Born Detroit, 1983 / BA (Film & Video), University of Michigan / Lives in Detroit
Between 2013 and 2014 in Detroit, the four high rise towers that were the last remnants of the Brewster-Douglass housing projects, the country’s first federally-funded public housing for African-Americans, were demolished. While the towers had been officially cleared of residents in 2008, they were, in fact, still home to a handful of people up to the time of their demolition, as Oren Goldenberg’s 2012 cinéma vérité short Brewster Douglass, You’re My Brother reveals. The video opens with a two-minute montage depicting the derelict complex from a series of neighboring perspectives—evoking its omnipresence, both physical and psychic, in the Detroit landscape—set to the sound of a gospel crooner’s insistent refrain that, “Time don’t wait for no one.” Then the focus shifts to Darlene, a long-term resident who says, as she reflects candidly on her hard life, that she survives by scrapping, and that she hasn’t seen her large family in years. At the end of the video, with the towers’ demolition imminent, Darlene is seen leaving, her empty hands in her pockets. She’s crossing the I-375 overpass, going—where? She doesn’t say. Does she know?
Born Ann Arbor, MI, 1949 / BA, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo; MFA, Wayne State University, Detroit / Lives Grosse Pointe Farms, MI
Describing herself as the “compulsive collector that I am,” Jeanne Bieri is, verily, a hunter and gatherer of assorted, throwaway “stuff,” from which she occasionally assembles a one-of-a-kind grouping to render in oil. Other salvaged discards, chiefly textiles, accumulated by her and a cohort of friendly enablers, she restores, mends, sews, repurposes, “heals,” and “makes whole” again. An example of the former, Christmas Lights of 2007, is a veritable compendium of rescued artifacts arrayed, not on a laden table, but sprawled like a frieze almost five feet in width. Suspended, swaged, and push pinned to a wall, back dropped by a dun hued army blanket, the ribbons, bones and skull, Christmas lights, spool of thread, jump rope, and vintage photograph are immobilized by push pins as well as gravity.
Born Detroit, 1948 / BFA, MFA, MEd, Wayne State University / Lives Royal Oak, MI
Donita Simpson’s regal portrait of Gilda Snowden (2014) is a commanding example of her ongoing series of photographs of Detroit artists. In Snowden’s pose, as if athwart a throne—as one respondent opined—Simpson nails her fellow artist’s magnetic, larger than life persona as painter, teacher, and indefatigable arts activist. Casually dressed and ensconced amidst a cluttered studio, Snowden (1954-2015) all but bursts into the viewer’s space, dominating both pictorial field and spectator’s territory. Snowden’s open-armed enthusiasm vis-a-vis the metro art community is mirrored in Simpson‘s brace of photographic studies—and, one might add, Essay’d’s ongoing profiles too. Such expansive efforts, including canvassing and connecting with an array of area artists, inform Simpson‘s own creative practice.
Born Detroit, 1966 / BFA, College for Creative Studies / MFA, Yale School of Art, New Haven, CT / Lives Detroit
Richard Lewis’s stark, striking Self Portrait in White Shirt (2004) establishes at a glance the mode of bold, arresting portraiture he has practiced over the last decade and a half. Here, his own half-length, life-size visage dominates a shallow space wherein he reveals himself at a terse, decisive moment. Though a stretched canvas at right appears primed for action, he stands stock still, his flushed face charged with emotion. In particular, the emphatic swabs of thick red and white pigment slashing across his forehead augur a deep-seated determination. Another angsty portrayal of 2004 represents Anthony, a friend whose parted lips and wary glance imply concern and vulnerability in equal measure.
Painted about a year and a half after a six year sojourn in New York (1996-2002), these bare-knuckled portrait suggest Lewis’s affirmative resolve to re-engage with his art and natal environs. In fact, his 2002 reappearance was his second repatriation to his Detroit roots; earlier, after graduation from Yale in 1993, he had relocated to his hometown but stayed only a year and a half before decamping for his six year residency in Gotham.
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 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 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.
Born Lansing, MI, 1959 / BA, Hope College, Holland, MI / MFA, Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, MI / Lives in Farmington Hills, MI
Todd Erickson’s recent sculptures, the “River Series” of 2009-2016, treat the eye to a richly inventive array of looping, interlacing ovals and circles. Each sinuous variant, however, also harbors singular details and idiosyncratic extrusions that further animate these “bronze rivers.” They range from an occasional thickening of the slender, linear outlines to projecting “growths,” intent, it seems, on springing free of the governing rings and hoops. Cast in bronze from branches and twigs gathered by the artist, these restless rivers twist and turn, swerve and whipsaw as the eye flows around their final form.
Born Chicago, IL, 1940 / Lives in Detroit
David Philpot is an antenna, finely tuned to subtle frequencies. He listens carefully, receiving transmissions from as far away as West Africa, and from as nearby as God or the wood in his hands. His primary medium, fittingly, is the staff, an energizing rod that joins the earth to the sky via the human being who wields it.
Long before he ever considered himself an artist, the 30-year-old Philpot heard a voice call his name, leading him, amazed, to an oasis: a grove of trees in a Chicago housing project. A week later, Philpot, who had never abandoned his childhood habit of gathering and carrying sticks, and who had recently admired Charlton Heston’s staff in The Ten Commandments, woke in the night with a mission: to chop down one of those trees, and make from it a staff of his own. When it was done, he called it Genesis (1971), an apt title for the first of more than 350 staffs he has made in the 45 years since.
Born Dearborn, MI, 1969 / BFA, College for Creative Studies; MA (Media Studies), New School University, New York / Lives in Detroit
Scott Northrup’s recent temporary installation Hämeenkyrö, Mon Amour (2015) was comprised of text projected onto the landscape near the town of Hämeenkyrö, Finland, at sundown. For about thirty minutes, excerpts of scripted dialogue from Alain Resnais’s Hiroshima, Mon Amour and several movies by Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismaki, as well as Northrup’s own writing, crawled across the vast, darkening plain in what the artist refers to as a “love letter” to the beautiful, welcoming place he’d come to know after a month-long residency there. Continue reading