Critical art reviews of Detroit galleries and museums weekly

Author: Ron Scott Page 1 of 20

Daniel Arsham @ Library Street Collective

Daniel Arsham, Installation image, Bronze DeLorean, Edition of 3, 2021

The smaller single gallery at Library Street Collective opened an exhibition of work, Turning Wrenches, by the artist from Miami, Daniel Arsham, on June 25, 2021.  It is an exhibition of automotive-based sculpted models of cars 1:3 scale replicas with a connection to the film industry.  The sculptured objects are created from Bronze, Quartz, Selenite, Hydrostone, Amethyst, and Calcite. These stone materials are used to create four cars and some additional car-related artifacts. Asham, now described as a New York-based artist, began his journey by traveling to Easter Island in 2011. He joined archaeologists who were re-excavating a Moai (the giant statue) and ran across early tools left behind for nearly a hundred years.  What he experienced was the effect of acid rain, the environment, and years’ time on the tools.  The experience began back in the studio by creating objects that included a kind of erosion that depicted openings in some of his early objects he purchased off eBay: a camera and a Jam Box. Essentially what followed was a process where he created objects, with carefully placed areas of time abandonment and decay that reveal patches of a surreal organic-like interior.

Daniel Arsham, Bronze DeLorean, 2021

For the Detroit exhibition, his solo exhibition at LSC plays on his interest in the automotive industry and auto culture by linking cars to the film industry.  The DeLorean is a relic of the film Back to the Future and conceptually combines his interest in both a unique car and his interest in manipulating time. The model is produced in Bronze and is available in an edition of three.

Daniel Arsham, Ash and Pyrite Eroded Mustang GT, 2021

The 1968 Mustang G.T. was created using Volcanic Ash and Pyrite, is connected to the film Bullitt, starring Steve McQueen, where everything is black except the surreal interior openings in the car chassis.  The original Mustang in the film’s famous chase scene was dark green.

Daniel Arsham, Rose Quarz Eroded Porsche 930, 2021

Along his journey, Arsham purchased a 1986 Porsche 911 Turbo that may have been connected to his personal fondness for the car during his youth. The replica of the re-imagined model was based on a Porsche 930A and is shown here with an imagined “under the hood” universe. The material sculpted is Rose Quartz and Orange Selenite.

Daniel Arsham, Amethyst Eroded Pegasus Sign, 2921

In addition to these reduced 1:3 models of cars, Asham includes a variety of design artifacts from the auto industry of the past.  The early icon for Mobil Oil was this Flying Horse Pegasus, a symbol of speed and power. The flying red horse was first used by Vacuum Oil in South Africa in 1911, but after an acquisition in 1931, Pegasus with a nod from Greek Mythology was adopted as its U.S. trademark by Mobil Oil.

Daniel Arsham, Quartz Eroded Gas Pump, 2021

The origin of the Shell name can be traced back to the seashells that Marcus Samuel senior imported from the Far East during the late 19th Century. The gas pump has evolved over many years, and this replica comes from the 1970 time period, which perhaps made an impression on Ashram’s formative years.

Born in Ohio in 1980, Daniel Arsham primarily grew up in Miami. During his childhood, he began to familiarize himself with art, starting with photography and came to be influenced by his grandfather’s art collection. Arsham employs architecture, performance, and sculpture elements to manipulate and distort understandings of structures and space.

He earned his BFA from The Cooper Union, NYC, NY.  Arsham’s work has been shown at PS1 in New York, The Museum of Contemporary Art in Miami, The Athens Biennial in Athens, Greece, The New Museum In New York, Mills College Art Museum in Oakland, California Carré d’Art de Nîmes, France, among others.

The exhibition Turning Wrenches by Daniel Arsham is on display at the Library Street Collective through August 7, 2021.


Mario Moore @ Charles H. Wright Museum

The young African American Detroit artist Mario Moore has landed an exhibition, Enshrined: Presence + Preservation, at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.

Installation image, Enshrined: Presence + Preservation, at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.

