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
In November 2018, Essay’d co-facilitated the art writing workshop Art Writing as an Act of Love with Dr. Bridget Goodbody. The workshop took placeover three weekends at the Room Project, and was funded by the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation
Born 1989, Royal Oak, MI / BFA, The Cooper Union, New York, NY / Lives in Detroit
In his 2017 bestseller Fantasyland, Kurt Andersen makes the convincing case that an essential aspect of the American character is a brazen disregard for the line between reality and fantasy. This is a congenital condition, he argues, that dates back to the nation’s founding.
Andersen’s thesis provides a useful lens through which to view the work of Bailey Scieszka, a multimedia artist and writer with a voracious appetite for history, on one hand, and popular fantasies like conspiracy theory, live action role playing, and end times prophecy, on the other. But for Scieszka, it is not just our eager and longstanding embrace of the irrational that makes Americans Americans; it is also the will to violence that is so dangerously entangled with our mania for make-believe.
Scieszka’s work has a great deal to do with violence. It’s “the only way to tell a true story,” according to her unbridled alter-ego Old Put—a murderous, shapeshifting, basket-weaving demon clown and pro wrestler who is the star of her elaborately-conceived plays, performances, and videos, and who features prominently in her prodigious drawings. Indeed, Scieszka’s astonishing output to date can be understood as an extravagant explosion of American violence, fantasy, and myth—a deranged, bedazzled, go-for-broke freak show that is informed by history, interpolated by trash and post-internet pop culture, and framed by anxiety about the horrors of contemporary life. Her work is a funhouse mirror reflection of the world today, hilarious at one turn and terrifying the next.
Born 1987, Baltimore, Maryland/ BA, Lincoln University, PA; MFA Cranbrook Academy of Art/ Lives in Detroit
Entering the former industrial space of 333 Midland’s Annex Gallery, visitors can make out a magenta and turquoise-lighted dance floor peeking from behind a partition of silvery mylar streamers. Within, participants dance together to techno and ghettotech beneath door frames reminiscent of street stoops, and are encouraged to use the video cameras that interdisciplinary artist William Marcellus Armstrong—inspired by Latin America’s democratic, revolutionary, moviemaking movement known as Third Cinema—has provided. Prizes are awarded to the best dancers, all of whom are children. This live-taped event and performance-cum-social practice video is The 48203 Dance Show (2018). Continue reading
Olivia Gilmore is a Detroit-based arts writer on leave from the city to pursue her master’s degree in History and Philosophy of Art at the University of Kent’s Paris School of Arts and Culture. She holds an undergraduate degree in photography. Her interests lie in the interstices between art, philosophy, urban design, and social engagement. In addition to writing for Essay’d, her work has been published in Detroit Art Review, Contemporary And (C&), and TagTagTag Mag.
Born Detroit, 1974 / BFA, Wayne State University; MFA, University of Iowa / Lives in Detroit
The artwork of Ryan Standfest is a wild collection of materials, media, and processes. He produces comics, performances, etchings, sculptural objects, videos, artist books, animations, art criticism, installations, short stories, and more. Trained as a printmaker, this early commitment reveals his deep interest in a socially distributed art, art that is multiple in its nature, non-elitist in its availability. The old high/low art dichotomy is irrelevant to him—a recently reworked video, The Dirt Eater (2007, 2018), for example, has a soundtrack that moves from the kitsch of Irving Berlin to the esoteric tonalities of Krzysztof Penderecki. He ignores the easy categories of traditional practices, and his Rotland Press, curatorial activities, and writing merge seamlessly with his production of more traditionally identified visual art forms, like linocuts or installations.
Timothy van Laar is a Detroit visual artist and writer. The Detroit Institute of Arts, The Illinois State Museum, and the Minneapolis Institute of Art have collected his work. He has co-authored four books, including Artworld Prestige: Arguing Cultural Value. Fulbright, Yaddo, the Howard Foundation, and the Karl Hofer Gesellschaft are among the institutions that have supported his creative activities. He received his MFA degree from Wayne State University, is Professor of Art Emeritus at the University of Illinois, and more recently served as Chair of Fine Arts at the College for Creative Studies.
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 Westland, 1990 / BFA, College for Creative Studies / Lives in Detroit
It’s easy, and forgivable, to mistake mixed media sculptor Chloe Songalewski’s work as that of an architect. But in the series of sculptures that have become her signature —miniature geometric houses and cabins made of converging pieces of salvaged wood and other found materials — Songalewski is investigating something more personal. In fact, she knows next to nothing about architecture, which is partly why she smiles when people insist it as a source of her work. And most of what she knows about sculpting she’s taught herself, as a method of using her art, and art training, for something greater than commercial gain. Each piece she makes these days is an attempt to examine the meaning of home, whether it’s an actual space, a feeling, or a combination of structure and sentimental associations. “I’m finally creating art I want to make; art I need to make,’’ she explains. As a child, Songalewski moved around with her family so much, she never felt rooted. Art was then, she says, the only retreat she could find from the alcoholism that stole both her relationship with her father and ultimately her sense of home.
