Turn and Face the Strange: Cartoonist Casey Nowak's big life changes have invigorated her art

VISUAL ART WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Carolyn Nowak

The two years since Casey Nowak last answered questions for Pulp have been filled with personal changes and critical success. Followers of Nowak’s on Twitter may also have noticed her using the platform to discuss her own experiences with sexuality, divorce, mental health, and recently a series of tweets discussing her name change from Carolyn to Casey. 

The Ann Arbor cartoonist feels these experiences, both good and bad, have influenced and increased her confidence in her work. 

In late 2018, Top Shelf released Nowak’s collection of short stories, Girl Town. These previously released stories, along with one unpublished work, secured Nowak some of her best critical reactions to date. Girl Town finished the year on numerous “Best of” lists, was nominated for an Eisner Award (akin to comics' Academy Award), and last month won Nowak her third Ignatz Award, which recognizes excellence among self-published or small-press creators.

Previously, Nowak had an acclaimed 12-issue run as the artist for the popular series Lumberjanes, and in 2017 she published Chad Agamemnon, an all-original comic for the Ann Arbor District Library's annual Ann Arbor Comic Arts Festival (A2CAF). (AADL cardholders can download the comic here.)

Nowak has also released the first two volumes of her middle-grade Buffy the Vampire Slayer series and ventured into erotic comics with the release of No Better Words, which also scored an Eisner nomination for the cartoonist. Earlier this year, Nowak started a Patreon site, which allows fans to subscribe at various tiers to gain access to exclusive content from Nowak including works in progress and exclusive mini-comics like last month’s Duh! Ha-Ha! 

Nowak was kind enough to answer a few emailed questions for Pulp. 

A Place to Resist Apathy: “Whose Streets? Our Streets! New York City 1980-2000” at Lane Hall Gallery

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Sylvia Plachy, Graffiti Under the Williamsburg Bridge, black and white photograph]

Sylvia Plachy, Graffiti Under the Williamsburg Bridge, black and white photograph.

Big town civil disobedience meets big-time photojournalism in Whose Streets? Our Streets! New York City 1980-2000 at the University of Michigan Women’s Studies Lane Hall Gallery.

The exhibit features 40 artworks by renowned national and international photographers Nina Berman, Donna Binder, Donna Decesare, Ricky Flores, Frank Fournier, Lori Grinker, Meg Handler, Lisa Kahane, Gabe Kircheimer, Carolina Kroon, Meryl Levin, TL Litt, Dona Ann McAdams, Thomas McGovern, Thomas Muscionico, Brian Palmer, Clayton Patterson, Sandra-Lee Phipps, Sylvia Plachy, Alon Reininger, Richard Renaldi, Joseph Rodriguez, Linda Rosier, Q. Sakamaki, Catherine Smith, and Les Stone.

Lending a timely coherence to this sprawling history are curators Tamar W. Carroll of the Department of History at the Rochester Institute of Technology; Meg Handler, photographer and former photo editor of The Village Voice; Michael Kamber, New York Times photographer, adjunct faculty of the Columbia Journalism School and founder of the Bronx Documentary Center; and Joshua P. Meltzer, assistant professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

As the Women’s Studies exhibit gallery statement tells us, “New York’s streets were turbulent and often violent in the 1980s and 1990s, as residents responded to social changes in their city as well as national and international developments. These photographs highlight both the key roles of activists and journalists in enacting democratic social changes, and invite viewers to reflect on how theses social issues, as well as social movements and the practice of journalism, have evolved in recent decades.”

From the Ancient to the Future: Meleko Mokgosi's "Pan-African Pulp" at UMMA

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Meleko Mokgosi's works at UMMA

Left: Acts of Resistance, 2018, oil on canvas. Courtesy the artist. © Meleko Mokgosi.
Right: Pan-African Pulp I (detail), 2019, digital print. Courtesy the artist. © Meleko Mokgosi.

University of Michigan’s Museum of Art has launched a new program of site-specific, commissioned installations as part of a new biennial program, with the monumental work of Meleko Mokgosi. He debuted a solo commission to inaugurate the program, with a show titled Pan-African Pulp.

Mokgosi’s four works boldly fill the Vertical Gallery space at UMMA, with a larger-than-life wall vinyl that extends from the first floor to the ceiling of the third level, a series of enlarged and annotated pages from a Pan-African manifesto, which are displayed below a variety of posters from Pan-African movements, vinyl text that wraps around the second and third level bannisters, and a large painted mural.

