Tag Archives: Detroit Art

91 Maurice Greenia, Jr.

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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.

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90 Eli Gold

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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.

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89 Sophie Eisner

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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.

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88 Sabrina Nelson

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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.

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86 Laith Karmo

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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.”

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85 Carole Morisseau

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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.”

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84 Tom Phardel

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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.

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83 Sharon Que

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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.

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82 Timothy Van Laar

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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.

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81 Lauren Semivan

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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.

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