Black Matters @ Flint Institute of Art

Install image, Black Matters, FIA

Chicago-based artist Matthew Owen Wead never intended Shooting Targets to be an ongoing series.  Originally conceived in 2009, this body of work memorialized selected black victims of police violence spanning the years 1969 through 2009.  But the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery earlier this year sadly keep this body of work perennially relevant.   The thirteen works from Shooting Targets comprise the bulk of the exhibition Black Matters currently on view at the Flint Art Institute, a moving and considered exhibition of life-sized woodcuts that manage to cross into the realm of performance and conceptual art.

Occupying the FIA’s single-room graphics gallery, Black Matters consists of sixteen large woodcuts depicting black victims of police or vigilante violence; each print shows a black figure against a stark, white void, echoing the nearly universal formula for a typical target at a shooting range.  Using himself as the model for most of the prints, Wead imagined the possible expression and posture of each victim in the moment before their death.  Revealingly, it’s not necessarily always fear or panic we see; the five bullets that struck the mentally disabled Ronald Madison were fired into his back, for example, so some of these victims couldn’t react to what they didn’t expect.  Each image is accompanied with didactic text on the wall relaying the story of each victim.

Matthew Owen Wead, American, born 1984 Breonna Taylor, 2020 Woodcut on paper 36 x 24 inches Courtesy of the artist

These works are confrontational in scale and certainly make a strong statement presented together as an ensemble, but their size also references the approximate size of a target at a shooting range.  And we see each individual only from the waist up, also a conscious allusion to a target.  Close inspection of some of these prints reveals actual bullet holes in the print corresponding to the number of times each victim was shot.

Stylistically, these works conscientiously betray the influence of early 20th century expressionistic woodcuts, particularly the visceral and emotionally charged works of Kathe Kollwitz, which Wead acknowledges were a formative influence on his work, along with the dark and visually punchy works of the Baroque painter Caravaggio.

Matthew Owen Wead, American, born 1984 Johnny Gammage, 2009 Woodcut on paper 36 x 24 inches Museum purchase, FIA

All of these works apply expressive linework.  The agitated undulations and swirling light and shadow that appear on the jackets of Michael Pleasance and Khiel Coppin seem to help externalize their states of mind and underscore the drama of the moment, for example.  And the knee on George Floyd’s neck is rendered abstractly as a frighteningly oppressive network of chevron lines which consume half the page.  But there’s also an understated elegance in some of these images, as in the portrait of Ronald Madison, his back rendered with sinuous linework and deft application of light and shadow.

Matthew Owen Wead, American, born 1984 Ronald Madison, 2009 Woodcut on paper 36 x 24 inches Museum purchase, FIA

Both this exhibition’s title and font carry subtle references.  Black Matters, of course, references the Black Lives Matter movement.  But the “B” and “M” in Black Matters  double as a 3 and a 5, wittily referencing the Three-Fifth’s Compromise which emerged from the 1787 Constitutional Convention, a policy that determined that in assessing the populations of each state, slaves would be counted as 3/5 of a person.  The title and the 3/5 fraction together also subtly make the point that addressing systemic racism should always be a priority, not merely in those moments when a particularly sensational video happens to go viral.

Matthew Owen Wead, American, born 1984 George Floyd, 2020 Woodcut on paper 36 x 24 inches Courtesy of the artist

Install image, Black Matters, FIA

This show demonstrates that police brutality has been a problem well before George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbey unwittingly became names with which we are all familiar.  Personally, I found it sadly revealing that almost all of these individuals were people I had never heard of before, suggesting my own relative ignorance of the history and the scope of the problem.  Black Matters is a considered, moving, and pathos-laden exhibition, and it’s also an exhibition that shouldn’t have to happen.

Black Matters, Matthew Owen Wead, Flint Institute of Art

Soft Powers @Arab American National Museum

 

Soft Powers, dimensions variable, installation

Yasmine Diaz has already had work exhibited in both sides of the Atlantic ranging from venues such as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Poetry Project Space in Berlin, and Station Beirut in Lebanon.  But soft powers at the Arab American National Museum is her first solo exhibition in a museum space, and as such seems like a debut of sorts.  Los Angeles based Yasmine Nasser Diaz recently completed her artist in residence in March 2020 at the AANM, and with Soft-Powers, she presents an intimate and largely autobiographical reflection on the experience of coming-of-age in the United States as the daughter of immigrants.

