Critical art reviews of Detroit galleries and museums weekly

Category: Mixed Media Page 2 of 5

Allie McGhee @ Cranbrook

Detroit Artist Allie McGhee exhibits a Retrospective, Banana Moon Horn, at Cranbrook Art Museum

Installation image, Allie McGhee, Retrospective, Banana Moon Horn, at Cranbrook Art Museum, all images courtesy CAM

Cranbrook Art Museum (CAM) opened a retrospective exhibition of artwork by artist Allie McGhee on October 30, 2021, which spans five decades of work produced at McGhee’s Jefferson Avenue studio in Detroit.

Laura Mott, the chief curator of contemporary art and design at Cranbrook Art Museum, curated the exhibition. She says, “My interest in Allie McGhee’s work came from seeing his paintings at local galleries in Detroit, but when I did my first studio visit with him, it was a revelation.  In his studio, I saw decades of work and an incredible arc of his artistic practice since the 1960s.  There is also a richness of ideas in his methods of production and research into history and science. When one encounters an incredible mind like Allie’s, it becomes a necessity to tell his story.  Furthermore, his work needed to be contextualized in art history, which is why it was important to have both an exhibition and publication.”

The exhibition brings together artwork that demonstrates the evolution of McGhee’s work back to the 1960’s, beginning with early representational work that quickly evolved to abstraction. McGhee’s work was heavily influenced by trends in the abstract expression movement and influenced by jazz musicians in the Black community.

Andrew Blauvelt, director of Cranbrook Art Museum, said of some of McGhee’s work, “Learning of McGhee’s interest in astronomy, their crumpled and twisted forms have taken on a new resonance, one that recalls the spatial complexities of Catastrophe theory and, in particular, the relative notion of the fold.”

This exhibition takes on more than forty years of paintings and drawings and documents the growth of one of Detroit’s most important artists. The museum produced this short 6-minute video as an introduction to Allie McGhee and his work.

From his recent talk at Cranbrook, the story goes that McGhee came upon an object in the street that reminded him of a KKK hood.  The object was an icing cone used in a bakery.  This occurred in a time period just a year or so after the 1967 Detroit Rebellion and caused McGhee to harness that energy and create an object that hung on the wall alongside a petrified banana, foreshadowing what would repeat itself for years to come.

Allie McGhee, The Ku Klux Klown, Mixed Media on found object, petrified banana, 1961.  All images courtesy of CAM

Ku Klux Klown coincided with his association with a black artist cooperative founded by Charles McGee. Charles organized the landmark 1969 exhibition Seven Black Artists at the Detroit Artists Market and founded Gallery 7. Along with Allie McGhee, members included Lester Johnson, Robert Murray, James Lee, Harold Neal, and Robert J. Stull.  For years, Allie McGhee pursued abstract expressionism using a variety of sizes, shapes, and materials on a flat canvas that hung on the wall. The object and the banana became the center of what was to be called Banana Moon Horn, the title of this exhibition and the Cranbrook publication.

Allie McGhee, TWA Light on Washburn, Mixed Media on canvas, 1989

One of the strongest compositions in the exhibition was from 1989. TWA Light on Washburn, repeats the reoccurring banana symbol that follows him over time. One of the trademarks of McGhee’s work is that he leaves behind the use of traditional brushes for flat sticks of varying sizes to move paint across the surface. In addition, he has a variety of tools to remove paint from a given area, be it cloth, wood or plastic.  This could easily have been when he preferred placing the canvas on the floor instead of using an easel to hold the stretched canvas on a frame. Gravity is his friend on the floor, not an obstacle, where mixing paint worked to his advantage.  In TWA Light on Washburn, we see the primary colors dominating the composition while using the spacing of thirds on the grid, both vertical and horizontal.  There is no evidence of brushwork on the canvas, only the stroke of a long stick he used to create geometric lines, shapes, and sometimes texture. Various values of red, blue, and yellow assist in holding everything together.

