Critical art reviews of Detroit galleries and museums weekly

Author: Ron Scott Page 2 of 22

2021 All Media Exhibition @ Detroit Artist Market

Detroit Artist Market: All Media Exhibition, 2021, All images courtesy of DAR

The Detroit Artist Market has been mounting this All Media Biennial Exhibition for many years and getting a wide range of work based on the juror and their particular persuasion.  This exhibition’s juror, Valerie Mercer, DIA curator of African American Art, has significant experience in this market between her time at the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Detroit Artists Market. She says, “The 2021 All Media Exhibition reveals how Detroit artists kept busy during the surge of the pandemic. They created artworks that expressed, through varied artistic approaches, the importance of hope, survival, love, humanity, identity, beauty, community, nature, and culture for their and our lives.”

The exhibition includes nearly seventy artists reflecting a large variety of media. Here are works of art that might give the reader a feel for the variety of work in the exhibition.

Harold Allen, Laocoon, Acrylic on Canvas, 2020

The painting Laocoon by Harold Allen jumps out at the viewer with this abstract expressionistic non-objective action painting that piles these five-inch brush strokes up on top of each other, working from dark tones in the background to bright primary colors in the foreground. He says, “What I want is for the viewer to have is the concept that the shapes and color have a narrative sense about the interaction, activity, and relationship with each other.” Harold Allen earned his BFA from the College of Creative Studies and an MFA from Wayne State University.

Ian Matchett, Jazz, Oil on Canvas, 2021

The painter Ian Matchett captured the sizeable realistic oil portrait from a low angle, as his subject sits on a porch edge with a Covid mask hanging off his ear. The painting Jazz was selected Best in Show and sends a message that figure painting still has some life left in this century-old mainstay of expression.  He says in his statement, “I use a mixture of processes to compose my paintings including reference images, sketches, and when possible collaboration with the subjects. When depicting living people, I prioritize meeting with the subjects of my paintings. We discuss what drives their work, what keeps them going, what I see, what they want to share, and ultimately how I could build all of this into a painting.” Matchett is a graduate of UofM in fine art and social studies, which he continues as a part-time social organizer living and working in Detroit. Most of his work focuses on the connections and continuities between revolutionary movements of the past and present.

Ann Smith, America the Beautiful, Steel, Paper Mash, Wood, Bark, Paint products, 2020

The sculpture located on a base, Ann Smith’s America The Beautiful, is a large free-standing organic plant-like work constructed on a steel armature, shaped with paper mâché and painted colorfully with paint products. She says, “These sculptural accretions are visual artifacts of the thoughts and experiences of one contemporary organism, and investigate my place in the system.” Ann Smith has an art studio in the 333 Midland studio in Highland Park where she is one of twenty-five resident artists, collectively known for their BIG shows. Ann Smith is a graduate of the College for Creative Studies.

Nolan Young, Untitled Relief, Encaustic, Mixed Media, 2021

This young artist, Nolan Young, presents a relief that reminds this writer of Cass Corridor’s work from the 1970s.  It could be described as “Newton-esque.” He says in his statement, “Reconstruction through destruction is a key element to my work.  I use found objects, often discarded and forgotten objects to represent observations I have made about post-industrial Detroit. As a product of this environment, I cut and vandalize these objects to create scenes in which the events of deconstruction is a process for Reconstruction.”

Donita Simpson, Portrait of Carl Wilson, Photograph, 2017

The image Portrait of Carl Wilson demonstrates the photographic quality in this well-known Detroit photographer, Donita Simpson. Best known for her portrait of Gilda Snowden (2014), she has captured the larger-than-life quality in her image of the famous abstract Detroit artist. In the Portrait of Carl Wilson, Simpson frames her subject surrounded by contemporary art, just right off-center, capturing this relaxed expression of Mr. Wilson. For years, Simpson has been documenting Detroit artists in their work and where they live. Donita Simpson earned her BFA and MFA from Wayne State University.

Woodbridge Estates, Acrylic on Panel, 2021

This small oil painting, Woodbridge Estates, is representative of the urban landscape painting by the artist Bryant Tillman. Streets, parked cars, neighborhoods, and low light casting high contrast shadows across these subjects with a fluid palette of paint. Bryant Tillman was a 2013 Kresge Visual Arts Fellow.  The Detroit artist has painted in the City of Detroit for thirty-five years and has given his audiences his indelible style of impressionism, exemplified by the painting of a Honda Accord with his own shadow cast on the car’s body.  Bryant Tillman was awarded the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, New York, NY, in 2017.