Mario Moore addressed the large crowd that had gathered at the Charles H. Wright Museum for the opening of his first museum exhibition.  There was plenty to be thankful for, as many people helped Moore on his path from a young Detroit art student at Cass Technical High School to attending College for Creative Studies and then earning his MFA at Yale University.  All of these educational experiences are coupled with his recovery from brain surgery,  coverage on CBS News, and his representation at the David Klein Gallery. It was clear from his remarks that he wanted this exhibition to be at the Charles H. Wright Museum in Detroit, a reflection of how the museum and the city shaped his life.

Taylor Renee Aldridge the curator for the exhibition had been in the planning since 2019 and presented the audience with these buckets of themes ( listed here in bold) that chronologically track Moore’s early work to the present. The Detroiter, Aldridge, worked for a short time at the Detroit Institute of Arts, where she assisted in curating the exhibition Making Home, a collection of fifty works by artists with diverse perspectives and backgrounds. In a variety of media, the DIA exhibition focused on Home as a symbol of belonging. That and many other curatorial efforts prepared her for what she does best, and it is fitting that she would team up with Mario Moore for a museum exhibition at the Charles Wright in Detroit.  She is currently living in Los Angles, where she works as the visual arts curator and program manager at the California African American Museum.

The artwork of Mario Moore from an early age is centered on drawing the figure as part of a personal and realistic narrative. Whether it is family or friends posing for portraits, or ideas from his own ideations, the artwork reflects his experience filtered through the Black culture growing up in Detroit.

He says in his statement for this exhibition, “I continue to be interested in the concept of space.  A physical and mental space. One that directly engages with the human body and how to make a two-dimensional surface interact with three-dimensional ideas.  I hope that my work challenges, confronts, and disrupts perceptions of humanity, the human figure, and more specifically, Black life.”

The Matriarch

Mario Moore, Mom Says I’m Her Sun, Oil on Copper, 2015

It’s not unusual for a young person in the Black culture to be raised by their single mother, including a supportive grandmother. Black Americans’ social standing in the United States has been shaped by a long history of racism in laws, policies and practices that have built racist institutions and exacerbated inequality. Moore pays tribute to both his mother, Sabrina Nelson, and his grandmother, Yvette Ivie, by painting portraits, each displaying a photograph of family members in their hands where the image becomes enshrined. Not a new medium, rather an old medium, Moore often paints on copper. Unlike canvas, the smooth, rigid surface of copper lends itself particularly well to finely detailed brushwork. In the 16th and 17th centuries, many artists painting on copper applied a coating of tin to the copper surface before painting which imbued their works with great luminosity.

Mario Moore, “Yeah G-Ma Don’t Play”, 24 x 36, Oil on Copper, 2015

All About Love

A photograph used as part of the informational curation, where Mario Moore’s wife, Danielle, leaves him this note the night before he had his craniotomy surgery. Photo image by Jeff Cancelosi, 2018

This group of works explores a variety of ways Moore touches on examples of love for people and ideas.  One of the informational items in the show has this photograph where the audience sees an image of Mario Moore’s hands holding a card with the 23rd psalm handwritten by his wife Danielle and given to him right before he had craniotomy surgery.

Mario Moore, A Student Dream, Oil on Canvas, 2017

Moore’s brain surgery became the subject of his painting, Dream, where the artist creates this dream image in a surreal-like setting of the past.  He paints himself on a plain wooden table, looking out directly at the viewer while placing an African American male, with two diminished assistants in deep observation. The American Bulldog (that appears symbolically in other work) is sleeping while the skull rests on a footstool.  The skull might present the fact that many slave cadavers were dug up for study in the past and the dog represents an American culture fast asleep, ignoring equality and justice for all people.  This painting and others demonstrate Mario Moore’s ability to invent a new and unique way of creating subject matter from a deeply personal experience.  Suppose one steps back and views the work of many African American artists working today. In that case, we see the human figure dominate the artwork:  Charles White, Kerry James Marshall, Kara Walker, Faith Ringgold, Romare Bearden, Claude Clark, Elizabeth Catlett, Jacob Lawrence, Kehinde Wiley, Amy Sherald, Basquiat, and Mickalene Thomas to name only a few.