Allie McGhee, Apartheid, Mixed Media on Masonite, 48 x 120″, 1984

Most recently viewed in 2017 at the Detroit Institute of Arts as part of a large exhibition, McGhee’s Apartheid was on display in the Art of the Rebellion and Say It Loud, commemorating 50 years since July 23, 1967, when African Americans took to the streets of Detroit to express their anger and frustration with the injustice of law enforcement. It would come to be called the Detroit Rebellion.  McGhee’s work was then being shown by the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art. This painting highlights his use of angular shapes and splatters of paint to evoke and represent the tension of the time. The title Apartheid refers to the oppressive political system that existed in South Africa. The Civil Rights and Black Power movements inspired many African American artists to internalize the fight for civil rights in Detroit.

Allie McGhee, Fall Rush, Acrylic on enamel paper, 2013

Throughout his talk at Cranbrook Art Museum, McGhee continued to stress and talk about his approach. “ The process is more important than the subject.” Thanks to his diligent years of daily work, we see the artwork on the floor begin to evolve and ultimately create something very new. The work Fall Rush (2013) is acrylic and enamel on paper where McGhee has applied his sensibility to both sides of this heavy-duty paper and then worked on producing a crushed and folded object that would present itself on the wall. When I first viewed the work, my only context was the artwork by sculptor John Chamberlain who did something similar with scrap metal, usually mounted on a base as in Homer, 1960.  Chamberlain didn’t paint the metal, instead, he would find parts from scrap car lots where he discovered his colors in the parts of fenders and related shapes of metal. Here, McGhee, the painter, created his own material by painting both sides of the paper, canvas or vinyl, and inventing his shape using his well-developed sensibility. He puts his trust in the process.

Allie McGhee, Flip Side, Acrylic on enameled vinyl, 2015

In the piece Flip Side (2015), we see the evolution of this work where he adds elements after the object is created and on the wall. During the artist talk, he mentioned his interest in science and the various visual aspects of the universe, either through a telescope or a microscope.  McGhee mentioned participating in an Art & Science program that paired artists with scientists from the University of Michigan. The artists then made an artwork that was auctioned off to support scientific research. McGhee was seeking information based on scientific discovery where he sought truth and imagery in the cosmos.

And Allie McGhee talked briefly about the role of music in creating art with an emphasis on the Black jazz musicians John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, and Charles Mingus. They all co-mingled with his process.

Russian abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky has said he was deeply inspired by music. He played the violin from an early age and even gave his works of art musical titles: ‘Improvisations’, Compositions’ and ‘Fugue.

I know I carefully select what I play in my studio. I always select instrumental-only by a variety of musicians like Dave Brubeck, Mozart, or Arvo Part.

Richard Dorment, the art historian, said of Paul Klee, “He started every picture with an abstract mark—a square, a triangle, a circle, a line or a dot—and then allowed that motif to evolve or grow, almost like a living organism.” Whether it is from subconscious dreams or Eric Dolphy on the Saxophone, Allie McGhee worked daily to the sound of jazz. The improvisational riffs provided support for the creation of rich abstraction in the studio, experimenting with materials, making the same mistakes over and over until something emerges and falls into place or rises to the top. What resonates in my thoughts is McGhee’s emphatic statement, “It’s the process, not the subject.”

In the Cranbrook publication, McGhee says, “A really good picture looks as if it’s happened at once. It is an immediate image. For my own work, when a picture looks labored and overworked, and you can’t read in it…there is something in there that has not got to do with beautiful art.  And I usually throw these out, though I think very often it takes ten of those over labored efforts to produce one really beautiful wrist motion that is synchronized with your head and heart, and you have it and therefore it looks as if it were born in a minute.”

Allie McGhee, Bloom, Acrylic, and enamel on fiberglass, 2019

In the acrylic and enamel on fiberglass Bloom, McGhee gives the viewer some insight with the title and adds details to the piece after its painted and folded creation. Who knows? The inspiration may have come from a memory of sitting at his mother’s kitchen table where some flowers were blooming in a vase. We see the surface where the artist draped and dragged the stick over the fiberglass on the floor, then the folding produced fluidity and pattern.

