Born Houston, TX, 1978 / BFA, Kansas City Art Institute / Lives in Detroit
Born in Texas to a family of laborers, Peter Daniel Bernal says that he has always thought in color. But if it is color that first drew Bernal to painting, it is through dimension that he has shaped a place for himself. As Bernal paints, his brushstrokes build and blend to create depths and massed textures that he slowly, iteratively reshapes and repaints. His figures, often draped over each other in acts of care, violence, or some combination of the two, rise from the canvas. Through the vivid, evocative imagery he creates during this assiduous process of layering and scraping away, Bernal centers his practice in the intersection of his own identity and the broader politics of cultural heritage and masculinity.
Born Toledo, OH, 1969 / BFA, The Ohio State University; MFA, Ohio University / Lives in Ferndale, MI
Adrian Hatfield begins a painting with the most paradigmatic of painters’ actions—a gestural flooding of the surface with paint, a fast fluid marking and puddling of the space, abstract, colorful, atmospheric, lyrical. But the next steps in the process are much slower, more thoughtful and measured. In executing his most recent paintings, Hatfield makes a digital image of his abstract beginning before inserting and arranging various collected graphic imagery, planning the painting digitally. Eventually, graphic images are screened onto the actual painting surface, and fragments of various canonical artworks are painted into the piece. Each painting is a startling mix of quoted images, torn from some other context and pushed together into something new: a mash-up of high and low culture, scientific and religious signs, and an anxiety-laden blend of the sublime, uncanny and abject.
Born 1976, Detroit / Lives in Macomb Regional Correctional Facility, New Haven, Michigan
The sun is out, the sky is blue, and people are committing suicide on a rainbow. Some hang by their necks from the fuschia inner arc while others jump or lay dead in the grass as a squirrel watches (Rainbow Drawing, 2014). The scale of the dead in relation to the rainbow is deliberate. “This is life,” writes James Dean Fuson, “A lot of times things seem to be fine but if you look closely, things are not fine.”
Born Wyandotte, MI, 1952 / Studies at the College for Creative Studies / Lives in Detroit, MI
Art, for Vito Valdez, is about expressing something real – an idea, an emotion, an experience, or, even better, all of the above. Valdez’s visceral 1999 paintings Columbine and Kosovo, for example, combine dynamic brush strokes, intense colors, and fragmented references to the perpetrators and victims of violence to convey a sense of deep anger at the senseless massacres that occurred in these places. It is impossible to deconstruct the exact experiences that underlie these paintings, but perhaps they include the time Valdez spent working as a surgery technician while a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, or his childhood growing up in a tough environment where masculinity and violence were often interchangeable.
Born Detroit, MI, 1959 / Studied College for Creative Studies, Wayne County Community College, Detroit / Lives in Detroit
“I am still an Impressionist after thirty-five years,” boasts painter Bryant Tillman. Born years after the death of the French artists linked with this storied model of modern art, Tillman’s rootedness in the style is as much a surprise to him as to his viewers. His original quest was to wend his way through all the isms of the modernist era—from Impressionism to Abstract Expressionism–in order to become a skilled maker. But, as it turned out, he became besotted with Impressionism and continues to practice his scales, as it were, in this mode. “I learn more and more each time I pick up a trusty filbert and attempt to finesse a photo-expressionistic slurry, approximating a blurred Polaroid, shot by a jiggling hand.”
Born Rochester, MI, 1992 / BFA, College for Creative Studies / Lives in Detroit
Recall a time in your childhood when you were asked—perhaps by a teacher or parent—to draw yourself. A dizzying effort to help us think about ourselves in terms of scale, color, surroundings. Who are we at such a young age, and what do we look like at the basic level of anatomical structure? When asked to create his very first self-portrait in kindergarten, Detroit based painter/poet Bryan J. Corley drew Godzilla—a prefiguration of the richly realized and curiously sympathetic monsters that presently populate his spellbinding visual universe.
Born Clemson, South Carolina, 1924 / Lives in Detroit
“The creative mind continues always to test the parameters of conventional knowledge, forever in pursuit of new vistas. Trying to understand life, death, the totality of existence, and the logic or order that governs our moral being is the forum from which all of my creative offerings extract meaning,” Charles McGee wrote in 1994. It is safe to say that he has lived this thought, since almost 25 years later, he is still pushing his limits as an artist. In so doing, he has changed the face of Detroit, the city he has lived in since childhood and where he has embraced intersecting careers as artist, curator, gallerist, teacher, author, and outspoken critic and champion of art in the city.
