Scott Hocking, Maritza Caneca, Jack Henry @ Wasserman Projects

Scott Hocking, Seventeen Shitty Mountains Installation image, 2019, Image Courtesy of DAR

Addressing the urban environment, Wasserman Projects has mounted three solo exhibitions that speak to the state of affairs where man-made structures exist in various forms of decay. Works by Detroit-based Artist Scott Hocking, Brazilian artist Maritza Caneca, and Brooklyn-based artist Jack Henry opened on April 26, 2019, with different mediums that find their subject matter in abandonment, ingenuity and rebirth. The exhibition required artist residencies weeks before the show opened where the work was collected and in some cases custom built into the generous expanse of the gallery space.

“To immerse oneself and fully own the beauty and power of seemingly ordinary objects and environments takes a certain kind of audacity. That is in part what has drawn me to each of our spring featured artists,” said Alison Wong, Director of Wasserman Projects. “Their ability to transform day-to-day experiences into narratives that address both personally and universally resonant subjects is so compelling. And as you engage in their work more deeply, you see at play the dichotomies of the natural and man-made, the contemporary and ancient, the funny and the grave—when those pieces come together in their hands, they produce something fresh, exciting, and real.”

Seventeen Shitty Mountains (No. 13), Concrete, steel, fluorescent pigment paint 46″ x 42″ x 37″ 2019 Image Courtesy of DAR

Scott Hocking, the Detroit-based artist, has been creating site-specific installations, using the city of Detroit as his laboratory to create works of art dating back to 2000. I first became aware of his work with the Detroit Institute of Arts exhibition Relics. The scope of his exhibitions inside abandoned buildings or outdoors in the elements, such as the Rustic SputnikTire Pyramid, or the Celestial Ship of the North, all demonstrate a wide range of locations and materials that speak to his expansive and inquisitive imagination.  Hocking delivers a formalist arrangement of three-dimensional artwork, primarily vacant interiors, to leverage an open stage as he creates collections of objects that propose deeper meanings reflective in a space that was part of a past. Hocking is documenting change, rebirth and transformation, causing the viewer to be held in awe, and as the artist transforms his found materials, reconstituted into a new form.  All the work is carefully photographed for exhibition and documentation of an image in the event the exterior space changes where new development clears the building or land.

This Wasserman installation features discarded concrete sewer pipes that Hocking collected from a now-defunct Detroit Water & Sewage Department building in Eastern Market transforming the cast concrete into colorful megaliths, some weighing as much as 15 tons.  Hocking, who has leveraged abandoned spaces in places like Port Austin, Michigan, New South Wales, Australia, and Lille, France, speaks to an artist who seeks new spaces for inspiration. A variety of motifs that reappear in his use of form are the pyramid, the oval and the circle: psychologically universal in their iconic existence for thousands of years, reminding this writer of the role the collective unconscious plays in creative expression.

Scott Hocking, Seventeen Shitty Mountains Installation, 2019, Courtesy of DAR

For the lack of a formal artist statement, and perhaps in a Hocking-ish way, he says in his bio, “Like my childhood experiences, I found myself hiking up to the railroad grade via desire paths, climbing through fence holes and busted open doorways, and into these once-bustling buildings of industry, now quiet and still. Cavernous is an accurate term to describe them, not just because of their interior size and space, but also because of their transformations into man-made caves: stalactites and stalagmites formed throughout these often cast concrete structures, as years of water permeated the roofs and floors. I found solace in the quietude and natural reclamation in these spaces. I craved it in my life and sought it out where I could find it. In these historic Detroit factories, built along the railroad over 100 years ago, and left for dead by the 1980s, I found my church-like experience. My freedom. My escape.”

Seventeen Shitty Mountains at Wasserman Projects is produced in collaboration with David Klein Gallery, which represents Scott Hocking, and Eastern Market Corporation. Hocking earned his BFA from the College for Creative Studies in 2000.

Jack Henry Untitled (Stacks), Concrete, found material, steel168″ x 4.75″ x 4.75″ ea. 2019 All images to follow courtesy of Wasserman Projects.

A combination of “core sample” sculptures and windows of detritus, Brooklyn-based artist Jack Henry uses resin and cement to bond various remains of discarded civilization and contextualized as new work, contrast with delicacy to the megaliths of Scott Hocking. The urban debris often on the interior cement perimeter to the rectangle is often thematic, be it branches, leaves, wiring or glass. These commonplace, post-industrial abstractions form the tension between the natural and industrial elements. The vertical stanchions constructed in plywood and plastic, then cast in cement result in colorful, chaotic and intricately-textured, supports, resembling geographic core samples from an urban landfill. These were created on-site to conform to the floor to ceiling height of the gallery.

Jack Henry, Utitled, (Wilderness), Gypsum cement, found material, steel, cast resin 32” x 24” 3” 2019

The contrast in found material and gypsum cement in Wilderness creates an abstraction that pays attention to composition as well as the juxtaposition of textures. Varying in size, Henry gathers commonplace materials and transforms them into multi-media works he calls “monuments” to post-industrial America.

Jack Henry Untitled (Fairview), 2019 Gypsum cement, found material, steel, cast resin 108″ x 72″ x 3″

In the publication, Beautiful / Decay, Ryan De La Hoz interviews Henry who says, “I appropriate discarded objects seen by the roadside to create monuments to post-industrial America. The selection process is focused on man-made objects and structures such as dilapidated houses, roadside memorials, tattered billboards, and other discarded materials. Each object is reinterpreted and presented as an artifact or a natural history museum model of something pulled from the contemporary landscape. The purpose is to evoke a sense of wonder from the banal byproducts of our failed but once successful modern society. Instead of merely pushing these man-made items into the peripheral of our everyday routine, I recreate the curiosities that happen when they depart from contact with people to move, decay, and harbor with other items to create monuments to cultural disaffection.”  The artist earned his BFA in sculpture from Florida Atlantic University and his MFA from the University of Maryland.

Maritza Caneca, VAZIO, Cusco, Peru, Pigment print on Hahnemuhle paper 31.5″ x 47.25″ 2017

 

Maritza Caneca, NIGHT POOL, Jerusalem, Israel, Pigment print on Hahnemuhle paper 40″ x 60″ 2016

The Brazilian artist Maritza Caneca began her career in still photography in the 1980s working alongside cinematographers, capturing fragments of film for a larger narrative and launched her attraction to abandoned swimming pools in 2012, beginning with a visit to her childhood ranch in Brazil to discover that after 35 years, the pool she loved as a child was in complete decline. What followed was her work in Cuba in 2014 where she was researching the abandonment of swimming pools in Cuba by order of Fidel Castro because of how they represented wealth and power. These events, coupled with her recent work in Budapest (known as the city of waters) to document their thermal baths – created a sensibility: An attraction to water pools, vacant of people, with light, form, color and the subtleties of the pattern. The empty pools are perhaps personally nostalgic, while the full pools become a vehicle for the illumination of an abstract composition.

Maritza Caneca, HEMINGWAY, Havana, Cuba, Pigment print on Hahnemuhle paper 40″ x 60″ 2014

When one surveys the body of photography, it is not uncommon to find a thread, be it particular objects, architecture, acts in nature, people of a rare type or periods in time, that dominate their attraction. For this exhibition at Wasserman Projects, Caneca’s work is found, whether driven by intuition or circumstance, working in the spaces around the man-made environments of water.

She says in her statement, “I have become obsessed with the nature of pools and the “ghosts” that once filled the spaces. I have gladly made the various shades of blue, the malleability of the water, and the artistry of the pool tiles my artistic tools. Conveying the nostalgic sensations that pools evoke became my motivation. I work from the perspective of an outsider attempting to gain, or regain, access to the coveted freedom pools offer; attempting to access the immersive sensations of weightlessness and calm so unique to a pool’s environment.”

Maritza Caneca, IMERSAO, HD Video, 58 min. 2016

These video screens take the camera immersed as part of moving underwater to a new dimension and reinforce her attraction to the waterscape of a full water pool. That is the conception of the video titled Imersao, which was shot in slow-motion to capture the feeling of a plenitude of submerging, like someone who drops their anchor in the world. Caneca’s pictures not only invite the memories but also the invitation to submerge in the silence of an immersion. Maritiz Caneca earned her Bachelor of Arts and Social Communication at the Faculdade da Cidade in 1982, and spent two years studying at Parque Lage Visual School of Arts.

While this exhibition presents three individual solo works of art, there is an obvious connection to urban decay and reinvention. Each artist in their own way approaches and encapsulates the nostalgia of material reused, reinvented, and celebrated.  It’s more than a discovery, rather a metaphor for our continuing engagement with art as an expression of urban environments from the past and present.

Scott Hocking, Maritza Caneca, Jack Henry at Wasserman Projects runs through June 29, 2019

 

 

 

 

Decade at the Center: Recent Gifts and Acquisitions @ GRAM 

The Grand Rapids Art Museum Showcases Five Years of Acquisitions

Adonna Khare (American, b. 1980) Elephant Whirlpool, 2014, carbon pencil on paper, 96 x 72 inches. Grand Rapids Art Museum, Museum Purchase, with funds from Bill and Marilyn Crawford and the Artist, 2014.10 copyright: Adonna Khare

In 2007, the Grand Rapids Art Museum opened the doors to its newly-completed, ultra-modern exhibition space in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids.  Rounding out a year of celebratory programming commemorating the GRAM’s first decade in its new location, the show A Decade at the Center: Recent Gifts and Acquisitions brought together over a hundred works acquired by the museum over the past five years.  It was an eclectic but strong ensemble of works spanning a diverse array of media across both the fine and applied arts.

As an introspective exhibition which took the GRAM’s collection itself as its subject matter, A Decade at the Center was necessarily a bit of a mish-mash—these works came from all over the world, and were created by artists ranging from Rembrandt to the Apple Design Team.  But the explanatory wall-text curated and structured the experience, lending insight into what exactly goes into building an art collection, helpfully addressing questions like “How does a collection grow,” “who decides what’s acquired?” and “how permanent is a permanent collection?”

The significant presence of applied arts and design resonated nicely with Grand Rapids’ historic contribution to 20thcentury furniture manufacturing—the city is famously home to such design powerhouses as Hermon Miller and Steelcase.  Among the acquisitions on view included examples of design that fudge the porous boundary between functionality and art. A zany bench and table set designed by the Danish-born Nanna Ditzel seemed more like sculpture than interior design, as did the radiating  Metal Spokes Wall Clock by George Nelson and Associates, which helped define the American interior aesthetic of the 1950s.  While most of these examples of applied design pointed to the recent past, a set of dinner cutlery by Iraqi-born megastar architect Zaha Hadid seemed decidedly from the future—no surprise given the other-worldly appearance of her architectural output, which includes Michigan’s very own Broad Art Museum in Lansing.

Also on view were examples of design which illustrated the rapidly changing shape and form of technological devices, including an original Walkman cassette player, an early handheld Kodak camera, and a rotary telephone.   There’s even a first-generation iPod Shuffle, which, though not even fifteen years old, is a relic rendered just as archaic as the Walkman by the ubiquitous iPhone.  Given the rapidity of technological change, one can’t help but reflect that fifteen years from now the iPhone itself may very well be added to this pantheon of the obsolete.

William E. Gundelfinger (1900–1976) KM ‘Flatwork Ironern’ Iron, Model no 444, 1939. Chromium-plated steel, Bakelite. Made by Knapp-Monarch Co., 5 x 7 3/8 x 7 3/4 inches. Photo by Shane Culpepper, Tulsa OK.

 

 

Some of the more traditional works on view also had regional significance, like the paintings of Carl Hoerman, Matthias Altan, and Reynold Weidenaar, the latter of whom was featured in a massive retrospective here in 2015, occasioned by the centennial of his birth.  All three artists lived and worked in West Michigan, and their work, which took Michigan’s landscape as its subject matter, reflects their affection for the natural beauty of the state.

Mathias J. Alten (American, 1871–1938) The Gravel Pit, 1909. Oil on canvas, 22 x 28 inches. Grand Rapids Art Museum, Gift of the Estate of Peter M. Wege, in memory of Peter and Louise Wege, 2016.14

Historically, the strong suite of the GRAM’s permanent collection has always been its holdings of European and American art post-1800, and many works have been added to this number. These include offerings by such recognizable names as William Blake, Audubon, Picasso, Marsden Hartley, Emil Nolde, Warhol, Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly, Calder, de Kooning, Dubuffet, Chuck Close, Kara Walker, and Louise Bourgeois.  Among the oldest works acquired include a pair of 15thcentury engravings by Martin Schongaur and a small nude figure study by Rembrandt.

Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606-1669). Nude Man Seated on the Ground with One Leg Extended, 1646. Etching on paper, 3.88 x 6.63 inches. Grand Raids Art Museum. Gift of Margaret Goebel, 2017.27.

 

Kara Walker (American, b. 1969), Boo-hoo, 2000, linocut, 40 x 20 ½ inches. Promised Gift of Martin and Enid Packard © Kara Walker and Parkett Publishers, courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York.

While European and American works make up the majority of the GRAM’s new acquisitions, there’s nevertheless a robust international presence, and these works hail from all six inhabited continents.  These include a large, reflective, geometric glass sculpture by Monir Farmanfarmaian, the Iranian superstar artist who enjoyed a handsome retrospective in this same gallery suite last summer.  Inspired by Sufi geometry, her composite sculpture throws reflected light across the floor of the gallery space like a stationary disco ball, and echoes the geometric tessellations of an untitled pen and ink drawing, also by Farmanfarmaian, included elsewhere in the show.

Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian (Iranian, b. 1924) Untitled, 1980, ink and pen on paper, 18 x 25 inches. Grand Rapids Art Museum, Gift of the Artist and Haines Gallery, 2018.12 ©Monir Farmanfarmaian

This exhibition serves as a veritable who’s who in art and design– all the more impressive given that it comprised just five years’ worth of acquisitions and promised gifts.  Furthermore, in addition to established masters, the show included works by emerging talent, such as Elephant Whirlpoola massive graphite drawing by Addona Kharre, who in 2012 was the winner of Art Prize, the city’s celebrated annual art festival.  Recent Gifts and Acquisitions is an exhibition that will live on in perpetuity as these works join the 6,000 other artifacts that form the museum’s permanent collection, ever on rotating view in the GRAM’s gallery spaces. 

Grand Rapids Museum of Art 

Nancy Pletos & Henry Crissman @ Simone DeSousa Gallery

Nancy Pletos:  “Besides, I did not want to do anything but be here” and Henry Crissman at Simone DeSousa Gallery

Nancy Pletos & Henry Crissman @ Simone DeSousa Gallery Installation Image, Courtesy of DAR

 

Continuing to focus on the local art landscape, Simone DeSousa Gallery has combined Detroit history and future in two solo exhibitions in the work of Cass Corridor artist Nancy Pletos, one of the central figures of that moment in Detroit’s vibrant art scene and Henry Crissman. Crissman, like Pletos, is an innovative, multidisciplinary young artist whose ever adventurous exploration of materials and forms challenges notions of artistic production and aesthetic value.

Taken from her personal writings, the title of Pleto’s exhibition, “Besides, I did not want to do anything but be there,” encapsulates Pletos’ conception of her engagement with the personal, ever private, use of everyday materials of everyday life in her work. She gathered, and made, the bits and pieces of mirror, beads, dried flowers, even banal building materials such as Masonite and pine molding, constructing, small intriguing objects and large elaborate sculptures and complex wall sculpture/drawings. It was a modest desire and modest project that ended up as a diverse and complex engagement with artistic process and vision.

Nancy Pletos, “Yellow Spiral /Farm IV,” 1978, Wood, wooden beads, paint, glue, mirror glass, craft jewels, shellac

Her iconic works are elaborate vertical sculptures composed of thousands of wooden flower and plant petals cut on a small, manual miter box from various sized quarter-round pine molding. — each piece of molding, glued together to create flowers and plant petals. Throughout her work there is evidence of a preoccupation with mathematics and geometry and even a consideration of the role of geometry in the formation of DNA and the Genetic code. Beside the geometry of flowers her large “Yellow Spiral/Farm IV,” as well as many of her plants representations, resemble the spiral construction of the double helix chain of nucleotides that carries the genetic instruction for reproduction for all living organisms.

Nancy Pletos, “Parental Guidance (2),” 1982, Wood, mailing cardboard, found objects, paint, shellac. With “Library” in foreground.

All of Pletos’s work is a nod to either nature’s or man’s built world, of how things– whether flower, or animal, or building—fit together to compose the world. Sculptures of elaborate flowering plants, cartooned sections of wooden logs, miniature buildings and jewel-like architectural details. There is a progression from the small “occasional” objects to her elaborate sculptures and her wall collages that, like amber inclusions with entrapped insects, are filled with “found objects.” Her wall relief “Parental Guidance” is gorgeous construction of an assortment of humble objects and images embedded in a thick amber shellac that seem to compose a narrative from her life. Including children’s toys and silhouettes of heads and hands, birds and butterflies, “Parental Guidance” is, like amber inclusions of fossilized insects, a personal time capsule that composes a frozen moment into a beautifully “drawn” structure that occupies a brilliant intersection of science, mathematics, a deep passion for nature and personal memory.

Henry Crissman, “New Balance # 1 & #2,” 2019, oil paint, oil pastel, vinyl New Balance advertisement

Henry Crissman’s new work occupies the “Edition” side of the Simone DeSousa Gallery and as such seems to suggest an introduction of Crissman’s work to the DeSousa collection of artists. Two large paintings and eight ceramic works introduce us to a mix of expressionist painting and a diverse group of aggressively kitschy ceramics, including a chia-pet self-portrait (that’s a guess), a Transformer chicken/eagle and “Bust,” which is a mass of ceramic, epoxy and molten plastic bottles, all of which test the limits of material and form. Crissman suggested that painting was the ultimate model and stimulus for his work and the overall effect of his work reveals as much. He has always painted his energetically expressive ceramics with abandon.

Henry Crissman, “Bust,” 2019, plastic bottle, ceramic, epoxy.

The two paintings are painted on appropriated vinyl from New Balance athletic shoe advertisements. Other than to redact its corporate BS message by hiding or blocking it out with spectacular color, how much the ad was a prompt for the paintings marks is up for grabs. With the loose, scroll-like, vinyl hanging like an unstretched canvas, Crissman’s New Balance paintings hang comfortably like a banner, rather than with the pretension of a painting. In both there is a depiction of a head with a semi-readable text insinuated, as well as dates and numbers. In many of Crissman’s previous ceramic pieces, as in the New Balance paintings, there are messages to the viewer, phone numbers, even an invitation to call him, creating a seamless, personal aesthetic that combined with the expressionistic painting becomes a diaristic narrative. In conversation Crissman suggested that each of the ceramic works are plays on personal incidents or “stories” as well. Echoing Nancy Pletos’ exhibition title, Crissman said: “I am constantly thrilled to be in the world, to be translating my experience into objects, onto surfaces, not to fetishize but to celebrate.”

Nancy Pletos, Installation view of logs, 1975, Plywood, paint.

 

Nancy Pletos  “Besides, I did not want to do anything but be here”
and Henry Crissman at Simone DeSousa Gallery: Through May 25, 2019

Compo/Site @ Scarab Club

“Compo/Site”, Installation view at the Scarab Club, All images: Ryan Standfest

The current politically-charged discourse surrounding the construction of a wall at a secured southern border, is as much as anything a conceptual conversation giving material form to immaterial psychological barriers. The “Trump wall,” conceived as a talking point in the 2016 presidential campaign, is representative of something far more than the control of illegal immigration traffic. Its physical manifestation in the public imagination is a singular structure that forcefully cuts through the landscape, creating a geographic forcefield through which no body nor any view may pass. It is a potent symbol that negates the very notion of free passage.

Underlying the idea of it, is a sense of paranoia and xenophobia; the need to separate oneself from “the other.” It is also about turning inward, and embracing the notion that one’s sense of place is not a shared space, but an individually-owned and protected one. An isolationist perspective in which landscape itself must be divided, detached and organized into manageable zones to ease psychogenic stresses.

“Compo/Site” at The Scarab Club,  is an exhibition of forty works by six artists, all employing print media to investigate environmental psychology and the parameters of space and place. With a few exceptions, there is the noticeable absence of representations of the human body in most of the work on view, and yet there is a cultivated awareness throughout of human motivation behind structures that reshape physical landscapes into cognitive ones. Each of these artists question how we construct place and manufacture a phantom ownership over space—a personal space and a public space, a space for desire and a space for loss.

Zach Fitchner: “Housing Units”, Installation, monoprints on cut paper, 20 x 16 inches each, 2019

In Housing Units and Passenger Plane, Zach Fitchner assembles two installations within the gallery that proposes a set of containers, both private and public. Housing Units, a row of five monoprints each measuring 20 x 16 inches, employs a reconfigured matrix of wood relief and half tones, to minimally suggest a house on each shaped sheet of paper. The use of wood grain and screen pattern bridges the organic and the mechanical, but also summons two print processes to speak to concepts of pre-fabrication in housing. Fitchner smartly makes use of the monoprint process, whereby multiple iterations of an image can be achieved from a single changeable matrix, to underscore the development of postwar suburban communities in which a housing template was reproduced endlessly with minor variation in decorative choices. It is a visually stunning representation of the suburban phenomenon where the concept of community is performed as assimilation within a highly planned environment.

Zach Fitchner: “Passenger Plane”, installation, monotype, lithography and relief on panels with supergloss epoxy resin, 6 x 22 inches each, 2015-2016

Zach Fitchner: “Passenger Plane”, detail, monotype, lithography and relief on panel with supergloss epoxy resin, 6 x 22 inches each, 2015-2016

 With Passenger Plane, Fitchner transforms the white of the gallery wall into an airspace with seven passenger jets taking off and landing. The jets are a mixture of monotype, lithography and relief prints, with a supergloss epoxy resin on cut plywood panels each measuring 6 x 22 inches. The programmatic routine of air flight is disrupted with the organic, printed fuselage skins—a patchwork camouflage that enlivens the representations of these flying containers as they glide over the irregular plaster surface of the Scarab Club’s gallery walls, which in this context resembles a sculpted airspace of stylized clouds. The sighting of Fitchner’s installations work quite well: suburbs and air traffic—a basic mechanics of procedural living speaking to one another. You can practically hear the distant jet engines overhead.

Arron Foster: “Lost in the Sand”, stone lithography, relief, digital inkjet, 22 x 17 inches, 2017

Arron Foster’s Lost in the Sandand Fossil Firealso address a relationship between the manufactured and the natural by way of setting drawn objects resembling smooth cast concrete forms alongside objects resembling a rough tree branch or section of bark. Lost in the Sand, a stone lithograph with relief and inkjet, floats this pairing of opposite sensations above a desert landscape with a transparent haze of color shifting from yellow to orange to red, from the top to the bottom of the piece. It conjures a strong sense of a place without specificity. Similarly, Fossil Fire, a stone lithograph with inkjet, depicts its pair of objects floating over a desert landscape which this time is turned on its side. The light however, remains a pale yellow. Both prints possess a timelessness—objects taken out of time, perhaps archeological remnants of environments lost whether through the collapse of an ecosystem or the fall of a civilization or both. Whether grown or constructed, each has been buried and dug back up. The precision with which each object is rendered with a lithographic crayon, has a studious clarity. The objects are able to crystallize specific, contrasting sensations in the mind. The landscape in each image, however, conjures a non-specific place, a dislocation from time, an environment of reverie where the objects may remain lost to us.

Matthew McLaughlin: “PS_Sample” (counterclockwise: 15, 13, 14, 10, 5, 2), monotype with charcoal drawing, 3 x 10 inches, 2018

Matthew McLaughlin confronts the paradox of the planned community. In PS_Sample (numbered variously 2, 5, 10, 13, 14, 15), a series of six monotypes with charcoal drawing, and with an untitled installation comprised of printed and cut wood relief fragments assembled into an image, he delves into the poetics of fencing. Specifically, the image of the suburban backyard fence. The PS_Sample configuration presents six different samples or sections of a fence type. The PS in the title refers to “Personal Space,” and McLaughlin creates a space that is about imposition—the imposition of the fence on the landscape to disconnect the view from the viewer. The fence becomes a blockage, an interruption, another act of dislocation as the ambiguous, sublime color field of the monotyped background, with its alluring half-light, is divided and obscured by the dark silhouette of the fencing. This is the establishment of a personal space, but at the risk of distorting a view to the outside. Each is a window into a landscape that denies access to that landscape. Are those of us behind the fence imprisoned or protected or both? The space of the images is intentionally ambiguous.

Matthew McLaughlin: “Untitled”, wall installation, monoprint on cut paper, variable dimensions, 2019

With his Untitled installation, we are given another fence—this time a series of deconstructed fences and barriers, reassembled via collage into a single ragtag barrier stretched across the gallery wall. The single unifying element beyond the overlap of its individual sections, is that of its printed woodgrain. But the reality of the cut paper fragments pinned together, with the shapes drooping and wavering here and there, is the impression of a hasty fortification. But against what? Who is keeping whom out, and for what purpose? What is personal space in the context of community? How do you integrate and separate yourself simultaneously?

Taryn McMahon: “Massive Barrier”, monoprint, 14 x 18 inches, 2017

Taryn McMahon employs a layering of color and form in a series of monotypes in the exhibition, whereby the process of printmaking as an act of image projection addresses how we construct our relationship with the natural world. In Rising Water, Distant Garden, Massive Barrier and Wall, McMahon fragments and disrupts our depth of vision as a means to complicate how we are viewing her work. What can appear at first as deceptively simple visual texture and pattern existing on a shallow plane opens up and gives way to a slippage of foreground and background. Each image is a landscape. What we are experiencing is not clear at first and we must navigate our way into the space of the composition, finding our place as it were. The work demands that we enter it. The colors are not insistent, but are suggestive. These are highly atmospheric works that quietly intrude on consciousness. The layers vibrant between negative and positive space, light and shadow, heaviness and weightlessness. We are both inside and outside of these images. Their apparent flatness at first glance, gives way to an unfolding of space as more time is spent with each work. They are a fascinating conundrum: consisting of barriers that open up. This is perhaps a conceptual reversal of how we mediate the natural world: we tend toward flattening it, cutting it up, boxing it in, imposing our will upon it when we image it with our shallow depth of vision. And yet, we also see the natural world as boundless, infinite in its ability to surround us. The truth however is more complicated. As we are bound to our environment, the way in which we perceive it will determine its existence.

 

Nick Satinover : “ Northwoods Suite ( 4 ) ” and “Northwoods Suite ( 3 )”, both screen print and drawing on panel, 12 x 18 inches each, 2013

With Northwoods Suite (4) and (3), both screen print and drawing on panel, Nick Satinover is concerned with the poetics of place via half remembered maps and diagrams, the vernacular of hand-painted roadside signs and midcentury children’s educational books. There is something satisfying in the instructive playfulness of Satinover’s images. A warmth emanates from the work as he pairs abstraction with playfulness. The works are familiar without being specific. These are maps and diagrams, but only in the most suggestive sense. If maps and diagrams are about anchoring knowledge, Satinover does something wondrous by loosening their didactic boundaries so that we are given a poetic variation on mapping. The works summon the memory of early learning minus the demands of teaching. A child-like universality is on display: we are locating ourselves in someplace that could be anyplace. Place names and lines of demarcation soften and become gestural. Zones of information become pure passages of shape and color. He constructs a memory space. An evocation of discovering place for the first time.

Brett Schieszer: “Head on Backwards, Feet at Funny Angles” and “Smile Before You Want To”, both reductive woodcut, screen print, lithography and digital collage with foil, 10 x 10 inches each, 2018

The work of Brett Schieszer seems to emerge from memory as well. The memory of expectation. In Head on Backwards, Feet at Funny Angles, Smile Before You Want To, and Really There is No Need, It’s Fine, each made with an amalgam of reductive woodcut, screen print, lithography, digital collage and foil, we are shown dynamic, bright, seemingly optimistic constructions, that conjure Russian Constructivist propaganda collages from the late 1920’s, such as those by artist Gustav Klutsis (1895-1938), as well as mid-century American advertising, both harnessing an optimism to promote a belief system and a lifestyle. For Schieszer, the past is a landscape, as the glossy surfaces, glowing colors, and radiant patterns of his images beckon entry into a dreamscape, a vacationland of the mind fueled by nostalgia. And yet, these are impossible places. Their unreality heightened by cutout photographic figuration placed against open expanses of color. Dreamland is nowhere. It is an imaginary space. Schieszer’s titles even have contradiction baked into them: a head is on backwards, feet are at funny angles. The natural act of smiling is something done before you want to. There is the false reassurance that everything is fine, and no other need should be considered. The images are each bordered on two edges by gold foil with a perspective that lends a false thickness to the composition. It is as if these are panels, tiles, or thick postcards projecting outward, persuading a visitation to this place where things seem to be alright.

Collectively, all of the work  in “Compo/Site” shuttles between abstraction and representation and suggest a split, a perceptual struggle between the concrete recognition of place and the effects of our fleeting personal impressions and projections upon it. That print is the primary vehicle for such an exploration is not without reason. As a process predicated on projection and memory—the transference of an image from one surface to another for the sake of creating an impression—there is much resonance between medium and subject here. Recording a mark on a surface, fixing it, is akin to the physical and mental marks we impose on the environments we inhabit or pass through. The history of mapping has been the history of print. To devise a system for spatial demarcation on a landscape in order to navigate it, possess it, name it, is also a form of psychological mapping. We construct the world as we wish it to be by projecting our identity upon it. In essence, we are constructing by compositing—merging the real and the unreal, the past and the present, the natural and the manufactured, the meaningful and the meaningless—resulting in a boundless psycho-geographic container whose definition is elastic and ultimately incapable of being colonized in any state of permanence.

Scarab Club exhibition “Compo / Site” through May 18th, 2019

 

Corine Vermeulen @ David Klein Gallery

Corine Vermuelen, Installation image, 2019, courtesy of DAR

Photography is front and center in the exhibition, by the Dutch artist Corine Vermeulen at the David Klein Gallery’s contemporary art gallery on Washington Boulevard in Detroit, Michigan.  The exhibition is a collection of two separate bodies of work, one more grounded in her previous work depicting street portraits.  In this new figurative-based work, Nachtwerk, mostly shot at night, the figurative images are integrated in what might be called surreal elements.

In a statement, the artist says, ” I am intervening retrospectively in my own image making, doing something different with the images of the past.  This occurs during a time of ‘revival’ in Detroit when different processes are deployed over the same terrain, interfering with the historical round.”

Corine Vermeulen, 00:25, August 14, 2018- 2018, Pigment print, 40 x 30 inches, Edition 1 of 5

Corine Vermeulen, 12:17, August 20, 2018- 2018, Pigment print, 26 2/3 x 20 inches, Edition 1 of 5

Corine Vermeulen, ISON (Belle Isle)- 2018, Pigment print, 42 x 42 inches, Edition 1 of 5

The second body of work, Kodak and the Comet,  the photography is comprised of large colorful abstract images. The idea of creating an abstract photographic image has been around dating back to artists experimenting with contact sheet photography, and more recently been executed by Frances Seward, Alexander Jacques, Ola Kolehmainen, and Graham Crumb, but these artists were capturing abstraction in natural environments where they are looking at their subject through the lens and taking an exposure.

What is different in these Vermeulen abstracts is that she is taking her existing film negatives (2.25 x 2.25”) and applying chemicals that move and distort the layers of color within the existing emulsion. (Spoiler alert: Not all images are created using digital technology.) This is why you see the numerals along the edges that help differentiate one negative from the next, something only found at the edges of the film. The end result could be achieved by trial and error, selecting a more desirable image, perhaps overlapping a negative or reworking the negative chemically until the required results are obtained. She may then possibly scan her negative and move into the digital printing process. To gain the size and scale of these prints, the artist needs to use a large digital printer where the photographic paper comes on a roll, and these kinds of sizes are obtainable. Vermeulen uses her existing color negatives as the vehicle to produce her lush and beautiful colorful abstractions.

Corine Vermeulen, Q2 (Gratiot)- 2018, Pigment print, 42 x 42 inches, Edition 1 of 5

These organic manifestations of shape and color are manipulations of existing negatives, exposed slightly in the backgrounds be it landscape or cityscapes. Vermeulen has taught herself what drops of chemicals create certain colors in the emulsion.  Regardless of how the work is created, it is an appealing type of abstract expressionism on its own.

Corine Vermelulen, 209P/LINEAR (Belle Isle)- 2019 Pigment print 84 1/2 x 98 inches Edition of 5

Many of the images are 42 x 42 inches, but in the large 209/LINEAR (Belle Isle) image, the square is divided up into eight related negatives creating an 84 x 98-inch image against the back wall of the gallery illustrating the factor of scale as it demonstrates the possibilities. These images are organic and poetic both in shape, form and color.

Corine Vermeulen is a photographer who set up her studio practice in Detroit in 2006 shortly after earning her MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art and was selected as a Kresge Artist in 2009.  She is known for her long-term, immersive projects portraying resilient urban communities amid reinvention. Her photographs have been featured in The New York Times, Brooklyn Rail, Time Magazine, The Guardian and The Fader, among others. She has had numerous solo and group exhibitions at national and international venues, including a solo exhibition at The Detroit Institute of Arts: The Walk-In Portrait Studio (2015), and group exhibitions Constant as the Sun at MOCA Cleveland (2017), and This Land at Pier 24 in San Francisco (2018).

 

Lester Johnson @ David Klein Gallery

Lester Johnson, Three Women II. Oil on Canvas, 60 x 50, 1973

Established in 1990 as a gallery in Birmingham, Michigan, David Klein opened with both contemporary exhibitions and a specialty in Post War American Art. On his 25th anniversary in September of 2015, he began a second location in downtown Detroit devoted to contemporary art and continued with his Birmingham space dedicated to his thirty-two Post War American artists.  The American artist Lester Johnson’s work has been part of Klein’s compendium from early on and Klein recently opened an exhibition of his artwork March 16, 2019.

Lester Johnson was born January 27, 1919, in Minneapolis and after high school began an apprenticeship at the Cosmopolitan Art Company where he learned to copy calendar landscapes.  Determined to be an artist he studied at the Minneapolis School of Art, then transferred to the Chicago Art Institute. Johnson left for New York City.  After living in a variety of locations and studios, he established a studio space on the Bowery and ended up sharing a studio with Phillip Perlstein on 10th street. He eventually accepted an offer by Jack Tworkov to teach at Yale where he was able to work as an artist and raise a family in Milford, CT.

Lester Johnson(right) with Willem DeKooning, 1971

Perhaps no decade in the history of American art continues to generate quite so much debate as the 1950s, when the United States, and in particular New York City, supplanted Europe as the primary focus of international attention. The success of Abstract Expressionists like Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Franz Kline represented a kind of cultural coming of age in America at precisely the moment when the country’s military and economic fortunes seemed brightest. As a figurative expressionist and member of the Second Generation of the New York School, painter Lester Johnson remained dedicated to the human figure as means of declaration through the many stylistic changes of his body of work. In his formative years Lester Johnson was in the thick of the zeitgeist. It’s what informs the passion, energy, and enduring power of those early primitive works. There was angst and reckless risk taking. There was something demonic in the frenzied execution of the early heads and figures. Taking from the Abstract Expressionists he painted from the shoulder in broad, messy, drippy strokes as if Lester was striving to find the essence of universal man.

In a 2004 review Hilton Kramer approached the work as “…some painters have made it a fundamental tenet of their art to resist the templates of their own facility. Rather than aiming for ease of expression they deliberately cultivate certain obstacles to it, either through distortion in draftsmanship or by creating a facture that eschews suavity in favor of a distressed painterly surface. Figurative painters who came of age in the heyday of Abstract Expressionist aesthetic were especially likely to play a role in this effort to undermine the effects of facility.”

In New York, Johnson exhibited at the Martha Jackson Gallery, Zabriskie Gallery, and James Goodman Gallery as well as having been included in group shows at the Guggenheim, The Whitney, Museum of Modern Art, and Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Lester Johnson, Classic Figure #2, Oil on Canvas, 50 x 49″ 1965

David Klein is a member of the Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA) a non-profit membership organization of the nation’s leading galleries in the fine arts. Founded in 1962, ADAA seeks to promote the highest standards of connoisseurship, scholarship and ethical practice within the profession. ADAA members deal primarily in paintings, sculpture, prints, drawings, and photographs from the Renaissance to the present day. Each ADAA member is an experienced and knowledgeable dealer in their field. ADAA has nearly 180 member galleries in 29 U.S. cities.

Lester Johnson: A Centennial Exhibition, at David Klein Birmingham,  runs through April 27, 2019