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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Born Detroit, 1975 / BFA, College for Creative Studies, Detroit / Lives in Detroit
It makes sense that Nicola Kuperus was onstage at the Detroit Institute of Arts recently, running her big yellow vacuum up and down a strip of beige carpet. And that a few minutes later, her face obscured by a long, black wig, she started to play the vacuum, using an effects pedal to modulate and amplify its heavy roar. And that a few minutes after that, she pulled out a tall, pink vase and began to fill it, maniacally, with fake plants, while on a screen above her, another Kuperus appeared, dressed up and gesticulating like a cross between a magician, Laurie Anderson, and some faceless horror movie creep, and that that Kuperus had the same vase, which she began to slap with her white-gloved hand, asking it, over and over again, “Ya like that?”
Born Royal Oak, MI, 1980 / BFA, College for Creative Studies, Detroit, MI; MFA, Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, MI / Lives in Bloomfield Hills, MI
Unpacking the practice of ceramist Laith Karmo is perhaps best expedited by focusing on the polar goals of his aesthetic evolution over the last decade and a half. First up are the brash, jazzy, chromatically shiny abstract sculptures presented in his first solo show in 2008, and then, post-2009, the gradual embrace over the next several years of the proverbial, evergreen forms (pots, bowls, ewers) and muted tonalities of his “objects of utility and contemplation.”
Born Detroit / BS, Central State University, Wilberforce, OH
Consider the art of Carole Morisseau as a bridge—as an expansive structure made of color, composition, and story that is intended to join differing generations, cultures, ethnicities, and classes.
Morisseau makes art, she says, as an expression of her soul, but accepts that approach to be non-paradigmatic. On a universal level, she sees the role of an artist as one of sharing: of ideas, a story, an aesthetic experience. Hence, the bridge analogy; one has to be willing to step on it and cross to the other side to see, to understand and to learn. As she puts it, “There is always something to learn, something to experience and, therefore, always something to express.”
Born Detroit, 1950 / BFA, Eastern Michigan University; MFA, University of Michigan / Lives in Ann Arbor, MI
Tom Phardel—sculptor, ceramist, and curator; beekeeper and bonsai enthusiast—has long played a critical role in the Detroit art community as both an artist and a supporter of other artists, and of course of the ceramic tradition. Serving as (much beloved) teacher and chair of ceramics at CCS for thirty years, he has inspired successive generations of students while pursuing his own artistic path, a path that has led him to a body of work notable for its sense of mystery, spirituality, and devoted connection to the natural world.