The Sound of Abstract Expressionism: “Ted Ramsay: Visual Symphony Series” at WSG Gallery

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Ted Ramsey, three paintings from his Visual Symphony Series

Three acrylic paintings from Ted Ramsay's Visual Symphony Series (left to right): Johann Strauss II - "Thunder and Lightning," Mozart - "Sinfonia Concertante" K349 and "Symphony 40 in G minor" K 550, and Tchaikovsky - "Festival Overture 1812" op. 49. Images courtesy of WSG Gallery.

Ted Ramsay, a professor emeritus at the University of Michigan’s School of Art and Design, has long made expressionism in its many guises the focus of his painting. His last WSG exhibit, March 2013’s Spatial Narratives in Paint, was marked by expressive figuration, which Ramsay explained as, "In my figure paintings I strive for an aura of magic and mystery tempered with a subjective, but believable dose of reality." I wrote at that time that Ramsay’s “whose homage to silence is so complete, you can almost hear a pin drop.”

The paintings in Ted Ramsay: Visual Symphony Series, on display at WSG through March 14, are more boisterous than those in Spatial Narratives as Ramsay loosens his representational moorings by melodically flinging himself into his working surfaces. His Visual Symphony Series bears the conventions of abstract expressionism, but how they came into being are particular to Ramsay's working environment. As he tells us in his gallery statement: 

Inspiration, Aspiration, Expertise: “Gerome Kamrowski: Ann Arbor’s Own Surrealist” at The Michigan Art Gallery

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Gerome Kamrowski in his backyard with his sculptures

Gerome Kamrowski in his backyard with his sculptures; first published in black and white in The Ann Arbor News, September 4, 1993. Photo by Photographer: D. A. Biermann.

I only met Gerome Kamrowski once. He granted The Ann Arbor News a 1993 interview for the paper’s annual old school “M-Edition,” a special start-of-the-school-year section.

We met at Kamrowski's tree-lined Waterhill residence where he had a detached studio. The place looked like a well-organized bead foundry -- only in this instance, the place had also been overrun by a menagerie of fantastic creatures.

Even at the age of 79, Kamrowski had the muscular heft of a lumberjack -- a handshake that griped like an iron vice -- and the soft-spoken grace of an artiste as he played with the rows of colorful beads he used to craft his late series of eccentric, surreal sculpture.

But Kamrowski's hypnagogic style wasn't a recent turn; he started to develop it 50 years prior when he lived in New York City.  

During the winter of 1939/40, artful youths Kamrowski, William Baziotes (known to art historians), and Jackson Polack (known to the rest of us) were, in Kamrowski’s words, “fooling around” with lacquer paint in studio when they began throwing paint on canvases using a palette knife and a slashing gesture; ultimately overlaying paint upon layer of hard drying and smooth surface paint to create a muscular variation of French surrealist André Masson’s automatic drawing.

Borrowing a cliché that has stood the test of time: The rest was history.

Well, sort of …

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.”

The Vietnam War and Modern Memory: Matthew Provoast’s “Dear Grandpaw” at the Argus Museum

VISUAL ART REVIEW INTERVIEW

Matthew Provoast's Right in the Middle of All the Smoke

Matthew Provoast, Right in the Middle of All the Smoke, encaustic photo collage.

Matthew Provoast’s Dear Grandpaw at the Argus Museum is part family history, part archival photojournalism -- and all viscerally imaginative ground-level art about of one of the most traumatic events in America’s 20th century.

The Grand Rapids photographer's exhibit, wrapped around the Argus Museum, consists of three groups of differing sized encaustic photo collage set in a salon style. These works’ colorful articulation lend themselves to a near-phantasmagoric re-creation of the war-era photographs taken by his maternal grandfather, Thomas Zimmer of Mount Clemens, during the mid-1960s in Southeast Asia.

As Argus curator Cheryl Chidester’s exhibit statement tells us, “Provoast explores his grandfather’s rites of passage and first-hand experience of the Vietnam War … telling the story of war on a personal level. Through his work, Provoast began to know and understand his grandfather in a different light -- as a young man thrown into traumatic situations -- and how those experiences changed his life.” 

The Music of Life: “Fractured History: A Solo Exhibit by Aaron Dworkin” at Ann Arbor Art Center

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Aaron Dworkin's Train Station

Train Station by Aaron Dworkin

Aaron Dworkin's Fractured History exhibition is art in the key of life. His 11 artworks in the Ann Arbor Art Center’s entry-level gallery gives us a revealing glimpse of this authentic Michigan institution as well as his view of the world around us.

It would be a step too far to say the display is autobiographical. Dworkin is a bit too cagey to be revealed in his art, but his choice of themes and topics in Fractured History compensate for the otherwise lack of biographical detail.

After all, this a man who has already had enough rarefied experiences to fill a handful of lifetimes.

