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worked discreetly with post-modern tropes such as self-identity, deconstructed narratives, pop-culture and historical references—and made them more disorienting and idiosyncratic.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.
Born Detroit, 1938 / BFA, College of Creative Studies; MFA, Eastern Michigan University / Lives in Dearborn, MI
Lois Teicher is one of the few women artists anywhere who has built a career around large-scale public sculpture. Even more unusual, she works squarely in a post-minimalist idiom of industrial materials and formal shapes. Most American women sculptors of Teicher’s generation are rightfully celebrated for incorporating the aesthetics of crafts into their sculpture, for introducing new materials, ornamentation, or a sense of working by hand. But Teicher chose a different path; her large-scale, site-specific sculptures look more like Ellsworth Kelly than Magdalena Abakanowicz. For Teicher, feminism gave the artist permission to overcome gender roles to fashion her own definition of what it means to be a sculptor. Over her long career, she has refined her ideas about shape and surface, posited new relationships of sculpture to its surroundings, and hardest of all, overcome the long odds of being a successful woman working in this manner. Finding satisfaction in learning to use industrial tools, as well as working with fabricators, engineers, and installers, she has developed a unique style for large-scale sculpture that emphasizes tension and a suggestion of movement that serves to deny her work’s complexity and weight.
Born Detroit, 1996 / Lives in Royal Oak, MI
Clay sculptor Austen Brantley is unmistakably young—in his years and in his practice.
This is not a conversation Brantley likes to have. He knows, however, it’s where many people start when they talk about his artworks, primarily figurative. To ignore the obvious would be to miss part of the wonder of his work. There’s also this: he’s completely self-taught.
Of course, Brantley’s actual body of work contradicts much of what his youth and lack of formal training imply. His command of craft is evidenced in the lifelike quality of his sculptures. The eyes, the shapes, speak to a nuanced understanding of the human form as a language all its own, and to a disciplined commitment to learning by doing. Yet for those who must know, Brantley is 22. He’s only been making work since age 16 and only because he thought a ceramics class would equal an effortless A for his plunging high school GPA. The A eluded him (he earned a C) but a life’s passion emerged.
Born New York, NY, 1985 / BA, Carleton College / MFA, Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, MI / Lives in Detroit
Sophie Eisner is not from Detroit, and does not put on airs about it. As a young artist who moved to the area in 2013 and to the Motor City in 2015, she thinks it’s important to do a lot of listening. Eisner travels extensively, having just recently returned, for instance, from Mongolia. Wherever she goes and whatever she makes there, she brings elements from her childhood home in New York City with her. One of the notable qualities of Eisner’s practice is her ability to take a familiar object in a familiar place, such as the pink tiles in the bathroom of her studio, and use materials, such as pigmented silicone, to think about the object from a different perspective. By presenting this same object with different materials and shape, Eisner invites the viewer to recall that they have seen this object somewhere before, and to wonder where. Eisner’s work gives viewers a fuzzy feeling of familiarity.
Born Detroit, 1950 / BFA, Eastern Michigan University; MFA, University of Michigan / Lives in Ann Arbor, MI
Tom Phardel—sculptor, ceramist, and curator; beekeeper and bonsai enthusiast—has long played a critical role in the Detroit art community as both an artist and a supporter of other artists, and of course of the ceramic tradition. Serving as (much beloved) teacher and chair of ceramics at CCS for thirty years, he has inspired successive generations of students while pursuing his own artistic path, a path that has led him to a body of work notable for its sense of mystery, spirituality, and devoted connection to the natural world.
Born Sharon Querciograssa, Detroit, MI, 1960 / BFA, University of Michigan; Associate, Manufacturing Engineering, Macomb Community College / Lives in Ann Arbor, MI
Works of art communicate in myriad ways: some shout, some whisper, some never shut up. Sharon Que’s constructions seem only to cast meaningful glances, encouraging, cajoling, even daring the viewer to suss out what lies behind them.
These elegant, often playful works seem familiar, as if one had seen them somewhere before. They exude whiffs of history and utility, of alchemy and manufacturing, of harmonies and dissonances. Their references range from surrealist juxtapositions to trompe l’oeil to craft traditions. Que experiments with scale, materials, and varying levels of abstraction to create works that are meditations on objects and systems from the microscopic to the cosmic.
Born Detroit, 1945 / BFA, MFA, Wayne State University / Lives in Detroit
What is an artist’s practice but a universe unto itself? A total environment, with the artist at the center, in which a vast but finite set of ingredients—think experiences, materials, impulses, and predilections—cohere, by means both mysterious and prosaic, into related forms that evolve over time. It’s an apt metaphor for the work of Gary Eleinko, a lifelong Detroiter who came of age as a painter during the bricolage days of the Cass Corridor movement (where any cast off thing could become art) and who remarks with frank wonder that, “Everything in the world is made up of 98 natural elements. There’s nothing else. 98 ingredients make up everything we know.”
Born Brooklyn, New York, 1947 / BS, Wayne State University; MFA, Cranbrook Academy of Art/ Lives in Pleasant Ridge, MI
In all its darkness, playfulness, mystery and grotesquerie, the work of Susan Aaron-Taylor embodies a search for wholeness through the embrace of contradictions and dichotomies. Over the last five decades, she has explored dualities through bodies of work that mine the realms of dreams and alchemy, sources that also served the fifteenth-century artist Hieronymus Bosch in his famous Garden of Earthly Delights. Both draw on these and other symbolic systems to produce a spiritual cosmogony both terrifying and compelling, imaginative and surreal. But unlike Bosch’s painted allegory of humanity’s fall from grace, Aaron-Taylor’s mixed media sculptures, constructed of materials such as handmade felt, wood, shells, stones, bones, and beads, are more a search for grace. That search dives into the self and its myriad incongruities, a self which does not so much learn to travel from dark to light on its lifelong journey as to incorporate both in the cycle of existence.
Born Detroit, 1982 / BS, Eastern Michigan University; MFA, Cranbrook Academy of Art / Lives in Detroit
Tiff Massey is an artist whose explanations for her work often defy your overeducated readings. The recurring motifs of head-wearables and hair, for example, are not something the artist relates to Carrie Mae Weems, but rather Massey’s wide-ranging experiences of Detroit. After a few of these negated readings, you learn to keep inferences to yourself, rather than risk being corrected.
Massey wears many of her own pieces. Her Cranbrook Academy training as a metalsmith includes the craft of a fine jeweler. While out at Detroit galleries and in her signature videos for her 2015 Kresge Arts in Detroit fellowship and the Society of North American Goldsmiths, Massey can be seen wearing a large brass ring on her right hand. The ring looks a bit like an architectural model of a skyscraper. The Joe Louis fist and the Renaissance Center skyline—two metonyms for the city of Detroit—now dialogue with each other in my mind
Born Kansas City, MO 1981 / BFA, Kansas City Art Institute; MFA, Cranbrook / Lives in Detroit
Andrew Thompson considers art to be his “life organizing principle.” It is, for example, how he researches topics that interest him, how he collaborates with people he likes, how he remains untroubled by the question of what to do with surplus funds, and even how he investigates traumatic events from his past. Thompson believes there is no inherent meaning in life, and hence we must all create meaning for ourselves and those around us. It is a philosophy that propels him along a creative path of his own design, free from the careerist moves often considered essential in the game of being an artist. Continue reading
Born Detroit, 1989 / BFA, School of the Art Institute of Chicago / Lives in Detroit
Some time ago a camel was shot. Later, artist Matthew Harrison acquired the animal’s right shoulder bone, complete with a ragged pre-existing bullet hole, and CNC cut a 130 mm diameter cylindrical through-hole, creating the sculpture Untitled (2015). Harrison’s simple intervention leads to a number of profound comparisons. First, the cut hole is jarringly precise, but still crude relative to the free-flowing shape of the bone. If the cut hole is a surrogate for man’s technical prowess, then it is also a reminder of how unsophisticated our engineering skills remain in relation to those of nature. Second, and this may be closer to the artist’s intentions, the physical violence of the gunshot hole seems archaic in comparison to the surgical symbolic-violence of the cut hole. If the gunshot hole symbolizes a period from the late-colonial era onwards, the cut hole can only point to the digital age. Continue reading
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 Lansing, MI, 1959 / BA, Hope College, Holland, MI / MFA, Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, MI / Lives in Farmington Hills, MI
Todd Erickson’s recent sculptures, the “River Series” of 2009-2016, treat the eye to a richly inventive array of looping, interlacing ovals and circles. Each sinuous variant, however, also harbors singular details and idiosyncratic extrusions that further animate these “bronze rivers.” They range from an occasional thickening of the slender, linear outlines to projecting “growths,” intent, it seems, on springing free of the governing rings and hoops. Cast in bronze from branches and twigs gathered by the artist, these restless rivers twist and turn, swerve and whipsaw as the eye flows around their final form.
Born Chicago, IL, 1940 / Lives in Detroit
David Philpot is an antenna, finely tuned to subtle frequencies. He listens carefully, receiving transmissions from as far away as West Africa, and from as nearby as God or the wood in his hands. His primary medium, fittingly, is the staff, an energizing rod that joins the earth to the sky via the human being who wields it.
Long before he ever considered himself an artist, the 30-year-old Philpot heard a voice call his name, leading him, amazed, to an oasis: a grove of trees in a Chicago housing project. A week later, Philpot, who had never abandoned his childhood habit of gathering and carrying sticks, and who had recently admired Charlton Heston’s staff in The Ten Commandments, woke in the night with a mission: to chop down one of those trees, and make from it a staff of his own. When it was done, he called it Genesis (1971), an apt title for the first of more than 350 staffs he has made in the 45 years since.
Born Detroit, 1976 / BA, Bennington College; MFA, Columbia University / Lives in Hamtramck
There is a chrysalis-like flux in the recent artworks of Jason Murphy. You feel it in the roughness of his constructions, as if we’ve interrupted a process, caught something between stages, or found artwork paused mid-construction. You find it in the vacillation of materials, a bit precarious and unstable, with histories and symbolism referencing building, but also breakdown, negligence, and accident. This is artwork precise and unstable, beautiful but a bit unsettling. Continue reading
Born Royal Oak, MI, 1970 / Lives in Hamtramck, MI
On the once blighted northwest border of Hamtramck stands a well-lit building with a geometric pattern painted on its facade. This is Popps Packing. Graem Whyte and his wife, artist Faina Lerman, built Popps together. There is art in this building, and arguably Popps itself is an artistic undertaking. Since 2009, Whyte and Lerman have invested themselves in programming gallery events. They’ve built a sculpture garden and created a residency program, and they continue to activate their section of town by facilitating the work of artists from Detroit and overseas. This is about community. This is where Graem Whyte’s work is rooted. Continue reading
Born Canton, MS, 1948 / Studies in Mechanical Engineering and Art, Wayne State University / Lives in Detroit
Olayami Dabls’ sprawling outdoor installation at Grand River and West Grand Boulevard verges on a world where America rushes by, cocooned in tons of rusting metal – in other words it overlooks Interstate 96. Dabls knows that world. He trained as a mechanical engineer, and worked as a draftsman for Chevrolet Motors. Then in 1975 he had a serious car accident that hospitalized him for three years. During that time he turned to painting (his minor in college) as an escape from the constant physical and psychic pain. He left the hospital and never looked back, taking stints with the original African-American museum, and various theater companies, before eventually founding a gallery with his wife. Around 1998 he moved to the present location, starting the African Bead Museum that carries his name, and transitioning from an artist/gallerist to an educator/storyteller. Continue reading
Born Raleigh, North Carolina, 1986 / BA Bennington College / Lives in Detroit MI
Hamilton Poe’s artist statement is a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation in which he, the patient, a “27-year-old right handed male,” is characterized in modern scientific terms. It details everything from his previous diagnoses of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia to his superior “non-verbal concept formation and reasoning skills.” Continue reading
Born Detroit, 1949 / BFA, Wayne State University; MFA, Eastern Michigan University / Lives in Troy, MI
Christine Hagedorn’s hands are impressively large, the skin cracked and calloused in places; a worker’s hands, which belie the slender, elegant lines of her overall stature. A similar duality runs through her practice as an artist. Continue reading