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.
Saylor Soinski is an educator in Southwest Detroit. She is interested in the intersection of arts and advocacy, especially as a means for elevating youth voices. She teaches high school English and coaches a spoken word poetry team made up of exceptionally kind and clever students.
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.
Felix Rucker is studying philosophy and science-fiction literature at the University of Michigan. She is interested in the various ways in which technology and humans can merge, and has been published in the arts magazine Contemporary And (C&).
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