Painting the Everyday: Sarah Innes' "Around the Table" at Ann Arbor Art Center focuses on the small moments in life

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Sarah Innes' painting Duncan and Arlo

Duncan and Arlo by Sarah Innes, watercolor on paper.

Ann Arbor artist Sarah Innes is a radical.

The fashion of the day in contemporary art is that we concern ourselves with the Big Issues: gender equality, climate change, gun violence, and the like.

Instead, Innes commits to painting only what she knows, deep in her bones.

She knows that life is precious and brief and consists of moments strung together like pearls on a necklace.  She knows that children are born, make fun and mischief, move away. Parents, friends, colleagues, and significant others visit and dine, celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. Pets appear under the table and nestled in arms. Sometimes there is a death.

Around the Table, a small selection of her intimate paintings, is on view now at the Ann Arbor Art Center through July 23. Innes employs the image of the dining table, both as an organizing compositional device and as a metaphor for her life. Minute changes in the menu, changing seasons and an ever-mutating cast of characters provide a travelogue of her journey through time. 

Chloe Gray’s Fun Girl dance company blends quirky movement with thoughtful activism in “Girlfriend”

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW INTERVIEW

Chloe Gray

Chloe Gray photo by Erika Ruch.

On June 22 at Riverside Arts Center, I had the pleasure of attending the first show presented by Fun Girl, a new Ypsilanti-based contemporary dance company created and run by Artistic Director Chloe Gray.  The company offers paid rehearsals and performances to their dancers, as well as apprenticeships, and acts as a platform for technically based dancers to explore quirky movement while applying thoughtful activism.  

Artistic Director Chloe Gray’s credentials are extensive, with her training beginning at the age of 6 with the Toledo Ballet and continuing at the Toledo School for the Arts throughout her high school years.  She graduated from Eastern Michigan University where she double majored in Dance Performance and Women’s and Gender Studies, and her choreography and dancing have been featured in performance opportunities through Kristi Faulkner Dance (Detroit), ARTLAB J Dance (Detroit), Koresh Dance Company (Philadelphia), and Side Street Art Studio (Chicago).

“I always thought that I was going to wait until I was older to start my own company,” says Gray.  “My plan was to graduate from college, move to a big city to dance, and then eventually come back to Ypsi to plant some roots. Through careful consideration and after falling in love with a Michigander, I decided to stay in Ypsi and go for it. We have to create in places and spaces where the art we want to see does not exist. If we all take off to big cities, how will art exist in our community?”

The show, entitled Girlfriend, featured four original pieces choreographed by Gray and performed by Fun Girl, as well as four pieces that were chosen through the Ypsi Dance Swap organized by Gray in January, in which choreographers from across the state could submit their work to be performed in a show at Riverside Arts Center.  Several of the choreographer’s pieces would then be chosen by a jury to be presented at Fun Girl’s Girlfriend recital in June. 

What's Love Got to Do With It: The Purple Rose's comedy "Welcome to Paradise" offers a dreamlike romance -- or is it real at all?

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

The Purple Rose Theatre's Welcome to Paradise

Rory (Ryan Black) and Evelyn (Ruth Crawford) trip the light fandango in The Purple Rose Theatre's production of Julie Marino’s Welcome to Paradise. Photo by Sean Carter Photography.

In Julie Marino’s play Welcome to Paradise, a young man who has been backpacking through Europe helps an elderly woman who is having difficulty at the airport. Rory doesn’t just help Evelyn to her cab. He accompanies her to her beach house on the fictional Caribbean island of St. Sebastian, a beautiful spot in the middle of nowhere. Exhausted, he tries to find an inexpensive place to spend the night, but accommodations are costly in paradise. She invites him for the night.

He stays a good deal longer. He rearranges her flowers. He rearranges her furniture to better see the sunset from the couch.  And just by being there, he rearranges her life. 

In a detailed and nuanced performance, Ruth Crawford embodies Evelyn, at turns feisty and flirtatious, basking in the attention of an attractive fellow as young as her grandson who caters to her needs before she knows she has them. Ryan Black is a fine Rory, thoroughly at home in Evelyn’s home and life.

Minimalism & Maximalism: The National and Courtney Barnett at Hill Auditorium

MUSIC REVIEW

The National at Hill Auditorium

The National at Hill Auditorium. Photo by Christopher Porter.

