Rick Vian @ Janice Charach Gallery

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Rick Vian, Installation image Courtesy of Glen Mannisto

“Keeping a Wet Edge: A Retrospective of the Abstract Work by Rick Vian”  &  “Detroit Abstraction: Featuring 41 of the Most Noted Abstract Artist with ties to Detroit”.

The experience of being alone in the bush, as we call it in the far north of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, deep in the thicket of the woods, is a tricky business. From immobilizing awe over its beauty to a vertigo over its map-less chaos, a walk in the bush can wreak psychic havoc. The current retrospective of Rick Vian’s painting at the Janice Charach Gallery offers a marvelous mirror of Vian’s engagement with the painting of trees in the bush over the past fifteen years. But first before finding himself in the bush of the Upper Peninsula, Vian was a worker, an industrial painter (it’s probably where his no-nonsense work ethic comes from) literally painting factories—the infrastructure of gas, water and electrical lines, the dangerous machinery of industrial production, — and living the inherent design and experiencing the drama of industry.

 

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Rick Vian, “If You Only New” Oil on Canvas, 40 X 68, 2004

There are a few paintings in the current exhibition that took inspiration from that time and they explore with dramatic shading and coloring, with scumbled surfaces and jagged lines, the interconnected and interlocked spaces of a unique and almost cartooned or animated geometric abstraction. They don’t much look like any geometric abstraction from art history though they might suggest kinship with the Russian Constructivists. “If You Only New,” 2004, a charcoal drawing, dramatized with smears and layered palimpsests and composed with the triangular stencils of drafting tools, looks gothic in its theatrical play of prime geometric shapes. “Nice Condition,” 1999, carves figurative contours out of classic blade shapes such as intersecting ellipses and truncated spheres, dramatizing the edginess of the industrial landscape.

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Rick Vian, “Nice Condition”, Oil on Canvas, 48 x 40″, 1999 All images Courtesy of Glen Mannisto, and the Artists.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These earlier geometric abstractions set us up for the big hit of the retrospective and his latest project which is the push/pull relationship between Vian’s figurative and abstract painting of nature. He seems to have turned away from his industrial abstraction and industrial life (he quit the commercial/industrial painting gig) to paint nature. Exploring the wilderness of Northern Michigan’s upper peninsula, where he built a rustic camp in the woods, Vian has engaged the forest and its parts, the tree. Translating his early explorations of the grid, that classic modernist notion, and the physics of sight, Vian has alternated between strictly realist renderings of the forest and a fervently energetic expression. His paintings have become a moment of conscious realization of both the forest and the painting as a signing of that relationship.

 

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Rick Vian, “Stormbreak”, Oil on Canvas, 59”x 84”, 2005

“Stormbreak,” 2005, a dramatic and acutely stark representation of the existential state of a skeleton of a tree is a haunting and certainly metaphoric description of the vulnerability of that tree. In a conversation, he said “I have painted it many times. Its right off Lake Superior’s Keweenaw Bay just past Baraga.” Lest we say Vian has painted it so often that he has almost become its biographer and in that there is the best characterization of a regional artist as a partner and caretaker of the local. One senses a devout relationship with that tree and in the radical shift back, again, to his abstracting of the bush, there seems to lead to a reading of the forest as an emancipating energy and scripted choreography of the forest.

This dramatic relationship infects and determines most of the remainder the current work typified by “The Gathering Pool,” 2010, which “gathers” the surrounding forest or audience of dark shapes, of abstracted squiggles, smears and vertical black shadow-like slashes (figures?) into a focus of brilliant light or frothy foam. In contrast to the surrounding darkness, this brilliant moment is a crescendo of light, perhaps a symbol of spiritual transcendence gleaned from the dark bush. Vian pays homage frequently to his interest in both Italian Renaissance painting, which employed color and brilliant light to dramatize Christian scripture, and to Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic disciplines which use the mandala to diagram the cosmos or in Jungian psychology the unity of the self or personal identity. At the same time, he has kept an eye out for a deep, perhaps objective structure, a former preoccupation of his painting, and found a three-dimensional grid suggested in the “The Gathering Pool” by a faint network intersecting lines.