Mario Moore, Light on Brother (Jalen), Oil on Linen, 2017

The painting Jalen (brother) from 2019 is my most-liked painting in the exhibition because it seems to encompass all I have learned about Moore’s life and artwork. For instance, it is the strength of the composition where the young man stands relaxed at the table looking into the audience’s eyes (in this case the artist) and is placed one-third into the rectangle. The large window provides the overexposed lighting that helps the color modeling, especially the blue shirt worn by his friend and relies on the influence of using primary color to do the heavy lifting.  The secondary color is there, both orange and green, but nothing can compete with the placement of the yellow plastic basket centered below the figure in the composition.  These elements make a work of art transcend our own experience, successfully capture a moment in time and leave us wanting more. This painting will still grab our attention in a hundred years, even if some viewers do not quite know why.

Mario Moore, Four Portraits of male friends, Mesha Cherie, Toria Turner, Bruce Israel, and Tannisha Reid. Oil on Copper. 2018

These four portraits of either friends or family are painted using oil paint on copper, which is usually far better preserved than those on other substrates. All four are looking off to the side, and not at the viewer.  They are purposefully making pleasant gestures that capture kindness.  It is not an accident that Moore enshrines these four men as a statement of affection and share the commonality of age, gender, and race.

Mario Moore, The American Dream, Oil on Canvas, 2011

This double portrait of American Dream of Moore’s sister Denise and her husband Bomani Diop has this romantic light at night from the left juxtaposed to a violent act just a couple of hundred yards away. Light sources in the houses behind the two figures add to the drama in the street.  It is as if at times the vibe is normal and serene, but violence lurks in the street.

Mario Moore, Lucia, Drawing with Graphite on Paper, 2015

Lucia,  graphite on paper, is a large drawing using conventional rendering where the sitting figure has a full range of black, white and gray.  Many of Moore’s drawings are in silverpoint, but any artist willing to place the book  Art and Culture by Clement Greenberg in a piece of artwork gets special attention from a writer of art criticism.  I am drawn to this full-length portrait where the subject directs the gaze into the viewer’s eyes. What is she trying to say? “Study your Art History?”

Fabricating Oneself

Mario Moore, Red, Black, and Green. Oil on Canvas, 2017

Just as in the painting Dream, and for some people, just as history has provided the art world with a figurative narrative for the past 2000 years, Moore gives us a new experience with his self-portrait, Red, Black, and Green Armor. Think of the armor we cover ourselves in, our skin (black), our trousers, underwear (Green), and a (Red) hoody with shoes.  He pulls them spatially apart while confronting the viewer with his gaze. It is laying yourself open to the world through this kind of realism that is rendered realistically with light casting shadow from the left.  As in much of Moore’s work, it is a new experience in delivering our humanity to the viewing public.

Mario Moore, Not Your Landscape Oil on Canvas, 2018

Mario Moore did a series of silverpoint drawings of men at rest that was the subject of an exhibition at the David Klein Gallery.  Some of that must have come from the recuperation time he needed after his surgery. Through interviews, he expresses this idea that black men were constantly working to keep ahead and survive the massive discrimination that was part of the white Anglo-Saxon culture. The painting Not Your Landscape accomplishes a couple of things. It is a biographical documentary of the artist resting during his recuperation time but also allows him to flex his muscles as a painter, trained to render the landscape in its splendor realistically.  The image is of himself sitting in a lounge chair centered in the lower third of the composition, with low sunlight coming from the left which helps define the figure, and the texture of the grass and surrounding foliage supported with reflections from the background lake. It’s his landscape, not yours.