"How does it feel to be the king of sad-dad rock?" shouted a fan last night at The National's lead singer, Matt Berninger, as he entered the Bell Tower Hotel in Ann Arbor.

The band had just finished a 25-song, two-hour set at the venue across the street, Hill Auditorium, which was filled to its 3,538 person capacity with sad dads (and moms) -- heretofore collectively known as SAD-D.A.M.

Berninger was joined by an augmented version of The National that added four additional musicians to the core quintet and they filled Hill with a massive wall of sound.

But the opening act, Courtney Barnett, achieved a similar feat with just herself on guitar plus a bassist and drummer -- and it was her second performance in Ann Arbor that day: at 12 noon, Barnett recorded an episode of the syndicated radio show Acoustic Cafe at The Leon Loft. (Check out a clip here.)

The abstract paintings of late Detroit artist Gilda Snowden are "Bold & Beautiful" at U-M's Connections Gallery

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Gilda Snowden's Chair 6 painting

Gilda Snowden's Chair 6

I will never meet Gilda Snowden.

I missed my chance when she died suddenly of heart failure on September 9, 2014, just as I was beginning to be dimly aware of her importance as an artist, an archivist of Detroit’s art scene, and a mentor to many of its young creatives. She left a large body of work behind, thousands of paintings and drawings, a few of which are currently on view at Bold & Beautiful at the University of Michigan’s Connections Gallery.

Snowden’s early work features bits and pieces from her collecting activities, collaged onto the surfaces of her paintings as opening gambits for her painting practice.  She credited the influence of her Cass corridor mentors, who also worked in unconventional materials:  leather, chainsaws, shotguns, barbed wire, and the like.  By the time she produced the artworks represented in this exhibit, however, she had left those strategies behind for the more esoteric and protean qualities of pure paint.

Encore goes "Crazy" for the Gershwins

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Encore Theatre's Crazy for You

Matthew Brennan as Bobby Child and Megan Grosso as Zangler Follies Girl in Encore Musical Theatre's production of Crazy for You. Photo by Michelle Anliker Photography.

“I like a Gershwin tune, how about you?”

If you do, put on your dancing shoes and head to the Encore Musical Theatre in Dexter for a feast of George Gershwin tunes and Ira Gershwin lyrics.

Crazy for You is a post-Gershwin, Gershwin musical. The 1992 Tony Award-winning best “new musical” brought light singing, dancing, and frivolity back to Broadway. Conceived by and with a book by Ken Ludwig, the play uses the Gershwins’ 1931 Broadway hit Girl Crazy as the framework and then adds numerous songs from other Gershwin stage and film musicals, a few tweaks to the story, and ample room for dance routines. The result is an appropriately bubbly, silly, charming tribute to a style of musical that lit the lights of Broadway in the 1920s and early '30s with great music that lingers on.

Jason DeMarte's "Garden of Artificial Delights" examines modern excess via fake still-lifes

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Jason DeMarte, Placid Propagation, 2018, pigment print. Courtesy the artist

Jason DeMarte, Placid Propagation, 2018, pigment print. Courtesy the artist.

Jason DeMarte's intimate solo show Garden of Artificial Delights mixes the domestic, the “natural,” and the artificial to create a room-sized simulacrum of a still-life at the University of Michigan Museum of Art.

DeMarte takes over the space with his take on classic floral wallpaper, a foreboding gray background with a warm foreground containing peonies, poppies, and female cardinals. The stage of the exhibition is the entire ArtGym, a relatively cozy gallery space that houses DeMarte’s room-sized adhesive wallpaper, and six framed photographs. Each photograph is digitally manipulated and portrays what appears to be at first glance a traditional still life. The color palette and inclusion of floral elements in each photograph echo the wallpaper, with a gray, dreary fog contrasting against vibrant flora and fauna.

Except, it isn’t always flora and fauna featured in the frames of these photographs.

Instead, multi-colored candy floats through the dreary atmosphere, paint drips over a peony and covers a bird entirely, or perhaps canned whipped cream covers wilting flowers from which butterflies are attempting to feast. In the center of the gallery space, there is a square black bench that viewers may utilize in order to absorb the 360-degree immersive experience created by the wallpaper. 

Each photograph is a digital photomontage comprised of multiple images, edited to appear “hyperreal,” as UMMA’s Assistant Curator of Photography Jennifer M. Friess observes. The resulting works of art are seductive, pulling us into the dismal yet confusingly bright and vibrant world of the birds and their candy.

