Pivots and Pitfalls, June 2019
By Afua Serwah Osei-Bonsu
June 2019 opened an eclectic group show, “Pivots and Pitfalls,” that had to with the ups and downs of life. Throughout the month associated events were held including a gathering of local community social service organizations, “Community Potluck,” and a “Make and Break,” art performance where artists broke then reincarnated formerly assembled artworks anew. Perhaps one goal in life or an idea for Pivots and Pitfalls was to fix the broken, as if, if you can put this broken plate together, you can put this broken man together. Also make and break was to look at opportunities in problem solving, how to get new perspectives, adaptation and prevailing. RAC was looking at social themes, looking for gaps in local social services, looking for how we can help each other and working with artists to look at a variety of social perspectives. The events looked at stumbling blocks, getting lost and possibly finding ourselves again, letting go and embracing our efforts. Pivots and Pitfalls had to do with fumbling our way through life (together). On Family day, second Saturdays, there was a giant chalk alligator hopscotch drawn that coordinated with the event. The month long events were organized and curated by Trevor Stone.
Artists who exhibited include: Chris Sandon, Stephani Hicks, Nora Venturelli, Jason Ferguson, Karyn Stetz, Kellyann Johnston, James Rotz, Brian Nelson, Carolyn Garay, Madison Cooper, Avery Williamson, Keto Green, Gwynneth Vanlaven, Nick Morley, Simona Schaffer, Emilia White, Sudandya Aprillanto, Melissa Haimowitz Clouse, Emmalene Meyers, Julian Seeburger, Mike Rabalais, Leisa Thompson, Lark Allen and Lark Allen.
Contemporary artist, Keto Green presented three painted doors that relate to evictions and oppressive poverty conditions. He showed “Golden View,” “The Artist Within,” and “The Familiar.” His art is created from found objects. The doors were painted bright and rich colors, some featured Pac man images, figurative and scenic images from a tragic childhood where his brother was lost to a suicide following an eviction. Some doors he calls “the door of no return.” Keto has participated in programs at the Detroit Institute of the Arts and Inside Out. He received recognition from Brad Pitt’s “Make it Right Foundation.” In a photo of Keto, he is featured in what appears to be an “art world,” a room, maybe a basement, full of murals, paintings, objet d’art, a mattress, upon which sits a pensive artist. One is reminded of artists like Basquiat and the railroad teeth.
Keto wrote: “Living in a city full of drive and change. Overcoming poverty, while trying to make a difference. Pushing forward with faith and determination. Sacrificing self wants for generational needs. Destined for change in the world. Making the world a better place one masterpiece at a time. From Detroit, Michigan. Strength comes when you stand even when you don’t feel like it. Overcoming obstacles and uniting differences. Diversity is the number one thing. We’re just destined for hue.”
Matt Oishi showed an animation titled: “Destiny Animation.” Armored characters, some with ram like horns were featured drinking liquids, performing martial arts tumbling, falling in love. They were reminiscent of storm troopers and appear to be fighters. Some uniforms bear crests. They twirl guns, they are somewhat emotional. They squat, they fly. Oishi played on the rapid succession of computer generated images in 3-D animation.
Nora Venturelli was born in Rosario, Argentina then immigrated originally to California. She is a teacher of drawing and painting at the Penny Stamps School of Art at the University of Michigan. She is member/owner of WSG Gallery in Ann Arbor. Nora showed a nude painting that included 7 multicolored emotional renditions that juxtaposed painting and drawing. The painting comes from a series titled “Vice Versa,” that was shown at WSG Gallery in 2012 and 2017. It is as if a painter wants to draw with paint. Ms. Venturelli realized 9 years ago that her drawings and paintings were not integrated and were very different from each other. She desired to possess the same gestural and linear qualities found in drawing, within painting. Blue gestural images of the figure appeared down trodden, crunched and bent over. Red figures were forlorn, others showed realism. Ms. Venturelli has shown in numerous group and solo exhibitions both locally and internationally. Ms. Venturelli completed her BFA in Painting from the University of Michigan in Sculpture and Painting, where she was Magna Cum Laude. She completed her MFA from Eastern Michigan University in Painting. She is included in numerous public and private collections. http://www.venturellistudio.net
Sudandyo Aprillanto of Indonesia showed a painting titled, “Colorful Inside.” The painting reminds one of an earlier Paul Klee. Sudandyo described the doll like figure with interior of colorful pastel chalky looking color bars, as “steadfast in facing difficult times.” He likes to combine pastels, with acrylic painting and oil sticks. He uses basic techniques in drawing and painting like reduction, addition and change for execution. Sudandyo studied sculpture in Indonesia for 5 years. He completed coursework at Washtenaw Community College in painting, drawing, anatomy and photography. He currently studies at Eastern Michigan University with a major in Digital Media Production. He has exhibited in Indonesia, Australia, Germany and the U.S.