Legacies of Labor

Mario Moore, Clyde Sky High, Oil on Linen, 2018

After Moore’s graduate school experience at Yale University, he was offered a residency at Princeton University’s Museum, and it seemed like the concept he would use to create a series just fell into his thought process as he arrived in 2018.  In addition, he has said he was inspired by his father, a former security guard at the Detroit Institute of Arts when he first encountered aged white men’s portraits, deans, donors, and alumni, all hanging on the museum walls.  This painting Clyde Sky High was Moore’s first painting in a series documenting the cleaning staff, cooks, and security guards.  In December 2019, I closed my review of the exhibition, Detroit Collects, at the DIA with this remark, “Recently Moore has spent his time as a Hodder Fellow at Princeton University, depicting large-scale paintings of black men and women who work around the campus in blue-collar jobs. When I think about the work of Mario Moore, there is a message of social justice that reminds me of Kehinde Wiley, who addresses the issue of inequality in the selection of the figurative subjects in paintings of the past.  This early review was the beginning of my exposure to Mario Moore’s artwork, and I now have seen Moore’s artwork, Black & Blue is a painting that expresses his feelings around social justice.

Grand Uprising

Mario Moore, Black and Blue, Oil on Canvas, 2016

With all the violence perpetrated on Black Americans for three hundred years, the trauma and anxiety layered into their daily lives, it should not surprise anyone that many artists are drawn to ideas that express imagery that reflects those events.  The painting Black & Blue is a painting that represents the frustration and anger when the police arrive with their attack dogs. The woman is depicted in full realistic color as she strikes a powerful blow to the dog depicted in a solid monotone blue that characterizes the police and his riot dog. How many people would like to feel the success of this moment as the bat comes around from contact with the police?  Not enough.

Mario Moore, PTSD for a Lifetime it seems. Oil on Canvas, 2015

Ask yourself why this young boy is afraid, upset, and crying?  The children’s illustration lying on the floor is that of a policeman shooting a Black American.  Who is caring for this very young boy as the American Bulldog sleeps?  This could easily be a vivid memory of a young Mario Moore where the background is made up of the two symbols present in a vacant urban landscape: A Liquor Store and a Church. These are the only tools left when justice fails Black Americans.  If this depicts the interior of a parking structure, why isn’t the male passerby within earshot of a crying boy?  The visual art tools are vital in this formal composition, with light low and to the left.  The artist is asking a question to the viewer: Do Black Lives Matter?

In American art today, portraits of Black men by Black artists are uncommon. They keep their inner lives to themselves.  It is not given much attention.  In 1994 at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Thelma Golden curated: The Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art.  This exhibition investigated the social and cultural history of the black male body in contemporary art and media after the Civil Rights era.  Mario Moore is a successor to the legacy of the Black Male artists and one of the most talented young artists of his generation. With a painting practice based on figurative realism, Moore satirizes psychological transactions between himself, his ideas, his narrative, and the viewer. The work challenges and confronts perceptions of humanity, the human figure, and more specifically, Black American life.

Mario Moore was born in 1987 and has lived his life growing up in the heart of Detroit.  Moore earned a BFA in Illustration from the College for Creative Studies and an MFA in Painting from the Yale School of Art. He was awarded the prestigious Princeton Hodder Fellowship at Princeton University and has participated as an artist-in-residence at Knox College, a Fountainhead residency, through the generosity of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation.

Mario Moore, Enshrined: Presence + Preservation at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, through September 19, 2021


Brian Rutenberg and Frank Fisher @ BBAC

Brian Rutenberg, painter, and Frank James Fisher, ceramicist, open the Spring Season of 2021 at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center

As Michiganders crawl out of the winter and the Covid-19 pandemic (be it as slow as it is), we are greeted by the BBAC exhibitions that make it worth our time for a visit.  The main gallery features the ceramic work by Frank Fisher and Brian Rutenberg’s abstractions in the Robinson Gallery. “This is a must-see, exceptional exhibit,” said Annie VanGelderen, BBAC president and CEO. “Truly, all of our spring exhibiting artists are particularly wonderful in their own mediums.  Visitors will certainly leave inspired.”

Brian Rutenberg, Installation, 3.2021 All images courtesy of DAR

Sitting in the Robinson Gallery for a lengthy amount of time, I begin to acclimate to these large oil paintings by the nationally known artist from South Carolina, Brian Rutenberg.  The imagery gradually falls into place, something I would describe as abstract landscapes where there is an abundance of woodlands, horizons, skies, streams and rivers. Although he has spent his adult life, post-graduate school,  in New York City, these compositions are unique, inspired by the coastal Carolina landscape of his youth.  Those formative years must have made its mark on Rutenberg’s sensibility in terms of subject matter, as he brings this vibrant color scheme and the issue of scale to the forefront of the work.  If these paintings were all 20 x 30 inches, we would not be so affected. Still, Green River is a portal into the richness of heavily applied oil paint in a variety of ways and a color scheme that uses primary and secondary colors in a form that is individual to each painting.  There is a newness in how Rutenberg handles his forms, something that separates him from other abstract landscape painters, leaving us with a unique experience.