Born Karachi, Pakistan, 1973 / BSc, Columbia University, NY; MFA, UCLA, California / Lives in Detroit
An eight-foot-tall black monolith stands, 2001-like, outside an art museum in San Jose, California. To the naked eye it appears featureless, but when viewed using a phone camera, words magically appear on the screen. As one can imagine, it draws a crowd. It’s a piece from 2006, titled Seen-Fruits of our Labor, that illustrates many of the concerns of artist Osman Khan around that time, foremost among which was the need to look critically at the impact of the increasingly digitally-connected world through art. Continue reading
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 1970, Rochester MI / BA, Wayne State University / Lives in Hamtramck, MI
Chris Riddell uses dead rats as stencils. He makes sculptures that are also weapons, uses rotting ham and head cheese, the aural de/crescendoing of a squeaking wooden armchair, and the scent of lavender as material. He arranges sardines on auto grease and laundry detergent, constructs installations of armless, timeworn statuettes and found, fire-burned family photographs, tangles deflated sex dolls in plastic waste, and sets the mummified dead rat he stenciled with on a 2×4. All of it, everything you got, anything that’s around. His studio is all places and directions, centrifugal and multiplicitous. Smells and phonic material are there too, stinking and dripping and putrescent.
Born 1992, Udaipur, India / BFA, American University in Dubai, UAE / MFA, Cranbrook Academy of Art / Lives in Madison Heights, MI
Detroit-based multimedia artist Jetshri Bhadviya is profoundly concerned with technique. She’s lived much of her life steeped in it; entering her studio, you’re confronted by exquisite prints of her photographic work, crystalline recordings of her expansive, layered sound pieces, and (perhaps surprisingly, since she tends not to exhibit them) rows of well-executed oil paintings. Bhadviya grew up studying Kathak, a form of classical Indian dance. She is an avid student of history, religion, science, and gender. She is fluent in Hindi and English, and has studied Sanskrit.
But from this vast, rich education, Bhadviya has arrived at an understanding of technique’s dead end. Just as she’s hopped continents in pursuit of higher education and career, so has she sought to transcend the foundations of technical mastery to create a language, a practice, that is entirely hers. Bhadviya arranges archives of everyday sounds into staggering sonic maps, meticulously arranges signs in her still images to awaken ideas about gender, identity and place while uncannily canceling them out, and cloaks herself in swaths of confining fabrics for her performance work, crafting a balance between sophisticated and primordial, sensual and asexual, observant and blind.
Born 1968, Ann Arbor, Michigan / Studied Antioch College; The New School University; New York University / Lives in Detroit
Smash a teacup, reglue its pieces, paint them Tacky Trump Gold, wrap in barbed wire, then set the table and invite your neighbors in. Your neighbors are artists, the table is set with their own reimagined wares, and the invitation means resist. It is the second day of the 45th presidency, and Nancy J. Rodwan and co-curator Pam Murray are creating solidarity by hosting “The Uninvited” at Detroit’s Tangent Gallery. Several dozen artists sat at that table. Another fifty submitted to Rodwan’s “Never Again (Again)” – an outraged, satiric exhibit mounted at the Annex at 333 Midland to recognize the presidency’s 100th day.
Poet, essayist, and educator Dr. Terry Blackhawk is the founding director (1995-2015) of InsideOut Literary Arts Project. A former blogger for Detroit Huffington Post, Blackhawk’s eight poetry titles include the John Ciardi prize-winner Escape Artist (BkMk Press, 2003), The Light Between (Wayne State University Press, 2012), and two chapbooks from Ridgeway Press. Kirkus Reviews named her One Less River (Mayapple Press, 2019) a Best Indie Poetry book of the year. She is a 2013 Kresge Arts in Detroit Literary Fellow and currently divides her time between Detroit and her family in Connecticut. Photo courtesy of Nancy J. Rodwan
Born 1984, Pittsburgh, PA / BFA, Maryland Institute College of Art; MFA Virginia Commonwealth University / Lives in Detroit
Performance, food, puppetry, sculpture (both soft and hard), video, quilting, agitprop parading, even rima oris theatrics. Enter Leslie Rogers’ work with a premise of play—as verb and noun. A vibrant, animated constellation of unfettered elements run through this diversity of forms: rhythmic, dynamic, and overflowing. Rogers speaks of her work in an intuitive, ambling fashion, imparting an exquisite corpse-like testimony, one anecdote leading into the next and, just when these elements appear leaning off topic, they fall squarely into the work, illuminated.
Born 1986, Saginaw, MI/ BFA University of Michigan; MFA University of Iowa/ Lives in Highland Park, MI
Jennifer Harge is a student of the body — the black body, to be exact.
She lives to make them move, play, and most of all to speak; yes, speak, truth to hard social traumas and silent terror. And do not for a second misread Harge’s intention or vision of dance as an invitation to be entertained. In fact, keep your applause. This dancer turned movement artist, choreographer and educator, is after more – your mind.
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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