Lights, Cameras, Ruff

Originally published by ZIPR Magazine, September 2015.

Snaking through and inquiring at nearly every door in one of the buildings at the Russell Industrial Center eventually led the way to a uniquely interactive visit. Surfaces of varied heights served as screens for delayed playback projections of digitized blue and grey hues which filled Jason Ruff’s studio space. At the end of the passage the artist adjusted an overhanging light with aluminum foil. His focal point was a massively webbed sphere of gold, silver, and other metal oxides blended together to yield a pale sea green with white streams.
After getting off the ladder, long wavy locks swept out of Ruff’s face as he described a formulaic process for completing each sculpture. Then he quickly encouraged a view of the main projection space where spidery beams stretched to hold cameras and lights. Slowly the recording of your movement became evident; but the moment you tried to be face to face with your own projection, it would disappear. Only a glimpse could be caught if you turned just quickly enough. 

Relishing the video game aesthetic continued as more people trickled in to guess at which point they could see their faces on the projection walls. Some people went toward the glass fixtures while others went in search of wine and beer. Upon turning to exit, there was hardly a sign of the ladder and artist, which made the experience a bit like trying to catch a little white rabbit.

Feast of Anatomy at Tangent Gallery

Originally published by ZIPR Magazine, August 2015.

First steps into Corpus Illuminata, an Anatomic Interpretation, were made in a partial trance as eyes peered with curiosity upon sinuous lines, bold colors and intriguing subject matter. Anthony DVS, organizer of the two-day affair, shed light on what started as a showcase of visual art, with interpretations for all things anatomic. Over five years, the event quickly expanded. This year included collectors of antique medical utensils, student and doctor presentations, as well as musical experiences; but the cohesive thread among all work on display remained fixed in references to anatomy, biology or medicine.

A few pieces on the entry walls were no larger than two square inches, but held delicate portrayals of vital organs on each mini canvas. To the left hung a mixed media anatomy-based illustration of Adam and the fall of man by Michael Reedy, titled “Malum A”. The artist’s narrative of mortality, physical limits as living creatures, and death was executed with exposed vital organs, bones and abnormal creatures as manifestations of their fall into pain and death. The complimentary illustration of Eve titled “Malum E” hung on the wall leading to the larger exhibition space.

Glossy ceramic and weathered metal sculptures were as bold and mysterious as large canvases of placenta, skeletons and fetuses. Rehearsal of vocal arrangements and piano by storyteller and “musical evocateur” Jill Tracy created a soothing melodic energy. In between songs, she revealed she was the first musician to achieve a grant to craft original compositions in the nation’s foremost collection of medical oddities at the Mütter Museum. Through her journey as a clairaudient and within the walls of the gallery, Jill, not merely treating spiritual eccentricities as a subject matter in her songs, shared lively engagement with artifacts and energy through music.

Jill continued rehearsing songs from her Mütter experience and additional work, which guided wandering eyes to paintings and photography near the stage’s corner. In that vicinity, a photograph by Anthony DVS titled “Soma Dorsum” held a peculiar energy. After projecting an MRI scan on a model’s body, the former electrician and self-taught artist manipulated lighting to create an eerie yet elegant snapshot.

As Anthony returned to his organizing responsibilities, the adjoining bazaar held in its center a unique pairing of post mortem photography, surgical images, entrapped tarantulas, and octopi. David Chow, director of Galerie Camille, spread his personal inventory of circus freak deaths, lithographs of medical procedures on the body, and massive leather resources for students of medicine. The reconstructed and inflated tarantula skins inside square frames were mounted and pinned by DJ Zaccariah Messiah. The nightlife enchanter’s display area also sported carbon fiber and clay skulls alongside octopus vials from North Africa.

Creating a border for the bazaar was a lengthy table – half of it the vending area of Heather Rhea-Wright of Painted Lady Trashions. On display: vintage taxidermy, human bones, and glass trinkets. Originally from Corpus Christi, Heather’s popularity was a bit of a surprise when she sold her first set of fetal pigs at the Rustbelt in Ferndale. She has since continued finding objects and improving her vast collection. Not only was it the fourth time she shared her collection at Corpus Illuminata, it was the first time she collaborated with Todd W. LaRosa, owner of Michigan’s Mortuary Museum.

