States) Tripot #5, Spalted Maple, 1995

These works stem from a love of wood and display a rich variety of wood types. Processes are varied including wood-turned vessels as well as more sculptural forms. Many celebrate the natural beauty of wood, evident in rich warm-brown tones and assorted grain patterns, typical of materials gathered from around the globe.

Carl R. Pittman (United States) Welcome to the New Paradigm, Silver Maple, white milk paint, waxed linen, steel wax, 2011

While many of the artworks might beg to be touched due to the enticingly tactile nature of wood, it’s the design and form of each that were the basis for selection. Variety and handling also were criteria, noting that some artists, after maximizing the manipulative qualities of wood then use paint to highlight an object’s form. Others combine multiple wood types, creating forms with contrasting colors or manipulating shapes to expose varied natural and machined textures. These approaches and others highlight the diversity and unlimited potential of wood.

Mark Bishop (Tasmania) Muti Layer Sphere I & II, Wood, bleach, dye, 1997

Little known to most, Dorothy Arbury of Midland, Michigan studied with the famous Marshall Fredericks when she attended Kingswood School when he was invited by Carl Milles to join the staffs of Cranbrook Academy of Art and Cranbrook and Kingswood School in Bloomfield HillsMichigan. It was she and her husband who were on the founding Board of Control at Saginaw Valley College in 1965, and worked together to establish the fine arts facilities that included the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum in 1988.

Marshall Fredericks’ “The Spirit Of Detroit” sculpture, sits in front of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, in Detroit, Michigan on JULY 21, 2012. (Photo By Raymond Boyd/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

The Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum is a free and open to the public museum which features a unique collection of more than two thousand objects that span the 70-year career of Detroit-based public sculptor Marshall M. Fredericks (1908-1998). He is known nationally and internationally for his impressive monumental figurative sculpture, public memorials, and fountains. Most Detroiters will immediately recognize the Spirit of Detroit by Marshall Fredericks without knowing the vast body of work that exists throughout Michigan and beyond. “To me, Sculpture is a  wonderful and exciting thing, vital and all absorbing. I want more than anything in the world to do Sculpture which will have real meaning for other people and in some way inspire or give them happiness.”

Sculpture Marshall Fredericks, standing next to clay model for his portrait of John F. Kennedy

Center for Art in Wood on exhibition through May 16, 2020

Hours: M-F 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.,  Saturday 12:00 – 5:00 p.m.

Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum, Saginaw Valley State University, 7400 Bay Road, Saginaw, MI

 

 

Nick Doyle @ Reyes / Finn

A series of works using denim constructions on the wall and mechanical miniature sculptures.

Nick Doyle, Reyes / Finn Gallery Installation, All images courtesy of DAR

On the coattails of Art Basel in Miami 2019, the Reyes / Finn gallery opens the new year with Nick Doyle’s work Paved Paradise. This conceptual revisit to pop art skillfully displays American iconography, both the denim works on the wall and moving miniature sculptures. Pop Art of the early 1960s was exemplified by an enlarged work on canvas of a Campbell’s soup can by the artist Andy Warhol and the term “pop art” was officially introduced in December 1962; the occasion was a “Symposium on Pop Art” organized by the Museum of Modern Art.

When the viewer enters the exhibition, acrylic on canvas is the first impression, but on closer examination, it’s cut and colored denim on board that realistically creates the illusion. There is the apparent cliché associated with denim, a kind of masculine Americana that embodies these objects. There is a mix of signage, painting of objects, and moving miniature sculptures that captivate the viewing audience.

Nick Doyle, The Time for Change is Now and No Vend, (diptych) Collaged Denim and Flashe on custom relief panel, 36 x 72 x 1.5″, 2019

He says in his statement, “My Practice is multidisciplinary and often employs sculpture, painting, mechanical motion, and video. I look to media, particularly film, television, and photography as a source of imagery. I think of visual media like a pop culture database full of narratives pertaining to the cultural moment. My interested lies in what these narratives have to say about us as a culture, and the permission these narratives allow us as individuals. I think of my work as part of the psychological landscape of media culture. The objects, videos and machines that I make hold the psychic energy of my experiences and life, and allow me a way to engage with a broader visual discussion. I use a lot of commonly found materials often found in local hardware stores. I recently started using a lot of denim.”