Brian Rutenberg, Green River, Oil on Linen, 63 x 160″

Brian Rutenberg, Detail Green River

Here is a detail from Green River (18 x 20 inches), where we see Rutenberg using a large variety of tools to spread paint: brushes, sticks, pallet knives and trowels. There is a color selection which repeats throughout the work that reflects on the subjects, a stream or vertical branch, and skies that reach out into a variety of pastel hues.

Brian Rutenbert, Corsair, Oil on Linen, 60 x 82",

The large 60 x 82 inch oil painting, Corsair, is another example of an abstract landscape where there is a horizon running horizontally with vertical lines like tree branches on the left and a blue stream on the right. The foreground dominates the composition with organic brown and foliage green.  The landscape may be subliminal, but it is clear to this viewer that Rutenberg’s abstract expressionism consistently repeats itself throughout the work. The Myrtle Beach-born painter is obsessed with the physicality of low hanging trees along South Carolina’s waterways, and continued to draw on those years long after moving to New York City.  When I refer to the term abstract expressionism, it would be similar to the female paintings by Willem de Kooning, where the figure is abstracted. Rutenberg does this in a unique way with his abstract landscapes.

Brian Rutenberg earned his undergraduate degree from the College of Charleston and his Masters of Fine Arts from the School of Visual Arts in New York City.


Frank James Fisher Ceramics Draw on Everyday Imagery

Frank James Fisher, The Ol’ Yes No, Slab-built porcelain, Raku Fired, reduction

A native Michigander from Milford, Frank James Fisher, has what he calls Pop Artifacts on display in the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center’s main gallery.  These reasonably small works are mostly slab construction using porcelain clay and a Raku firing. Some of the parts to these ceramic pieces are thrown on a potter’s wheel, but most come from lumps of clay rolled out into slab constructions where he adds photo imagery to the surface.  The title Pop Artifacts comes from using commercial images like Starbucks and goes back to the 1970s when artists like Andy Warhol used images from Campbell soup cans and a Brillo pad logo to create their art.

Frank James Fisher, Starbanks, Slab-built porcelain, Raku Fired, reduction

He says in his statement, “Advertising has recalibrated my brain. Forty years of working in the marketing community has saturated and skewed my aesthetic away from traditional art expression. My mind prefers graphics, headlines, logos, body copy, photos, illustrations, taglines, and any other marketing tool to express my creative thoughts. These are the tools I use to build narratives and fabricate impossible consumer products out of clay. I call them Pop Artifacts. Sculpted, cast, pressed, or thrown, these ceramic objects represent the desires we chase in the hope of capturing satisfaction.

Frank James Fisher, Frank Oil Tea-can, Wheel thrown, hand-built porcelain, Raku- fired, reduction, metal & wood handle

Inspired by mineral spirit containers from years ago, Fisher’s Tea-cans have the retro-look of an older metal fabricated chamber that might resemble a favorite of many ceramicists, the Tea Pot. Using hand-cut stencils, he applies them to greenware by adding glaze to the bare surface in various steps and then relies on the Raku process to achieve his desired aged look.

Frank James Fisher earned his BFA in graphic design from Central Michigan University and worked in advertising for 25 years until 2006 and teaches advanced ceramics courses in the metro-Detroit area where he demonstrates his art methods at workshops.

