1982, BFA: Maryland Institute College of Art, MFA: Cranbrook Academy
of Art; Lives in Detroit, MI
A painting by Alison Wong typically represents the most ordinary things—a square of tissue and small scraps of crumbled wallpaper (Tissue Tears, 2018), or a dog’s mangled chew toy (Tattered and Torn, 2018). The painting technique is virtuosic, and the materials are the stuff of high art. She applies the paint thinly, layered, wet-into-wet; one delicate, detailed area at a time. The small scale of the works, objects depicted close to their actual size, deny any heroic, monumentalizing impulse. Why, one wonders, does she lavish so much effort on something so ordinary, so insignificant? But this questioning is right where she wants us.
Born Detroit, 1949 / BFA, School of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts; MA, Wayne State University / Died Ferndale, MI 2018
Robert Bielat was an artist’s artist, a sobriquet applied to those whose work is brilliant but idiosyncratic, deeply compelling in a way that is obvious to those who can see it, but not necessarily so to the market or to the arbiters of so-called “good” taste.
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 New Haven, CT, 1977 / BA, University of Chicago / Ed. M, Harvard Graduate School of Education / MFA, Cranbrook Academy of Art / Lives in Detroit
Prints, performances, drawings and zines: Emmy Bright’s work emerges from an organic process of notational delirium. Post-It notes fan out and curl, bridged by scribbled lines, insistent arrows, underlining, highlighting, and circled text fragments—thoughts redacted and reclaimed. The smell of a Sharpie lingers. A palimpsest of equations forms. Pages are taped together to expand space for addenda. Much of Bright’s imagery begins as something she terms “stupids”—diagrammatic jottings that employ slapdash methodology to disrupt normative thinking and jumpstart philosophical inquiry. For her, profundity can reside beneath that which we dismiss as idiocy. When examined, a moment of stupidity may reveal latent, meaningful instincts. With humorous schemata that collide the rational and the irrational, Bright fleshes out the absurdity of the behavioral structures we rely upon to govern our relationships with ourselves and one another.
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 Royal Oak, MI, 1972 / BFA, University of Michigan; MFA, Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, CA / Lives in Southfield, MI
You could be forgiven for mistaking Patrick Hill for a minimalist. After all, a cursory glance at his sculptures will tell you that he is a native speaker of that iconically laconic language. Geometric forms in clean configurations? Check. An aesthetic of carefully considered refusal and reduction? Certainly. An exquisite sensitivity to space, balance, and the materiality of matter? That’s him, all right.
But in its reductive simplicity, minimalism ultimately leads to a conceptual dead-end. “What you see is what you get” only gets you so far in a time when art aspires to boundlessness. Taking cues from feminist artists, Hill circumvents this impasse by using minimal forms to go deep inside, to explore the body and aspects of subjective experience like identity, sexuality, frailty, and failure. (In his words: “It’s Richard Serra, only less ‘dude’.”) He finds source material not just in material itself, but in his personal experience and the wider worlds of fashion, pop culture, art history, and Eastern aesthetics and spirituality—a sprawling mixture that accretes, in his hands, into fragile monuments to interiority and human imperfection.
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 Gottingen, Germany, 1965 / Graduate degree from Gerrit Rietveld Academie, Amsterdam/ Lives in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
Both comical and strangely melancholic, two small wooden house shapes attached to a wall are topped, incongruously, by sand bags with patches of wooly embroidery. They make an odd couple, like Oscar and Felix: alike yet unalike, dissonant and consonant, together yet separate. At once amusing and serious, they convey a searching spirit that permeates Iris Eichenberg’s work, which often meditates on making home and finding our place in the world. Related in some way to the body, her constructions produce sensorial and emotional effects that stretch conventional boundaries to explore structures of feeling.