Born Detroit, 1979 / BFA, College for Creative Studies / Lives in Detroit
“I’m not a street artist, but I can paint on anything,” asserts Sydney James, prolific muralist, painter, and illustrator. After graduating from College for Creative Studies in 2001, she forged ahead as designer, art director, and “ghost artist” (for television dramas), at first in Detroit and subsequently in Los Angeles. Reviewing the evolution of her practice up to that point, she recalls, “I was an illustrator, [but] when I took control of the stories, I became a fine artist.” This epiphany coincided with her timely move back to Detroit in late 2011, where she encountered a burgeoning art community and street art stirrings, fueled in part by the Grand River Creative Corridor and Murals in the Market initiatives.
Born Detroit, 1959 / BFA, Washington University, St. Louis, MO; MA, The University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA; MFA, The University of Michigan School of Art and Design (now Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design) / Lives in Bloomfield Hills, MI
Conceptual photographer Cynthia Greig admits to being uninterested in the mechanics of photography; rather, she is fascinated by the facts and fictions of the photographic image. She came to photography through studying art history and filmmaking after an undergraduate degree in printmaking, and is a collector and published historian of nineteenth-century photography. Manipulated photographs, such as enhanced scenes of the Civil War and trick portraits of circus performers, hold a particular fascination. Inspired, in part, by these rudimentary red herrings, her own work as a photographer and video artist has centered on photography’s ability to manipulate what we think we see. With sly wit underscoring elegant images, she explores the area between idea and belief, between the physical and the imaginary, between perception and reality.
Born Detroit, 1983 / BA (Film & Video), University of Michigan / Lives in Detroit
Between 2013 and 2014 in Detroit, the four high rise towers that were the last remnants of the Brewster-Douglass housing projects, the country’s first federally-funded public housing for African-Americans, were demolished. While the towers had been officially cleared of residents in 2008, they were, in fact, still home to a handful of people up to the time of their demolition, as Oren Goldenberg’s 2012 cinéma vérité short Brewster Douglass, You’re My Brother reveals. The video opens with a two-minute montage depicting the derelict complex from a series of neighboring perspectives—evoking its omnipresence, both physical and psychic, in the Detroit landscape—set to the sound of a gospel crooner’s insistent refrain that, “Time don’t wait for no one.” Then the focus shifts to Darlene, a long-term resident who says, as she reflects candidly on her hard life, that she survives by scrapping, and that she hasn’t seen her large family in years. At the end of the video, with the towers’ demolition imminent, Darlene is seen leaving, her empty hands in her pockets. She’s crossing the I-375 overpass, going—where? She doesn’t say. Does she know?
Born Ann Arbor, MI, 1949 / BA, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo; MFA, Wayne State University, Detroit / Lives Grosse Pointe Farms, MI
Describing herself as the “compulsive collector that I am,” Jeanne Bieri is, verily, a hunter and gatherer of assorted, throwaway “stuff,” from which she occasionally assembles a one-of-a-kind grouping to render in oil. Other salvaged discards, chiefly textiles, accumulated by her and a cohort of friendly enablers, she restores, mends, sews, repurposes, “heals,” and “makes whole” again. An example of the former, Christmas Lights of 2007, is a veritable compendium of rescued artifacts arrayed, not on a laden table, but sprawled like a frieze almost five feet in width. Suspended, swaged, and push pinned to a wall, back dropped by a dun hued army blanket, the ribbons, bones and skull, Christmas lights, spool of thread, jump rope, and vintage photograph are immobilized by push pins as well as gravity.
