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.
Born Detroit, 1945 / BFA, MFA, Wayne State University / Lives in Detroit
What is an artist’s practice but a universe unto itself? A total environment, with the artist at the center, in which a vast but finite set of ingredients—think experiences, materials, impulses, and predilections—cohere, by means both mysterious and prosaic, into related forms that evolve over time. It’s an apt metaphor for the work of Gary Eleinko, a lifelong Detroiter who came of age as a painter during the bricolage days of the Cass Corridor movement (where any cast off thing could become art) and who remarks with frank wonder that, “Everything in the world is made up of 98 natural elements. There’s nothing else. 98 ingredients make up everything we know.”
Born Brooklyn, New York, 1947 / BS, Wayne State University; MFA, Cranbrook Academy of Art/ Lives in Pleasant Ridge, MI
In all its darkness, playfulness, mystery and grotesquerie, the work of Susan Aaron-Taylor embodies a search for wholeness through the embrace of contradictions and dichotomies. Over the last five decades, she has explored dualities through bodies of work that mine the realms of dreams and alchemy, sources that also served the fifteenth-century artist Hieronymus Bosch in his famous Garden of Earthly Delights. Both draw on these and other symbolic systems to produce a spiritual cosmogony both terrifying and compelling, imaginative and surreal. But unlike Bosch’s painted allegory of humanity’s fall from grace, Aaron-Taylor’s mixed media sculptures, constructed of materials such as handmade felt, wood, shells, stones, bones, and beads, are more a search for grace. That search dives into the self and its myriad incongruities, a self which does not so much learn to travel from dark to light on its lifelong journey as to incorporate both in the cycle of existence.
Born Paramaribo, Suriname, 1975 / BFA, Cooper Union, NYC; MFA, University of Michigan / Lives in Detroit
In her recent practice, Detroit artist Yvette Rock presents a series of self-imposed challenges while vigorously engaging with ideas about media and methodology to tell her visual stories. Her processes seem open to these questions: How does one construct a body of work? Where does it begin? Is it a series of investigations or a more concrete endeavor? Is it a thematic undertaking or an accumulation of disparate art making over time? Rock’s approach encompasses all possibilities. Newly created and found materials have made their way onto her studio work table alongside oil, acrylic, gouache, watercolor, charcoal, graphite, Conté crayon, turpentine, damar varnish, linseed oil, printmaking tools and inks, pastels, gesso, medium, and on and on. Over time Rock has sown a rich inventory of resources from which to venture.
Born Detroit, 1982 / BS, Eastern Michigan University; MFA, Cranbrook Academy of Art / Lives in Detroit
Tiff Massey is an artist whose explanations for her work often defy your overeducated readings. The recurring motifs of head-wearables and hair, for example, are not something the artist relates to Carrie Mae Weems, but rather Massey’s wide-ranging experiences of Detroit. After a few of these negated readings, you learn to keep inferences to yourself, rather than risk being corrected.
Massey wears many of her own pieces. Her Cranbrook Academy training as a metalsmith includes the craft of a fine jeweler. While out at Detroit galleries and in her signature videos for her 2015 Kresge Arts in Detroit fellowship and the Society of North American Goldsmiths, Massey can be seen wearing a large brass ring on her right hand. The ring looks a bit like an architectural model of a skyscraper. The Joe Louis fist and the Renaissance Center skyline—two metonyms for the city of Detroit—now dialogue with each other in my mind
Born Kansas City, MO 1981 / BFA, Kansas City Art Institute; MFA, Cranbrook / Lives in Detroit
Andrew Thompson considers art to be his “life organizing principle.” It is, for example, how he researches topics that interest him, how he collaborates with people he likes, how he remains untroubled by the question of what to do with surplus funds, and even how he investigates traumatic events from his past. Thompson believes there is no inherent meaning in life, and hence we must all create meaning for ourselves and those around us. It is a philosophy that propels him along a creative path of his own design, free from the careerist moves often considered essential in the game of being an artist. Continue reading