 

As a disciplined and investigative sojourner, Vian’s bushwhacking has even led him to study the language of the native Ojibway people entitling some of the painting in the Ojibway language which one senses gives a sympathy to the surrounding landscape and to its original inhabitants and interpretors.

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Rick Vian, “Stormbreak,” Oil on Canvas, 59”x84”, 2005

 

DETROIT ABSTRACTION Group Exhibition

As an extraordinary compliment to his own paintings Vian curated “Detroit Abstraction: Featuring 41 of the Most Noted Abstract Artists with ties to Detroit,” a remarkable collection of painting, sculpture, ceramics, and fiber works revealing the profound depth and width of the Detroit’s artistic landscape and of course another testimony to the sincerity and fidelity of Vian’s overall artistic project.

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Holly Branster, “Bracket,” 72”x36”

There is too much to say about the phenomena of abstract art especially in this post-digital age, but quite simply one is overwhelmed with the diversity of ways of seeing and of the use of materials and processes that are represented in Detroit. The stereotyped mainstay of abstract art is painting and the standouts in Detroit Abstraction don’t surprise: Holly Branstner’s stunning “Bracket” is composed of an elongated rectangle with a monolithic, effortless stroke of brilliant yellow with strokes and drips of dark bloody reds. At the other end of psychic spectrum is Janet Hamrick’s smaller oil on canvas, “Undulating Drift,” a subtle reckoning of three panels of alternating stripes in a quiet pallet of taupe and mauve overlaying a series of diamond shaped rectangles. It is excruciatingly subtle and beautifully nuanced and impossible to describe. That’s why it’s a painting. It goes like that: from explosive abstract expressionism to minimalistic painting strategies, from biomorphic and surrealist automatism, to action painting, and the whole wonderful gamut of assemblage wall reliefs composed of cement, wood, metal, glass to cubist formalist sculptures, kinetic whirly gigs and textile hangings, ceramic vessels and Japanese inspired altar-like constructions.

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Janice Hamrick, Undulating Drift, 24 x 30

The explosion that was/is Detroit’s art scene is beautifully realized in Vian’ s deft selection of artists. The diversity of materials and processes speaks of the battle against encrusted formalism that has been a preoccupation of Detroit artists and is a fulsome reminder of the tremendous will and passion of this place-in-the-straits to give shape to the world.

Vian’s paintings occupy the first floor of the spectacular Janice Charach Gallery and the Detroit Abstraction exhibition occupies the second floor. Both are stunningly installed in this amazing space that is part of the Jewish Community Center campus. It is a revelation even to the most experienced art appreciator to see the quality, complexity and integrity of the Detroit’s scene.

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Group Abstract Exhibition, Installation image, Courtesy of Glen Mannisto

The artists included (and Vian bemoaned that there wasn’t room for others he had selected) in the Detroit Abstraction exhibition include: Diana Alva, Anita Bates, Robert Bielat, Holly Branstner, Coco Bruner, Jim Chatelain, Terry Lee Dill, Barbara Dorchen, John Egner, Gary Eleinko, Todd Erickson, Marcia Freedman, Brenda Goodman, Dennis Guastella, Carole Harris, Janet Hamrick, Al Hebert, Meighen Jackson, Lester Johnson, Dennis Jones, Ray Katz, Brian Lacey, Addie Langford, Charles McGee, Allie McGhee, Robert Mirek, Erin Parish, John Piet, Tom Phardel, Sharon Que, Curtis Rhodes, John Rowland, Douglas Semivan, Gilda Snowden, Robert Sestok, Dayton Spence, Ron Teachworth, Nancy Thayer, Russell Thayer, Lois Teicher, Albert Young.

Rick Vian will talk about his work and the Detroit Abstraction exhibition in the Janice Charach Gallery December 4th at 1:00PM. The two exhibitions close Thursday December 8th at 8:00PM.

 

Brittany Nelson & Susan Campbell @ David Klein Gallery

Alternative Process, work by Brittany Nelson, and Chasing Venus, work by Susan Goethel Campbell and window installation by Ellen Rutt.

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Brittany Nelson, Installation image, All images courtesy of the David Klein Gallery

The newest pairing of artists on view at David Klein Gallery’s Detroit space, photographers Brittany Nelson and Susan Goethel Campbell, engage history, science, and formal beauty in ways that reveal what ancient knowledge and antiquated technology can tell us about the visual stake we hold- and the tissue-thin mastery we take for granted- over the natural world.