Born Detroit, 1989 / BFA, School of the Art Institute of Chicago / Lives in Detroit
Some time ago a camel was shot. Later, artist Matthew Harrison acquired the animal’s right shoulder bone, complete with a ragged pre-existing bullet hole, and CNC cut a 130 mm diameter cylindrical through-hole, creating the sculpture Untitled (2015). Harrison’s simple intervention leads to a number of profound comparisons. First, the cut hole is jarringly precise, but still crude relative to the free-flowing shape of the bone. If the cut hole is a surrogate for man’s technical prowess, then it is also a reminder of how unsophisticated our engineering skills remain in relation to those of nature. Second, and this may be closer to the artist’s intentions, the physical violence of the gunshot hole seems archaic in comparison to the surgical symbolic-violence of the cut hole. If the gunshot hole symbolizes a period from the late-colonial era onwards, the cut hole can only point to the digital age. Continue reading
Born Detroit, 1948 / BFA, MFA, MEd, Wayne State University / Lives Royal Oak, MI
Donita Simpson’s regal portrait of Gilda Snowden (2014) is a commanding example of her ongoing series of photographs of Detroit artists. In Snowden’s pose, as if athwart a throne—as one respondent opined—Simpson nails her fellow artist’s magnetic, larger than life persona as painter, teacher, and indefatigable arts activist. Casually dressed and ensconced amidst a cluttered studio, Snowden (1954-2015) all but bursts into the viewer’s space, dominating both pictorial field and spectator’s territory. Snowden’s open-armed enthusiasm vis-a-vis the metro art community is mirrored in Simpson‘s brace of photographic studies—and, one might add, Essay’d’s ongoing profiles too. Such expansive efforts, including canvassing and connecting with an array of area artists, inform Simpson‘s own creative practice.
Born Detroit, 1966 / BFA, College for Creative Studies / MFA, Yale School of Art, New Haven, CT / Lives Detroit
Richard Lewis’s stark, striking Self Portrait in White Shirt (2004) establishes at a glance the mode of bold, arresting portraiture he has practiced over the last decade and a half. Here, his own half-length, life-size visage dominates a shallow space wherein he reveals himself at a terse, decisive moment. Though a stretched canvas at right appears primed for action, he stands stock still, his flushed face charged with emotion. In particular, the emphatic swabs of thick red and white pigment slashing across his forehead augur a deep-seated determination. Another angsty portrayal of 2004 represents Anthony, a friend whose parted lips and wary glance imply concern and vulnerability in equal measure.
Painted about a year and a half after a six year sojourn in New York (1996-2002), these bare-knuckled portrait suggest Lewis’s affirmative resolve to re-engage with his art and natal environs. In fact, his 2002 reappearance was his second repatriation to his Detroit roots; earlier, after graduation from Yale in 1993, he had relocated to his hometown but stayed only a year and a half before decamping for his six year residency in Gotham.
Born Imlay City, MI, 1956 / BFA, Wayne State University / Lives in Troy, MI
Ed Fraga remembers as a child taking a sheet of cardboard, folding it into a box, and looking at it, being thrilled to realize he’d created a small but powerful object. Later he started to populate the box, with dioramas, stage sets, magic shows for neighborhood kids, and other constructs of his imagination. “In a way,” he says, “I’m still trying to fill the box.” Continue reading
Born New York, NY, 1988 / BA (Anthropology), Wayne State University; BFA, College for Creative Studies / Lives in Detroit
The art of weaving has long inspired metaphors for nothing less than the nature of human existence — from the mythic Fates, literally weaving each individual’s destiny, to Ishmael’s musing in Moby Dick that the “mingled, mingling threads of life are woven by warp and woof: calms crossed by storms, a storm for every calm.” The age-old link between weaving and living is of paramount significance to Levon Kafafian, a young artist and teacher for whom this ancient way of making is at the center of a vital, unfolding, multimodal practice — a practice that seeks to connect people more deeply to the natural world, one another, and their own lived experience. Continue reading
Born Kaunas, Lithuania, 1968 / Diploma in Fine Art and Restoration, St. Zukas Technium of Applied Arts, Kaunus, Lithuania / Lives in Beverley Hills, MI
Lithuania, Renata Palubinskas confides, was the last place in Europe to embrace Christianity, maintaining its pantheistic pagan beliefs as late as the fourteenth century. A similar sense, of being out of sync with prevailing currents, and instead embracing the richness of the distant past, pervades Palubinskas’s own extensive body of paintings. She is an especially wholehearted artist, making full use of a rigorous Eastern European education in traditional painting and drawing techniques to take on big topics, such as mortality and the search for enlightenment, with great joy. Her quest is a spiritual one, drawing insights from all religions, but finding the most compelling answers in writings from the Hindu tradition. She talks of the beauty she finds in martial arts, and if pressed will admit to having a black belt in karate. Continue reading