Soft Powers wittily puns on both the medium and the message of the exhibit, referencing the silk of the show’s fiber etchings and the “soft powers” immigrants are forced to develop as they navigate conflicting loyalties and cultures.  Diaz approaches the topic from first-person perspective, having herself grown up in Chicago as the child of immigrants from Yemen.

Say No To Drugs, 30 x 38,” silk-rayon fiber etching

The exhibition is divided into two sections, beginning with an ensemble of fiber etchings based on the artist’s own photographs of Yemeni friends and family in private interior spaces.  Her fiber etchings are mostly monochromatic (and of a warm rose color palette), and the figures they portray are reductive like those of an Andy Warhol screen-print.  But there’s enough visual information to suggest some of the tension (and fusion) of differing cultures.  In one image, we see a woman wearing a “Say No! to Drugs” t-shirt; in other images, we see women dressed in what appears to be more traditionally ethnic dress. In most of these images, we see women in a group or ensemble, often embracing, and exuding sisterhood and solidarity.

Thick as Thieves, 28 x 36,” silk-rayon fiber etching

Truth or Dare, 44 x 58,” silk-rayon fiber etching

The second space in the exhibit is an immersive installation of a bedroom with some interactive components.  This is the third iteration of her Teenage Bedroom series, and comprises all the elements you’d expect to find in the bedroom of two fictional children of immigrants to America.  There’s enough detail that wandering around the space feels almost creepily voyeuristic.  Having come of age myself in the 90s, I appreciated anecdotal elements like the California Raisin collectibles placed on the television set, and the Trapper Keeper binder on the floor, details that imparted a bit of whimsey and (for me anyway) shared experience.  Queen Latifah posters, stacks of cassette tapes, a stack of People magazines, Islamic prayer beads, and black and white photographs of presumed relatives are a few elements in the room that collectively hint at cultural synthesis as these children embrace American culture while acknowledging their traditions and family histories.

Video Courtesy of the Arab American National Museum

Unfortunately, by its nature Teenage Bedroom loses some of its impact when just viewed online, and since the AANM is closed indefinitely due to Covid 19, the show must be experienced digitally by default.  However, the AANM assembled a virtual walk through of the exhibit, narrated by Diaz herself.  And most of the silk-etchings from the show are viewable on her website.  Though the show can’t be viewed in person (for now), it remains a timely and relevant exhibit, particularly against the backdrop of the 2017 travel ban which affected aspirant immigrants from Yemen.  In this show, Diaz quietly urges us to look at arrivals from other homelands with empathy, and she imparts a healthy respect for the soft powers these immigrants develop as they tactfully navigate the bridging of cultures.

They Talk About Us,  36 x 30,” silk-rayon fiber etching

They Talk About Us,  36 x 30,” silk-rayon fiber etching

Stewart & Stewart Fine Art Prints @ BBAC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The  Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center’s exhibition  Glimpse, produced by Stewart & Stewart now runs through June 18, 2020 by appointment.  Simply call the BBAC at 248.644.0866 in advance of your planned visit.

 

Timothy van Laar @ Simone DeSousa

Timothy van Laar, Installation image, Simone DeSousa Gallery, 2020 All images are courtesy of the Simone DeSousa Gallery

Simone DeSousa Gallery presents Timothy van Laar in a solo exhibition titled Always Sometimes Never. Van Laar is a multi-media artist working primarily in painting, collage, installation and drawing. He has exhibited his work in over 250 solo and group exhibitions in the US and abroad. His work is included in collections such as the Detroit Institute of Arts, The Illinois State Museum, The Minneapolis Institute of Art and Herman Miller. Van Laar is also a distinguished scholar and art critic, co-authoring three books and has written numerous art reviews and catalog essays.

Van Laar’s new paintings are displayed alongside selected works from the 1980’s and the 1990’s. The new pieces originate in the ruptured signs and spaces of collage, referencing various utopian ideas- Eden, comfort, new worlds, prediction. The older works emphasize and give context to the broad, consistent issues of his work and show a long term commitment to paintings that embrace their materiality, rummage through cultural history and merge anxiety with pleasure.

It’s an education to view an artist’s older work in tandem with the newer because it illustrates the creative journey. Van Laar’s earlier work is pure abstract expressionism. Aggressive swirls, dabs and chunks of paint arranged in enough of a composition to keep the paint from dripping off the canvas. Ferociously applied paint using various tools are revealed by their residual marks and strokes. Muddy earth and grey tones lending a melancholy flavor.

