Elena Smyth, Born Detroit, Michigan, 1990 / BFA, College for Creative Studies / Lives in Detroit
Aubrey Smyth, Born Detroit, Michigan, 1990 / Lives in Detroit
Artists Elena and Aubrey Smyth, working together as Armageddon Beachparty, have created a universe, an epic narrative of deities and powerful beings in vivid images across a wide range of media. A shared, life-long love of comics, street art, and mythology permeates their paintings and sculptures while their canny sense of branding propagates their vision via prints, clothing, watches, and other objects. The artists paint contemporary pop surrealism scenes while surrounded by their considerable output and the energy from a steady stream of admirers and buyers in what Elena calls a “perpetual motion machine” of creativity.
Born: 1952, Detroit, MI; Studied at Spelman College and Clark College, Masters of Art from Olivet College/ Lives in Romulus, MI
Trading low saturated pastels for eclectic textures of colored paper and acrylic paint, Judy Bowman’s recent bold and often jubilant collages have been years in the making. After a 35-year hiatus from art-making—a period during which she worked as a Detroit Public Schools educator and raised a family of 10—Bowman describes her return to canvas and to documenting the black experience as a “gift from the universe.”
Born Royal Oak, Michigan, 1965/ BFA, University of Michigan; MA, Wayne State University; MFA, School of the Art Institute of Chicago/ Lives in West Bloomfield, Michigan
Striped cubes, spheres, wooden limbs, wheels; Jen Fitzpatrick’s sculptures are like bizarre children’s toys, boiling down complex experiences into simple shapes to wrap your hands around. She encourages imagination and observation, endowing her minimalist geometric sculptures with bright colors and a hint of character, then handing them over to us to parse their meaning through active, tactile engagement.
Born Flint, MI, 1988 / BA, University of Michigan; MFA, Cranbrook Academy of Art / Lives in Detroit, MI
Can you grow an apple with an Apple? Can you ever really describe the wind? These are the sort of questions – often at the intersection of culture and agriculture, and at the boundary between the digital and the physical – with which Ash Arder likes to engage. Her investigations are esoteric but allude to something universal. Trained in media studies, Arder uses art, with its essentially undisciplined relationship to knowledge, to explore the world she has been born into.
Born Chicago, IL, 1984/BA, Western
Illinois University, Macomb, IL/MFA, University of
Wisconsin-Madison/Lives in Detroit
Decisively and colorfully, Tyanna Buie contends that “getting out of the storm” of an overwrought psyche and easing into a calm demeanor is a crucial prerequisite for conceiving rich, reverberant art. She observes as well, “My art is much louder than I am,” metaphorically describing her inclination to work on a muralistic scale, of limning larger than life figures, and of rendering complex, multilayered images. In response to the troubled, sundered families (her own, and one senses, untold numbers of others) who are often her subjects, such tactics and an exploratory mindset beget deep-seated emotions, ranging from bittersweet to extremes of joy and anguish.
Born Ann Arbor, MI, 1978 / BFA, Eastern Michigan University / Lives in Ann Arbor, MI
John Maggie practices an exuberant form of syphilitic painting, a disease of imaging afflicted merrily upon the construct of painting itself; a good-humored sickness that attacks the root of pictorial convention. This is both painting and anti-painting. Maggie takes the banal trappings of tradition—the landscape, the still life, the nude, the maritime, the equestrian—and joyfully slings mud at them. In a work such as Frankly Feather (2019), there is an embrace of thrift store painting—found images that allow the artist to revel in failed attempts at image-making where notions of good and bad are jumbled. (A painting is good because it is bad.) Adam & Sue (2015) is both right and wrong: the proportions of the figures are off, the composition is imbalanced, foreground and background seem dislocated. Comedy results as the frolicsome beach couple are clumsily sexualized, with Sue’s breasts squeezing together above her distended belly and Adam’s erect penis glowing and pointing toward a branch. Within a single work, Maggie uses clashing approaches to representation, as Sue’s tightly rendered face is partnered with Adam’s ham-handed visage. In Night Rider (2018), he renders illusionism absurd and the oft-applied conception of conventional beauty as useless. Employing an abject Romanticism, he one-ups English horse portraitist George Stubbs (1724-1806) and pushes his regal subject into outrageous theatre with excessive baubles evocative of My Little Pony.
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 see” 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.
Eau Claire, WI, 1985 / BFA, Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, WI
/ Lives in Warren, MI
In 1972 the artist Alan Sekula walked towards workers leaving a secretive aerospace plant in San Diego, photographing as he went, until his actions were stopped by company officials. With this seminal act, Sekula signaled that the military-industrial complex, which existed on the frontiers of his daily life, could still be within the horizon of his artistic inquiry. Some forty years later, the artist Bridget Quinn follows in Sekula’s footsteps. Quinn, however, is not a child of the Cold War, but of a time of accelerating environmental collapse, and her concerns are not directly with the machinations of industry, but with the natural world. More specifically, Quinn is interested in what can be learned from “marginal nature,” that semi-wild world that is hidden in plain sight throughout the developed landscape. And that requires trespassing. As she says of her experience exploring Red Run, a small waterway in her newly adopted hometown of Warren, MI: “I saw an alarming number of “No Trespassing” signs, reminding me that I was not welcome, and that all land is owned. I have never seen a city so concerned with people stepping off of the sidewalk.”
Born Sterling Heights, MI, 1990 / BFA, College for Creative Studies / Lives in Detroit
Is there anything we can’t confront once it’s painted pink and covered in glitter? Arms full of rainbow-dyed wigs and salvaged toys, Shaina Kasztelan seeks to answer this question by presenting us with demons that are at once deeply personal and widely relatable. In her work, Kasztelan explores the overbearing nature of gendered identity, death, and consumption under capitalism through skilled illustration and a deluge of crafts ranging from cake decorating to sewing to large-scale prop building.
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.