Emilia White showed a red and black stitched chasm mandala like textile art. In her current work she is exploring themes of pregnancy, birth, loss and motherhood. She is interested in “the circle as it relates to the cells in the body, the birth canal and mind or spirit.” Chasm represents the first in a textile series she hopes to evolve into sculptural forms. Ms. White comes from a performance and video background but has always been a “maker.” She says, “It’s nice to make something with my hands free from technology or long rehearsal processes.” Ms. White teaches time based media as a Lecturer at the Stamps School of Art and Design. She holds an MFA in Studio Art from Stamps (2012) and a BFA in Theater & Original Works from Cornish College of Arts (2003). Her work has been shown in Ann Arbor, Detroit, Minneapolis, Chicago, New York City, Brooklyn, Taiwan and Indonesia.
Melissa Haimowitz Clouse (aka Melissa Eve) work focuses on the merge of daily life with pop culture. In her painting she celebrates eating a pizza when you intend to work out and binge watching your favorite TV show. The Painting, “Yoga Pizza,” is about shining a light on taboo and mundane parts of life to make us think twice about preconceived notions and stereotypes. Melissa Eve is formally trained in painting, printmaking and photography. All these practices merge in her style and composition of paintings. Her images use black outlining and realistic animated scenic motifs. In the painting, “The Balance,” A woman with significant fat rolls is seen sitting in a yoga cross legged position, watching TV, next to an open pizza box, while on the TV, a girl is surfing. There is a TV Stand with books on it, plants, gaming device in front of a peach background. She primarily paints with acrylic on wood. She takes inspiration from folk and pop art aesthetics. She uses simple gestures and bright colors to translate her ideas. Melissa Eve has worked in the fine arts and events industries for over 10 years. She began her art practice under the name “The Brave Wimp.” She creates large scale floats and accessible eco conscious art that raises money for non- profits. Melissa Eve makes small hand painted charms, earrings and pins like a Jarritos Bottle. In 2018, she won The People’s Choice Award at DIY Street Fair in Ferndale, MI. She received her MFA in Photography from Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, MI and BA in Art and Art History from Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA. Melissa Eve currently lives and works in Detroit, MI. http:///www.thebravewimp.com https://wwwmelissaevestudio.com
Madison Cooper is an aspiring photographer who captured the Pivots and Pitfalls theme with her depiction of a young woman sprawled in an alley way in front of a graffiti décor drinking Lite Beer. The photo’s title is “Choosing not to feel.”
Mike Rabalais showed a screen print called “Junkie.” The Junkie appears to be mummified. Background text reads for once you have tasted night there to return, return, return, green. The piece is in greys and shadows.
Brian Nelson showed a bronze cast paper bag full of recycled pharmaceutical tablet bottles. The piece was titled “This is my bag of knots.”