A Botswana-born artist living and working in New York City, Mokgosi's works explore the history and meaning of Pan-Africanism, which UMMA guest curator Ali Subotnick defines as “the global movement to unite ethnic groups of sub-Saharan African descent.” Mokgosi takes this movement, which began around the start of the 20th century, and uses it as a starting point to explore themes of “power, national identification, colonialism, globalization, whiteness, transnationality, xenophobia, democracy, art history, gender, labor, and the authoritarian or institutional voice.” Each component of the exhibition engages with one or more of these themes.

Fright of the Honeybee: "Hive/Mind ii" at 22 North Gallery

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Honeybee by Jesi Evans Murphy

Golden Bee by Jesi Evans Murphy, mixed media embroidery.

The artists in the juried exhibition Hive/Mind ii at 22 North Gallery in Ypsilanti until September 28 have been thinking about honeybees -- a lot. The subject comes up once a year in September. This is the seventh iteration of the citywide Festival of the Honeybee, which includes honey tastings, musical performances, children's activities -- and this exhibition.  

The years since the inauguration of the festival have been eventful -- and not in a good way -- for this most useful and industrious of insects. As colony collapse disorder forces a public discussion of the damage humans can and do inflict on the environment, the artists of Hive/Mind ii creatively contemplate the relationship between human and honeybee as a metaphor for our relationship with the environment. Jurors Jessica Tenbusch, Elize Jekabson, Nan Plummer, and Maggie Spencer have selected artworks that reflect a range of media and conceptual approaches to the subject. 

Upon entering the gallery, visitors will see a richly colored painting by Kentucky-based artist Michele Newby Armstrong that incorporates the hexagonal cells of bees with what appears to be collaged advertising for the suspected culprit of colony collapse disorder, neonicotinoid pesticides. The artist makes extensive use of stencils that repeat the motif of cell and honeybee, resulting in a pleasing artwork that belies the underlying somber theme. Nearby, ceramic artist Jon Van Eck’s honey bee jug is a black-and-yellow presence. His usually comic tone is subdued here, but still cheerful and technically impressive.

"Textures of Detroit" at Concordia University’s Kreft Gallery feels like two exhibitions at once

VISUAL ART REVIEW

An installation at Textures of Detroit exhibit

An installation at Textures of Detroit at Kreft Gallery, Concordia University. Photo by K.A. Letts.

Textures of Detroit, now on exhibit in Concordia University’s Kreft Gallery through October 23, presents the work of six Detroit artists as they respond to their urban environment through the prism of personal experience. It’s an odd, conjoined-twin sort of exhibit. 

There are really two exhibits on view here. In Exhibit A, with Matt Corbin, Ann Smith and Carole Harris, who take their inspiration from the materiality of the city, a time-honored Detroit method recently highlighted in Landlord Colors at Cranbrook Museum of Art. And then there’s Exhibit B: in which Roy Feldman, Carl Wilson, and Peter Bernal observe and report on the human dimensions of Detroit.

Mind-Body Connection: Nora Venturelli's "Body of Work" at WSG Gallery

VISUAL ART PREVIEW

Nora Venturelli, two paintings from Body of Work

Nora Venturelli's Vice Versa No.51 (left), 34″h x x 46″w, and Reaching for the Stars, 36″h x 46″w; both acrylic on canvas.

In Elizabeth Smith's Pulp review of Nora Venturelli's Vice Versa exhibition at WSG Gallery in 2017, she noted that it consisted of "large-scale mixed-media paintings of the human figure in motion, with gestural lines and overlapping forms suggesting the trajectory of the body through space."

That description is true for Venturelli's new WSG exhibition, Body of Work -- except for the "large-scale" part. In an interview published on wsg-art.com, Venturelli says she hasn't "had the time to work on bigger pieces these past two years. Therefore, I decided to show what I had been doing since my last solo at the gallery. Most of the work in this show is the result of short poses during weekly 3-hour sessions."

Ruth Leonela Buentello's "Yo Tengo Nombre" evokes the horrors immigrants face at the U.S.-Mexico border

VISUAL ART PREVIEW

Ruth Leonela Buentello, Desaparecidos

Desaparecidos by Ruth Leonela Buentello, acrylic on canvas.

Ruth Leonela Buentello's Zero Tolerance series was inspired by the Trump administration's inhumane immigration policy at the U.S.-Mexico border and the subsequent mistreatment of migrant individuals as revealed by media investigations. Six paintings from the series will be displayed at the University of Michigan's Institute for the Humanities under the title Yo Tengo Nombre [I Have a Name] from September 19 to October 31.