Laura Mott quoted McGhee in her writing about him as saying, “I can tell stories in my paintings about these significant contributions made through our history. To me, that’s a lot more exciting scientifically, spiritually, and visually to feed off of. It’s never-ending. The only limitation is the entire cosmos…I don’t think I will be able to use that up in my lifetime.”

Allie McGhee, Long Look, Acrylic and enamel on vinyl on wood. 2021

Right when you think these folded and crushed colorful objects art are the beneficiaries of a life’s work and might be his last body of new work, he comes back with new flatwork on the wall, like the painting, Long Look, an acrylic and enamel paint on vinyl attached to wood. Is he looking through a microscope or a telescope? Or is he reading The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene about how artists look to science for inspiration?  From the Cranbrook publication, McGhee writes, “I will see the Science section of The New York Times where there will be a photograph that is almost identical to something I painted years ago, like a picture from the Hubble telescope.”

There is something to be said about McGhee’s longevity with respect to being able to continue his process and reap the success of this later work. He is still exploring his evolutionary process, a painter of extraordinary ability who continues to contribute to the art record of Western civilization.

Allie McGhee exhibits a Retrospective, Banana Moon Horn, at Cranbrook Art Museum, through February 13, 2022.

 

 

 

Zenax @ Library Street Collective

Untitled (high blood pressure, depression, antipsychotic, depression, anxiety) by Beverly Fishman, 2021, urethane on wood panel, 48” x 113” photo: K.A. Letts

Zenax, an exhibit featuring thought-provoking work by two creative voices in dialog, is on view at the Library Street Collective until January 6. Detroit artist Beverly Fishman and California painter Gary Lang have combined the words Zen and Xanax in the exhibit’s title, creating a neologism that deftly names each artist’s thematic intent. The work of both bears a passing resemblance to the self-referential minimalist paintings and constructions of Frank Stella and Kenneth Noland, but Fishman and Lang appropriate and subvert the memes and tropes of 1960’s and 70’s minimalism to achieve their very different–and quite specific–goals.

Beverly Fishman

Fishman’s wall constructions speak the language of manufactured consumer products, of blister packs and digital devices. But most especially they speak the language of pharmaceuticals. As part of her ongoing studio practice, she explores the implications, both good and not-so-good, of pharmacological self-modification in emotion and behavior.

Fishman has researched, online, the seductive shapes, colors, and surface sheen of pills and drug packaging to develop her idiosyncratic visual vocabulary. Using these found shapes as source material, she begins her creative process with collages in a variety of materials and in colors that range from the fleshy pink tints of makeup to paint sample colors from the hardware store. Specialists then fabricate the slightly convex trapezoids, rounded polygons and bisected sections of circles. They are finished with smooth, featureless surfaces in consumerist colors, which are assembled into the final artworks. Fishman links the slickly constructed components based on her intuitive sense of how the shapes and colors interact. Her compositional intention is tore-configure and re-arrange them “until they finally surprise me.”

Untitled (depression, depression, adhd) by Beverly Fishman, 2021, urethane on wood panel, 42´x 43” photo: K.A. Letts

Fishman’s 5-piece wall construction, Untitled (high blood pressure, depression, antipsychotic, depression, anxiety), is the largest of the four pieces she has contributed to Zenax, and showcases her creative strategy. The color palette is an aggressively pleasant combination of pastel and neon hues that are at once both attractive and slightly ominous. The consumer-friendly colors—pinks, aquas and burgundies—are bordered by neon reds, greens and oranges that both unify the composition and militantly guard the boundaries of the constituent shapes.

Perhaps more than most artists, Fishman uses the titles of her wall constructions to guide the viewer toward her underlying theme. She both praises and condemns modern medicine for giving us the dubious capacity to deliver social control on a molecular level–scientific advances with unexpected side effects. Her somber observation:  pharmacology has advanced to the point that drugs can control not only how we behave, but what we are allowed to feel.

