Born 1989, Royal Oak, MI / BFA, The Cooper Union, New York, NY / Lives in Detroit
In his 2017 bestseller Fantasyland, Kurt Andersen makes the convincing case that an essential aspect of the American character is a brazen disregard for the line between reality and fantasy. This is a congenital condition, he argues, that dates back to the nation’s founding.
Andersen’s thesis provides a useful lens through which to view the work of Bailey Scieszka, a multimedia artist and writer with a voracious appetite for history, on one hand, and popular fantasies like conspiracy theory, live action role playing, and end times prophecy, on the other. But for Scieszka, it is not just our eager and longstanding embrace of the irrational that makes Americans Americans; it is also the will to violence that is so dangerously entangled with our mania for make-believe.
Scieszka’s work has a great deal to do with violence. It’s “the only way to tell a true story,” according to her unbridled alter-ego Old Put—a murderous, shapeshifting, basket-weaving demon clown and pro wrestler who is the star of her elaborately-conceived plays, performances, and videos, and who features prominently in her prodigious drawings. Indeed, Scieszka’s astonishing output to date can be understood as an extravagant explosion of American violence, fantasy, and myth—a deranged, bedazzled, go-for-broke freak show that is informed by history, interpolated by trash and post-internet pop culture, and framed by anxiety about the horrors of contemporary life. Her work is a funhouse mirror reflection of the world today, hilarious at one turn and terrifying the next.
Born Detroit, 1974 / BFA, Wayne State University; MFA, University of Iowa / Lives in Detroit
The artwork of Ryan Standfest is a wild collection of materials, media, and processes. He produces comics, performances, etchings, sculptural objects, videos, artist books, animations, art criticism, installations, short stories, and more. Trained as a printmaker, this early commitment reveals his deep interest in a socially distributed art, art that is multiple in its nature, non-elitist in its availability. The old high/low art dichotomy is irrelevant to him—a recently reworked video, The Dirt Eater (2007, 2018), for example, has a soundtrack that moves from the kitsch of Irving Berlin to the esoteric tonalities of Krzysztof Penderecki. He ignores the easy categories of traditional practices, and his Rotland Press, curatorial activities, and writing merge seamlessly with his production of more traditionally identified visual art forms, like linocuts or installations.
Born Westland, 1990 / BFA, College for Creative Studies / Lives in Detroit
It’s easy, and forgivable, to mistake mixed media sculptor Chloe Songalewski’s work as that of an architect. But in the series of sculptures that have become her signature —miniature geometric houses and cabins made of converging pieces of salvaged wood and other found materials — Songalewski is investigating something more personal. In fact, she knows next to nothing about architecture, which is partly why she smiles when people insist it as a source of her work. And most of what she knows about sculpting she’s taught herself, as a method of using her art, and art training, for something greater than commercial gain. Each piece she makes these days is an attempt to examine the meaning of home, whether it’s an actual space, a feeling, or a combination of structure and sentimental associations. “I’m finally creating art I want to make; art I need to make,’’ she explains. As a child, Songalewski moved around with her family so much, she never felt rooted. Art was then, she says, the only retreat she could find from the alcoholism that stole both her relationship with her father and ultimately her sense of home.
Born 1992, Udaipur, India / BFA, American University in Dubai, UAE / MFA, Cranbrook Academy of Art / Lives in Madison Heights, MI
Detroit-based multimedia artist Jetshri Bhadviya is profoundly concerned with technique. She’s lived much of her life steeped in it; entering her studio, you’re confronted by exquisite prints of her photographic work, crystalline recordings of her expansive, layered sound pieces, and (perhaps surprisingly, since she tends not to exhibit them) rows of well-executed oil paintings. Bhadviya grew up studying Kathak, a form of classical Indian dance. She is an avid student of history, religion, science, and gender. She is fluent in Hindi and English, and has studied Sanskrit.
But from this vast, rich education, Bhadviya has arrived at an understanding of technique’s dead end. Just as she’s hopped continents in pursuit of higher education and career, so has she sought to transcend the foundations of technical mastery to create a language, a practice, that is entirely hers. Bhadviya arranges archives of everyday sounds into staggering sonic maps, meticulously arranges signs in her still images to awaken ideas about gender, identity and place while uncannily canceling them out, and cloaks herself in swaths of confining fabrics for her performance work, crafting a balance between sophisticated and primordial, sensual and asexual, observant and blind.
Born 1968, Ann Arbor, Michigan / Studied Antioch College; The New School University; New York University / Lives in Detroit
Smash a teacup, reglue its pieces, paint them Tacky Trump Gold, wrap in barbed wire, then set the table and invite your neighbors in. Your neighbors are artists, the table is set with their own reimagined wares, and the invitation means resist. It is the second day of the 45th presidency, and Nancy J. Rodwan and co-curator Pam Murray are creating solidarity by hosting “The Uninvited” at Detroit’s Tangent Gallery. Several dozen artists sat at that table. Another fifty submitted to Rodwan’s “Never Again (Again)” – an outraged, satiric exhibit mounted at the Annex at 333 Midland to recognize the presidency’s 100th day.
Born 1984, Pittsburgh, PA / BFA, Maryland Institute College of Art; MFA Virginia Commonwealth University / Lives in Detroit
Performance, food, puppetry, sculpture (both soft and hard), video, quilting, agitprop parading, even rima oris theatrics. Enter Leslie Rogers’ work with a premise of play—as verb and noun. A vibrant, animated constellation of unfettered elements run through this diversity of forms: rhythmic, dynamic, and overflowing. Rogers speaks of her work in an intuitive, ambling fashion, imparting an exquisite corpse-like testimony, one anecdote leading into the next and, just when these elements appear leaning off topic, they fall squarely into the work, illuminated.
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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.
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.
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.
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.