While the San Antonio, Texas-based Buentello is an interdisciplinary artist, the works in Yo Tengo Nombre are all acrylic-on-canvas paintings. She asked members of her family to pose for the paintings, telling them to imagine what it would be like if they were in the position of these migrants. "Family and immigration enforcement are personal to many of us with migrant roots," Buentello said in a press release and she tried to capture the terror in her relatives' faces as they acted out moments that immigrants deal with every day.

Buentello, the 2019 Efroymson Emerging Artist in Residence, will talk with curator Amanda Krugliak during the opening reception on September 19, 5:30-7 pm.

Below is a sneak peek at the paintings.

Four emotionally charged works by Egon Schiele come to UMMA

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Egon Schiele, Reclining Black-haired Female Nude, Right Arm Covering Face, 1908, watercolor on brown paper. University of Michigan Museum of Art, Gift of the Ernst Pulgram and Frances McSparran Collection, 2018/2.3

Egon Schiele, Reclining Black-haired Female Nude, Right Arm Covering Face, 1908, watercolor on brown paper. University of Michigan Museum of Art, Gift of the Ernst Pulgram and Frances McSparran Collection, 2018/2.3

University of Michigan Museum of Art’s Connector Gallery frequently displays new acquisitions to the public. Recently, UMMA received four works by early 20th-century Austrian artist Egon Schiele. These four works include pencil drawings and paintings that convey the unconventional figural style for which Schiele is well-known.

Schiele’s figural works make up the majority of his oeuvre, and these gifted artworks represent his investigations into the human figure, each featuring a nude female, sometimes posed with accessories such as jewelry, stockings, or shoes.

The four pieces were donated to UMMA's permanent collection by retired University of Michigan professors Frances McSparron and the late Ernst Pulgram. These four works by Schiele represent a small portion of UMMA's collection of Austrian and German Expressionist works, many of which the professors later donated to the museum.

Tagging the Spirit World: The Kelsey Museum explores "Graffiti As Devotion Along the Nile"

VISUAL ART

Graffiti at the Kelsey

Top: Graffito of two horses and a bird. Bottom: Two bull heads with hooves. Images courtesy the International Kurru Archaeological Project.

The best-known graffiti in Ann Arbor is in an alley off East Liberty.

But through March 29, 2020, the most important graffiti will be at the University of Michigan Kelsey Museum of Archaeology.

Graffiti As Devotion Along the Nile: El-Kurru, Sudan explores the practice of carving a picture into the walls of pyramids and temples as an act of religious ritual during the ancient Kush period, which was ruled from the capital of Meroe (300 BCE to 300 CE), a city along the Nile that's around 100 miles north of modern-day Khartoum. The exhibition displays a series of graffiti discovered during a Kelsey Museum archaeological field project on a pyramid and in an underground temple at the site of El-Kurru.

Co-curator Geoff Emberling -- an associate research scientist at the Kelsey Museum and co-director of the International Kurru Archaeological Project -- says the graffiti includes Kush symbols such as the ram, which represents the local form of the god Amun, and a long-legged bowman who symbolized Kushite prowess in archery. There are also intricate textile designs, as well as animals: horses, birds, camels, and giraffes. A press release states: "The most common marks are small round holes gouged in the stone -- by analogy with modern practices, these are likely the areas where temple visitors scraped the wall of the holy place in order to collect powdered stone that they would ingest to promote fertility and healing."

Ann Arbor Art Center's "The Instructor Show" showcases the talents who nurture future talents

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Beth Billups, A La Mode, oil and cold wax, 2018

Beth Billups, A La Mode, oil and cold wax, 2018.

Befitting an exhibition made up of works from 18 of its teachers, The Instructor Show at the Ann Arbor Art Center offers a diverse range of media, including painting, sculpture, jewelry, printmaking, drawing, fiber arts, and encaustic. The exhibit is a fine display of the talent behind the multitude of programs, events, and classes the Art Center offers.

Jennifer Belair-Sakarian is an artist who was raised and educated in the Midwest. Her works often center on stream of consciousness, featuring imagery related to natural environments, relationships, and human emotions. Belair-Sakarian employs collage, printmaking, painting, and drawing in her practice. Two works in the gallery represent the range of media in her repertoire, including a mixed-media monoprint and a watercolor with gloss gel medium. Belair-Sakarian is inspired by moments from everyday life, where she later synthesizes real and imagined spaces into her visual work.