Both exhibitions at the BBAC run through April 22, 2021

Tylonn J. Sawyer @ N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art

Installation image, Tylonn J. Sawyer, N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, 3.2021 All images courtesy of the Detroit Art Review

A new exhibition, White History Month Volume I and II: The Year of the Flood by Detroit native artist Tylonn J. Sawyer is now on display at the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art and runs until June 19, 2021.  There is a cadre of contemporary Detroit artists that express themselves using the figure as the dominant source of their subject matter, including Mario Moore, Sydney James, Peter Williams, Tyanna Buie, Senghor Reid, Rashaun Rucker to name only a few, but no one that takes on the visual language associated with the power and oppression leading to the social injustice against African Americans, as does Tylonn J. Sawyer.

He says in his statement, “Within this collective body of work, I’m interested in themes of black motherhood, confident hypocrisies observed in politics, religion, and the overall social order. Culling from the Western History and cultural tropes, the work in this exhibition centers on the distortions in American social fabric.”

Tylonn J. Sawyer, The Birth of Venus, Oil and Mixed Media on canvas, 72 x 48″, 2021

The painting from 1480 by the Italian artist Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus, depicts the goddess Venus arriving at the shore after her birth when she had emerged from the sea fully-grown. The painting was created during the Italian Renaissance, has dominated western art for seven centuries, and as we see,  Sawyer selects the title to give new meaning to this painting’s title.  When I first experienced the work, I was thinking of Madonna and Child in our contemporary urban world, taking from one of the most popular titles in art history. Here in Sawyer’s work, the standing portrait with child is drenched in symbolism. The American flag is the backdrop for this new mom holding her infant surrounded by butterflies.

Tylonn J. Sawyer, Three Graces: Aretha, Oil on canvas, 72 x 60″, 2019

The painting Three Graces: Aretha is a large oil painting that depicts three African American women standing in front of the American flag with these hand-held black and white masks of the performer Aretha Franklin.  This motif is used in several of Sawyer’s paintings; as an example, he uses Nina Simone and Martin Luther King as the subject of masks.  The concept raises a question in the viewer’s mind: What is the idea presented, and where does it come from?

Sawyer explains, “Borrowing from rituals in sub-Saharan Africa where people would place the mask of their ancestors and spiritual deities to seek counsel for contemporary problems, the figures in this exhibition wear masks of civil rights leaders, activists, artists, and political figures. The figures represent metaphoric deities placed on the backdrop of Americana. Using religious metaphor, history, pop culture, and the flag as sacred symbols of America, I am exploring questions of how Blacks exist within the mythology of Americana.”

Tylonn J. Sawyer, Your Founding Fathers Owned Slaves and We Ain’t Forgot that Shit II, Oil on canvas, 48 x 32″, 2021

Tylonn Sawyer must have known that when it came time to apply for graduate school, he wanted to attend a school specializing in representational art, focusing on figurative painting. The New York Academy of Art is a graduate school that combines intensive technical training using methods and techniques that met his goals.  The painting Your Founding Fathers…the work that is tongue-in-cheek where the African American female is working on a portrait of George Washington—reminds us that not everyone is a descendent of the first U.S. president.

Tylonn J. Sawyer, Missy Misdemeanor Elliot, Charcoal and glitter on paper, 30 x 22, 2020

Throughout the exhibition, there is a collection of charcoal drawings, 30 x 22″ as in Missy Misdemeanor Elliot, that illustrates portraits from famous contemporary celebrities that remind people that there is much accomplishment in the entertainment business.  Sawyer gives credit where credit is due by featuring these realistic headshots where some are surrounded with gold foil.  Sawyer says “Using Hip-Hop, a music genre and culture as a not only medium for both the audio and historical soundtrack, but also as witness to our participation in history, Year of the Flood, immerses the viewer in a body that  refracts movement through a false sense of stasis, offering various aspects of praise and conflict with and of Americana.”

Tylonn J. Sawyer, Every Now and Then, 84 x 50″, Charcoal and Acrylic on Paper, 2017

The large work, Now and Then, charcoal and acrylic is a field of police painted with flat white acrylic faces, depicts the officers as automated cutout droids crammed together in search of a strategy. The symbolism of a police force lacking the diversity it deserves is one more example of Sawyer’s tools to make his social injustice message loud and clear.