Nick Doyle, Executive Toy: Hit the Pavement, Denim, Steel, Brass, concrete, silica, bronze, and vintage Samsonite suitcase, 16.5 x 14 x 20″ 2019

In the Falling Man, the customized suitcase has a figure of a man suspended mid-background, and as the crank moves the windows downward, the illusion is created. This work has a sense of humor interjected described by the artist as a sense of darkness (jumping out a window) and lightness (it’s not a real person) that contribute to an emotional journey. Regardless of the artist’s intentions, the kinetic sculpture reflects a level of craftsmanship that is respectful, if not extraordinary.

Nick Doyle, Rolling Stone, Collage Denim and Flashe on custom relief panel, 38.5 x 23.25 x 1.5″, 2019

Nick Doyle, 1-800-COLLECT, Collaged Denim on custom relief panel, 49 x 24 x 1.5″, 2019

The two images of a package of cigarettes and a wallphone are conceptually pop art subjects, both in that, they enhance the scale of the object and are nostalgic in their intent. And that is not to say it is problematic, rather a matter of fact. As Landscape and Figure painting continue as a productive genre, why not Pop Art?

Nick Doyle, Kwik-Stop dan Executive Toy: Send in the Clown, 2019

Doyle works across various platforms and media.  In work, Kwik-Stop and Executive Toy: Send in the Clown, 2019 is what I would describe as an installation piece because it creates an environment that includes a small car, gas pump, soda drink, and various suitcases. It also serves to illustrate that his thinking is non-linear or confined to one medium of expression. Growing up in Los Angeles amongst the media mecca of the world drenched in a land of fruits and nuts where the language is streamlined in pop culture, it seems to fit nicely within the creative work of Doyles’ experience. In an interview, he says, “In Los Angeles, wealth, glamour, and fame were commonly flaunted and in certain ways gave me a grotesquely warped sense of success. There is an entire landscape of shame to traverse when comparing oneself to the class and social hierarchies not only embedded in LA’s culture but pop culture as well.”

Nick Doyle, Running on Empty, Collaged Denim on custom relief panel, 30 x 30 x 1.5″, 2019

This large circular gas gage, Running on Empty, reminds me of the Jackson Browne song released with the same name, in 1977, before Doyle was born but written at the height of the Pop Art era.  Contrary to the title, Nick Doyle’s tank is full.

Nick Doyle was born in Los Angeles, 1983, and now works and lives in Brooklyn, New York.  He earned a BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and an MFA in sculpture from Hunter College, NY.

Nick Doyle @ Reyes / Finn runs through February 22, 2020

Historic American Paintings @ OUAG

American Paintings from the Nancy and Sean Cotton Collection, 1850–1940 at Oakland University Art Gallery

Semour Joseph Guy, Interior with Children, Oil on Canvas 1883

Opening January 10th, 2020, at the Oakland University Art Gallery is a traveling exhibition from the Nancy and Sean Cotton collection of American painting that captures an impression of what kind of realism was prominent in the United States, drawn from European roots and expressed in traditional in oil painting. The exhibition is sectioned off in categories: Landscape, Seascape, Cityscape, Portraiture, Still Life and Family life. Influences such as the Hudson River school or the Ashcan school of art during the late 19th or early 20th century are apparent, while also reflect influence of some of the lesser-known artists of this period. All are beautifully executed with attention to composition, light and facility.

Included in the exhibit is Interior with Children, by Seymour Joseph Guy an American born in England who studied at the Royal Academy of London and emigrated to New York City, settling in Brooklyn Heights.  He worked out of his Manhattan studio on 10th Street where he came in contact with artists William Merritt Chase, Winslow Homer and Fredrick Church. Guy was known for his family portraits and included families of distinction, such as the Vanderbilt’s.

Frank Weston Benson, Three Children, Oil on Canvas, 1907

Frank Weston Benson was an American from Salem, Massachusetts, known for his realistic portraits.  Sometimes referred to as an American Impressionist, he studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and later traveled to Paris to study with Académie Julian.  Here in this painting, Three Children,1907, he is drawn to light from a window on the left, perhaps an influence of Vermeer, with two of the girls looking at the viewer while the third girl gazes out the window. The Detroit Club purchased Benson’s Figure in a Room, but at some time during the next several decades, the painting was replaced on the Club’s premises by an excellent forgery, which was inserted into the painting’s original frame.

Hamilton Hamilton, The Silver Rattle, Oil on Canvas, 1890

Hamilton Hamilton was born in Oxford, England, but emigrated to Buffalo, New York where he painted alongside Barbizon School Painters, and is best known for his landscape paintings of the American West. In the work, The Silver Rattle, 1890, he draws on natural light from a sitting room window with the gaze of the young girl in the middle of the composition. The reflected light on the subject’s faces and the hands of the young mother bring forward a particularly attractive element in this group portrait.

