Born Detroit, 1952 / Lives in Oak Park, MI
Jerdein Kirkland has the swag of Detroit-raised women who work hard and play hard, fedora cocked ace-deuce. She is a reflection of her art: a single loc, wrapped with sequined beads, dips past her knees, loops back up, tucks into a back pocket. Her clothes and jewelry are similarly embellished, with bespangled trim suggestive of craft stores, urban boutiques and hair shows—apropos, for in fact, she spent years selling her jewelry, and is a long-time hairdresser. Her collage paintings (her “Baby Girl” series, not pictured here) sparkle with bling, reminiscent of assemblage artist David Philpot (the late husband of this writer, and the subject of Essay’d installment #50); her “outsider” presence in the arts is reminiscent of him, too.
Born New York City, NY, 1980 / BFA, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago / Lives in Detroit
When you’re playing bass in a Bikini Kill cover band in high school, you need the right outfits to complete the sound. Amy Fisher Price didn’t know where to buy matching leopard-skin fits for the band, so she made them herself. Since that punk rock origin story, the sewing machine has never been far from her side. It’s an attitude and ethos that runs throughout her work to this day.
Born in Long Beach, CA, 1991/ BA, Bowling Green State University/ Lives in Detroit
In “All Falls Down,” arguably one of the best singles Ye has released, he raps, “We tryna buy back our 40 acres…” Thematically, the song is about a plethora of issues, such as the inherent sadness of loss, the false promise of the “American dream,” insecurities faced by Black people, and Eurocentric ideas of beauty. But in that simple line, derived from General Sherman’s 1865 Field Order that formerly enslaved people would receive 40 acres of confiscated Confederate land and a mule, Ye focuses on potential, and a desire to rebuild. In doing so, he touches upon the importance of hope and making space for speculative fictions, for narratives to unfold, and for people to dream.
Born Windsor, ON, 1989 / BA, MA, PhD (Electrical Engineering), Oakland University / Lives in Pontiac, MI
It’s easy, in the age of deepfakes, algorithm-driven advertising, and compulsive, desensitized scrolling, to wonder if photography is dead. Or perhaps the right word is undead, as in drained of life, reanimated, and enlisted in the daily struggle for the priceless commodity of our attention.
But if the situation looks grim through the smudged screens of our mobile devices, all it takes is a real-world encounter with photographs like Suraj Bhamra’s to remember that the 200-year-old art form is not only alive and well, it’s doing essential work in our troubled times. Bhamra’s output is a refreshing reminder that at its best, photography can help counteract the dissociative effects of contemporary experience by bringing viewers closer to life as it’s actually lived.
Born Royal Oak, MI, 1983 / BFA Wayne State University / Lives in Detroit
Encountering Scott Berels’ work feels like a meditation on the nature of nature, a practice whose foremost concern is observation, drawing inspiration from the physical world to contemplate the phenomenon of being. Approaching 40, the painter and sculptor has already devoted half of his life to visual art, creating for his own enjoyment while also undertaking commissions for large-scale public sculptures. In each stage of his career, he has skillfully investigated materiality and the rituals of creation. But Berels doesn’t simply pause to marvel when considering nature’s ontology, he also probes its linguistic consistency to understand the messages it conveys. Through repetition and tessellations, patterns and geometric forms, the artist engages what he calls “an ancestral language,” the grammar of the ineffable that speaks through stone formations, a grove of trees, or “the brush of a plant’s frond over dry soil.”
Born Pontiac, MI, 1992 / BA, Oakland University / Lives in Oak Park, MI
“We are a collection of all our experiences,” says digital artist Frank Lepkowski. “Online, an algorithm determines what you’re shown, which influences your worldview and the choices you make. It’s a cycle.” Lepkowski’s artistic practice bridges our web-based and IRL experiences as he crafts physical artifacts through machine-mediated processes.
Born Detroit, 1980 / BFA, College for Creative Studies / Lives in Detroit
In the early 2010s, the social media platform Tumblr became known for its dynamic and diverse community of users who shared a wide range of content. The appropriation of photos and images re-emerged as a trend during this time, particularly among young artists who used Tumblr as a platform to gather reference materials. Among these artists was Nolan Simon.
Born Detroit, MI, 1986/ Lives in Detroit, MI
It starts with a pig. A monolithic, mutilated mural of a pig, its intestines seeping out and wrapping around its neck. Cartoonish innards of the pig’s exposed underbelly appear referential to a confederate flag. A navy X shape with hearts instead of stars lay atop waves of red and white. Its insides are likened to a flaccid flag blowing in the wind. Drops of blood seep from its underbelly. The pig appears to be cut from its neck to the pelvic area of its hind legs.
Born Tegucigalpa, Honduras (date unknown) / B.A. and MFA., Visual Arts, University of Windsor, Ontario, Canada / Lives in Beverly Hills, MI
To sit down with Cherry Wood is to notice his poise and calm, traits that serve the observational interdisciplinary artist well. His voluminous output spans photography, drawing, painting, and performance, and has recently evolved to include time-based media, such as film and experimental music, as well. Through this approach, he explores race, language, geographic borders, sexuality, and identity. The Honduran-born creative is also the founder and publisher of Barbed Magazine, which has spotlighted LGBTQ, Black, Asian, Latinx, and other underrepresented artists in Metro Detroit since 2014.
Born Ypsilanti, MI, 1989. / BA, Columbia College Chicago, IL / Lives in Detroit
Multicolored waves of flame, giant eyes crying in the sky, and ominous portals are all common motifs in the artwork of Mary Tearz. Recognizable by its idiosyncratic style and eclectic array of subjects, Tearz’s work encompasses illustration, painting, and animation. Heavily influenced by cartoons, science fiction, and surrealism, her drawings illuminate a bizarre inner world of characters, places, and creatures, unplaceable to a specific space or time, existing in an obscure, far out dimension.
Born Detroit, 1990, Lives in Detroit
In Transcendence: A Portrait of Corey Teamer, a 2018 mural by Ijania Cortez at Brush and Baltimore, the eponymous figure rotates to face the viewer through three successive images. Each image is slightly larger and at a slightly higher elevation, and this, combined with the glowing orange, Rothko-esque background, reinforces the ascendant trajectory implied by the title.
Born Bogota, Colombia, 1976 / Lives in Detroit
In San Clara Del Cobre, Mexico, where a nineteen-year-old Juan Martinez went to trade school, and where copper working goes back to the pre-Columbian era, they do things the hard way. Standing in a close circle around a hot ingot, typically manufactured from recycled scrap, the copper-workers beat, in turn, to flatten the ingot to the desired thickness before creating the beautiful utilitarian objects for which the city is known. It is punishing labor, but there is a magic in the rhythmic blows, the cascading sparks, and the gradual transformation of the metal.
Born Gallup, NM, 1990 / BA The Evergreen State College, Wa / Lives in Detroit
In the hours that transition from sun to moon, Olivia Guterson’s artistic persona, Midnight Olive, emerges. For this interdisciplinary artist, the night welcomes freedom to be in conversation with herself and to respond to the observations and questions conjured throughout the day.
Born Lapeer, MI, 1985/ Lives in Detroit, MI
Imagine it’s movie night. You’re huddled in front of the TV, feeling its familiar warm static dance across your face. Wedged tightly side by side with friends, you’re so awed by the magnetic power of the main character that you scour the Internet for hours searching for the perfect jacket to match theirs. What we don’t see is the influence that created the influencer, communities outside of the limelight that our favorite muses’ aesthetics have their roots in. Although it seems like fashion’s cultural influence trickles down from the heights of cinema and haute couture, Simone Else’s wearable art makes it clear that the “it factor” also rises from the underground.
Harper Woods, MI, 1995 / BFA, College for Creative Studies; BFA Wayne
State University / Lives in Bloomfield Hills, MI
When something living dies, its chemical relationship to this world changes. Scientists use carbon dating, therefore, to assess the age of something that lived long ago, to peer into the distant past. William Charles Black uses carbon to similar ends, exploring its propensity to decay, but also its ability to preserve. This tension between ephemerality and permanence, preservation and destruction, is a thread that weaves through Black’s entire body of work, allowing him to link past to present.
Born Chicago, IL, 1981 / BFA, San Francisco Art Institute, CA; MFA, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, IL / Lives in Detroit
“WHAT IS AN ALGORITHM?” Ask Mimi Onuoha and Mother Cyborg in their 2018 zine A People’s Guide to Artificial Intelligence. If the question appears startling in its directness, it may be because we have become accustomed to having the spotlight pointed in the opposite direction, to have algorithms direct their gaze on us. Onouha and Cyborg’s zine is a grassroots statement of non-conformity to this power dynamic.
Born Fukuoka, Japan, 1954 / B.A., English, International Christian University, Tokyo; B.A., Computer Science, Wayne State University; MFA Wayne State University / Lives in Royal Oak
Grief is finding yourself in an unfamiliar world suddenly absent a loved companion. But grief can also be the doorway into new ways of life you could never have anticipated. For Hiroko Lancour, this passage led from a career as a systems analyst to a full-time artistic practice.
Born Detroit, 1964 / BA, Oakland University; MLIS, Wayne State University / Lives in Detroit
“I‘m a Fellini fan,” confides painter, musician, archivist, and all-around cultural polymath John Bunkley. “The question I’m always asking myself is, ‘What would Fellini do if he came to Detroit?'” It is a good question. What would the late Italian director, whose films famously interpret everyday life as a magical synthesis of dream and reality, make of the otherworldly streetscapes and raw humanity of the beautiful city of Detroit?
Born Iuka, MS, 1970 / Studies at Grambling State University, LA / Lives in Detroit and elsewhere
“Somehow, I will dissolve into one of my constructs ….. I don’t understand the process yet.”
The late Detroit poet and musician Mick Vranich described his ever-increasing estrangement from even the outermost reaches of mainstream culture as a process of moving from the underground to the underworld. There’s a similarly inexorable feel to Onyx Ashanti’s ongoing life journey of transformation, transhumanism, and, as the above quote predicts, perhaps even transmutation.
Born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, 1982 \ BA University of Chicago \ MA University of Illinois – Springfield \ Lives in Detroit
There’s a mysterious but exciting energy in the images created by Precious Johnson-Arabitg, known artistically as VODKASERENGETI. Her performance-based compositions have a strong and fearless nature that arrest the eyes at a glance and draw the observer into the scene.
Often turning the camera on herself, VODKASERENGETI describes her visual voice with expressive terms like out there, weird, disruptive, uncomfortable, and shocking. A scroll through her Instagram page (@vodkaserengeti)–home to her bold images– complements her self-assessment. In a ghostly diptych, VODKASERENGETI becomes Persona Non Grata (2017), an allegorical figure who, in this set, instructs the observer to “make space to mourn past selves, lost selves, fictional selves.” The character appears, she says, in a state of limbo where there’s difficulty in processing and coping with things unsaid and unaddressed – “individually and collectively as a nation.” Each transitional state calls for an enlightened consciousness and allows rebirths to take form.