On Todd’s side, there were cadaver prosthetic forms for open casket ceremonies, thin polished embalming equipment, and funeral home memorabilia. The backdrop for his space was a crushed velvet backdrop with Victorian jack-in-the-box frame made of wood. It was a grand stage set for the keeper of fourteen hearses and the largest funeral home antiquities collection in the United States. As more guests arrived, the visual anatomic feast carried them through the night with educative and melodic sensations in honor of life and death.


Gumption Galore

An homage to uniformity of the fifties by Mary Bustamonte.
An homage to uniformity of the fifties by Mary Bustamonte.

Finding the entrance to Rosa Parks Boys was as unique as the transformation of a loading dock and storage space to a skateboarding arena. Inside, Mary Bustamonte declared her strength in styling and editing within the realm of fashion by forming visual and poetic testaments to escape the lifelessness of retail. She epitomized uniformity of the fifties by attaching snapshots of the decade in which people were facing the same direction to a light blue button down.

Bustamonte admitted her impatience hindered her construction of well-crafted clothing but intended to practice her capacity with a camera by trial and error. Photography in “Bourgeoi-Zine” showcased her intentional juxtaposition of the rogue and the materialistic. Quite a comical fusion it was because exclusive familiarities of goings-on among those who identify with each social stratosphere seem to promote access to each world. Although finding the entrance to the facility, which had been magically transformed, was a bit of a struggle, my appreciation for stumbling upon such a fascinating space turned into a fervent desire to explore more.

A small portion of works by Above after a two-month residency.
A small portion of works by Above after a two-month residency.

Inner State Gallery boasted an array of glossy arrangements of wood, text and colors while fixating attention on the iconic arrow for which Above is internationally recognized. While gazing at the fruits of a two-month residency on the western wall, I crossed paths with photographer Michele Lundgren and her daughter Cara while we were hoping to meet the mind behind culminations of acrylic, spray paint and screen print ink. They arrived after catching an opening in the Eastern Market but were on their way out so I continued moseying. When I caught myself gawking at “Lock – Manhattan” and other puzzle-like creations, I made my exit as well.

Sean Nader filled gallery walls with energetic characters and bold colors.

Further into the east side of Detroit was Block One Gallery where paintings by Sean Nader were on display. Animated countenances of subjects from the artist’s past and present were prominent in the expressive surplus. Wrinkles of “Charles Bukowski” and caffeinated Dungeons and Dragons characters were only a portion of Nader’s gumption galore. He revealed the gallery space fell into his lap when friends of his were in the process of developing a conjoined unit of the building. It was one of several highlights in his journey through 2014 and having sold several pieces with an hour left, a toast to his serendipitous opening was crucial and my last for the evening.

Portrait of a couple by Sean Nader.
Portrait of a couple by Sean Nader.
Warning words on a baby's garment by Mary Bustamonte.
Warning words on a baby’s garment by Mary Bustamonte.
"Bourgeoi-Zine" by Mary Bustamonte.
“Bourgeoi-Zine” by Mary Bustamonte.
Inside the other half of the Rosa Parks Boys venue.
Inside the other half of the Rosa Parks Boys venue.

On a Quest with Sanda Cook

"Soul Retrieval" (2014) by Sanda Cook.
“Soul Retrieval” (2014) by Sanda Cook.

About an hour into the “Quest 4 Visions” opening, red dots sprinkled the collection of Sanda Cook at the Pittman-Puckett Gallery in Ferndale. “Starscape” grabbed my attention instantly on the eastern wall but I wanted to follow the hypnotic effect of her work in numerical order. I also didn’t want to interrupt her interview with Steve Lloyd so I started with the western wall.

Allusions to graffiti and collaging felt most prominent in “Protection” but light and layering bound together Cook’s engagement with experiences of emotional and astrological sorts. “Soul Retrieval” was a gripping example of how curiously she characterized her observations of people. Variations of human shapes and landscapes left little room to inaccurately predict the success of the Romanian artist’s exhibit.

