Born Iuka, MS, 1970 / Studies at Grambling State University, LA / Lives in Detroit and elsewhere
“Somehow, I will dissolve into one of my constructs ….. I don’t understand the process yet.”
The late Detroit poet and musician Mick Vranich described his ever-increasing estrangement from even the outermost reaches of mainstream culture as a process of moving from the underground to the underworld. There’s a similarly inexorable feel to Onyx Ashanti’s ongoing life journey of transformation, transhumanism, and, as the above quote predicts, perhaps even transmutation.
Born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, 1982 \ BA University of Chicago \ MA University of Illinois – Springfield \ Lives in Detroit
There’s a mysterious but exciting energy in the images created by Precious Johnson-Arabitg, known artistically as VODKASERENGETI. Her performance-based compositions have a strong and fearless nature that arrest the eyes at a glance and draw the observer into the scene.
Often turning the camera on herself, VODKASERENGETI describes her visual voice with expressive terms like out there, weird, disruptive, uncomfortable, and shocking. A scroll through her Instagram page (@vodkaserengeti)–home to her bold images– complements her self-assessment. In a ghostly diptych, VODKASERENGETI becomes Persona Non Grata (2017), an allegorical figure who, in this set, instructs the observer to “make space to mourn past selves, lost selves, fictional selves.” The character appears, she says, in a state of limbo where there’s difficulty in processing and coping with things unsaid and unaddressed – “individually and collectively as a nation.” Each transitional state calls for an enlightened consciousness and allows rebirths to take form.
Born Port Harcourt, Nigeria, 1984 / BFA Rhode Island School of Design; MFA Cranbrook Academy of Art / Lives in Detroit
“Home is where the heart is,” as the old chestnut goes. But where is home when your life has had a multi-continent trajectory? Ceramicist, sculptor, and designer Ebitenyefa “Ebi” Baralaye explores this question through his work in clay and other materials. He draws on the spirituality and culture of Nigeria (his country of birth) and the Caribbean (where he grew up for a time) to document and mediate his experiences in living in the Midwest and on both coasts of the United States.
Born Ann Arbor, MI, 1987 / BFA & MFA, Wayne State University / Lives in Highland Park, MI
Jessica Wildman Katz has been working on windows. During the pandemic, she and her husband have slowly been renovating the 54-acre Brownstown Township farmstead that has been in her husband’s family for generations. Katz has been constructing frames and screens for the window openings in the loft of an old garage, where she plans to dry the lavender that grows on the property. It’s been an iterative process and not at all unlike the way she approaches her artwork—foregrounding material, experimenting with form, fusing utility and history.
Katz’s most recent project, Things Being Felt (2018-19), began with an epiphany. While looking at a stack of Metro cards from an unhappy year-and-a-half living in New York, Katz finally recognized a use for a collection of wool roving she’d amassed: she would felt the cards. The project grew to include a multitude of items representing fraught experiences in Katz’s life—the types of memories many of us try to forget, but which are, ultimately, the bedrock of being human. The items are also preposterously unfeltable: strappy shoes similar to a pair she once attempted to steal from her sister, a bra reminiscent of a bikini top that she stuffed as a teenager and inadvisably wore swimming, a copper rose gifted by a borderline stalker.
Born Newberry, South Carolina, 1983. BFA, Syracuse University; MFA, Cranbrook Academy of Art / Lives in Detroit, Michigan
The observation that an artist’s surroundings influences their work finds new relevance in the delicate geometries, intricate textures, and subtle color variations of Ruth Koelewyn’s restrained abstractions. A key reference for Koelewyn is the sky as it appears framed by architecture. This has given rise to the striking cyan blue monochromes of her ongoing Skyshapes series (2014-present), and the conceptually related Blue Triangles (2014-2015), Blue Crowns (2017), and Can Serrat Skyshapes (2019).
Kansas City, MO, 1949 / BA and MFA, Drake University, Des Moines, IA / Lives in Huntington Woods, MI
From 1951 to 1985, Jeffrey Abt’s father worked as a traveling salesman dealing in costume jewelry. With sample cases packed, he traversed a sales region that encompassed south Nebraska, Kansas, north Oklahoma, and east Colorado. Abt accompanied him on occasion, allowing insight into what is routinely a salesman’s solitary life on the road. His father’s absence at home instilled a sense of rootlessness in Abt, compounded by the knowledge of the displacement that his parents experienced as Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany during World War II.
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 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 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 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.
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 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
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 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 Detroit, 1951 / BFA, Rochester Institute of Technology, New York; MFA, Cranbrook Academy of Art / Lives in in Huntington Woods, Michigan
For me the formation of the thought is already sculpture. (Joseph Beuys, 1969)
In 1978, a small portfolio of nine Barry Roth photos was published in the periodical Lightworks, #10. These tabletop images (including Day Sleep, 1975) were staged from Roth’s Palmer Park Detroit studio/apartment in the mid-1970s. Their intimate scale and dark theatricality worked discreetly with post-modern tropes such as self-identity, deconstructed narratives, pop-culture and historical references—and made them more disorienting and idiosyncratic. They presented interior landscapes that were new and radical.
Roth’s artistry was an unacknowledged rupture in traditional photography that challenged norms of tableaux representation. While studying for an MFA, Roth discovered his unique analytic style. “I liked street photography,” said Roth, “but wanted something I could do anytime. “I was attracted to photographers like Les Krims – who staged things, setting things up for the camera.” Roth centers his photography as the thing itself; photographing to see how something looked as a photograph, aligning his ideas with street photographer Gary Winogrand, who explained, “The photo is a thing in itself. And that’s what still photography is all about.” Photography as a “truth-telling” medium was rejected by Roth, who describes his process as image-making rather than image-taking.
Born Detroit, 1983 / BFA, College for Creative Studies; MFA, Hunter College, New York / Lives in Detroit
Picture, if you will, an archaeologist. Is your imagined archaeologist mucking about in the dirt somewhere? Probably she’s got a trowel and a brush, and is dusting off a mysterious object disinterred from the depths of the earth. What, exactly, is the object she’s holding in her hand? More likely than not, it is a shard of ancient pottery.
Ceramics carry a whiff of the ancient. Much of what we know of our lost progenitors comes to us by way of their broken pots. The history of humanity is partly the history of people making things from dirt and clay.
The art of Kylie Lockwood (who teaches at the College for Creative Studies and helps run Cave Gallery) resonates with this ancient history. Many of the art objects she’s created over the years look like they might have been discovered during an archaeological dig or stolen from a museum of antiquities in some little-known Mediterranean town.