Robert Spear Dunning, A Fruit Picture, Oil on Canvas, 1887

What might have been called a dining-room still-life painting, this work by Robert Spear Dunning, A Fruit Picture, 1887, depicts a display of exotic fruits upon an opulent serving tray. The painting was created for the textile industrialist, Moses Pierce from Norwich, Connecticut.  During this time period, these fruits were considered luxury items in New England, due to the shipping conditions of bananas and such. Historically, it is noted that Pierce left his fortune to train teachers for the African-American schools of the South. During his lifetime, Dunning enjoyed a long and successful career with his chosen specialty, Still Life. A century after his death, the memory of his life and work has been obscured because of the inferior status that still life has historically occupied in the hierarchy of “important” types of painting.

Sanford Robinson Gifford, The Beach at Coney Island, Oil on Canvas, 1866

The son of a well-to-do ironworks owner, Sanford Gifford, grew up in Hudson, New York, and studied at Brown University.  Gifford traveled to Europe and was influenced by the tonality of the Barbizon school of landscape painting.  Like most Hudson River school artists, Gifford traveled extensively to find scenic landscapes to sketch and paint. He returned to New York and worked out of the 10th Street studio building for the rest of his life, spending time with Frederic Church and George Yewell. The single point perspective painting, The Beach at Coney Island, 1866, relies on space and reflection to grab the viewer. The Detroit Institute of Arts has Kaaterskill Falls, 1871, as part of their collection.

Francis A. Silva, Schooner “Progress” Wrecked on Coney Island on July, 4,1874, Oil on Canvas, 1875

Francis Augustus Silva began his career as a sign painter, and after serving in the American Civil War, he first exhibited his work at the National Academy of Design and the Brooklyn Art Association. Silva’s carefully constructed compositions are known for their sense of diminishing perspective. His paintings are equally known for their sense of tranquility and a poetic, almost nostalgic quality. The painting, Schooner “Progress” Wrecked at Coney Island, illustrates another phase in Silva’s development, a shift from the purely geographic to more narrative storytelling.

William John Patton McDowell, Qween Mary Coming to New York, Oil on Canvas, 1936

William John Patton McDowell, an American considered a  British Impressionist, was born in 1889 and spent most of his life on nautical themes.  He painted the Queen Mary multiple times and here depicts the boat arriving in New York City harbor with an array of tugs and onlookers.

John Martin Tracy, Lunch in the Field, Oil on Canvas, 1885

John Martin Tracy was a Mayflower descendant born in Rochester, Ohio, and his father was an abolitionist who was killed in an anti-slavery riot before the artist’s birth.  In this work, Lunch in a Field, the African American man depicted in a kneeling position, perhaps carrying lunch for the hunters, reflects the “separate but equal” Jim Crow laws as an expression of the artist’s dismay of the conditions. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution became law in 1865, and we see the work is dated 1885, reflecting artist’s disapproval. Tracy eventually enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts from 1867–1868 and studied in the progressive atelier of the French portrait master Carolus-Duran. Tracy’s full-length portrait of his wife was exhibited in the Paris Salon of 1874, marking a stylistic transition from romantic landscapes to portraiture.

Edward Lamson Henry, Election Day 1844, Oil on Canvas, 1913

The artist Edward Lamson Henry worked in a Union transport ship during the Civil War and later established a studio in Greenwich Village.  In the work, Election Day, 1844, an African American child stands in the center of the painting as the world swirls around him.  The election-year of 1844 was consequential because James K. Polk became president and paved the way to the issues that involved slavery. Henry moved to New York City as a child and eventually began his study of art at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. He also moved into the 10th Street studio along with Winslow Homer in 1862.

Largely absent from the collection is the presence of lower-class working people and people of color: the men, women and children that powered the expanding American industrial complex.

This kind of exhibition is healthy for an audience to see, as we experience the fact that figure painting is well and alive today, and can serve a purpose in the expressionary work of today’s practicing artists.

American Paintings from the Nancy and Sean Cotton Collection, 1850–1940 is organized by the Detroit Institute of Arts and made possible by the Nancy and Sean Cotton Collection. This is one in a series of American art exhibitions created through a multi-year, multi-institutional partnership formed by the Detroit Institute of Arts as part of the Art Bridges + Terra Foundation Initiative. Generous support is provided by the Richard and Jane Manoogian Foundation.

American Paintings from the Nancy and Sean Cotton Collection, 1850–1940 at Oakland University Art Gallery through April 5, 2020.