"Galleon" (2014) by Sanda Cook.
“Galleon” (2014) by Sanda Cook.

The western wall hosted larger pieces of equally expressive magnitude. “Galleon” delivered solemn emotions where red slashes forged a macabre naval craft. “Love Letter” entertained issues of distraction and clarity when unveiling a message of value. Perhaps for this reason, it resembled the troublesome fuzziness of images of dated televisions when their antennas were improperly coordinated.

In the midst of observing “Cosmos” I met Skip Davis and photographer/potter Rose Lewandowski who appreciated a co-design I donned by Randal Jacobs. Before and after years of neglecting her imaginative self for the sake of motherhood, honing her craft in pottery and image making came with a natural purity. She met Cook at a show in March of 2014 and they have since fueled each other’s creative fervor. After flipping through a few pages of Lewandowski’s portfolio, Cook greeted me with jubilance and I held no restriction of praising her visual assortment but focused particular attention to “Starscape.”

"Starscape" (2014) by Sanda Cook.
“Starscape” (2014) by Sanda Cook.

The image was already sold by the time we stood in front of it but I learned the starry sky came to life with an unintended but perfect speckling of paint. As we moved to the smaller pieces on the western wall, she introduced me to painter Jon McCahill whose work I recognized from a summer show at Whitdel Arts. We spoke of academic and self-taught approaches in finding one’s voice then quickly realized similarities in our processes of making art.

Steve Lloyd interviewing Sanda Cook for her opening at Pittman-Puckett Gallery.
Steve Lloyd interviewing Sanda Cook for her opening at Pittman-Puckett Gallery.

As the night continued, a bit of dancing broke out before Linda and Don Mendelson arrived and Lewandowski returned to snapping photographs and sharing her portfolio. As we carried on, it was indisputable how Sanda Cook’s fascination with human contact and universal forces influenced immense livelihood. This was even more evident in her interactions with everyone whom she graciously thanked for basking in the ambience of her cosmic love.

Dichotomies and Holidays

Lock by Jim Nawara for “Watercolor: Collective Visions” at Kayrod Gallery.

Sunlight lingered in the afternoon while icy winds blasted against my dusty knuckles en route to “Watercolor: Collective Visions” at the Ellen Kayrod Gallery. On the southern wall was a grand piece by James Nawara whose rocky entrance with trees reiterated his speculation of the effects human systems have on nature’s landscape. His work also fused distinct opposites with comparable elegance to Jay Knapp whose abstract strokes underscored the dichotomy of safety and atrocity and its impact on emotional conditions.

Coco Ka’an by Jay Knapp.
Velavexia by Jay Knapp.
Velavexia by Jay Knapp.

Both artists presented the peculiar interconnectedness and exclusivity of dependent and independent forces, which supported the theme of Passing Tribute by Linda Mendelson—artist, educator and curator for the Kayrod’s intergenerational show. Her watercolor conception revealed keen observations about ceremonial occasions with spirited appreciation of life’s trials and tribulations.

After meandering from piece to piece, it was still a bit early for the N’Namdi Gallery to open its doors for the openings of “Vicissitude” by Elizabeth Youngblood and “ELEMENTAL” by Neha Vedpathak. However, something told me to test my luck and check if the door was open to escape the freezing cold if only for a moment. I entered and two gracious staff members allowed me to observe the work on display as they completed final tasks prior to guests’ arrival.

Ceramic/wire sculpture by Elizabeth Youngblood.

In The Rose Gallery, Youngblood’s ceramic/wire sculptures emphasized cyclical patterns in which universal forces operate and mimicked the movement of her writing utensils on paper. By majestically incorporating her love of graphic arts, clay, design and fibers, the CCS Graphic Arts professor stimulated an inimitable dialogue on craft and art.

Within The Black Box Gallery, Vedpathak executed her stylistic fascination with the environment and its ingredients with “plucked” paper and miniature landscapes consisting of soil, water and turmeric. Whether space was occupied by her distinctive and delicate manipulation of paper or covered by unique representations of land, Vedpathak charmingly highlighted complex interactions between space and objects with minimal aesthetics.

