All posts by Essay'd

109 Tyree Guyton


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.

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107 Osman Khan

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

106 Mario Moore

Born Detroit, 1987/MFA, Yale University; BFA, College of Creative Studies/ Lives in Brooklyn, New York

Mario Moore has learned to slow down. His paintings and drawings reflect his personal journey, his evolving understanding of the world, and his desire to spark conversation about the complexities of contemporary society. His powerful and assertive body of work channels narrative painting, social protest art, and traditional approaches to craft, and centers around revealing portraits of family and friends. A more recent series turns introspective, his personal story expressed through nearly-lost techniques and an interest in earlier periods of art that lend richness and sensitivity to his highly detailed compositions. Continue reading

105 Diana Alva

Born Detroit, MI, 1949 / A.A. Henry Ford Community College, Dearborn; Coursework in Ceramics, Wayne State University, Detroit / Lives in Hazel Park, MI

Lines! It all started with lines for Detroit artist Diana Alva. Before she could recite the alphabet, Alva’s artistic-minded father, Julian, had her filling page after page with lines, any kind of lines, whether or not they made sense or were part of a coherent drawing, just to get her used to the feel of a drawing instrument in her hand and the mental process of creating something. Continue reading

104 Chris Riddell


Born 1970, Rochester MI / BA, Wayne State University / Lives in Hamtramck, MI

Chris Riddell uses dead rats as stencils. He makes sculptures that are also weapons, uses rotting ham and head cheese, the aural de/crescendoing of a squeaking wooden armchair, and the scent of lavender as material. He arranges sardines on auto grease and laundry detergent, constructs installations of armless, timeworn statuettes and found, fire-burned family photographs, tangles deflated sex dolls in plastic waste, and sets the mummified dead rat he stenciled with on a 2×4. All of it, everything you got, anything that’s around. His studio is all places and directions, centrifugal and multiplicitous. Smells and phonic material are there too, stinking and dripping and putrescent.
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100 Jennifer Harge


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Born 1986, Saginaw, MI/ BFA University of Michigan; MFA University of Iowa/ Lives in Highland Park, MI

Jennifer Harge is a student of the body — the black body, to be exact.

She lives to make them move, play, and most of all to speak; yes, speak, truth to hard social traumas and silent terror. And  do not for a second misread Harge’s intention or vision of dance as an invitation to be entertained. In fact, keep your applause. This dancer turned movement artist, choreographer and educator, is after more – your mind.

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99 Jide Aje


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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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96 Kate Levy

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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

74 Andrew Thompson

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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

72 Gary Schwartz

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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