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We’re a writing collective that publishes short, career-survey essays about contemporary Detroit artists. After our last two years of work, including the publication online of 60 essays and the recent in-print publication, in partnership with Wayne State University Press, of the first 30, we’re taking a break from writing to recharge our batteries, organize some related events, and work to put ourselves on a more sustainable path.
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Born New York, NY, 1988 / BA (Anthropology), Wayne State University; BFA, College for Creative Studies / Lives in Detroit
The art of weaving has long inspired metaphors for nothing less than the nature of human existence — from the mythic Fates, literally weaving each individual’s destiny, to Ishmael’s musing in Moby Dick that the “mingled, mingling threads of life are woven by warp and woof: calms crossed by storms, a storm for every calm.” The age-old link between weaving and living is of paramount significance to Levon Kafafian, a young artist and teacher for whom this ancient way of making is at the center of a vital, unfolding, multimodal practice — a practice that seeks to connect people more deeply to the natural world, one another, and their own lived experience. Continue reading
Born Kaunas, Lithuania, 1968 / Diploma in Fine Art and Restoration, St. Zukas Technium of Applied Arts, Kaunus, Lithuania / Lives in Beverley Hills, MI
Lithuania, Renata Palubinskas confides, was the last place in Europe to embrace Christianity, maintaining its pantheistic pagan beliefs as late as the fourteenth century. A similar sense, of being out of sync with prevailing currents, and instead embracing the richness of the distant past, pervades Palubinskas’s own extensive body of paintings. She is an especially wholehearted artist, making full use of a rigorous Eastern European education in traditional painting and drawing techniques to take on big topics, such as mortality and the search for enlightenment, with great joy. Her quest is a spiritual one, drawing insights from all religions, but finding the most compelling answers in writings from the Hindu tradition. She talks of the beauty she finds in martial arts, and if pressed will admit to having a black belt in karate. Continue reading
Born Des Moines, IA, 1950 / BFA, Drake University, Des Moines, IA; MFA, Tyler School of Art, Philadelphia, PA / Lives in Royal Oak, MI
With their luscious surfaces, painstakingly lifelike textures, and subtly surreal depictions of almost-possible places, the oil paintings of Mel Rosas invite and reward both close attention and long-view contemplation. Rosas, an influential professor of painting at Wayne State University, is one of those painters who draws knowingly from the deep well of art history (Vermeer, Hopper, and Magritte are three signal antecedents), as well as an idiosyncratic assortment of wider cultural influences. The expansive body of work that has obsessed him for more than 30 years is also an object lesson in the use of art as a tool to explore, expand, and communicate the self. Rosas’s paintings are portals that offer the artist passage into his Latin American ancestry, and the viewer into a lush and evocative dream world.
Born Detroit, 1946/Studied College for Creative Studies, Detroit; Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, Deer Isle, Maine; Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan/Lives in Detroit
Rarely does one get to see a full bore display of an artist’s oeuvre, all at once and all in one place. Robert Sestok counts as the standout exception in the Motor City, where he has engineered, from purchase and design to sodding and installing, an open air anthology of his sculptural practice. His City Sculpture park, located at Alexandrine and the Lodge Freeway northbound service drive, features an array of some three dozen sculptures, each centered on concrete pads laid out in a grid. Encompassing four contiguous city lots, and furnished with Sestok-built benches to offer a respite and meditative break from strolling about, this expansive public-private sward—it is open seven days a week—is a welcome oasis within Detroit’s Cass Corridor neighborhood. Continue reading
Born Detroit, 1956 / BFA, Wayne State University/ Lives in Grosse Pointe, MI
To understand Carl Demeulenaere it is best to approach his art from the perspective of technique, but also to remain conscious that the resulting work originates from a place of deep-rooted anger. Demeulenaere sets out to seduce you with color and craft. He sees himself as a “contemporary Pre-Raphaelite,” seeking to emulate the 19th century English “brotherhood” who themselves sought a return to the detail and intense coloring of 15th century Italian art. Continue reading
Born Warren, MI, 1990/BFA, Wayne State University/Lives in Hamtramck, MI
Alex Buzzalini stands in the carpeted living room/art studio of his Hamtramck flat. The walls are covered with his paintings, some on paper, some on canvas. Shelves hold an array of his sculptural work: a pointy Red Cowboy Boot (2015) made of duct tape, a brick transformed into a fruitcake. With a can of Stroh’s in his hand, he explains that to get a really good look at anything, he has to back up into the other room. He keeps an old Herman Miller chair in the entry hall, an ashtray as well, and a book he’s been reading about the American West, all for the purpose of looking and contemplating. Continue reading
Born New York, 1952/BA, Beloit College/BFA, Minneapolis College of Art and Design/MFA, Cranbrook Academy of Art/Lives in Royal Oak, Michigan
With a virtual wave of the hand, Andrea Eis beckons all seekers of enlightenment to traverse an enfilade of tall columns for a consultation with the Oracle of Delphi. In this 1992 installation, a large, impassive visage of the priestess awaits the curious visitor at the end of the processional way. Once in her presence, red vinyl letters affixed to the photograph announce: SHE SPOKE HER MIND. Simultaneously, the truth seeker notes that at her feet, embedded in rocks on the floor, another phrase claims: THEY HEARD HIS. This startling contradiction, like a wallop to the head, swiftly apprises the visitor of the phallocentric dynamic between genders—then and now. As Eis asserts: “From Antigone’s battle with her conscience and her sense of moral duty, to Demeter’s conflict over separation from her daughter, mythic people struggled with dilemmas we still encounter.”
Born Sebastopol, CA, 1976 / BA, University of California Santa Cruz; MA & PhD (Performance Studies), New York University / Lives in Detroit
On a sunny Sunday afternoon last July, several hundred people crowded the Dequindre Cut, a popular recreation path in Detroit, to watch a dance. The performance, one of three public dance labs programmed to accompany “Here Hear,” the Cranbrook Art Museum’s celebrated exhibition of Nick Cave soundsuits, included music by Frank Pahl and choreography by Biba Bell. There is no telling what, exactly, the audience expected. What they witnessed was a distributed dance, a de-centered performance event, in which any vantage point along the Cut’s long, linear footprint offered a different view of different groups of dancers, some of whom slinked by in sinuous silence, while others posed, elegant and remote, above the crowd. Others danced a mannered duet involving the ritualistic exchange of their black or white soundsuit costumes, and the rest, by the end, were dancing in furious, ecstatic unison. When all was said and done, no one present had seen a complete dance, or the same dance. Everyone, however, had seen a dance by Biba Bell, an artist who specializes in the unexpected.
Gina Reichert, Born Cincinnati, OH, 1974 / BArch, Tulane University, MArch, Cranbrook Academy of Art / Lives in Detroit
Mitch Cope, Born Detroit, 1973 / BA, Center for Creative Studies; MFA, Washington State University / Lives in Detroit
There are effectively two periods in the recent history of Detroit art: before and after the publication of “For Sale: The $100 House,” the now infamous 2009 New York Times article that extolled the creative possibilities of minimally priced Detroit real-estate by relating the experiences of Gina Reichert and Mitch Cope, the couple behind art/architecture practice Design 99, and the artist-run, neighborhood-based nonprofit Power House Productions. After the article was published the pair were deluged with interview requests, and with e-mails from artists around the world requesting information on how to move to Detroit and participate. They decided that for a period of two months they would try to answer every media approach they received. At the end of that period their lives were irreversibly changed, and if the truth be told, so was the narrative of Detroit art. Continue reading