Neha Vedpathak's signature "plucking" of paper at N'Namdi.
Neha Vedpathak’s signature “plucking” of paper at N’Namdi.

The space between my untimely entrance to N’Namdi and Socra Tea was not at all far but the frigid air influenced a detour to a stiff beverage at Seva. What intended to be an exploration of introversion quickly evolved into a conversation with one of the restaurant’s managers who also created out of a studio in Corktown. He shared enthusiasm for the entertainment and challenges of building an identity in Detroit and respect for the process of navigating through a vast city. More patrons flooded the dining area so I peeled myself from the bar and hurried to Socra Tea.

A tall bearded man with a kind face and a female with curly hair and lively demeanor constituted the small number of bodies in attendance while a quiet sales associate manned the register. Once I began my tour of the stationary and framed photography by Jason Wermager, I quickly learned the bewhiskered gentleman was in fact the artist. His work possessed a commercial blending of rural life, words and graphic arts. His editing gave some viewers the impression he had painted a cow and illustrated the scene of an isolated barn swathed in beams of sunlight. Even an image of an old Cadillac underwent an intense editing process to be rid of bothersome reflections but ultimately established Wermager’s eye for precision.

Jason Wermager's eye for precision and fondness of words.
Jason Wermager’s eye for precision and fondness of words.

The visual feast continued at the Detroit Artists Market where members intended to vend original items at Art for the Holidays. Sanda Cook had three identifiable framed pieces among the surplus of talent hanging and standing prominently in the market. It was here I complimented Linda Mendelson on her curatorial execution and painting of ceremonious yet personal experiences of transition. She accepted but immediately shed light on the magnitude of measurement restrictions while coordinating artwork in a gallery. When she segued to how she found talent, she conveyed the power of crossing paths, which was as magical as finding Jack Kenny and Charlene Uresy radiating the same warm energy of the holiday merriment in the market just as I was leaving.

Contemporary Abstractions at Passenger

Tylonn J. Sawyer at Passenger for Contemporary Abstractions.

On the southern edge of Capitol Park, two huge geometric halves triggered nostalgia for an egg hunt with their exposed interiors greeting newcomers near the entrance of Passenger. Other sculptures stood prominently across the cement and white wall landscape while paintings, photographs and drawings created a charming atmosphere for a one-night presentation between the gallery and Detroit Creative Corridor Center, among other prominent proponents of Detroit’s scene of innovation.

Laith Karmo at Passenger for Abstracticus.

Brian Barr curated Abstracticus, which opened in mid-October but Contemporary Abstraction offered a one-night multitude of visual and performance stimuli. Near the area designated for libations was a large amount of traffic where viewers gazed at two portraits by Tylonn J. Sawyer. His shadows, lighting and immeasurable detail made the subject’s face seem oily enough for a blotting sheet. Ceramics by Laith Karmo yielded a similar effect with his capacity to catapult fine sculpting into the public sphere.

Noah Stephens at Passenger for Contemporary Abstractions.

Noah Stephens extended an opportunity to gaze into a fondness for exteriors and the night sky with his photographic lens. As Noah’s work emitted a brilliance often seen in motion pictures, he responded with much enthusiasm for the accidental creation of nightscapes resembling paintings and shots from a movie-making process.

While the evening encapsulated respective communications of form, aesthetics and contexts, the process of following each artist’s perception of reality proved tedious without a corresponding list outlining who created each piece on display. To the gallery’s credit, there was a compilation of brief artist biographies but perhaps next time Passenger will be able to offer spectators an easier transition between interrogation and evaluation.

Geometric sculpture at Passenger.
Geometric sculpture at Passenger.
Trailing photography at Passenger.
Trailing photography at Passenger.

Bad Habits of Lee and Lacey at 17

Subsidize by Jay Oscar Lee at Gallery 17.
Subsidize by Jay Oscar Lee at Gallery 17.

