Detroit Artist Market – Installation Photo – Courtesy of DAM
On May 1st, the Detroit Artists Market opened the exhibit Abstraction: Artist /Viewer /Dialog. The exhibit runs through May 30th and brings together 38 visual artists who work in the field of abstraction. Juried by Lester Johnson, a native Detroiter who just recently retired as a full professor from the College for Creative Studies, said, “Abstraction is improvisational with layers of meaning and a search for truth; A Lyrical blending of connected memory and interpretive thoughts. Listening to your inner voice makes abstraction your reality.”
As an art form, abstraction has been with us dating back to the turn of the century and the Russian artist Vasily Kandinsky (1866-1944) when the Bauhaus artist segues into abstraction in 1909 with his painting Landscape near Murnau with Locomotive and follows up in 1911 with Composition V. From there, movements such as Cubism, Dada, Surrealism, and Abstract Expressionism have all come under the abstract umbrella and, as demonstrated in the DAM exhibition, are alive and well today. Abstraction like other art forms, is a genre, not having a beginning, middle, and an end, but exists on a continuum. There are new movements today such as performance, installation and new media that present us with new forms, but this does not negate previous forms from co-existing as the art world moves forward, and as demonstrated in music, drama, and literature. The DAM exhibition is a good mix of painting, sculpture, textile, and photography.
The Garden 49 X 82 Plaster on Fabric, Courtesy of DAM
Aimee Cameron’s work, The Garden, presents the viewer with a horizontal piece of fabric that is folded and arranged using layers of plaster followed by the application of color. She describes her work as, “My fascination with the relationship between materials, form, layers, and process, has played an essential role in the development of my current collection of work. The plaster and fabric base is created with a fast, intuitively uncontrolled process while the surface work is carefully composed in reaction to the base, revealing all the subtle substructures and complicated textual patterns.”
I would not hesitate to describe Ms. Cameron’s work as a form of Abstract Expressionism, and what is interesting to this viewer is both the material and her use of color that pulls the eye towards the center with a dance that works against the folds of fabric. The Garden presented here is ripe.
Black Board Jungle 16 X 22 Color Print on Watercolor Paper, Courtesy of DAM
Bruce Giffin’s photograph, Black Board Jungle, does a good job reflecting his interest in capturing abstraction. Known for his years of commercial and editorial photography in Detroit where he has created a multitude of covers for the Metro Times, his wealth of personal photography is beautifully portrayed in the 16 X 22 color print, Blackboard Jungle, on watercolor paper where light floods a room creating an interplay of shape and form. The combination of object and shadow presented in an informal composition produces an attractive and mysterious moment for this viewer. “Minor White said it takes 20 years to become a good photographer,” Giffin says. “Twenty-five years later and after having a few good things happen to me, I’m still not good enough. Photography is an evil mistress.”
Littoral Drift 24 X 30 Oil on Canvas, Courtesy of DAM
Janet Hamrick, painter and printmaker, delivers an oil painting on canvas that provides the viewer with a quiet execution of line and color in an exchange that is set up formally by dividing the composition using three vertical rectangles. In Littoral Drift, she presents something that could be described as pure abstraction where she creates a non-representational reality that effectively delivers a subtle background pattern. Working out of the Blue Spruce Studio and having exhibited with the Lemberg Gallery, Ms. Hamrick says, “My paintings are meditations found in my life, visually or musically. Littoral Drift comes from the subtle visual formation of ridges or lines in the movement of water.”
Carnival, 48 X 50 Acrylic on Board, Courtesy of DAM
Carnival, the abstraction by Dennis Guastella captures a field of personal hieroglyphics defined by a grid that could be an Egyptian code or an aerial view of a festive part of Mexico City. The macro view illuminates sections of defined color located informally in the field. He says in a recent statement, “For several years I have integrated a systemic patterning of small beads and thin lines of paint in geometric formations. These patterns allude to woven girders or a framework in an explosion of color and supercharged cubist space.” The abstraction in Carnival is executed with a kind of crisp precision of brush stroke applied in layers, uses a large color palette and resonates best as it invites contemplation.
Graffiti, 40 X 60 Oil Enamel on Canvas, Courtesy of DAM
Graffiti, the two connected gray panels, in Barbra Dorchen’s enamel oil on canvas, provide the viewer with an understated representation of abstract spaces, one that relies heavily on a field of underdrawn pencil and crayon; the other a red area near the bottom of the painting that hints at a relic of landscape gone by. She says, “My work is an ongoing exploration of imagery, inspired by remnants of past and present cultures. The process involves combining or layering a variety of media, including pages from old books, transfer images, paint, tar, wax, found objects, photographs on paper, wood and installation. My intention is to express a tactile manifestation of form and surface in works that evoke a sense of timeless mystery.”
Untitled, 18 X 9 X 14, Limestone, Wood, and Bronze, Courtesy of DAM
Abstraction has deep roots in sculpture. Think about Marcel Duchamp’s R.Mutt, in 1917. Brian Pittman delivers his three-dimensional work, Untitled, made of limestone, wood, and bronze. The symbolism can go in a variety of directions and would seem to intentionally ask the viewer for an interpretation. The heavy wooden base opens to a split piece of shaped limestone, where a bronze, tooth-like shape emerges. The strength comes from a contrast of the material as it works its way upward in this mysterious, abstract form. Mr. Pitman say in his statement, “My work is inspired by my life long investigation of nature and my place within. I explore thoughts on infinity, natural cycles and the balance of conscious and unconscious.
I like to create a personal connection to the material with the repetitive and meditative action of hand tools which also gives sensitivity to the essence of the form.”
A group exhibition of this size can be uneven in terms of quality, and I would submit that has much to do with the jurying process. When the juror makes selections from JPEGs (short for Joint Photographic Experts Group), there is a gap between the real and the digitally photographed image. As Robert Hughes, long-time critic for Time magazine says in his book, Nothing if Not Critical, “Art requires a long look. It is its own physical object, with its own scale and density as a thing in the world. Art is more… than an image of itself.” Across the board, all large juried exhibitions use JPEG images for their juried process, and more than likely, that is not going to change. Perhaps there should be two steps: One screening based on images, and the final selection requiring the real art to be present.
Detroit Artist Market Feature Artist – Catherine Peet
For more than a year now and with each new exhibition, the Detroit Artists Market has been using the back wall near the desk, as a place for a featured artist. Catherine Peet is an artist whose body of work features a collection of intriguing creative constructs. She combines painting with assemblage to create imagery that incorporates ideas that she derives from mythology, nature, and spirituality. She blends the two techniques together to make political, religious, and pervasive cultural statements in her work.
Abstraction: Artist / Viewer / Dialogue – May 1 – 30, 2015
4719 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48201