Arrested Motion: “Helen Gotlib: Secret Beaches” at WSG Gallery

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Helen Gotlib, Sea Ranch Flower IV painting detail

Helen Gotlib, Sea Ranch Flower IV (detail), woodblock print, intaglio print, acrylic paint, palladium leaf.

Ann Arbor printmaker Helen Gotlib is a master of the art of slow motion. It’s there in plain sight in her Secret Beaches exhibit at the WSG Gallery.

Gotlib’s vision of such arrested motion is an integral aspect of her mixed-media printmaking. It’s an intricate element of her work that follows apace in her handful of prints from composition to completion.

In large part, this suspended movement is due to the sheer complexity of Gotlib’s art. In any single artwork, there are combinations of woodblock printing, intaglio printing, acrylic paint, India ink and gold or palladium leaf on her carved birch panels.

As Gotlib says in her artist’s statement:

Everything flows at Argus Museum's photography exhibit “Water Is Life”

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Beutler's photo Fogged In

Frederick J. Beutler's Fogged In

Leave it to a museum in a city nestled in a state surrounded in three directions by water to appreciate that Water Is Life. For water is most definitely the topic in display in this expansive photographic exhibit winding its way through the Washtenaw County Historical Society's Argus Museum gallery space.

As curator Cheryl Chidester’s exhibit statement pithily tells us, “Five artists from the Ann Arbor Women Artists used their cameras to capture images that show the diversity, beauty and wonder of water” -- and do they ever.

Local photographers Frederick J. Beutler, Travis Erby, Daniela Gobetti, Sophie Grillet, and Sally Silvennoinen bring a special proficiency to their work at the Argus Museum. By way of professional expression and expertise, each of these talented photographers crafts artistry that’s as unique as a visual fingerprint marking their work as uniquely his or hers.

Representation, Now: “Art Now 2019: Painting” at Ann Arbor Art Center

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Judith Bemis' painting Waiting for His Grace

Judith Bemis, Waiting for His Grace, oil on canvas, 60" x 48". Roula David and Judith Bemis at the opening night for Ann Arbor Art Center's “Art Now 2019: Painting” exhibit. Images courtesy Ann Arbor Art Center.

Continuing with the fifth installation of its semi-annual exhibition themes, the Ann Arbor Art Center’s Art Now 2019: Painting illustrates the vitality of this perennial art form in our contemporary arts.

Given the dramatic permutations that some art mediums have experienced in the last century -- fabrics and ceramics come readily to mind -- the transitions that painting underwent are seemingly under the radar. But this statement, of course, is not the case.

After all, it was only a little more than one brief century ago that the fury of expressionism was beginning to be felt in European art. Ultimately, various abstractions were going to rule the cutting-edge roost for all intent and purposes through mid-century to be supplanted by the playful shock of Neo-Dada in the 1950s and then branch into the various -isms that would amaze audiences through the balance of the 20th century.

Representation -- expressive or otherwise -- was always a predominant force in painting that worked itself around these flashier kinds of headliner aesthetics. And as the Art Center’s Art Now 2019: Painting heartily shows us, representations -- expressive or otherwise; particularly portraiture -- are still front and center in the visual arts same as it ever was. 

Recombinant Tales: Ruth Crowe’s “Storytelling with Photo Infusion and Encaustic” at Gifts of Art

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Ruth Crowe, Storytelling images

Ruth Crowe, clockwise from upper left: Notorious RBG, photo encaustic/image fusion; A Different Kind of Cowboy, encaustic/image fusion; Let's Ride Sister - Put the Fun Between Your Legs, encaustic/image transfer/plaster.

Taken separately, photo fusion and encaustic are interestingly differing forms of art. Taken together, they reflect local artist Ruth Crowe’s wry multimedia Storytelling with Photo Fusion and Encaustic exhibit at the Gifts of Art Gallery in the University of Michigan Hospital main corridor.

Crowe definitely has views she wants to communicate in her art, yet she’s not a polemicist. Rather, she allows for her work to speak for itself. It’s a brave strategy -- and it’s this subliminal perspective that speaks volumes of her views.

Kerrytown Concert House’s “Winter Meditation” offers austere ambiance from Kirsten Lund, Ann and Fred Ringia

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Kirsten Lund's Untitled Silver Sequins

Kirsten Lund, Untitled (Silver Sequins)

It may initially seem surprising that winter can inspire artists. One would think the nippy climate would discourage creativity.

Yet it’s also fair to say that an austere contemplation can foster art during this most challenging time of the year. Given the ambiance, temperature, and the chilly weather conditions, it’s little wonder that mediation would be a key factor for many artists so inclined.

As the Kerrytown Concert House’s Winter Meditation exhibition shows us, three local artists -- textile artist Kirsten Lund and husband-wife photographers Ann and Fred Ringia -- have in particular found inspiration in this most meditative of seasons.