Jason Ferguson presented, “Domestic Carnival,” that takes specific rooms of a home and represents them as flashing amusement park rides, transforming intimate interior spaces into objects of mass spectacle. Ferguson says, “Within the room dark and foreboding music, 200 hundred pulsing lights, steel joists and a trailer combine with a dining room table, chairs and oak hardwood flooring to create a carnival that is both familiar and uncanny. The apparatus is engineered like a carnival ride; the entire sculpture is mounted on a custom trailer that collapses for transportation to its next destination. Ferguson says his studio practice revolves around the replication and manipulation of common objects. He says by placing the familiar within new contexts his work elicits a sense of the uncanny. He often combines subjects with subjects that appear to be unrelated at first. For example, he applied medical protocol to domestic objects, used geological analysis to study historical architecture, combined the intimacy of the dining room with the psychology of a county fair and most recently he used medical scans and 3-D printing technology to make a full scale replica of his entire skeletal system. His creative practice is broad and produces artifacts in the form of performance, video, public interventions and sculptural objects. Jason Ferguson uses humor, the uncanny and an absurdist voice to create public interventions, performances, videos and sculptural objects. He received his BFA from Towson University and continued his studies at the University of Delaware where he completed his MFA in 2006. Ferguson’s work has been exhibited internationally including venues in Tokyo, Japan; Berlin, Germany, Sao Paolo, Brazil; Tirana, Albania; Kolderveen, The Netherlands; as well as national venues in New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington, Missouri, Virginia and recently he filled two rooms at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroit. His work has been featured in publications including the 3D Additivist Cookbook, Sculpture Magazine, SciArt Magazine, Hyperallergic, Artfizz, The Chicago Art Review and more. He has received endowments for his studio work and was the first ever recipient of the Manifest Grand Jury Prize in 2018. Ferguson currently resides in Metro Detroit where he is an Associate Professor in the School of Art and Design at Eastern Michigan University. www.jasonferguson.com
One of Kelly Johnston’s pieces was, “I have come curiously close to the end.” It reminds one of decoupage. Digital images, digitally collaged, a nude veiled in patterns and glitter then coated in resin. Ms. Johnston seeks to fight the phallacracy. She is using feminist works to subdue societal injustices from within the realm of fine art. She often uses nude female forms as subject matter. She reduces the forms to mere decoration. Ms. Johnston works at the Detroit institute of Art as an Art Handler. She installs exhibitions and moves art work through the museum. Ms. Johnston earned her Masters of Fine Art from Eastern Michigan University in 2017. She has exhibited her artwork across the US.
Karyn Stetz showed one of a series “Reclaiming her Vision, Changing Woman No. 1. The image is a digital print of two birds with drippings that connect sky with horizon.
Julian Seeburger exhibited, “Bruised.” Bruised is a color reversal photo image of needles, tree and roof. Artists often employ alternative means to make statements about the human condition.
Simona Schaffer, a Mexican artist based in Spain contributed two prints, “Crowd,” and “Surrounded.” Surrounded has to do with personal relationships between men and women, at a personal level and as a society. The way that society teaches us to establish these relationships affects each person’s life. Schaffer states that, “Mexico is a country where insecurity prevails and harassment is a common source of anxiety and stress for women in their daily lives.” Schaffer feels that gender violence has increased dramatically, as well as risk of rape, in many parts of the world. Schaffer feels that this potential violence is a definitive pitfall for women. “Crowd,” has one woman in a hijab and has to do with the people we cross paths with every day in the street. How we see their faces without recognizing their features, explained Schaffer. But that behind each blurry face is a story that intertwines. It tries to bring attention to the unseen, the marginalized, those who are different, which is represented by the woman in the Hijab at the back of the crowd. The original prints are linocuts assembled as digital prints. The technique is widely used for social movement propaganda. Schaffer has shown her work in Mexico, Chicago, New York, Barcelona, and Valencia (Spain). Schaffer had an important itinerary installation which was shown in El Faro de Oriente, an important and special place, and art center in a marginalized neighborhood and at the Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana, among other venues. Schaffer’s work is in Mexico, Spain and the U.S. www.simona-schaffer.com
Gwynneth Vanlaven is an artist and educator whose practice includes photography, installation, writing, performance and social engagement. Vanlaven received her BA from Knox College in Multimodal Language: Verbal Visual and Kinesic Systems (an independent cross disciplinary major) with a minor in photography. In 2010 Vanlaven received her MFA from George Mason University in Critical Art Practice, also as a multimodal course of study. Vanlaven has taught visual thinking, aesthetics and new media at the School of Art at George Mason University, until relocating to Ann Arbor. Vanlaven’s work has been featured in numerous exhibitions and published in The Washington Post and Performance Research and at the Smithsonian Institution and the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington D.C. In addition to her solo practice, Vanlaven works as part of “The Floating Lab Collective.” The Floating Lab Collective is a group of artists dedicated to social engagement and activism through interactive and inclusive art, working with local, national and international scope. Vanlaven presented reflections on a Floating Lab Project to the 2014 Association of Art Historians Conference at the Royal College of Art in London. In the Pivots and Pitfalls show Vanlaven showed a series about color statement as well as “It’s a pity, party’s over,” which features the artist with a piece of cake and signage with streamers. The photo had an associated performance at the opening where participants were served cake and brought into the realm of the photo. www.gwynnethvanlaven.net
Avery Williamson included photos that explored her family history. Photos in the show were: “The Boys,” “Baby,” “He Throws,” “Louise,” and “Marisa, Avery & Iris.” She used familiar images with different techniques and methods of abstraction. Some images appear hazy, vintage and dream like. Ms. Williamson uses family photographs and videos and film as common media to record big events and little moments. She was, “curious about if she could make hers seem more universal and more intimate for other people.” Further she states that, “it was important to me that the faces were blurred and the images captured a feeling.” Ms. Williamson is always searching for ways to transform photos and make them less direct documentation of the past. Additionally, the artist works with clay, weaving and painting. She currently has a piece called, “It’s Dangerously Close to Weaving,” at Rymer Gallery in Nashville, TN. Ms. Williamson was born in Philadelphia, PA, and currently lives and works in Ann Arbor, MI.
