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.
Born Sharon Querciograssa, Detroit, MI, 1960 / BFA, University of Michigan; Associate, Manufacturing Engineering, Macomb Community College / Lives in Ann Arbor, MI
Works of art communicate in myriad ways: some shout, some whisper, some never shut up. Sharon Que’s constructions seem only to cast meaningful glances, encouraging, cajoling, even daring the viewer to suss out what lies behind them.
These elegant, often playful works seem familiar, as if one had seen them somewhere before. They exude whiffs of history and utility, of alchemy and manufacturing, of harmonies and dissonances. Their references range from surrealist juxtapositions to trompe l’oeil to craft traditions. Que experiments with scale, materials, and varying levels of abstraction to create works that are meditations on objects and systems from the microscopic to the cosmic.
Born 1951, Ann Arbor, MI / BA, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI; MFA, Wayne State University / Lives in Grosse Pointe Farms
What do an oscillating fan and a Josef Albers “square” have in common? Nothing. Nothing at all. They aren’t even in the same category of things. A fan is a fan, a practical object in the world. An Albers square, by contrast, is a study in color and shape. It’s an abstract work of art that has no obvious purpose.
So why did Timothy van Laar make a painting (Fan, 2009) that consists precisely of one fan and one Albers square? Van Laar, who is currently the Chair of Fine Arts at the College for Creative Studies was, for thirty-two years, a professor of art at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He’s also published three books on art. Van Laar has been thinking about and making art for more than forty years. Surely, then, he put these two strange items together in one painting for some reason.
Born Detroit, 1981/BA, Lawrence University, Appleton, Wisconsin/MFA, Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan/Lives in Hamtramck, Michigan
Lauren Semivan’s enigmatic, tour de force black and white photographs—no color, no digital—are shot with an early 20th century, large-format, tripod-mounted camera. The realization of her mystifying tableaus entails sheets of film, reams of negatives, and even the use of a home darkroom. Semivan’s retardataire, hands-on practice is akin to other recent throwbacks that captivate millennials and boomers alike, including old fashioned acoustic instruments, vinyl, and flip phones.
Semivan’s images are, however, quintessentially contemporary inventions. Despite the cumbersome, antique equipment, her interdisciplinary mosaics of abstraction, process and performative procedures, staged (or set-up) scenes, and her pictorial perception of the oft thrumming tensions between conscious and subconscious states of mind, yield psychodramas at once rational and irrational. Her artist statements, albeit tinged with surrealist overtones, reiterate the unease aroused by her photographs: “The images often contain something of the everyday to ground them, juxtaposed with something extraordinary or out of the world to set them free from the realm of the everyday. I use my own body within the work to anchor the images within a place of dreams and personal emotions.” Decidedly not the lingo of a straight or “decisive moment” photographer. Her teachers at Wisconsin’s Lawrence University, Julie Lindemann and John Shimon, plus critic Lyle Rexer (The Edge of Vision: The Rise of Abstraction in Photography, 2009), were particularly influential on the evolution of Semivan’s sensibility.
Born Huntsville, AL, 1976 / BA, Vassar College / MFA, Rhode Island School of Design
A photograph is a powerful object—it carries the assumption of truth like no form of image-making ever has. Like the bards of old, it confirms our truth by telling and re-telling our stories. Like the ancient myths those bards repeated, photographs carry hidden messages that draw difficult, paradoxical truths out of our shadows.
The photographic work of Millee Tibbs examines the dark reflection of such fairy tale tropes as girlish innocence, wild landscape, and unicorns. Identity, memory and place are, in Tibbs’ images, composed not of real truths or events but of images that stand in for, and claim to be evident of, those truths and events that define our worldview. Tibbs’ work argues that the images we turn to for nostalgia, grounding, and beauty index times and places that, in fact, never truly existed—or at least, not as we, aided by the breadcrumb trail of documentary images, recall them.
Born Philadelphia, PA, 1943 / BFA, College for Creative Studies; MFA, Cranbrook Academy of Art / Lives in Royal Oak, MI
Striding smack into the dusty but revered genre of land and sea photography a few decades ago, Carla Anderson began her determined, protracted pursuit to record wondrous sites “seen with fresh eyes.” Undaunted by the preponderance of land- and seascape vistas produced by nineteenth century masters like William Henry Jackson, Gustave Le Gray, and Timothy O’Sullivan, she vowed to chronicle over-familiar scenes “in a way that made them unfamiliar.” Thus began Anderson’s quest to evolve a vision uniquely her own, little realizing at the time that the distinctive aesthetic she sought would not materialize until 2006.