 

Gary Lang

After the chilly perfection of Fishman’s shaped artworks, the three paintings by Gary Lang in Zenax seem almost lyrical. While subtle, the sweep of his brush and its interaction with the surface of the painting is palpable and ever-present. Lang works within the same visual language of geometry and optics as Fishman, but his aim is transcendence. His meditative use of repetition and a highly organized, yet intuitive compositional methodology results in paintings that seem to vibrate with silent energy.

Maverick 2 by Gary Lang, 2021, acrylic on canvas, 53” x 53” photo: K.A. Letts

Lang skillfully wields the optical properties of his colors to manipulate the perception of the space within his paintings. Maverick 2, shows this strategy at work. A black square-framed in white marks the outer boundary of the painting. A thinner black and white frame repeats the outer boundary and seems to invite entrance. Two flat bands of green and orange mark the surface of the inner picture plane, with a gray shadow seeming to raise them slightly off the surface. Lang leads the eye into the fictive space behind the surface with carefully calibrated, concentric veils of translucent yellow-green. Yet another double band of flat color delivers us–finally–to the glowing inner core of the painting.

His painting ROR bears a passing resemblance to the Ojo de Dios, a native American votive object, and provides another clue to the meditative aims of the artist. The repeated black diamonds alternating with flat primary bands and the graded yellow-green layers fading into white light once again beckon the viewer toward a higher state of being.

ROR by Gary Lang, 2021, acrylic on canvas, 91” x 103” photo: K.A. Letts

While the alternating and telescoping colors within the paintings appear calculated, for Lang they are intuitive. In a 2015 interview with Eric Fischl, he describes his method: “I juggle colors and spatial ratios compulsively prior to painting in order to get a mutable footprint, and adjust and articulate my notations spontaneously once [I am] painting.” The result is a body of work that invites comparison to sacred objects and altered states.

The artworks in Zenax share a common formal vocabulary that allows an interesting dialog between two artists who wield similar means toward contrasting ends. Fishman flatly rejects the purely formal; her work is specifically referential and represents a kind of socially engaged abstraction. Lang’s aims are specific as well but refer to the life of the spirit. Consciousness is the subject at hand for both artists though: its nature, its susceptibility to alteration by means pharmacological or spiritual. It’s a conversation worth having.

Zenax @ Library Street Collective install image courtesy LSC.

Zenax @ Library Street Collective through January 6, 2022

 

 

 

 

Rosalind Tallmadge @ David Klein Gallery

David Klein Gallery Hosts Rosalind Tallmadge Exhibition: Terrain

The lion’s share of Rosalind Tallmadge’s large, luminous paintings in “Terrain” at Detroit’s David Klein Gallery call to mind relief maps, drone’s-eye views of alien, metallic worlds with surfaces both beautiful and hard, and utterly inhospitable to human life. The show, which features work all completed in 2021, is up through Dec. 18, 2021.

But these light-filled, fraught surfaces are actually more earth-bound than you might initially guess because, in addition to piling up natural elements in rich, stratified layers, Tallmadge pulls in a range of man-made materials that evoke both fashion and femininity, whether sequins, glass beads, or glitter. And who doesn’t like glitter?

Installation image of “Rosalind Tallmadge, Terrain,” which is up at Detroit’s David Klein Gallery through Dec. 18. Images courtesy of David Klein Gallery

Several of the most striking pieces on display, including “Ember,” “Dusk Lightning” and “Cross Section X” are so highly reflective, despite their variegated texture, you’d swear they were giving off heat. This is particularly the case with the appropriately named “Ember,” which is covered in a rose-toned gold leaf that resembles polished copper and hooks you with seductive warmth and the lure of the sparkle.

These are paintings with a visceral physical presence, products of a creative synthesis Tallmadge, a 2015 Cranbrook Academy of Art graduate now living in Brooklyn, N.Y., terms “disco alchemy.” For all their brightness, these works ideally call for consideration over the long term, an unhurried process of getting to know the idiosyncratic geography on each sequin-fabric canvas. They’re not cheap dates. They’ll reveal even more of themselves over time.

