04 Kathleen Rashid


Born Detroit, 1956 / BFA, BA, Wayne State University / Lives in Detroit

Alongside contemporaries such as Ed Fraga and Carl Demeulenaere, Kathleen Rashid is one of a prodigiously talented group of artists who emerged from Wayne State University’s art department in the mid to late 1970s. By all accounts she arrived on the earth with a fully formed ability to draw, and at Wayne entered a school still basking in the glow of the “Cass Corridor” era and awash with experienced and talented teachers such as Robert Wilbert and Pat Quinlan. She emerged ready to paint whatever she saw.

Rashid’s early work after graduation shows a delight in close observation, the ability to render subtle visual effects (for example, the view through a wire mesh in 1979’s Screen, or, somewhat later, the view through the dirty window in 1990’s Busy Bee Hardware at Night), and an interest in the often overlooked—themes that would reoccur continually through her career. Also evident is a fascination with inside and outside light, which draws obvious comparison with Edward Hopper. In 1984 Rashid had a landmark solo show at the Willis Gallery, which at the time was probably the most influential gallery in the city.

Through the 1980s and into the early 1990s the subject matter of Rashid’s paintings ranged from urban landscapes and domestic interiors to memory scenes and portraits. One evening, though, in her loft/studio in Detroit’s Atlas Building, as she picked at a bowl of popcorn, she stared at the endless visual complexity of the manufacturing marks and reflections in the metal bowl and had the epiphany that all the subject matter she needed was right at hand. The following will consider two examples from the early period, Denton (1982) and Jump Rope (1985), and three examples from the later period, Frying Pan (1994), Left Wrist (1995), and Drain (2004).

Denton is a view of the last house remaining in an area cleared in the early 1980s for urban renewal. It is noteworthy both for Rashid’s early interest in Detroit’s urban landscape and also for her commitment to painting on site rather than from photographs. In recent years Rashid has returned to repaint several sites she originally studied in the late seventies/early eighties. What interests her most is not the change in the landscape (which is obvious) but the rather more subtle subject of the change in Detroiters’ attitudes to representation.

Jump Rope is a rare example of a painting done from memory rather than direct observation. The painting is of the schoolyard at St. Agnes on Rosa Parks and the figure on the left is the artist, while the other figures are childhood friends. Rashid’s father
was a Lebanese store owner and her family was one of the few to stay in the area during the emotionally charged period when it transitioned into an almost totally Black neighborhood.

Frying Pan and Drain are two examples from the latter period. They feature everyday objects and consciously remove questions of composition to address questions of perception—when do you really see something? Although undoubtedly technical tours de force, it would be a mistake to see such paintings as technical exercises; rather, Rashid’s objective is to get the viewer to look beyond the obvious, and as such it is totally consistent with her long-term personal commitment to promoting peace and tolerance. Detroit’s recent history casts a long shadow, but, tellingly, Rashid has declined to use her unique experience and artistic relationship with the city to directly further her practice, rather using it to inform her objectives in a more general sense. If there is one quality that pulls together work from both periods it is a celebration of the human level and a refusal to accept the mercenary and alienating qualities of contemporary life. It has been paralleled by an attitude to art that has been described by one reviewer as “quixotic,” with Rashid refusing to compromise her principles for the sake of self-promotion. For example, Left Wrist was one of a series of beautiful paintings created for a group show on the subject of light that Rashid withdrew to protest the show’s sponsorship by an energy company, instead displaying a statement explaining her decision. Despite this highly principled approach, Rashid’s paintings have managed to reach a wide range of admirers, and hence she quietly continues to be an inspiration to many—both artists and nonartists alike.

Steve Panton, September 2014

Copyright Essay’d 2014