As a gangrenous yet gorgeous Beetlejuice walked the opposite direction of Gallery 17, Jay Oscar Lee indulged an inclination for nicotine. The scene was a befitting first impression for Bad Habits, an experience at the gallery for which original pieces were crafted by Lee and Brian Lacey.

Both artists accomplished cycles at Red Bull House of Art and study at CCS but possess distinct journeys of honing talents. Lee chose from three dimensions to contribute to the highly celebrated 2013 Actual Size Biennial at Whitdel Arts and detroit contemporary. Lacey completed murals in Brooklyn and Detroit, contributed Lobby to Imago Mundi’s Biennale of 2013 and whipped up new advertising with four artists for Sierra Mist.

The collaborative energy transferred swimmingly to the collection for Bad Habits. Congregative moments took place in curious spaces while spectators moved from the independently and jointly painted statements. Subsidize by Lee and I Ran Contra by Lee and Lacey held several people’s attentions in the southeastern corner of the gallery. SorbetDenial and Denial pt. II heightened senses near the entrance but sparked the resemblance of a group tendency to plant itself within reach of libations.

Basking in the ambience of Gallery 17.
Basking in the ambience of Gallery 17.

With or without a beverage, steady traffic bore witness to visual stimulation by the dynamic duo and audio satisfaction from Justin Ngelhart. As the opening carried on, so too did a fashion show, traditional African drum experience as well as loads of makeup, muscle and masquerading in customary Russell fashion.

Colectivo Cajeme at 555

Una Galaxia para Fatima by Graciela Galaz at 555 Gallery.
Una Galaxia para Fátima by Graciela Galáz at 555 Gallery.

When I was told about an iron pour at 555 Nonprofit Gallery and Studios, I didn’t realize the radiance of Colectivo Cajeme had begun showing two days earlier. Insightful Mr. P of 555 relayed helpful background information about the artists until I pointed in admiration to Una Galaxia para Fátima. Quickly he pointed to a woman sitting alone and preoccupied with her phone across the exhibition space and said, “You should tell her yourself. She’s sitting right there.”

It was Gabriela Galáz—the artist whose work I found thrilling. After nearly galloping to speak with her, I invaded her isolation by flooding her personal bubble with compliments. Unfortunately, my impulse incited a raised hand, slight tilt of the head and an unsettled, “I’m sorry, I only speak Spanish.”

Quick to excuse my poor Spanish diction, I well enough to continue the conversation. From our exchange, I learned Colectivo Cajeme began with artists in Sonora, Mexico and the municipal support was a tremendous advantage in garnering community recognition and in showing internationally—two members had already exhibited their work in France and Spain. Those who came to Detroit for the opening, created molds for the smoldering iron outside but would either continue traveling or return to Mexico.

Mictlán by Ebeth Roldán, Encuentro Estelar by Gabriela Galáz and Naranja Dulce by Salvador Escalante.
Mictlán by Ebeth Roldán, Encuentro Estelar by Gabriela Galáz and Naranja Dulce by Salvador Escalante.

As with any craft, age had little to do with the expanse of talent but was fascinating to take into consideration. A pause in conversation kept the eyes moving until Mictlán by Ebeth Roldán became central to the conversation of living twenty-six years and demonstrating a remarkable commitment to perception and reality. Roldán’s exquisite movement of subjects, tones, shadows and light were held in a single moment in unison with a viewer’s capacity to appreciate such boldness.

En Evolución and Florecer by Graciela Galáz at 555 Gallery.
En Evolución and Florecer by Graciela Galáz at 555 Gallery.

Before Galáz elaborated on Fátima, En Revolución and Florecer, each piece seemed motivated by a repertoire exposed as an intricate system of pulleys and weights pouring rich hues into the finest stencils, which were carefully placed over large wood and canvas surfaces. However, my fascination with creative output preceded me as she explained Fátima was an aunt whose perfectly coiffed hair had been the subject of Galáz’s admiration for years. Similar questions then circulated around En Revolución and Florecer but Galáz’s minimal responses led to expressions of gratitude, which I regarded as a signal to check out the iron pour where it was chilly but warm tea and vibrations of blaring music kept the festivities cozy.