The rewards associated with this work, it must be noted, are not of the chirpy sort. The paintings exude an almost Cassandra-like vibe, glimpses of an out-of-control future, however glittering. Some pieces are utterly beautiful – there’s no other word. But they’re all grave in aspect as if they sprang from worlds where the zeitgeist is grim.

Rosalind Tallmadge, “Cross Section XII,” Pewter leaf, mica flakes & powdered glass on sequin fabric, 20 x 16 inches, 2021.

Unspooling the cosmic metaphor a bit further, Tallmadge has invested these works with a certain timelessness, geologic in breadth, that seems to span millennia by the hundreds. There’s something ancient and fire-blasted about them. Indeed, some look very much like metallic lava of impossible purity, somehow produced in the igneous cataclysm of a volcanic eruption. Or perhaps they’re the product not of catastrophe but unending, unyielding metamorphic heat and pressure, like gemstones. In any case, time hangs heavy on them. Little wonder, perhaps, that a 2018 exhibition Tallmadge had at Marquee Projects in Bellport, N.Y. was titled “Deep Time.” For its part, Brooklyn’s Carvalho Park gallery, where Tallmadge had a show in 2019, termed the Cincinnati native’s work “nebulous and spectral.”

This is what you hope for when you’re a serious art student. Shortly after Tallmadge got out of grad school, David Klein mounted a solo show for her in 2016. Her work has also been exhibited in New York City, Seattle, and Chicago. Prestigious residences she’s snagged include ones at the Oxbow School of Art and the Yale Summer School of Art.

For her part, Tallmadge says in her artist’s statement that she wants to create “elusive, experiential paintings that activate the viewer’s body through their seductive light-based surfaces.” They’re meant to evoke, she adds, “degraded urban surfaces or worn rocks you would happen upon in nature.”

The online, French-language mezzanine notes that Tallmadge “does not paint canvases. She creates atmosphere.” The journal added, “With her, the celestial immensity becomes tangible, though always remains mysterious.” For her part, the artist responds to a question by noting that her paintings “are also a reflection of my daily life in New York. The asphalt surfaces, the worn-out sidewalks, and subway walls furnish my subconscious.”

Rosalind Tallmadge, “Ember,” 22K rose gold leaf, mica flakes & glass beads on sequin fabric, 64 x 60 inches, 2021. An oblique angle highlights Tallmadge’s remarkably textured surfaces.

The natural material that Tallmadge employs most, jammed up against her beads, glitter, and sequins, is mica. There’s an intriguing balancing act going on here between, to use the terms very loosely, the feminine and the masculine. Falling into the latter category are surely the chunks of glittering mica – a shiny form of silica that breaks into wafer-thin, translucent layers—that Tallmadge employs all over her thickly textured canvases. There’s something in mica’s very instability, always threatening to fracture, that plays a role here as if to say, “I glitter, but beware – I’m also brittle. I shatter.”

Rosalind Tallmadge, “Omen,” Mica stone, liquid glass concentrate & pumice on birch panel, 30 x 30 inches, 2021.

 These qualities are on full display with “Omen” and “Estuary,” both crafted from larger pieces of mica stone and pumice. They’ve got smoother surfaces, a break from Tallmadge’s rich impasto elsewhere, and are less raked and eroded than many of the other works on display. “Omen” almost looks like one sheet of black-brown glass that’s been violently shattered but still miraculously holds together. “Estuary,” despite its riverine name, when viewed up-close, looks a bit like the inside of an astonishing geode when you’ve sawed a rock in half and polished the surface.

By contrast, “Cross Section XII,” fabricated with powdered glass and pewter leaf – Who knew?— is blistered and brooding. To return once again to the planetary metaphor, it looks a bit like a silvery moon that’s been battered and scoured by solar winds and remorseless radiation.

Rosalind Tallmadge, “Ember” (detail), 22K rose gold leaf, mica flakes & glass beads on sequin fabric, 64 x 60 inches, 2021.

Particularly with the most heavily textured canvases, it’s fun to examine the surface off to one side and at an acute angle to maximize your appreciation of just how 3-D and stratified these meticulous constructions really are. It’s also gratifying that this is a spaciously hung show, with no cramming works together in unnatural, close proximity. This is important in part because of the glow most of these give off, a nimbus you wouldn’t want competing with radiance from another work right next door.

Rosalind Tallmadge, Terrain” will be up at the David Klein Gallery in Detroit through Dec. 18, 2021

 

Per(Sister) and Free Your Mind @ MSU Broad

Per(Sister): Incarcerated Women of the United States installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2021. Photo: Zoe Kissel/MSU Broad. Per(Sister) is a traveling exhibition developed by the Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The United States is home to the world’s most incarcerated population, with 2.2 million individuals held within its prison system. Over the past 40 years, the incarceration rate for women has increased by over 800%. Per(Sister): Incarcerated Women of the United States is a socially-driven exhibition that harnesses the arts to raise awareness of the particular challenges women face during and after incarceration, with attention given to exploring some of the underlying societal conditions that have helped drive forward incarceration rates in the first place.

This exhibit was arranged by the Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University in Louisiana, and paired 30 current and formerly incarcerated women (referred throughout the exhibit as “PerSisters”) with artists who listened to their stories and translated their experiences into artistic form. At the time of the show’s creation, Louisiana was the incarceration capital of the world, with over 1,000 incarcerates per 100,000 inhabitants, compared with 600 per 100,000 in Russia, and 118 per 100,000 in China. Michigan State University’s Broad Art Museum now hosts this traveling exhibit. Underscoring the relevance of the show across state lines, the Broad complements the show with the adjacent exhibition Free Your Mind, which addresses incarceration specifically in Michigan.  Together, both shows encourage us to view these individuals with empathy and dignity.

Per(Sister): Incarcerated Women of the United States installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2021. Photo: Zoe Kissel/MSU Broad. Per(Sister) is a traveling exhibition developed by the Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The works of art (ranging from photography, painting, site-specific installation, fabric art, sculpture, and even music) are eclectic, reflecting the individual experiences they represent. One wall prominently displays large black and white portraits of all 30 PerSisters featured in the exhibition, sympathetically photographed by Allison Beondé; visitors can hear these women in their own words at stations equipped with electronic devices and headphones, and printed excerpts from their interviews accompany many of works in the show, so their voices and faces are always present.

Per(Sister): Incarcerated Women of the United States installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2021. Photo: Zoe Kissel/MSU Broad. Per(Sister) is a traveling exhibition developed by the Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Per(Sister): Incarcerated Women of the United States installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2021. Photo: Zoe Kissel/MSU Broad. Per(Sister) is a traveling exhibition developed by the Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana.

While each work of art in Per(Sister) responds to an individual’s personal experience, many of these works also address broader issues regarding the prison system more generally. Epaul Julien’s portrait of Dolita Wilhike conscientiously recalls images of the iconic political activist Angela Davis. But in the background is a prominent American flag which, up close, is revealed to be a collage of historic images of enslaved African Americans, including the familiar schematic rendering of the notorious Brookes slave ship. We also see the script of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which abolishes slavery “except as punishment for a crime,” a constitutional loophole that effectively allows institutional slavery to persist in the form of the prison industrial complex. Artist Amy Elkins confronts the leasing of convicts for unpaid labor in the garment industry in particular with her site-specific wallpaper which mimics textile art, its floral imagery stitched together with the colors used for prisoners’ uniforms.

Per(Sister): Incarcerated Women of the United States installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2021. Photo: Zoe Kissel/MSU Broad. Per(Sister) is a traveling exhibition developed by the Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana.

One of the most compelling stories in the exhibit is that of Bobbie Jean Johnson, imprisoned for 40 years for a murder she denied committing. She was released in 2018 with the help of the Innocence Project, which provided compelling evidence in support of Johnson’s testimony that her confession was coerced by an officer who was asphyxiating her with a plastic bag. Making the point that in the American justice system a confession is regarded as the “queen of criminal evidence,” artist Rontherin Ratliff created a large sculpture of a queen, which, in the game of chess, is the most powerful piece. But confessions are problematic, as several high-profile cases amply demonstrate– the now-exonerated “Central Park Five” come to mind.