Susan Jane Gilman set "Donna Has Left the Building" partly in Michigan "as a valentine to being here"

WRITTEN WORD REVIEW INTERVIEW

Susan Jane Gilman and her book Donna Has Left the Building

Author photo by Guillaume Megevand

Being a culinary ambassador for cookware. Acting as a dominatrix. Facing search and seizure laws in Tennessee. Helping the refugee crisis in Greece.

These are all things that author Susan Jane Gilman had to have known or learned about to include in her new novel, Donna Has Left the Building, said fellow author Polly Rosenwaike in conversation with her at Literati Bookstore on Thursday, June 6. There, Gilman shared stories from her life and research that led to writing about these situations in her book. Within these experiences, Gilman’s characters may be flawed and behave badly, but they also display tenderness and sympathy, added Rosenwaike.

As a writer, “You want to have empathy for all characters,” Gilman said. “I’m all of them.”

This novel has strong ties to Michigan. Gilman wrote Donna Has Left the Building “as a valentine to being here” in southeastern Michigan at the University of Michigan for her MFA and then teaching at U-M and Eastern Michigan University. Gilman, who grew up in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, found the Midwest to be a big contrast to the way she observed that people seemed to be constantly performing in New York.

Ann Arbor Art Center's "Peripheral Technologies" juxtaposes modern techniques with classic craft

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Ryan Molloy's Extremity

Ann Arbor artist Ryan Molloy hand prints each color in his asynchronous idiom series of complex letterpress works.

With Peripheral Technologies, curated by Thea Augustina Eck, the Ann Arbor Art Center continues its trend of bringing together a diverse group of voices who ask us, through their works, to reconsider the limits of fine art in an era when we are constantly being asked to do so.

The types of technology employed by the 12 artists -- and how they can be adapted for the creation of art -- are numerous, among them CNC (computer numerical control) machining, image scanning, computer-generated algorithms, and drone photography. Many artists pair emergent technologies with traditional or natural materials such as wood. These pairings create intriguing juxtapositions that ask viewers to consider our current technological moment in relation to manufacturing methods of the recent past. The artists come up with a different conclusion through methods, materials, and their finished works.

Sock It to Me: Bob Seger’s most crucial forgotten songs

MUSIC REVIEW

Bob Seger by Tom Weschler

Photo by Tom Weschler

On June 6, Bob Seger plays the first of his six final local gigs at the DTE Energy Music Theatre part of an extensive farewell tour announcing the rock icon’s retirement and delivering a victory lap after nearly 60 years of service.

You might be a die-hard Seger fan yourself, one of the millions who bought his records, filled his stadiums, or slow-danced to “We’ve Got Tonight” at prom. Maybe you rank Seger among the great troubadours of American pop music, call him the Michigan Springsteen, our state’s very own rock royalty. 

Or maybe not … for other, often younger listeners, the ubiquity of Seger’s classic hits on radio, film soundtracks, and truck commercials renders them as toothless background Muzak at best, pre-fab corporate pablum at worst, his tunes all past their sell-date and worthy only of ironic comment. 

There are no right answers when it comes to taste, but Bob Seger’s musical history is deep and wide enough to shake any preconceived notions about the man’s legacy. 

Seger spent much of his youth living here in A2, forming his first band in 1963, The Decibels, with some friends from Ann Arbor High School (now Pioneer) and going on to local renown in groups like The Town Criers and Doug Brown and the Omens. By 1966 he hung out his own shingle, releasing regional radio hits like “Heavy Music” as a solo artist backed by the Last Heard, and even charting nationally with the Bob Seger System’s immortal “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man.” Both songs are staples of classic rock/oldies radio and retain a measure of respect within the man’s canon, but Seger’s formative era has been neglected officially, much of it out of print and actively suppressed by the artist for reasons both contractual and aesthetic.

For many years, Seger’s pre-Silver Bullet Band records were difficult to find outside of dodgy bootlegs or expensive original pressings, a sad state considering how vibrant, exciting and alive so much of his early material remains. The recent release of an officially authorized CD called Heavy Music: The Complete Cameo Recordings 1966-1967 filled in some of the biggest gaps, but there’s still a great deal of great music deserving of attention. The following are eight of Bob Seger’s most crucial forgotten sides: