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 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.”
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.
Born Philadelphia, PA, 1943 / BFA, College for Creative Studies; MFA, Cranbrook Academy of Art / Lives in Royal Oak, MI
Striding smack into the dusty but revered genre of land and sea photography a few decades ago, Carla Anderson began her determined, protracted pursuit to record wondrous sites “seen with fresh eyes.” Undaunted by the preponderance of land- and seascape vistas produced by nineteenth century masters like William Henry Jackson, Gustave Le Gray, and Timothy O’Sullivan, she vowed to chronicle over-familiar scenes “in a way that made them unfamiliar.” Thus began Anderson’s quest to evolve a vision uniquely her own, little realizing at the time that the distinctive aesthetic she sought would not materialize until 2006.
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 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, 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 Detroit, 1946/Studied College for Creative Studies, Detroit; Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, Deer Isle, Maine; Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan/Lives in Detroit
Rarely does one get to see a full bore display of an artist’s oeuvre, all at once and all in one place. Robert Sestok counts as the standout exception in the Motor City, where he has engineered, from purchase and design to sodding and installing, an open air anthology of his sculptural practice. His City Sculpture park, located at Alexandrine and the Lodge Freeway northbound service drive, features an array of some three dozen sculptures, each centered on concrete pads laid out in a grid. Encompassing four contiguous city lots, and furnished with Sestok-built benches to offer a respite and meditative break from strolling about, this expansive public-private sward—it is open seven days a week—is a welcome oasis within Detroit’s Cass Corridor neighborhood. Continue reading
Born New York, 1952/BA, Beloit College/BFA, Minneapolis College of Art and Design/MFA, Cranbrook Academy of Art/Lives in Royal Oak, Michigan
With a virtual wave of the hand, Andrea Eis beckons all seekers of enlightenment to traverse an enfilade of tall columns for a consultation with the Oracle of Delphi. In this 1992 installation, a large, impassive visage of the priestess awaits the curious visitor at the end of the processional way. Once in her presence, red vinyl letters affixed to the photograph announce: SHE SPOKE HER MIND. Simultaneously, the truth seeker notes that at her feet, embedded in rocks on the floor, another phrase claims: THEY HEARD HIS. This startling contradiction, like a wallop to the head, swiftly apprises the visitor of the phallocentric dynamic between genders—then and now. As Eis asserts: “From Antigone’s battle with her conscience and her sense of moral duty, to Demeter’s conflict over separation from her daughter, mythic people struggled with dilemmas we still encounter.”