Born Huntsville, AL, 1976 / BA, Vassar College / MFA, Rhode Island Institute of Design
A photograph is a powerful object—it carries the assumption of truth like no form of image-making ever has. Like the bards of old, it confirms our truth by telling and re-telling our stories. Like the ancient myths those bards repeated, photographs carry hidden messages that draw difficult, paradoxical truths out of our shadows.
The photographic work of Millee Tibbs examines the dark reflection of such fairy tale tropes as girlish innocence, wild landscape, and unicorns. Identity, memory and place are, in Tibbs’ images, composed not of real truths or events but of images that stand in for, and claim to be evident of, those truths and events that define our worldview. Tibbs’ work argues that the images we turn to for nostalgia, grounding, and beauty index times and places that, in fact, never truly existed—or at least, not as we, aided by the breadcrumb trail of documentary images, recall them.
Born Philadelphia, PA, 1943 / BFA, College for Creative Studies; MFA, Cranbrook Academy of Art / Lives in Royal Oak, MI
Striding smack into the dusty but revered genre of land and sea photography a few decades ago, Carla Anderson began her determined, protracted pursuit to record wondrous sites “seen with fresh eyes.” Undaunted by the preponderance of land- and seascape vistas produced by nineteenth century masters like William Henry Jackson, Gustave Le Gray, and Timothy O’Sullivan, she vowed to chronicle over-familiar scenes “in a way that made them unfamiliar.” Thus began Anderson’s quest to evolve a vision uniquely her own, little realizing at the time that the distinctive aesthetic she sought would not materialize until 2006.
Born Detroit, 1945 / BFA, MFA, Wayne State University / Lives in Detroit
What is an artist’s practice but a universe unto itself? A total environment, with the artist at the center, in which a vast but finite set of ingredients—think experiences, materials, impulses, and predilections—cohere, by means both mysterious and prosaic, into related forms that evolve over time. It’s an apt metaphor for the work of Gary Eleinko, a lifelong Detroiter who came of age as a painter during the bricolage days of the Cass Corridor movement (where any cast off thing could become art) and who remarks with frank wonder that, “Everything in the world is made up of 98 natural elements. There’s nothing else. 98 ingredients make up everything we know.”
Born Brooklyn, New York, 1947 / BS, Wayne State University; MFA, Cranbrook Academy of Art/ Lives in Pleasant Ridge, MI
In all its darkness, playfulness, mystery and grotesquerie, the work of Susan Aaron-Taylor embodies a search for wholeness through the embrace of contradictions and dichotomies. Over the last five decades, she has explored dualities through bodies of work that mine the realms of dreams and alchemy, sources that also served the fifteenth-century artist Hieronymus Bosch in his famous Garden of Earthly Delights. Both draw on these and other symbolic systems to produce a spiritual cosmogony both terrifying and compelling, imaginative and surreal. But unlike Bosch’s painted allegory of humanity’s fall from grace, Aaron-Taylor’s mixed media sculptures, constructed of materials such as handmade felt, wood, shells, stones, bones, and beads, are more a search for grace. That search dives into the self and its myriad incongruities, a self which does not so much learn to travel from dark to light on its lifelong journey as to incorporate both in the cycle of existence.
Born Paramaribo, Suriname, 1975 / BFA, Cooper Union, NYC; MFA, University of Michigan / Lives in Detroit
In her recent practice, Detroit artist Yvette Rock presents a series of self-imposed challenges while vigorously engaging with ideas about media and methodology to tell her visual stories. Her processes seem open to these questions: How does one construct a body of work? Where does it begin? Is it a series of investigations or a more concrete endeavor? Is it a thematic undertaking or an accumulation of disparate art making over time? Rock’s approach encompasses all possibilities. Newly created and found materials have made their way onto her studio work table alongside oil, acrylic, gouache, watercolor, charcoal, graphite, Conté crayon, turpentine, damar varnish, linseed oil, printmaking tools and inks, pastels, gesso, medium, and on and on. Over time Rock has sown a rich inventory of resources from which to venture.