Born Detroit, MI, 1952/Art studies at Wayne State University, Detroit/Lives in Hazel Park, MI
James Puntigam’s artwork has come a long way since 1986, when he quit his job at the Michigan Department of Social Services, obtained a city vendor’s license, and began making money drawing caricatures in downtown Detroit during events at Hart Plaza and the Eastern Market. Though he might still do the occasional caricature, his main work now is in making linocut prints. His extensive experience over the years has included drawing with graphite on paper, and painting with acrylics on canvas, sheetrock, board, and other surfaces. Continue reading
Born Detroit, MI, 1955 / DFA (ad honorem), College for Creative Studies / Lives in Detroit
It’s all about YOU.
In his book Free Schools, Free Minds, Ron Miller describes two ways to imagine the relationship between radical education and social change: the first (exemplified by A.S. Neill) says that if you liberate the mind of the individual they will go on to change society, and the second (exemplified by Paulo Freire) says that you change individuals by working collectively on projects to change society. But in Tyree Guyton’s Heidelberg Project, it’s all about YOU – first discover who you really are, and then go on to change the world.
Born Detroit, 1987/MFA, Yale University; BFA, College of Creative Studies/ Lives in Brooklyn, New York
Mario Moore has learned to slow down. His paintings and drawings reflect his personal journey, his evolving understanding of the world, and his desire to spark conversation about the complexities of contemporary society. His powerful and assertive body of work channels narrative painting, social protest art, and traditional approaches to craft, and centers around revealing portraits of family and friends. A more recent series turns introspective, his personal story expressed through nearly-lost techniques and an interest in earlier periods of art that lend richness and sensitivity to his highly detailed compositions. Continue reading
Born Detroit, MI, 1949 / A.A. Henry Ford Community College, Dearborn; Coursework in Ceramics, Wayne State University, Detroit / Lives in Hazel Park, MI
Lines! It all started with lines for Detroit artist Diana Alva. Before she could recite the alphabet, Alva’s artistic-minded father, Julian, had her filling page after page with lines, any kind of lines, whether or not they made sense or were part of a coherent drawing, just to get her used to the feel of a drawing instrument in her hand and the mental process of creating something. Continue reading
Born Chicago, IL, 1964 / BA, University of Ife, Ile-Ife, Nigeria ; BFA, Kansas City Art Institute / Lives in Detroit
There is, it’s fair to say, a lot going on in a typical Jide Aje painting. Aje is both a visual interpreter of West African culture, and an interpreter of West African visual culture. If his starting point is fairly traditional, there is nothing conservative in his approach. Instead, his paintings illustrate a worldview in which cultures are dynamic, extensible, and in constant dialog with each other. It is a vision that, perhaps not coincidentally, is paralleled by an open-ended approach to painting that involves constant experimentation with process and media. The result is an immense body of work in which Aje simultaneously abstracts and explodes, constantly working to reduce his source concepts and visual language to their most fundamental forms, while never allowing them to settlIe.
Take, for example, Untitled with Blue Cowries #1, a relatively small work from 2007. The overall structure is a four-by-four grid, and many of the individual cells imply a further division into a smaller four-by-four grid. The work refers to the Ifá, the divination system that plays a central role in traditional Yoruba culture, and which is based on sixteen main books, each of which has sixteen parts (or Odu). The title, and the physical presence of the shells, refers to a method of divination in which eight Cowrie shells are cast, and depending on how they land (up or down) one of the 256 possible outcomes is indicated.
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Born Detroit, 1979 / Lives in Macomb Regional Correctional Facility, New Haven, Michigan
In 1996, when Yusef Qualls-El was sixteen years old, a Wayne County judge sentenced him to mandatory life without the possibility of parole in the Michigan prison system. Though his original sentence has since been ruled unconstitutional—a violation of the Eighth Amendment—he remains incarcerated, one of hundreds of juvenile lifers awaiting re-sentencing in Michigan. As Qualls-El puts it, “they threw away the key.”
Qualls-El was born in Detroit in 1979 and moved from neighborhood to neighborhood with his family before ending up on the city’s east side. He grew up watching morning syndications of Merrie Melodies cartoons and learned how to draw them; Bugs Bunny, Foghorn Leghorn, Marvin the Martian, and Yosemite Sam were all part of his self-blossomed art education. Drawing cars, often flying ones, was a recurrent pastime; their unfettered mobility represented “ultimate freedom” for him. A few years later, Qualls-El would be sentenced to mandatory life without parole for being involved—as a driver, not the shooter—in a homicide that would change the entire course of his life.
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.
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 / 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 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, 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 Charleston, WV, 1941 / BA, Eastern Michigan University / Lives in Detroit
Allie McGhee is a seven-day-a-week, 360 plus-days-a-year abstract artist. He has, from early afternoon until the waning of natural light in the evening, followed this blue-collar schedule for decades. McGhee is also an experimenter. He is as intellectually and artistically restless as liquid in porous soil. The range of his curiosity and breadth of inquiry is all encompassing. New directions pop up like spring flowers.
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.