Why is it that sad songs make us feel better?
Esther Rose, opening act at Thursday night’s show headlined by The Cactus Blossoms at the Ark, asked that question partway through her set as she realized that all of her songs to that point had been a bit melancholy.
A Michigan native, but a New Orleans resident for the past decade, Rose sang songs of loves lost and found. Not just people, but places too -- from her family’s farm near Flint, Michigan, to the love of the Lower Ninth Ward in her adopted hometown. Her earnest songwriting and clear vocals were paired with sparse instrumentation. She was joined on stage by Jordan Hyde, who provided backup vocals and lead guitar. Her debut album, You Made It This Far, was released in 2019 on Father/Daughter records.
The Cactus Blossoms are brothers Page Burkum and Jack Torrey on main vocals and guitar, now joined eldest brother Tyler Burkum on guitar, cousin Phillip Hicks on bass, and Jeremy Hanson on drums. Formed in Minneapolis, The Cactus Blossoms have a sound influenced by classic country, folk-inspired storytelling, and the harmonies of famous sibling duos, with some good old-fashioned rock and roll reverb from the ‘60s. The band members started exploring this style of music around 2006 while investigating their local library’s music collection and through a friend whose collection of obscure folk music and “high lonesome” sounds was particularly intriguing.
With the coldest temperatures of the year forecast for this week, you’ve surely noticed that winter has finally arrived in Ann Arbor.
If you’re not quite ready to accept the frigid temps or crunchy snow underfoot and are still in the denial about the transition to winter (which, by the way, officially arrives on Wednesday at 5:44 am EST), treat yourself to a visit to Matthaei Botanical Gardens for a respite in the lovely Conservatory, which is currently hosting the Avant Garden: Weaving Fashion and Nature Together exhibition. (Fun fact! Alden Dow designed the Conservatory in 1964, and he also designed the original part of the Downtown Library building at 343 S. Fifth Avenue.)
Avant Garden is a whimsical convergence of planting design and fashion design in the form of seven “fantasy outfits.” I asked Bob Grese, Professor of Landscape Architecture and Director of the Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum, about the exhibit and the use of plants in unexpected ways. He said, “The exhibit is a playful look at plants as a direct material for the fashion industry, with fantasy use of plants for dresses, vests, and suitcoats. Beyond the artistic use of plants in the exhibit, the real message is that we rely on plants for a variety of things in clothing—fibers, dyes, and representation on fabric patterns.” (Full disclosure: Grese was one of my professors in the Landscape Architecture program at U-M’s School of Natural Resources and Environment)
Part of the joy in this exhibit is wandering through the Conservatory to find each of the creations. The Conservatory is separated into three “Houses,” each replicating a different climate: Tropical, Temperate, and Desert. The dresses are thoughtfully placed within each of their respective garden spaces and the feeling of discovery and exploration is part of the exhibit experience. The shades of green and variety of textures in each of the plant selections bring richness to each design. Each dress has a different style, and all are charming and elegant. I particularly enjoyed the bromeliad dress, which comes complete with a fascinator hat.
Fresh off his appearance at this year’s TEDxDetroit conference, prolific graphic designer (and Michigan native!) Aaron James Draplin will be bringing his powerhouse personality to the downtown Ann Arbor District Library on Friday, October 7, for a special mid-day talk that will start at 12:30pm.
Draplin’s passion for creating “good work for good people” combined with his bold independence is infectious and inspiring. You may have seen his work in any variety of short videos posted in recent years, like this logo design challenge (Vectors are free!), or his Skillshare classes, or his fantastic critiques of signage and design.
Based in Portland, Oregon, Aaron has been the sole proprietor of the Draplin Design Company since 2004. His clients range the full gamut from friends selling hot dogs (Cobra Dogs), Nike, Burton Snowboards, Esquire, Red Wing, Ford Motor Company, and the U.S. Government / Obama administration’s 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the USDOT TIGER program.
In addition to his client work, he has generated a massive amount of “merch” in his personal projects including retro-inspired Space Shuttle posters, “thick lines” posters, and “Things We Love” State posters. His collaboration with Jim Coudal produced the well-known Field Notes brand, inspired by the kinds of memo books used by farmers (and a product of his passion for “goin’ junkin’” and “rescuing stuff”).
Expect some robust storytelling about his career and the creation of his first book, Draplin Design Co.: Pretty Much Everything. From the contracts to the scheming, from the pagination to the design, from the tears to the nightmares, he’ll tell you what it’s like to cram your whole half-wit design career into 256 pages and live to tell the tale. He'll pack in stories from the run-up, release, and surreal fallout, as well as updates to other tricky ventures the DDC has been up to.
After Aaron’s whirlwind mini-tour of Southeast Michigan, he will be embarking on a national book tour in support of the book. Pretty Much Everything is a jam-packed, in-your-face retrospective of his work so far, including drawings that give insight into his inspiration and process. In addition to the work itself, you get stories, commentary, and priceless advice in Aaron’s distinctive voice about what drives him and his work. It’s a must-have book for any designer.
