Under the rotting sun is an exhibition of my recent paintings @ Prairie Ronde Gallery, Vicksburg, alongside Cindy Steiler, Prairie Ronde artist-in-residence @ Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center.
This latest pop-up show (with a talk from Claudio Mendoza on An opening view of Venezuela) consists of a series of recent paintings of the Caracas urban landscape that I mull over with nostalgia in exile, worrying about the turmoil, simplified to its most elemental geometric abstraction through repetition. The gaps between buildings, those undesigned spaces, have always drawn me as a theme. Simple views through rendijas — a crack or a cleft, found in my daily urban wanderings. Void spaces, partial, private, demolished, hidden, fleeting. Seen at a distance, overshadowed by concrete walls, the beautiful light still reveals colour in all its splendour. The tropical sun illuminates the ruins as graciously as the exuberant vegetation that bursts forth.
Clustered together in unchoreographed arrangements, in forgotten corners and fenced off alleyways, the ducts, chimneys, tanks, ladders and air conditioning appliances accumulate. All the apparatus that makes up the infrastructure of our comfort; hence the visual denouncement of our greedy existence and its serious ecological impact. The symbols of the things we want to control but ultimately get out of hand.
Cindy Steiler was the latest Prairie Ronde artist-in-residence at the Papermill in Vicksburg, where she was captivated by the incredible archives of the Vicksburg Historic Society and its guardians. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to share the Michigan/Chicago scene, watch her intriguing photographic process and discover our affinity for community practice/social art projects, all while working in the candystore-as-studio and then putting up this show. #moretocome #artworldsisterhood
This exhibition of paintings included in the 2019 October Art Hop at Suzanne’s Organics Salon features the downtown Kalamazoo urban landscape; it juxtaposes elements from the vintage architecture and the ongoing metamorphosis with new construction going up on all sides.
Fascinated by the feeling of inhabiting a Hopper painting the vintage architecture of Kalamazoo has drawn me as a theme since first coming here in 2013. Six years on and the fascination keeps growing as the city emerges from the throes of the 2008 recession (it felt very quiet still in 2013) to a full blown boom this year with all the encompassing development, renovation and gentrification. This last year has seen some dramatic changes to the skyline on East Michigan Avenue and beyond, and as the main street of the city it already has some emblematic vintage buildings. The WA Doyle Building with its ‘solid commercial Queen Anne and Romanesque style architecture’ has long been one of my favourites, inasmuch for its own style as for the links to European architecture that I grew up with. This need to make buildings with such a look of hunkered down structure and solidity, perhaps in an effort to establish a sense of permanence and belonging in a place with such a recent colonial history seems almost whimsical in the chosen references. Somehow the revival of styles from the Middle Ages (which began in Europe before being brought here) can seem charming and unsettling at the same time in the things it adheres to and those that are reinvented.
Researching the historical attributes of each building also brought up interesting details on the site of Suzanne’s Salon itself. This Red brick gothic building originally constructed as a hardware store, evolved in 1878 to incorporate on the first floor Madam Jannasch-Shortt’s Musical Institute, run by Anna Jannasch, and built for her by her father. An interesting development in itself considering women could not own property or even have a bank account until the pioneering suffragettes -led by Lucinda Stone founder of the Ladies’ Library in Kalamazoo- lobbied and obtained these basic rights in the State after a long struggle. The Ladies’ Library itself another Victorian Gothic gem, was the first building constructed by women for their own association in Michigan and third of its kind in the USA.
While it’s sad to see old buildings go, the energy and movement palpable in the city is inspiring when new uses are made of old buildings. I also used an 1871 map of the city as a visual reference, to see the original layout of the town and compare where that still exists today. Even then many towns and routes were established on the foundation of indigenous peoples cultures and communication. The I94 was built along one such route connecting the places where Detroit and Chicago are long before those towns existed, making me wonder what they would have looked like then.
As a visual artist it was something of a novelty to be attending an academic seminar broadly designed for architects, urban planners and other professionals from this area. But since our mapping project began in Caracas from involvement with youth and children in shantytown communities, when I saw the call for the Children in the Sustainable City Seminar it seemed the right place for our proposal.
This trip to Antwerp turned out be a stimulating and fruitful experience over the two-day meeting. Above all, it was so reassuring to find oneself talking the same language when it came to sharing experiences, it can get very frustrating trying to explain this multi-disciplinary workshop model even in the art world.
MAPEA has reached four editions in the last four years so it continues to grow and prove its validity. At this moment it seems more urgent than ever to bring this activity to children amid such violence, encouraging a conversation about the environment and developing tools with which to do so. My participation in the seminar was a way of continuing our work when the crisis in Venezuela frustrated this year’s plans. By the end of March, when I should have been travelling to Caracas, flights were cancelled and the possibility of achieving the results we hoped for seemed pretty remote. It was a heart-breaking decision to cancel the trip, and we continue to wait for a change in tide to resume our plans.
Continue reading “Project MAPEA in Child in the City seminar in Antwerp”
Two of my favourite subjects… in one place! Last week we went to Detroit to discover something of the urban regeneration process underway there during Detroit Design Festival (celebrating the recent designation of Detroit as a UNESCO City of Design, first in the USA). In a very short visit we managed to see some urban farming in Corktown, the Heidelberg project, downtown Detroit, MOCAD and the Murals in the Market After Dark with the advice and company of Emily Jane Boeuf of USArt boutique.
Continue reading “Detroit: urban regeneration through art and ecology”