Tylonn J. Sawyer, The King James Version, 30 x 22″, Oil on Paper, 2020

The King James Version, also known as the King James Bible, is an English translation of the Christian Bible for the Church of England in 1604.  Historically,  Britons were enslaved in large numbers, typically by wealthy merchants, who exported indigenous slaves from pre-Roman times and became significant participants in the Atlantic slave trade. The painterly portrait here depicts a contemporary African American draped in the U.S. flag, poking fun at such an event’s impossibility.

Throughout our country’s history, the intersection of art and activism has played a crucial role in social movements against inequality, oppression and injustice.  The authors of the Declaration of Independence outlined a bold vision for America: a nation where there would be equal justice for all. More than two hundred years later, it has yet to be achieved.  Though generations of civil rights activism have led to significant gains in legal, political, social and educational realms, the forced removal of indigenous peoples and the institution of slavery marked the beginnings of a system of racial injustice from which our country has yet to recover.

Tylonn J. Sawyer earned his BFA from Eastern Michigan University and his MFA from the New York Academy of Art.

White History Month Volume I and II: The Year of the Flood at the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art runs through June 19, 2021.


New Work / New Year @ David Klein Gallery

Installation image, New Work, New Year, 2021

If it has been hard to survive 2020, that has been especially true for the art community. Artists have had to be concerned with their health, livelihood and families, endure a deadly virus and experience a tumultuous political environment that heightened the anxiety in everyone’s lives.  Art exhibitions struggled to even exist in 2020, while some opted to be exclusively virtual. The David Klein galleries have consistently staged openings, albeit with masks, social distancing and staggered appointments.

The David Klein Gallery’s Director of Contemporary Art, Christine Schefman, has started off the new year by looking back at 2020 with an exhibition statement about this new show. She says, “2020 was a year of uncertainty, but one thing we know that remained constant was artists making art. Maybe there was a pause at the beginning, but ultimately artists found the inspiration to keep moving forward. Whether they continued to explore an ongoing body of work or create something entirely new, their practice endured.”

In this exhibition of fifteen artists, the first two artists I will mention are Robert Schefman and Kelly Reemtsen, both clearly figurative painters with a depth of experience yet whose work is completely juxtaposed.

Schefman talks about choosing an illusionist narrative while avoiding the term photorealism, and he has worked hard at finding a story that uses the human form as his subject.  Over the years, his technique has been impeccable. He has made a point to find a theme, a secret or a mystery that dominates these large oil paintings, and he obviously devotes time to the color pallet and composition.  Reemtsen on the other hand, who has spent time on the west coast and is drawn to Wayne Thiebaud’s work, creates tension between a headless female figure in a pop art patterned dress grasping tradesmen tools; be it a saw, a shovel or an ax. Schefman’s oil paint is carefully and smoothly applied with photo accuracy. In contrast, Reemtsen’s oil paint is very thick and applied loosely at times with a palette knife to the background, while the dresses are always A-line designs cinched at the waist. Her work shouts out contemporary like Balthus, while Schefman’s work is soft and traditionally romantic like Vermeer. It is noted here that the figure has become popular as of late, but it is always a challenge to follow in the steps of DaVinci, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Ingres, Manet, Klimt, Sargent and Picasso, to name just a few.

Robert Schefman, Lola, Oil on Canvas, 50 x 40″, 2020

Robert Schefman’s last solo exhibition at the David Klein Gallery in November 2019 focused on a series of works exploring hidden secrets sent to him via social media with no names attached. He leaves that process during 2020 with Lola, an aerial view of a Formula 4 race car as a crew member changes a tire while a figure holds the umbrella protecting the driver from heat or approaching rainfall.  It fits nicely into his illusionistic narrative. The strength here is the point of view, the use of color and the construction of a compelling composition. Although it gleams with the craft of realism and the precise replication of photo imagery, it is likely the nostalgia of this moment in time draws the artist back to an earlier period in his life.

Robert Schefman earned a B.F.A. from Michigan State University and an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa.

