All posts by Matthew

98 Yusef Qualls-El

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Born Detroit, 1979 / Lives in Macomb Regional Correctional Facility, New Haven, Michigan

In 1996, when Yusef Qualls-El was sixteen years old, a Wayne County judge sentenced him to mandatory life without the possibility of parole in the Michigan prison system. Though his original sentence has since been ruled unconstitutional—a violation of the Eighth Amendment—he remains incarcerated, one of hundreds of juvenile lifers awaiting re-sentencing in Michigan. As Qualls-El puts it, “they threw away the key.”

Qualls-El was born in Detroit in 1979 and moved from neighborhood to neighborhood with his family before ending up on the city’s east side. He grew up watching morning syndications of Merrie Melodies cartoons and learned how to draw them; Bugs Bunny, Foghorn Leghorn, Marvin the Martian, and Yosemite Sam were all part of his self-blossomed art education. Drawing cars, often flying ones, was a recurrent pastime; their unfettered mobility represented “ultimate freedom” for him. A few years later, Qualls-El would be sentenced to mandatory life without parole for being involved—as a driver, not the shooter—in a homicide that would change the entire course of his life.

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97 Barry Roth

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Born Detroit, 1951 / BFA, Rochester Institute of Technology, New York; MFA, Cranbrook Academy of Art / Lives in in Huntington Woods, Michigan

For me the formation of the thought is already sculpture. (Joseph Beuys, 1969)

In 1978, a small portfolio of nine Barry Roth photos was published in the periodical Lightworks, #10. These tabletop images (including Day Sleep, 1975) were staged from Roth’s Palmer Park Detroit studio/apartment in the mid-1970s. Their intimate scale and dark theatricality worked discreetly with post-modern tropes such as self-identity, deconstructed narratives, pop-culture and historical references—and made them more disorienting and idiosyncratic. They presented interior landscapes that were new and radical.   

Roth’s artistry was an unacknowledged rupture in traditional photography that challenged norms of tableaux representation. While studying for an MFA, Roth discovered his unique analytic style. “I liked street photography,” said Roth, “but wanted something I could do anytime. “I was attracted to photographers like Les Krims – who staged things, setting things up for the camera.” Roth centers his photography as the thing itself; photographing to see how something looked as a photograph, aligning his ideas with street photographer  Gary Winogrand, who explained, “The photo is a thing in itself. And that’s what still photography is all about.”  Photography as a “truth-telling” medium was rejected by Roth, who describes his process as image-making rather than image-taking.

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95 Kylie Lockwood

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Born Detroit, 1983 / BFA, College for Creative Studies; MFA, Hunter College, New York / Lives in Detroit

Picture, if you will, an archaeologist. Is your imagined archaeologist mucking about in the dirt somewhere? Probably she’s got a trowel and a brush, and is dusting off a mysterious object disinterred from the depths of the earth. What, exactly, is the object she’s holding in her hand? More likely than not, it is a shard of ancient pottery.

Ceramics carry a whiff of the ancient. Much of what we know of our lost progenitors comes to us by way of their broken pots. The history of humanity is partly the history of people making things from dirt and clay.

The art of Kylie Lockwood (who teaches at the College for Creative Studies and helps run Cave Gallery) resonates with this ancient history. Many of the art objects she’s created over the years look like they might have been discovered during an archaeological dig or stolen from a museum of antiquities in some little-known Mediterranean town.

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94 Lois Teicher

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Born Detroit, 1938 / BFA, College of Creative Studies; MFA, Eastern Michigan University / Lives in Dearborn, MI

Lois Teicher is one of the few women artists anywhere who has built a career around large-scale public sculpture. Even more unusual, she works squarely in a post-minimalist idiom of industrial materials and formal shapes. Most American women sculptors of Teicher’s generation are rightfully celebrated for incorporating the aesthetics of crafts into their sculpture, for introducing new materials, ornamentation, or a sense of working by hand. But Teicher chose a different path; her large-scale, site-specific sculptures look more like Ellsworth Kelly than Magdalena Abakanowicz. For Teicher, feminism gave the artist permission to overcome gender roles to fashion her own definition of what it means to be a sculptor. Over her long career, she has refined her ideas about shape and surface, posited new relationships of sculpture to its surroundings, and hardest of all, overcome the long odds of being a successful woman working in this manner. Finding satisfaction in learning to use industrial tools, as well as working with fabricators, engineers, and installers, she has developed a unique style for large-scale sculpture that emphasizes tension and a suggestion of movement that serves to deny her work’s complexity and weight.

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93 Austen Brantley

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Born Detroit, 1996 / Lives in Royal Oak, MI

Clay sculptor Austen Brantley is unmistakably young—in his years and in his practice.

This is not a conversation Brantley likes to have. He knows, however, it’s where many people start when they talk about his artworks, primarily figurative. To ignore the obvious would be to miss part of the wonder of his work. There’s also this: he’s completely self-taught.

Of course, Brantley’s actual body of work contradicts much of what his youth and lack of formal training imply. His command of craft is evidenced in the lifelike quality of his sculptures. The eyes, the shapes, speak to a nuanced understanding of the human form as a language all its own, and to a disciplined commitment to learning by doing. Yet for those who must know, Brantley is 22. He’s only been making work since age 16 and only because he thought a ceramics class would equal an effortless A for his plunging high school GPA. The A eluded him (he earned a C) but a life’s passion emerged.