Participating Artists:

Jide Aje, Harold Allen, Zoe Beaudry, Robert Beras, Boisali Biswas, Davariz Broaden, Marguerite Carlton, Chris Charron, Sherell Chillik, Winnie Chrzanowski, Glenn Corey, Amelia Currier, Valarie Davis, Edmund Dorsey, Artina Dozier, Laurel Dugan, Jan Filarski, Anne Furnaris, Myles Gallagher, Bill Gemmell, Alex Gilford, Dae Jona Gordon, Albert Gordon, Jabrion Graham, Margaret Griggs, Talese Harris, Steven Hauptman, Carol Jackson, Naigael Johnson, Dawnice Kerchaert, Rosemary Lee, Brant MacLean, Lilly Marinelli, Ian Matchett, David McLemore, David Mikesell, Timothy O’Neill, Bruce Peterson, Marcia Polenberg, Shirley Reasor, Laura Reed, Philip Ross, Angelo Sherman, Donita Simpson, Cameron Singletary, Ann Smith, Nicolena Stubbs, Rosemary Summers, Ron Teachworth, Roger Tertocha, Bryant Tillman, Vasundhara Tolia, Kimberly Tosolt, Alan Vidali, Bryan Wilson, Marsha Wright, Nolan Young, Lori Zurvalec.

Detroit Artist Market: All Media Exhibition, 2021

Detroit Artist Market: All Media Exhibition, through September 11, 2021


Richard Lewis @ Galerie Camille

Installation image, Richard Lewis at Gallerie Camile, 8.2021

My first impression of artist Richard Lewis came from an exhibition at CCS Center Galleries in 2017. Evidence of Things Not Seen was written by Sarah Rose Sharp and consisted of a collection of drawings, featuring works on paper by Richard Lewis, Mario Moore, Sabrina Nelson and Rashaun Rucker and, let’s not forget, was curated by Michelle Perron. It was the drawing, Rent Party, 48 x 60” where Richard Lewis demonstrated his incredible ability to imagine and draw. For Richard Lewis, it was something that he began at age four.

Fast forward to the opening of his solo exhibition on August 13, 2021, at Galerie Camille and a collection of eleven oil paintings, a combination of figure and still life paintings that are both bold and traditional representational artwork. “These are mostly friends and family.” He said in a modest, hushed voice.

Lewis grew up in Detroit, attended Cass Technical High School, and after college and graduate school, returned to live his life where it began, among his family and friends in the city.


Richard Lewis, Tokyi The Boxer, Oil on Canvas on Plywood, 48 x 44″

From ancient times to the present, the visual and emotional drama that is inherent in the sport of boxing has always attracted and inspired artists. What leads the show is this large oil painting, Takyi the Boxer, which draws on George Bellows, Club Night in 1907, where realism is on view from a point placing the viewer close to the action and looking beyond into a large audience of dark-skinned people. The painting Club Night was followed by The Brown Bomber by Robert Riggs, 1938, and here Lewis is drawn to the Ghanaian Boxer Samuel Takyi, where he won the Bronze medal in the Olympic games. It is a nostalgic painting, paying homage to the famous boxer of color.

Richard Lewis, Tracey with an Ankle Brace, Oil on Linen on Plywood, 72 x 48″

Richard Lewis conveyed to me that he is using family and friends as models for these somewhat casual figure paintings that capture a pose quickly and go so far as to say they are works in progress. “The show is called ’Works in Progress’ because I usually consider my paintings ongoing.  I never have drastic changes in my work, but a deepening understanding, or simply a different perspective, that comes from working on something over time.”

Richard Lewis, Still Life with Fish and Greens, Oil on Canvas, on Playwood, 36 x 48″

The still life painting, Still Life with Fish, flattens out the space and leans on the work of Paul Cezanne in this depiction of a plate of three fish and some lettuce, peaches and a bottle of Champagne using primary and secondary color, and the print missing from the bottle label. The artwork in this exhibition is simple, traditional, straightforward and personal.

Richard Lewis, Still Life / Alter, Oil on Plywood on Canvas, 48 x 48″

Spatially and equally flattened out, the still life, Still Life with Alter, has its light source coming from the right across the table cloth and combines pitchers, a bowl, a plate of chocolates, a small picture of a friend, and two religious statues. The larger statue dominates the entire composition.  I am drawn to the sacred statues, but that may just be a personal preference. I also like the addition of the small photo and the print pattern on the floor.

Richard Lewis, Noir, Self-Portrait, Oil on Linen on Plywood, 48 x 48″

The large self-portrait he titles Noir Self-Portrait is a big close-up of the artist wearing a BIG green shirt, hat, and a blue glove. One of its strengths is that it is simple enough. Noir is French for black, a type of fiction with tough characters, cynical, bleak, and pessimistic nature. It is good to always have some self-portraits, and Lewis delivers here by keeping his eyes on the viewer.

Richard Lewis was born in Detroit in 1966. He graduated from Cass Technical High School in 1985. He earned his B.F.A. from College for Creative Studies and his M.F.A. from the Yale School of Art. He was awarded the Kresge Foundation Fellowship in 2011, which was well deserved.

The Galerie Camille presents A Work in Progress, August 13, and runs through September  11, 2021


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

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