James Rotz contributed three photographs in the exhibition from the “Kibbutz of Desire,” series. The artist is a highly “intentional” photographer, preferring vintage film methods of photography over the modern digital. Rotz likes the color fidelity of film and often shoots with a medium format camera. His work ranges from serene settings, Americana, portraiture and nature. He feels the scenes he captures from the world are, “a substitute for language to express thoughts, notions and emotions that are difficult to express in formal language, whether verbal or written.” He commented on use of film versus digital as the contrast between delayed and immediate. The delay and the permanency of negatives may build in a photographer such as Rotz, greater intention and formality for each photo resulting in a particular quality of work. Rotz uses print and book formats for his work often paired with prose. Rotz studied Literature and writing at Purdue University-Calumet for which he earned a BA. He also has a BFA in Photography from Indiana University. He has a MFA from the University of Michigan. James works as a photographer for the Detroit Institute of Arts and documents a diverse range of objects including prints, drawings and the photography collection. http://www.jamesrotz.com
Carolyn Garay’s works appear as other worldly or abyss or what she describes as “pen places.” A parent could place one Garay painting in their home to inspire their children to greater detail. They are inner worlds, sometimes ominous, sometimes painted, sometimes pen worlds. Garay describes them as “forfeiture to excess.” She goes on to explain a compulsive need for an infinite looping of certain thoughts and experiences. Perhaps, they are additionally “personifications of conflicting selves, experiences, memories, turmoil’s, dreams, anxieties, exhilarations that may manifest into masses and make up the pieces of a mindscape.” Everything she says has something about it that makes her laugh, which may be the point of it all. They appear as something one might find in animation. She loves the juxtaposed “energy” emanating from the detail and the “creation compulsion.” She paints in oils and with the smallest micron pen. With paints, she usually builds up 3-4 layers, plus final detailing. Ms. Garay was born and raised in Ann Arbor, MI. She attended Eastern Michigan University for undergraduate and completed an MFA at Philadelphia Academy of Fine Art. She currently resides in Ypsilanti and shows annually at the Ann Art Fair on Main Street by Williams. She also shows at Tangent Gallery in Detroit. She started a time-lapse channel on you tube to talk about her process and for teaching: www.youtube.com/disheveleartmess
Stephani Hicks showed “Sock Monkey,” a stuffed monkey completely covered in ball pins. She is studying art and entertainment management at Eastern Michigan University. Sock Monkey was made in a 2017 3-D Art class when she attended Henry Ford College and was asked to take something and cover it completely. The result was a “voodoo” inspired sculpture. She feels the art work looks painful and falls into the Pivots and Pitfalls theme.
Chris Sandon showed a book titled “Venereal Disease,” in gold plate that was superimposed by the artist with surreal, abstract and or absurd illustrations in pen and ink. Sandon has been making and showing work for 20 years. He began his career as an oil painter and later moved into interactive costumes and building events around these costumes. He has shown his work in Chicago, Detroit and Grand Rapids. In more recent years, with two projects-“Spontaneous Art and Exquisite Corpse,” Sandon work was presented at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, The Toledo Museum of Art and the Smithsonian in D.C.
Nick Morley included a highly successful plinth like monotype print called, “Black Forest Stone,” and another called “Ether.”
Lark Allen showed a curious animated character etching titled “Squatting Figure.” Skin appears sagging, hair braided, an otherworldly figure of unknown origin. The figure looks sculptural and strangely ethnic.