Caption: Per(Sister): Incarcerated Women of Louisiana, installation view at the Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University, 2019. Per(Sister) is a traveling exhibition developed by the Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Plenty of didactic text and informational graphic-illustrations guide viewers through the root causes of female incarceration, the impact of incarceration on mothers, the physical and mental impact of incarceration, and specific challenges women face upon re-entering society. Some specific issues addressed include the lack of access to proper healthcare, as many jails and prisons are not equipped to provide basic prenatal and postpartum care to female inmates. The show also addresses the impact of incarceration on families; nearly 80% of female incarcerates are mothers, the majority of whom are the sole caregivers to their children.

In an adjacent gallery space, the exhibition Free Your Mind complements Per(Sister) with a specific focus on incarceration in Michigan. While Michigan has fewer incarcerated individuals than other states, it leads the way in punitive sentencing, with its 33,000 inmates serving more time on average than those of any other state. This exhibition addresses four themes: the length of sentencing, the impact of incarceration on women, the impact of incarceration on youth, and the impact of COVID-19. All the works in this single-gallery space come from incarcerated individuals who have exhibited with the Prison Creative Arts Project at the University of Michigan.

Even allowing that these works were created by individuals with no formal training in art, the technical skill in some of these works is, by all standards, astonishing.  Daniel Valentine’s pencil drawing of a hand holding a rose, The Scarlet Fancy, is rendered with such realism that it looks like a photograph, even when viewed from just a few inches.  Sarah Yien’s small charcoal drawing I Need to Breathe, showing a body struggling to break through some sort of translucent tarp, also seems photographic, but evokes the blurred photorealism we might expect from the paintings of Gerhard Richter.

Suffragette City is a deceptively playful and visually flamboyant approach to social criticism. In this colorful watercolor and pen & ink panorama which vaguely resembles the busy pages of a Where’s Waldo book, artist Rik McDonough populates a zany cityscape with humorous, thinly veiled allegories of the social and political forces behind mass incarceration. We see armies of pawns scurrying about a dystopian cityscape, and close inspection reveals that many of the buildings in this city are rows of books, all calculatedly chosen titles (Les Misérables, Animal Farm, and 1984, for example).

Incarceration rates among women in Michigan have risen over the past ten years even as the overall statewide prison population has decreased, and much of Free Your Mind features work by women artists. Samantha Bachynski’s Rose Trellis Dream Wedding Dress, a life-sized crocheted wedding dress, is particularly evocative. As quoted in the show, Bachynski movingly says of the dress, “It’s a beautiful piece of art and I’m so proud of it, but I know I’m not going to get to do the two things I wanted to in my life: get married or be a mom. So I want someone else to feel absolutely beautiful wearing it and experience what I’m not going to experience….It’s not a complete end. I still have a life in here. It’s not the life I wanted, but it’s the life I have made for myself.”

Samantha Bachynski, Rose Trellis Dream Wedding Dress, 2019. Courtesy of the Prison Creative Arts Project, University of Michigan.

Although these are both art shows, they’re information-heavy, and visitors should expect to read their way through much of these two exhibits. The accompanying booklet to Per(Sister) is a generous 126 pages long and is really an exhibition catalog replete with introductory essays, biographies of the participants, a brief timeline of the American prison system, and a glossary of terms. It’s perhaps cliche to describe an exhibition as thought-provoking, but the content of these shows really does have a way of getting inside one’s head, only to keep resurfacing as time passes. Together, Per(Sister) and Free Your Mind serve to amplify the voices of a population which, though sizable, remains largely invisible, and they emphatically make the point that individuals shouldn’t forfeit their humanity once they enter the carceral system.

Per(Sister) and Free Your Mind are both on view at the Michigan State University Broad Art Museum through December 12, 2021.

 

 

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.  https://www.kresgeartsindetroit.org/portfolio-posts/bryant-tillman  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

 

Page 2 of 5

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén