Leyya Mona Tawil, Born Livonia, MI, 1975 / BDA University of Michigan, MFA Mills College, Oakland, CA
Mike Khoury, Born Mt Pleasant, MI, 1969 / BA(Econ) University of Michigan, MA Central Michigan University, MA Michigan State University / Lives in Northville, MI
On a sparse stage, a woman’s body rolls sideways, spinning about its central axis, ricocheting from one edge of the space to the other, back and forth, sometimes at alarming speeds and almost crashing into the audience, other times slowing down, exhausted. In comparison to the familiar, childlike, head-over-heels rolling, this movement seems alien and serious. The woman is clad in a stylishly cut, army-green, hooded raincoat and wears black boots that periodically land solidly but awkwardly on the floor, searching in vain for a physically sustainable way to continue the body’s rotation. Elsewhere on the stage, a black-clad musician holding a viola alternates between periods of repeated, siren-like glissandos and silence. There is a palpable push-and-pull between dancer and musician, but who is pushing and who is pulling is hard to say at any moment in this uncompromising performance.
Born Flint, MI, 1988 / BA, University of Michigan; MFA, Cranbrook Academy of Art / Lives in Detroit, MI
Can you grow an apple with an Apple? Can you ever really describe the wind? These are the sort of questions – often at the intersection of culture and agriculture, and at the boundary between the digital and the physical – with which Ash Arder likes to engage. Her investigations are esoteric but allude to something universal. Trained in media studies, Arder uses art, with its essentially undisciplined relationship to knowledge, to explore the world she has been born into.
In April 2019, Essay’d facilitated The Questions of Curating – a curatorial workshop over three weekends at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, funded by the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation
Born Wyandotte, MI, 1952 / Studies at the College for Creative Studies / Lives in Detroit, MI
Art, for Vito Valdez, is about expressing something real – an idea, an emotion, an experience, or, even better, all of the above. Valdez’s visceral 1999 paintings Columbine and Kosovo, for example, combine dynamic brush strokes, intense colors, and fragmented references to the perpetrators and victims of violence to convey a sense of deep anger at the senseless massacres that occurred in these places. It is impossible to deconstruct the exact experiences that underlie these paintings, but perhaps they include the time Valdez spent working as a surgery technician while a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, or his childhood growing up in a tough environment where masculinity and violence were often interchangeable.
Eau Claire, WI, 1985 / BFA, Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, WI
/ Lives in Warren, MI
In 1972 the artist Alan Sekula walked towards workers leaving a secretive aerospace plant in San Diego, photographing as he went, until his actions were stopped by company officials. With this seminal act, Sekula signaled that the military-industrial complex, which existed on the frontiers of his daily life, could still be within the horizon of his artistic inquiry. Some forty years later, the artist Bridget Quinn follows in Sekula’s footsteps. Quinn, however, is not a child of the Cold War, but of a time of accelerating environmental collapse, and her concerns are not directly with the machinations of industry, but with the natural world. More specifically, Quinn is interested in what can be learned from “marginal nature,” that semi-wild world that is hidden in plain sight throughout the developed landscape. And that requires trespassing. As she says of her experience exploring Red Run, a small waterway in her newly adopted hometown of Warren, MI: “I saw an alarming number of “No Trespassing” signs, reminding me that I was not welcome, and that all land is owned. I have never seen a city so concerned with people stepping off of the sidewalk.”
Born Detroit, MI, 1955 / DFA (ad honorem), College for Creative Studies / Lives in Detroit
It’s all about YOU.
In his book Free Schools, Free Minds, Ron Miller describes two ways to imagine the relationship between radical education and social change: the first (exemplified by A.S. Neill) says that if you liberate the mind of the individual they will go on to change society, and the second (exemplified by Paulo Freire) says that you change individuals by working collectively on projects to change society. But in Tyree Guyton’s Heidelberg Project, it’s all about YOU – first discover who you really are, and then go on to change the world.
Born Karachi, Pakistan, 1973 / BSc, Columbia University, NY; MFA, UCLA, California / Lives in Detroit
An eight-foot-tall black monolith stands, 2001-like, outside an art museum in San Jose, California. To the naked eye it appears featureless, but when viewed using a phone camera, words magically appear on the screen. As one can imagine, it draws a crowd. It’s a piece from 2006, titled Seen-Fruits of our Labor, that illustrates many of the concerns of artist Osman Khan around that time, foremost among which was the need to look critically at the impact of the increasingly digitally-connected world through art. Continue reading
Born Chicago, IL, 1964 / BA, University of Ife, Ile-Ife, Nigeria ; BFA, Kansas City Art Institute / Lives in Detroit
There is, it’s fair to say, a lot going on in a typical Jide Aje painting. Aje is both a visual interpreter of West African culture, and an interpreter of West African visual culture. If his starting point is fairly traditional, there is nothing conservative in his approach. Instead, his paintings illustrate a worldview in which cultures are dynamic, extensible, and in constant dialog with each other. It is a vision that, perhaps not coincidentally, is paralleled by an open-ended approach to painting that involves constant experimentation with process and media. The result is an immense body of work in which Aje simultaneously abstracts and explodes, constantly working to reduce his source concepts and visual language to their most fundamental forms, while never allowing them to settlIe.
Take, for example, Untitled with Blue Cowries #1, a relatively small work from 2007. The overall structure is a four-by-four grid, and many of the individual cells imply a further division into a smaller four-by-four grid. The work refers to the Ifá, the divination system that plays a central role in traditional Yoruba culture, and which is based on sixteen main books, each of which has sixteen parts (or Odu). The title, and the physical presence of the shells, refers to a method of divination in which eight Cowrie shells are cast, and depending on how they land (up or down) one of the 256 possible outcomes is indicated.
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Born Royal Oak, MI, 1984 / BA, Naropa University; MFA, International Center of Photography – Bard College / Lives in Detroit and New York
Self-described “media activist” Kate Levy uses her extensive place-based research to explore issues of social justice through video, photography, and artist books. A central concern of Levy’s practice is who does or does not have access to means of representation. Highly conscious of her privileged social, economic, and educational background, she is determined to create working relationships that transcend this – even when it means giving up elements of creative control. For example, the 51 minute film I Do Mind Dying (2017) – covering water affordability and shutoff issues in Detroit from 2014 to 2017 – was developed in collaboration with numerous grassroots and advocacy groups. During the work’s production, Levy distributed cameras to people who lived in neighborhoods with high levels of shutoffs, and the subsequent material was merged with Levy’s own footage in a collective editorial process. The result is an urgent, and multi-layered, work that combines on the ground reporting with revelatory research to create a damning indictment of the web of injustice that envelops many Detroit citizens – recounted in the words of people in the thick of the action. Continue reading
In March 2018, Essay’d facilitated The Questions of Curating – a curatorial workshop over three weekends at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, funded by the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation
Born Kansas City, MO 1981 / BFA, Kansas City Art Institute; MFA, Cranbrook / Lives in Detroit
Andrew Thompson considers art to be his “life organizing principle.” It is, for example, how he researches topics that interest him, how he collaborates with people he likes, how he remains untroubled by the question of what to do with surplus funds, and even how he investigates traumatic events from his past. Thompson believes there is no inherent meaning in life, and hence we must all create meaning for ourselves and those around us. It is a philosophy that propels him along a creative path of his own design, free from the careerist moves often considered essential in the game of being an artist. Continue reading
Born Union, NJ, 1957 / BFA, Philadelphia College of Art; MFA, California Institute of the Arts / Lives in Detroit
To animate is to create the illusion of movement. To bend and release a flip book, and watch the images flicker to life one page at a time, is to distill the essence of something that has fascinated Gary Schwartz since childhood. Hand drawn animation, flip books, mutoscopes, camera obscuras, zoetropes, and (especially) stop motion animation, he is endlessly captivated by any non-digital process that can be used to quickly create animated works – and he is never slow to tell you his definition of “quick,” which is to “create faster than I can think.” Schwartz is a perpetually moving whirlwind of creativity, who edits as he goes, uploads everything to his voluminous YouTube channel, and never revisits old projects. Continue reading
Liza Bielby, Born Flint, MI, 1980 / BA Kalamazoo College, MI; MFA Dell’ Arte International, CA / Lives in Detroit
Richard Newman, Born London, England, 1980 / BA Greensboro College, NC / Lives in Detroit
It’s 1970. The sixties are over, but not yet past. In a townhouse in New York’s Greenwich Village two members of revolutionary leftist group The Weather Underground are building a pipe bomb packed with nails and dynamite. They plan to use it to “bring the war home” to a dance for non-commissioned officers and their dates at Fort Dix, New Jersey. Casualties are inevitable. A third member of the cell is hammering out an accompanying statement on a typewriter, maniacally searching for inspiration in lines from Sophocles’ Antigone—a play whose message of non-conformity in war-time has achieved renewed currency in the Vietnam protest era. The book he reads from is not just any version of the play, but one by the legendary New York-based anarcho-pacifist ensemble The Living Theater—which is in turn a translation of a version by Bertolt Brecht. At that moment, the twin radical undercurrents of theater and far-left politics converge. Then the bomb explodes. So ends a pivotal scene in The Hinterlands’ kaleidoscopic 2016 art/theater project The Radicalization Process. Continue reading
Born Detroit, 1989 / BFA, School of the Art Institute of Chicago / Lives in Detroit
Some time ago a camel was shot. Later, artist Matthew Harrison acquired the animal’s right shoulder bone, complete with a ragged pre-existing bullet hole, and CNC cut a 130 mm diameter cylindrical through-hole, creating the sculpture Untitled (2015). Harrison’s simple intervention leads to a number of profound comparisons. First, the cut hole is jarringly precise, but still crude relative to the free-flowing shape of the bone. If the cut hole is a surrogate for man’s technical prowess, then it is also a reminder of how unsophisticated our engineering skills remain in relation to those of nature. Second, and this may be closer to the artist’s intentions, the physical violence of the gunshot hole seems archaic in comparison to the surgical symbolic-violence of the cut hole. If the gunshot hole symbolizes a period from the late-colonial era onwards, the cut hole can only point to the digital age. Continue reading
Born Imlay City, MI, 1956 / BFA, Wayne State University / Lives in Troy, MI
Ed Fraga remembers as a child taking a sheet of cardboard, folding it into a box, and looking at it, being thrilled to realize he’d created a small but powerful object. Later he started to populate the box, with dioramas, stage sets, magic shows for neighborhood kids, and other constructs of his imagination. “In a way,” he says, “I’m still trying to fill the box.” Continue reading
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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 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
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
Born Battle Creek, MI, 1979 / BA, University of Michigan; MFA, Cranbrook Academy of Art / Lives in Detroit
Megan Heeres’s Invasive Paper Project is, in principle, quite simple: participants take vegetable matter from invasive plants, such as Phragmites, Honeysuckle, and Garlic Mustard, and use it to create paper. Continue reading