Draplin’s relentless pursuit of creativity is sure to give you a swift kick in the pants to get out there and do great work. Leave work for an early lunch and then head over to AADL to jumpstart your weekend at an event that is not to be missed.
And if that’s not enough, his entire presentation is dipped in his signature color—Pantone Orange 021.
Amanda Szot is a graphic designer at AADL, and will likely have to breathe into a paper bag when introducing Aaron at his talk on Friday. She’s that excited.
Aaron Draplin will be at the AADL Downtown Library, 343 S Fifth Ave, on Friday, October 7 at 12:30 pm. This event (like all library events) is free of charge.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, I had Ann Arbor Art Center’s 117 Gallery to myself. Between the FestiFools events and the arrival of the first real spring-like weather of the season, it was a perfect quiet time to take in some new art. I was at the gallery to see ART NOW: New Directions in Contemporary Photography—and I could view it at my own pace and in a space that allowed me freedom to see the work up close and from far away.
In hindsight, it was serendipitous that I was there on Eadward Muybridge’s birthday. Born almost 200 years ago, he was a pioneer in photography and used technology in new and exciting ways— perhaps most famously for using still photography to capture and convey motion and to reveal hidden realities.
Photography is the focus of this exhibit, juried by Wayne State University photography instructor Millie Tibbs, but many of the artists featured have combined traditional photography with other techniques, creating abstractions that conceal the methods with which they were made. These artists explore and overlay techniques, experiment with texture and color, and use visual elements that shift the scale in the mind of the viewer.
Maybe it’s my background in landscape architecture, but I was particularly intrigued by two pieces by photographer and U-M professor Seder Burns. Both "Suburban Camouflage Detection" #5 and #7 convey a sense of artificiality. The tree canopy shifted to an otherworldly red—conveying a sense that there is something inherently wrong. In "Suburban Camouflage Detection #7" (which was awarded second place in this exhibit), cookie-cutter beige architecture is organized in a relentless pattern in a space between water towers and a playground. Though this is entirely a man-made landscape, there are no humans to be seen, leaving the viewer with an uneasy feeling.
"DreamStart", a photograph by Horace Kerr II, appears from a distance as an alien industrial landscape or an experiment in postmodern architecture. The color palette of sickening orange and fluorescent green jumps off the wall and recalls imagery from a 1960s science fiction film. These colors draw the viewer closer to investigate. Only when seen at close range do the assembled objects in the photograph become clear in an unusual still life of a fluffy pillow and an upright egg.
John Sanderson’s "Perspectives (Interior and Exterior)" was named Best in Show for this photograph of a country road framed by an opening of trees and overlain with a smaller instant photograph of the interior of a bowling alley. The two images together in one composition contrast one another in a way that is at once jarring and harmonious. Though the perspective is the same, the photograph of the road reaches from darkness into light and the bowling alley transitions from light into darkness.
Brittany Denham’s "Western Vestige" is a striking composition that at first appears as though it is a piece of glitch art. Upon closer inspection, it is actually composed through the careful selection and placement of fragments from other landscape photographs. Using just the right colors and textures, Denham has invented a wholly new landscape that evokes the long views and big sky of the Great Plains.
Dean Kessmann’s "Details #1-6 (Nature’s Promise Organic Vegetable Broth)" is a series of inkjet prints, created in the spirit of his works of “Utilitarian Abstraction.” The viewer is confronted with six identical bold shapes of overlapping rough circles of primary colors with a large black organic shape at the center. When viewed closely, the edges are blurred and undefined. This work recalls aspects of the Color Field Movement in the work of Louis Morris or Helen Frankenthaler. Yet the use of primary colors also feels very much like Pop Art—especially when the viewer realizes that this particular pattern of colors has been dramatically enlarged from the printer’s marks on a label from Nature’s Promise Organic Vegetable Broth, made clear by the name of the work.
The bold simplicity of Steven Edson’s "Road Paint" is striking. The highly-textured black and white shapes are well balanced in their imperfection. The photograph recalls the work of abstract expressionist Robert Motherwell and his use of oversize black and white strokes. Again, closer investigation is required to fully grasp that this not a painting, but an image that captures roads and their markings as infrastructure.
The variety of scale, subject, and point of view in this exhibit and the ways in which the artists push the boundaries of a traditional medium, made the viewing this show an experience beyond what might be expected in a photography exhibit. This exhibition runs through May 14, so there’s still time to get over to the Ann Arbor Art Center to check it out.
Amanda Szot is a graphic designer in AADL's Community Relations & Marketing department.
"ART NOW: New Directions in Contemporary Photography" runs through May 14, 2016 at the Ann Arbor Art Center's 117 Gallery (117 W. Washington in downtown Ann Arbor). The gallery is open Monday–Friday from 10 am until 7 pm, Saturdays 10 am–6 pm, and Sundays noon–6 pm. Note: the 117 Gallery will be closed for private events on Tuesday, May 3 (closing at 4:30 pm); Saturday, May 7 (closing at 2 pm); and Saturday, May 14 (closing at 5 pm).