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92 George Rahme

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Born Lansing, MI, 1981 / BFA, College for Creative Studies / Lives in Hamtramck, MI

At the edge of the city, one empty lot from the noise of I-75, George Rahme lives and works in a small, unassuming Hamtramck house. His studio occupies the second floor. With no partition walls, the space is open and provides plenty of room for a drafting table and enough area on the floor to spread out and assemble his large-scale collage pieces.

One of his early works, a crudely rendered human figure, is stationed just inside his entry door. The body is made from foam with applied resin. Its right leg is truncated below the knee and stuck with forks. Titled Exit Eden (2004), it was his first in a series of sculptures regarding living with a disability.

“I was born with severe club foot,” Rahme says. “My feet were turned in and upside-down. I had surgery, and they put a pin in at six months. I had casts to wear until I was two. At a young age, I had arthritis. I spent time in a wheelchair. It framed my identity, and in the early days of my sculpture work, I used my feet as a reference.”

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91 Maurice Greenia, Jr.

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Born Detroit, 1953 / BA, University of Detroit / Lives in Detroit

Where do you begin with Maurice Greenia, Jr., aka Maugré? This painter, sculptor, blogger, actor, musician, cartoonist, pamphleteer, puppeteer and all-around walking art project is a bundle of creative energy focused through a lens likely ground in some dimension far, far away but somehow reflecting so much of our world.

His prolific works in watercolor, acrylic, oil, and pen and ink, such as View of a World (2007), create in viewers the irresistible urge to consider how, under what circumstances, the strange and colorful figures prancing across a strange and fantastical landscape could make sense. Look at one of his estimated 10,000 (!) drawings or his pieces hanging in a gallery exhibit, such as the huge section of Detroit’s Museum of Contemporary Art given to Greenia in a 2008 show there. Some will jump out and resonate for reasons that may immediately call to mind something of personal significance. Others may resonate for reasons that may not become clear for a long time, if ever, yet they will continue to compel and intrigue.

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90 Eli Gold

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Born Ithaca, New York, 1987 / BS, Skidmore College; MFA, University of Kansas / Lives in Detroit

Eli Gold’s conceptual performances explore the value of labor in art by using the artist’s own body as medium, material, and live-tested instrument. To consider art as a form of labor places emphasis on measures of time and physical effort, and on the demonstration of the processes by which a work of art is made. In addition, Gold’s work exposes how gestures of doing are inextricably intertwined with gestures of feeling, as his practice foregrounds how institutions such as art galleries regulate human behavior. The conceptual approach to performance art in Gold’s work also makes intellectual labor significant, as an a priori plan prefigures each task-based event—whose execution is an ultimately perfunctory affair.

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89 Sophie Eisner

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Born​ ​New​ ​York,​ ​NY,​ ​1985​ ​/​ ​BA​, ​Carleton​ ​College​ ​/​ ​MFA,​ ​Cranbrook​ ​Academy​ ​of​ ​Art, Bloomfield Hills, MI ​/​ ​Lives​ ​in​ ​Detroit

Sophie​ ​Eisner​ ​is​ ​not​ ​from​ ​Detroit,​ ​and​ ​does​ ​not​ ​put​ ​on​ ​airs​ ​about​ ​it.​ ​As​ ​a​ ​young​ ​artist​ ​who moved​ ​to​ ​the​ ​area​ ​in​ ​2013​ ​and​ ​to​ ​the​ ​Motor​ ​City​ ​in​ ​2015,​ ​she​ ​thinks​ ​it’s​ ​important​ ​to​ ​do​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​of listening.​ ​Eisner​ travels ​extensively,​ having ​just​ ​recently​ returned, for instance, ​from Mongolia.​ ​Wherever​ ​she​ ​goes​ ​and​ ​whatever​ ​she​ ​makes​ ​there,​ ​she​ ​brings​ ​elements​ ​from​ ​her childhood​ ​home​ in ​New​ ​York​ ​City​ with ​her.​ ​One​ ​of​ ​the​ notable ​qualities of​ ​Eisner’s practice​ ​is​ ​her​ ​ability​ ​to​ ​take​ ​a​ ​familiar​ ​object​ ​in​ ​a​ ​familiar​ ​place,​ ​such​ ​as​ ​the​ ​pink tiles​ ​in​ ​the​ ​bathroom​ ​of​ ​her​ ​studio,​ ​and​ use ​materials​, such as pigmented silicone, ​to​ ​think​ ​about​ ​the​ object ​from​ ​a​ ​different perspective. By presenting this same object with different materials and shape, Eisner invites the viewer to recall that they have seen this object somewhere before, and to wonder where. Eisner’s work gives viewers a fuzzy feeling of familiarity.

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88 Sabrina Nelson

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Born Detroit, 1967 / BFA, College for Creative Studies, Lives in Detroit

Every artist has an origin story—a tale of becoming.

Some artists remember, as Sabrina Nelson does, “like it was yesterday.” In fact Nelson’s moment dates back to 4th grade—around Valentine’s Day. “The teacher had asked us to draw a heart. So I did and this boy said, ‘You didn’t draw that; girls can’t draw.’” Nelson chuckles, recalling how swiftly she schooled the boy (“I was like, ‘Yes, I can.'”) But the humor in her voice and lightness in her eyes fade as she explains the moment’s imprint. “He really gave me my feminist wings and my artist wings. I’ve been drawing ever since.’’

All these years later, Nelson’s art is far more textured, socially inspired and multidimensional. She is a lover of work that ignites conversation, of muses who defy easy understanding, and she is a proud maker of imperfect figurative drawings and paintings that intentionally call viewers closer.

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