Born Detroit, 1982 / BS, Eastern Michigan University; MFA, Cranbrook Academy of Art / Lives in Detroit
Tiff Massey is an artist whose explanations for her work often defy your overeducated readings. The recurring motifs of head-wearables and hair, for example, are not something the artist relates to Carrie Mae Weems, but rather Massey’s wide-ranging experiences of Detroit. After a few of these negated readings, you learn to keep inferences to yourself, rather than risk being corrected.
Massey wears many of her own pieces. Her Cranbrook Academy training as a metalsmith includes the craft of a fine jeweler. While out at Detroit galleries and in her signature videos for her 2015 Kresge Arts in Detroit fellowship and the Society of North American Goldsmiths, Massey can be seen wearing a large brass ring on her right hand. The ring looks a bit like an architectural model of a skyscraper. The Joe Louis fist and the Renaissance Center skyline—two metonyms for the city of Detroit—now dialogue with each other in my mind
Born Detroit, 1982 / BA, Howard University; MA, University of Chicago / Lives in Detroit
Art, ever sociable, is always in conversation with something else. One of artist Maya Stovall’s primary interlocutors is the City—that ever-shifting concatenation of street, sidewalk, and neighborhood; of people, power, and capital. (This conversation started early; Stovall recalls riding her bike to the Detroit Institute of Arts as a child and developing an “obsession” with the street life she encountered along the way.) For the last four years, she has pursued a related obsession, enacting and documenting an ongoing series of sidewalk performances and ethnographic interviews made near the liquor stores that dot her eastside neighborhood, McDougall-Hunt. Stovall, who trained in classical ballet, holds a Master’s degree in Economics, and is currently pursuing a PhD in both Performance Studies and Cultural Anthropology. She approaches the sprawling yet tightly focused Liquor Store Theatre project as a means to ask what she calls “monumental questions” about human existence via “close, rigorous, devoted, durational looking.”
Born Rhinelander, WI, 1979/ BFA (Music), California Institute of the Arts / Lives in Detroit
The artist Billy Mark intentionally messes with your head. He moves, he morphs, he mystifies. Watch him for even a moment, and it’s soon clear that he embodies this trio of M’s and more—sometimes all at once.
In fact, Mark means to make you believe that the whole “artist” moniker—improvisational freestyle poet and installation artist, to be exact—is too confining for him or his multidimensional work, which spans and connects conceptual theater, performance, sculpture, poetry, music, movement, even silence. Label him, if you must, but no longer will he narrow himself.
Born Detroit, 1979 / BFA, College for Creative Studies / Lives in Detroit
“I’m not a street artist, but I can paint on anything,” asserts Sydney James, prolific muralist, painter, and illustrator. After graduating from College for Creative Studies in 2001, she forged ahead as designer, art director, and “ghost artist” (for television dramas), at first in Detroit and subsequently in Los Angeles. Reviewing the evolution of her practice up to that point, she recalls, “I was an illustrator, [but] when I took control of the stories, I became a fine artist.” This epiphany coincided with her timely move back to Detroit in late 2011, where she encountered a burgeoning art community and street art stirrings, fueled in part by the Grand River Creative Corridor and Murals in the Market initiatives.
Born Detroit, 1959 / BFA, Washington University, St. Louis, MO; MA, The University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA; MFA, The University of Michigan School of Art and Design (now Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design) / Lives in Bloomfield Hills, MI
Conceptual photographer Cynthia Greig admits to being uninterested in the mechanics of photography; rather, she is fascinated by the facts and fictions of the photographic image. She came to photography through studying art history and filmmaking after an undergraduate degree in printmaking, and is a collector and published historian of nineteenth-century photography. Manipulated photographs, such as enhanced scenes of the Civil War and trick portraits of circus performers, hold a particular fascination. Inspired, in part, by these rudimentary red herrings, her own work as a photographer and video artist has centered on photography’s ability to manipulate what we think we see. With sly wit underscoring elegant images, she explores the area between idea and belief, between the physical and the imaginary, between perception and reality.