Timothy van Laar, Natural History (Blossfeldt) XII, oil and wax on canvas 20×16″ 1996

Timothy van Laar, Natural History (Blossfeldt) VIII, oil and wax on canvas 20×16″ 1996

In the newer pieces, the work is cleaner with their subjects floating in a negative space, bound by palette and theme like electrons in an atom. The same artist’s hand appears in the application of thick paint in a dab and swirl motion, leaving tactile globs that strongly contrast with the blended smooth renderings of their neighboring objects.

I was immediately taken with New World. Identifying the mushroom with its lingering cloud set off mental alarms. I’m pleased that cloud seems to be merely an embarrassing expulsion of nuclear flatulence versus an Armageddon style eruption. Let’s hope we get off that easy. A tender component is an assortment of colored circles occupying the grid. This is an interesting device that not only contributes to the overall composition, it affords a bit of cheer to the narrative. This color scheme phenomenon appears regularly in this artist’s work and has carried through a few conceptual evolutions. An older, smaller work The Book of Landscape, (Ansel Adams), van Laar seems to be inviting the viewer to paint the mountains with these suggested colors as in a paint-by-numbers kit. I liked this work so much it made its debut in my IG feed when it was freshly conceived.

Timothy van Laar, New World, oil on canvas 36×48″ 2019

Timothy van Laar, The Book of Landscape (Ansel Adams), oil on canvas 16×20″ 2017

In Eden, van Laar chose to paint his hummingbird in a loose and expressive manner. Without the benefit of detail, and far from scale size, it effectively communicates this bird’s delicate loveliness. In the upper left corner is the provided color sampler presented in a Matisse cut-out style. A small Escher-like object rounds out the subjects. This is a very calming piece — a pleasure to New World’s anxious tone.

Timothy van Laar, Eden, oil on canvas 36×48″, 2019

In the tech-comm realm where everyone seems to be shouting, this exhibition has as much to say as anyone about our global fears, but van Laar discusses his point of view quietly and beautifully. If you want to get someone’s attention, whisper.

 

Ryan Standfest @ Simone DeSousa – EDITION

Simone DeSousa EDITION presents I went to work but I did not get there, a special feature of new works by Ryan Standfest.

“In my work, unrequited yearning for progress collides with more complex realities in which failure undermines expectation and shifts centers of power in an absurd cycle of hyped aspiration and subsequent deflation. These polarities necessitate social critique with the question of who is allowed to access dreams of fulfillment and what that yields. I return to a very particular convoluted working class inclination toward longing undercut by repulsion: the need for upward mobility combined with a distrust of what that success gains access to.”

Standfest’s exhibition is multi-media including everything from relief prints, paint, tape and a metal lunch box. The craftsmanship is so stellar, it allows the viewer to proceed directly to the message. The humor, as well as the futility, shines through in tightly organized configurations. I appreciate the contrast of clean lines alongside the rough-cut collaged material.

Ryan Standfest, Factory Head No. 5 (TODAY I MADE NOTHING), archival inkjet on Epson 15×15″ framed, 2019 Image courtesy of the artist

Standfest’s cold industrial, almost a chilling Vonnegut Welcome to the Monkey House vibe, is suddenly broken with an old-timey sales pitch that produced an actual LOL from this viewer. FINAL DAYS! EVERYTHING MUST GO! The theme of this show contains both the depressing and the mundane. Current economic circumstances in “NO HELP WANTED” and a familiar “Today I Made Nothing” complete with Standfest’s headgear version of the Monkey House’s heavy collar of obedience and conformity, rendering the subject anonymous. As one who is capable of sitting in my studio ‘working’ when no visible change has been made to any of the pieces, I can spin the apparent inactivity into some kind of philosophical explanation that I’ve been contemplating the palette or the composition or ruminating over my entire concept: How to look busy without actually producing anything.

Ryan Standfest, Ryan Standfest,  Wide shot of the entire installation, 2020

THE WOUND OF THE WORKING CLASS! sits close to the center of the installation, enjoying a splash of pink, the only bright color in an otherwise muted palette. Hope? We don’t need no thought control.

Both van Laar and Standfest employ harsh narratives tempered with moments of sparkling humanity. They both explore current social, environment and economic themes. Muted but bright. Expressive yet controlled. The dichotomy of human existence.

Get ‘em while they’re hot!

Tim van Laar and Ryan Standfest at the Simone DeSousa Gallery runs through Feb 22, 2020