Kelly Reemtsen, Bits and Pieces, Oil on Panel, 36 x 36″, 2020

Kelly Reemtsen gives us her now-familiar depiction of a young woman in retro skirts carrying an ax, with her trademark being pictorially cropped at the head.  Although there have been large paintings in the past that include the female’s head, the work here, Bits and Pieces, is repeated both in composition and the thick, painterly impasto of oil paint.  Set against a white background, the viewer is forced into the tension between the dress pattern and the manly grasp of the color-coordinated ax. Perhaps an early interest in fashion found its way into her mindset, and the niche was oddly a new “post-feminist” expression. The other element that keeps repeating itself is the reoccurring geometric patterns, both on the dresses and in the backgrounds.

Kelly Reemtsen earned her undergraduate degree from Central Michigan University and pursues her graduate degree at California State University at Long Beach.

Cooper Holoweski, Late Stage, New Age Process, Mixed Media, 40 x 24″, 2020

In this exhibition, Cooper Holoweski’s Mixed Media pieces were new, fresh and fascinating. Based on a composition of photo illusions of objects, human parts and abstract forms, the work has an underlying grid that supports the vertical work on paper.  Although the work was a new experience, the name was familiar. I had written  about his video work at the Center Gallery, College of Creative Studies, in 2017.  What still fits from the review is his mention of tension, contradiction and counterbalance, elements present in this new mixed media collage imagery. These mixed media prints are highly technical in their creation, something described as New Age Process. Made on Homasote, a cellulose-based fiber wallboard, several gesso coats are applied, and Holoweski uses a laser engraver to obtain a variety of effects creating his archival inkjet print.

Cooper Holoweski earned a B.F.A from the University of Michigan and an M.F.A. from the Rhode Island School of Design.

Mark Sengbusch, Singin in the Rain, Acylic on Plywood, 25 x 31″, 2020

Mark Sengbusch’s work is an assemblage of pieces of colorfully painted shapes made from wood that are arranged on a grid with a solid colored background. From his biography, it appears as though the types of forms he uses have been influenced by the architecture he experienced in his travels to Europe and the Middle East. The feeling one gets relies on the pattern created by these new and unusual shapes in this work, Singin in the Rain, which is a combination of secondary color and repetition. These design elements’ craftsmanship extends to the surrounding border and frame, making it an integrated part of the work. He refers to asemic approaches to writing with no semantic content but rather symbolism that is open to subjective interpretations.

Mark Sengbusch earned his B.F.A. from the College for Creative Studies and his M.F.A. from Cranbrook Academy of Art.

Ricky Weaver, My First Mind Tells Me, Archival pigment print, 30 x 45″, 2020

Ricky Weaver’s work employs magical realism to investigate the moment. She uses images of herself to capture a metaphysical sense of reality in her work.  In the work My First Mind Tells Me, she recreates a moment with multiples of the same person while shifting to composition and color aesthetics. The attraction here is bringing the viewer into her world and keeping them questioning where the reality lies. The theme that resonates throughout her work is the black female and her relationship with faith. Much of her work is black & white images, but My First Mind Tells Me is rendered in full color. Repeatedly, she investigates the possibilities of these moments and forces the viewer to imagine a variety of alternatives. It is refreshing to experience an artist so grounded in her beliefs that it transfers to her work.

Ricky Weaver earned her B.F.A. in Photography from Eastern Michigan University and an M.F.A. in photography from Cranbrook Academy of Art.

Scott Hocking is well known for installations both in the gallery and on sites throughout the Detroit Metro region and beyond.  In answering what an artist did in 2020, he responds with a digital film, Kayaking Through the Quarantimes. He mentions in his statement, “Over the years, the experience of kayaking has developed into a full-blown obsession, a much-needed connection to nature and quietude, an art project in itself.”


The exhibition includes the work of: Ebitenyefa Baralaye, Susan Campbell, Matthew Hawtin, Scott Hocking, Cooper Holoweski, Kim McCarthy, Mario Moore, Marianna Olague, Jason Patterson, Kelly Reemtsen, Lauren Semivan, Mark Sengbusch, Robert Schefman, Rosalind Tallmadge and Ricky Weaver.

Hourly time slots are available with a maximum of 20 visitors per hour. Plan your visit to the gallery at For further information, please contact: Christine Schefman Director of Contemporary Art:

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