Brittany Nelson’s collages of “science graphics” and 3D Photoshop forms onto tintype prints (one of the earliest photographic mediums) follow a simple, clever formula of overlaying heavy, historic substrates (thickly mounted tintype photographic plates that warp out of foursquare precision and are often hung at a slight angle to the wall, visually reinforcing their whiff of memento mori and the slow melt of age) with graceful, feather-light graphics culled from contemporary modes of visual shorthand- graphics, grids, algorithms, flowcharts.

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Brittany Nelson, Diagram I, 2016, tintype photograph on Poeder coated formed aluminum,10 x 8 x 15″

These two modes of information capture dance uneasily with one another on Nelson’s dark grounds- there’s a dissonance to seeing these fleeting, fast-moving graphics inlayed on such iron-clad media, designed to catch and house a physical shadow of a once real, living, or tactile thing. Nelson’s work resurrects something of the uncanny magic photographic technology once held for people in the Nineteenth Century- its strange promise of immortality, its mind-bending harnessing of modern science.

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Brittany Nelson, Mordancage 4, 2011, C-print,72 x 72, Edition of 3

The dark, atmospheric voids characteristic of tintype photography find a visual dialog with Susan Goethel Campbell’s Chasing Venus. This work documents, in film and photography, a patch of sky over the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, Canada, during the Summer Solstice, when the moon appears to be following Venus across the sky.

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Susan Goethel Campbell, Chasing Venus, 1 of 5, 2016, 3 channel video installation plaster fragment, 1920 x 1080″

Campbell’s work documents, in solemn stills and dizzying, feather-light films, the turning of the planet from day to night, toward and away from an incredible full moon. The faceted surfaces of mountainous landscape, vast sky, and brilliant earth (her installation includes visuals that are nearly impossible to photograph, a video projection of time-lapse sky-scape dancing on a wall mounted with a chunk of granite, a pile of glittering mica poured onto a shallow shelf that casts uncanny tones of light onto every surrounding surface) utilizes straightforward modes of visual documentation to hint at the sublime- crystalizing, in moment-to-moment documentation, both our concept of linear time and the sublime impossibility of conceiving the clock of the universe.

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Susan Goethel Campell, Chasing Venus, Still I, 1 of 5, 2016, Digital print on polyester spray paint, 22 x 28″

The kernel that unites Nelson and Campbell’s work in these dark, visually haunting twin exhibitions might be an “exposure,” manifested in the beauty and opacity of both artists’ combinations of technique and content, of the failure of such analytical, documentary methods to capture eternity. Watching the sky and drawing it into visual rhymes with small, shiny objects, as the ancients did, distilling the visible into frozen shadows, as more recent generations did, or collapsing the world into descriptive algorithms, as we do now, may, or may not, bring us any closer to a true understanding of the reason we are here, or why we’ve been given these abilities. Alternative Process and Chasing Venus do not attempt to answer this question- they cross-pollinate materials to broaden, deepen, and beautify its scope.

Also on view is a colorful, lively installation by Detroit-based, multi-disciplinary artist Ellen Rutt. Rutt’s window installation provides a vibrant counter-balance to the darkly vibrating grounds and documentary atmospheres of Nelson and Goethel-Campbell’s work.

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Ellen Rutt, David Klein, Window Installation, 2016

Alternative Process, work by Brittany Nelson, Chasing Venus, work by Susan Goethel Campbell, and Ellen Rutt’s window installation is on view at David Klein Gallery Detroit through December 17, 2016.

 

 

Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia @ Cranbrook Art Museum

 

Two exhibitions offer a preponderance of material objects to make sense of the past

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Psychedelic posters and printed matter, installation view

These days, the San Francisco Bay Area is neatly divided into two camps: you either are a tech bro, or you hate them. Back in my day as an errant Bay Area youth, there was a different kind of division: you either were a hippie, or you hated them. I, my friends, was certainly no hippie. Of course, in my time they weren’t even real hippies—although there were still a healthy number of Summer-of-Love burnouts quietly resisting the rising tide of capitalism. They were proto-hippies, the spawn of Baby Boomers, appropriating the fashion or rediscovering the music as it made its 20-year orbit in retrograde. Whether the die-hard originals or the new school posers, hippies were not, by any metrics, modern.