DIFFA Weekend in Detroit

Along a silent auction wall at Friday's ArtWorks Detroit by DIFFA.
Along a silent auction wall at Friday’s ArtWorks Detroit by DIFFA.

Vast ceilings and glass walls made the interior of the Federal Reserve Building feel like it was taken from a swanky gathering scene in Batman: The Animated Series when DIFFA’s Fifth Annual DINING BY DESIGN served luxury in design, art and cuisine. The expanse of vision from board members to staff held in groovy energy the main attraction of conceptual fascinations supporting the fight against HIV/AIDS and the work of Michigan AIDS Coalition.

To the right of the entrance, guests weaved through the silent auction placing bids and eating up visual spreads from artists like Deborah Kashdan, whose flair I’d first acquainted myself with at the Whitdel Arts at a summer show. To the left, buyers slowly filled the live auction arena where image-makers donated work to Friday’s ArtWorks Detroit.

Behind the live auction a wide passageway offered an assortment of cheese and quenching signature cocktails by Patrón, which lead to the dining exhibition spaces. In the monstrous display arena, some of the striking contributions for DINING BY DESIGN are included below but do not fully encompass the scope of excellence for the dinner gala.

It was impossible not to hover in front of arrangements or fail to appreciate each bulb of light and napkin fold. Magical it was to witness some great humanitarian strides as the community anticipated more atmospheres to eat with the forthcoming DLECTRICITY and Detroit Design Festival.

So much to see, so little time [Part II]

YESTERDAY by Herbert Gentry at N'Namdi Gallery.
YESTERDAY by Herbert Gentry at N’Namdi Gallery.

On the way from Ellen Kayrod Gallery, I caught up with a friend and shared ponderous comparisons of beverage availability at the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Arts. Ultimately it didn’t matter as we turned the corner and felt music blaring at the opening of Herbert Gentry and His Contemporaries alongside Adnan Charara and woodcut inspired pieces. As we entered, George N’Namdi was near the source of the evening’s melodies so I shook hands after the gentleman I entered with did the same.

I realized before entering a smaller display area there should have been no mistake missing the eastern wall, which was given life by the inquisitive and worldly glances at the other and the self. Gentry’s work presented this feast of beings and exchange with uncompromising hues to guests who dawdled and were determined to absorb a glimpse of the artist’s breadth of talent and travels.

Traces by S. Margot B Myers exhibited at N’Namdi Gallery.

Another woodcut creation on display at N’Namdi Gallery.

After getting my fill, I went toward the western wall hosting a smaller display area where woodcut made a very strong reiteration of Abstraction and Landscapes: Contemporary Woodcuts. There were a few familiar faces I had seen earlier in the night but there was a particular Mr. K whom I embarked on conversation and transition to the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit since it was the next destination on the evening’s agenda. Just after passing Seva, housed in the same building of the gallery, I made the acquaintance of the remarkable Ms. M who donned a recently acquired cape. She and Mr. K discussed a few matters before we parted ways to explore the music and havens of vibrant expression fashioned by pairs of creators within confined spaces.

Outside one of many collaborations for the People’s Biennial at MOCAD.

The line only took a few minutes to pass and as I wandered to the cubicles of inventiveness, a groovy guitar player of a Brooklyn band prepared for their upcoming set behind a table of merchandise and radiated excitement to perform in Detroit. After weaving through one side of the People’s Biennial, I saw professor Baz Dreisinger standing next to a beam and observing spectators of her collaboration with Hank Willis Thomas. So poignant was the arrangement of writing from students within an East coast prison. It drew spectators closer to connect through sentences of identity and frameworks of improvement. She was exhilarated people were responding so affectionately by acting on the impulse to observe the content and snap an image or two. Ultimately she was firmly grounded in a mission to bolster more proactive attitudes regarding achievement.

Words of learners housed in the system of criminal justice.
Words of learners housed in the system of criminal justice.

Celebrations of growth and accomplishments
took place in more places than the few I
could reach but as I waited to hear the
Brooklyn band to play, accompanied
by intriguing associates there
stood that fabulous Mr. K.