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Isaac Abrams, Hello Dali (1965)

In fact, the seeming paradox between hippie and modern sensibilities provides the immediate tension of Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia—a sprawling exhibition initially organized by Andrew Blauvelt during his tenure at the Walker Art Center, which has subsequently followed him to be presented at the Cranbrook Art Museum, where he took up the mantle of Director last year. Hippies are commonly associated with back-to-the-land movements, eco-sustainability, and the timeless human yearning for peace and simplicity. Modernism is more concerned with technology, rapid progress and development, clean, modular design, and spare, white spaces.

 

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Ken Isaacs, The Knowledge Box (1962-2009)

But, as Hippie Modernism proves, these odd bedfellows forged a powerful connection indeed (who wouldn’t hippies jump into bed with, really?), fused in a social pressure-cooker of late-60s radicalism and wartime unrest. This extremely dense exhibition is not so much an art show as it is a walk through time with an art-historical lens—one which captures facets of hippie culture that have been elided by a typical focus on the flashier and more simplistic culture of drugs, fashion, rock-and-roll, and sex.

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Works by Haus-Rucker-Co, (installation view)

These facets are loosely divided into three galleries: Turn On, Tune In, and Drop Out. Each of these examines a dominant theme of the time period, roughly the mid-1960s through the early 1970s—that of consciousness-raising on an individual level, social awareness on a geo-political level, and active rejection of certain cultural pressure of normativity and technological progress (to name a few). The objects and information on display demonstrate a deep interest in modern design not as an aesthetic exercise but a practical one, as applied to communal and off-the-grid living, mobile housing, and sustainable infrastructure; technology, not at as means of warfare but as a means for more direct powers of computing and personal representation; and tool use as a mechanism for exploring the inner workings of the mind. The exhibition, which occupies the entire main floor of Cranbrook is veritably papered in schematics of ergonomic living solutions, imagined vehicles, and visions of bio-domes (not to mention an actual geodesic dome that features an interactive and highly trance-inducing installation, The Ultimate Painting, by Clark Richert, Richard Kallweit, Gene Bernofsky, JoAnn Bernofsky, and Charles DiJulio.

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Superstudio, Prints from the Superstudio Series (1969-1973)

Many of the works bear collective credits, the products of communal discussion and creative efforts; many have the earmarks of what today would be considered “social practice art,” but at the time was considered radical politics—leaving the viewer to marvel at the subsequent commoditization of art in the 1970s and 1980s to defang its inherent power as a social catalyst! There are, as one might imagine, a room splashed with dozens of examples of psychedelic poster art—but the collection is not limited to the vivid band promo materials that probably still line the halls of the Fillmore (if they haven’t turned it into a vape bar or something). Rather, there is a kind of radical parallel to the Madison Avenue advertising culture that was taking hold of the market—a conscious and deliberate exploration of type, color, and imagery as a mechanism to promulgate messaging. There are, undeniably, quite a number of chill spaces distributed around the exhibition, and a good thing, too—with so much going on, the opportunities to stop, drop, and contemplate are welcome interruptions. These include a handful of audio/video screening rooms, a Relaxation Cube from Nomadic Furniture 1 (1973) with floor cushions and a soothing slide show, and a full-gallery installation of a work by Hélio Oiticica and Neville D’Almeida, CC5 Hendrixwar/Cosmococa Programa-in-Progress, complete with hammocks.

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John Glick: A Legacy in Clay, installation view

John Glick: A Legacy in Clay @ Cranbrook Art Museum

It bears mentioning that Hippie Modernism is not the only spectacular exhibition currently on display at Cranbrook Art Museum, though it certainly warrants a visit all on its own. A career survey of ceramic artist John Glick—John Glick: A Legacy in Clay—is a dazzling walk through the life work of a virtuosic artist who managed to find fresh takes on vessels and forms as old as human society. From the wall of teapots, to the hanging friezes, to the physical timeline of Glick’s singular and beautiful ceramic forms, laid out in an engaging and accessible 360-degree display that mimics the sort of tables where they might otherwise be found, the Glick retrospective offers eye candy at every turn.

Food for thought, vessels for food, and much to take in at Cranbrook Art Museum!

Michigan Fine Arts Competition @ BBAC

Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center Hosts the 35th MFCA

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BBAC / MFAC Installation Image – Courtesy of DAR

The Michigan Fine Arts Competition (MFAC) exhibition opened June 24, 2016, and is one of the best they have had in their long existence, beginning in 1982. Not many know that the competition was previously held by the Detroit Institute of Arts, but with their demise of leadership in contemporary art, they were pleased to find a home at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center (BBAC). The key to this year’s success is Terence Hammonds; the juror selected to make this year picks. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, he attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston for his BFA, and Tufts University for his MA. One of the factors that make this exhibition so exceptional is that it draws on a mid-west region, where more than 500 artists compete from Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.

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Gerald Moore, Late September Field, Oil on Canvas

Gerald Moore is an expressive landscape painter who holds an MA in painting from Central Michigan University. He says “I work opposite the Oriental painting philosophy that ‘less is more.’ ‘More’ is the engine of my work; ‘more’ is more.” His large landscape painting seems to draw on the landscape as a subject, but flirts with abstract field painting and gives us a little of both. Color field painting, championed by Clement Greenburg in the 1950’s characterized this expression as solid color creating an unbroken surface and flat picture plane. One might view the Wheat Fields of Van Gogh to see early examples.

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Mary Brodbeck, Blanket, Woodblock Print

Maybe it’s because we don’t see a lot of artists working with wood-cut printmaking, that this landscape with rings and melting snow is so attractive. She says in her statement “ Affected by my travel and study in Japan, notably by visiting traditional Japanese gardens, my landscape prints are carefully designed in abstract and stylized ways that are intended for viewers to have a contemplative experience. “ These Zen-like impressions made by the woodblock can transport the viewer to a place that blends design, craft and a spiritual aesthetic. Ms. Brodbeck holds a BFA from Michigan State University, and an MFA from Western Michigan University.

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Mario Inchaustegui, Into the Unknown, Digital Print

Mario Inchaustegui’s digital print “Into the Unknown” draws purely on composition for its power and interest. The geometry along with perspective leads us to four figures on the edge of some type of a concrete pier. This middle school teacher at West Bloomfield Schools has been part of photo exhibitions in Metro Detroit, most recently at the Scarab Club.

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Susan O’Connor, Can I Get Some Water, Clay

Susan O’Connor, who teaches hand-built ceramics at the BBAC, grabs the audience with a pop art object, that also carries a current social message. So, she got me with this Fire Hydrant from Flint, Michigan where the water has been contaminated by a decision leading to elements of lead in the water supply.

This exhibition has many generous prizes totaling $5800 and goes a long way to showcase artists in the Midwest. I will mention here that I usually stay away from covering these large competitive exhibitions, largely because they jury the work from jpegs, which makes the process more of a challenge. In this particular case, I give Mr. Hammonds a lot of credit for getting most of his decisions right. I have heard it many times, that it is the only practical way to conduct such a large undertaking, however when only viewing an image of an artwork, mistakes are made.

The 35th Annual Michigan Fine Arts Competition – June 24 – August 26

Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center

15 Steps: Perspectives in Drawing @ Red Bull House of ART

Capturing the process and dispersive outcomes of one of humanity’s oldest expressive forms

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Class Portrait by Tyanna Buie – Installation view, All images courtesy of Sarah Rose Sharp

Red Bull House of Art has made its name in Detroit by showing some of the most cutting-edge young artists in town. Now, as the residency/gallery space transitions to get an international influx of artist in the mix, a palette-cleansing show, 15 Steps: Perspectives in Drawing, curated by local artist and organizing powerhouse Tylonn J. Sawyer brings the focus back to the basics of drawing.

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Tyson J. Sawyer, Cabal: Class of 2016

“When I lived in New York, I attended drawing shows all the time, yet I can’t think of any in the surrounding area, other than the DIA Drawing and Prints gallery,” said Sawyer, regarding his motivations for the show’s theme. “Drawing is very instinctual practice. As children, we are compelled to pick up crayons and scribble. Early on in mankind people felt the need to record their daily lives on caves as in parietal art.  I think there is an honesty in drawing and in the process of drawing.  To do it well takes repetition, practice and caring.  For many of the artists (in this show), drawing is not their primary art form, but it remains somewhere in their creative process.”

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Leto Rankine, Figure in Pink and Gold

Despite its thematic foundations in drawing, the show has some unexpected outcomes as the result of these various creative processes, including an augmented piece of found object art by one of Sawyer’s fellow MOCAD employees, Leto Rankine, and a breathtaking large-scale print work by Detroit newcomer and CCS Professor of Fine Arts and Printmaking, Tyanna Buie. Buie’s piece, Class Portrait, works from imagery lifted from one of her own childhood class pictures, universalized by the obscuring of the facial features of the children pictured, yet still somehow achingly personal.

“What prompted me to make this particular piece was my response to what is happening within the public school system in our country, but specifically in Detroit,” said Buie. “My memory of my time in a public elementary school in Chicago, IL, was not made clear until I received documentation of my achievements and class photographs from that school. I thought the schools that I went to was not special and didn’t teach me anything of importance. However, once I looked at the class photo, I began to analyze it…I realized how much the principal took pride in the school and how the teachers worked hard to make sure we also had a since of pride in ourselves. The school I once went to from 1990-1993 is still standing, but is now a charter school. I wanted to make a piece that would give a subtle nod to public schools for making a difference in our communities through the children despite the many challenges faced.”

By what Sawyer characterizes as the “happiest accident ever,” Buie’s work is directly in conversation with a large-scale piece by Sawyer himself, which applies a similar technique and aesthetic to a large-scale class portrait of another kind. “In Cabal: Class of 2016, I am presenting the institution of law enforcement standing tall and proud as one collective or brotherhood, ready to do their sworn duty to enforce the law of the land,” said Sawyer in an artist statement about the piece. “Yet we live in a time where literally hundreds of videos and news reports highlight police officers behaving less than professionally, and the majority facing no consequences. I imagine the institution of law enforcement struggling to maintain integrity in the public eye, and this struggle visually manifesting itself in the form of officers physically falling apart or melting away. I purposely removed all the faces because when I think of police officers, I don’t think of them as individuals, but rather parts of a whole.”

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Christopher Batten – Chronicles of Kobi (A Japanese Chin) – installation/detail view

Other contributions to the show are more lighthearted and more strictly limited to drawing as a final process, rather than a foundational one. A collection of 16 drawings by Christopher Batten take, as their subject, a Japanese Chin named Kobi. In an era where the internet threatens to collapse beneath the ponderous bulk of adorable pet pictures, there is something endearing about the process of capturing a (presumably) beloved pet in this more analogue form. Batten’s work is face-to-face with a colorful wall of visual and performance artist http://baileyscieszka.com/—a kind of insane clown posse unto herself—who also has a few pastels on display in a show of local talent at What Pipeline, Ever get the feeling we’re not alone in this world?

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Jennifer Wroblewski , Clones v.1,

Truly, there is no lack of innovative approaches and gratifying results, an outcome that Sawyer consciously cultivated with the group of 15 artists on display. “I don’t know if I would characterize this collection of artists, especially in any monolithic terms,” he said. “That’s kind of the opposite of what I was going for. Diverse is the first thing that comes to mind. Some of the artists are documenting life as they see it, some are trying to negotiate traumatic experiences, and others humorously reflect on some of the worst aspects of our current society. I asked each artist to contribute more than one piece, so that viewers can see that the work presented in the House of Art show is not a lark, but rather a small glimpse into the creative practice of each individual.”

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Collection of works by DeMags, Circles of Routine – Installation/detail view

The appreciation that Sawyer, and House of Art curators Matt Eaton and Robert-David Jones have for the arts, artists, and viewers is evident in the open process that permeates both the HOA residencies and the construction of 15 Steps. It’s a brilliant showcase of a wildly diverse range of talent and approaches, one that’s definitely worth taking a few steps out of your way to go experience!

15 Steps: Perspectives in Drawing will be on display Saturdays from 10-3 (or by appointment) at the Red Bull House of Art through July 9. For an appointment, you can make contact at redbullhouseofart@us.redbull.com.