3rd times (still) a charm
With a new class of fellows, Kresge Arts in Detroit has poured $1.3 million into the region's arts community
Published: June 29, 2011
Longtime Metro Times photographer Bruce Giffin has been shooting photos in the city of Detroit for almost 30 years. He's garnered attention in recent years for his Face of Detroit portrait project. The artist states one-third of the subjects are homeless, but that it's not important to know which are. "I got tired of shooting abandoned buildings when, after 25 years, Time magazine and every college student started having the same images. I had already started working on the 'Face' project, so I just went full-tilt in that direction." Giffin says lot of people can shoot abandoned buildings, but that it takes a special ability to instantly disarm a stranger to shoot their faces close up. "For some reason I have that!" Giffin says. He adds that the fellowship will perhaps give him the opportunity to make a book out of this project, but that there's more shooting to be done. This fellowship has humbled the artist. He says whenever he's heard rumors about nepotism, he's always maintained, "If I'm chosen, it's a guarantee that doesn't exist because I don't know anyone, or have any connections to any artistic group of people or intellectuals. Until now, my work has mostly been ignored by most of those types."
Theatre Bizarre was a living, breathing art piece that was installed permanently on the fringes of north Detroit. It came to life just once a year, with the help of more than 3,000 dedicated, unrecognizable people. To call it a Halloween party would be a disservice. It was an event that attracted freaks from around the globe. John Dunivant's visual artistry includes fine drawing, painting and carpentry, fueled by an incredibly fun and twisted imagination. At the moment, the artist is working on a series of large-scale paintings of mythical and theological creatures from a wide range of world cultures, as well as some legends of his own creation. "The pieces draw visually from the dioramas found in museums and roadside attractions, in that they offer an opportunity to be close to something or someone that under normal circumstances is distant or untouchable," he says. "The intention is to give you the feeling of being in the presence of divinities and demons, but presented with the shameless audacity of a carnival barker — gods as seen by the godless." Dunivant says he has an "automatic positive reaction to any artist making a go of it in Detroit," but that he's especially fond of the work from Glenn Barr, Design 99, Jerry Vile, Kristin Beaver and Mark Heggie. As far as Kresge nepotism goes: "I don't personally know a single person connected to the awards or any of the other fellows, so from my perspective I'd have to say that it's not an issue."
Born in Redford Township, Michigan in 1975, the artist Scott Hocking has lived and worked in Detroit proper since 1996, using found materials to create site-specific sculptural and photographic installations, such as pyramids made from tires, gloves or crumbling brick. His work, he says, is informed by the people and history of the place he's working. And he's done work in a lot of places. He has exhibited nationally at the Detroit Institute of Arts, Cranbrook Art Museum, the University of Michigan, the Smart Museum of Art, and Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, and internationally at the Kunst-Werke Institute, the Van Abbemuseum, and the Kunsthalle Wien. He recently completed projects at Sculpture Space in upstate New York, and at the Bundanon Trust in New South Wales, Australia. "Right now, I'm working on a few projects in Detroit," he says. "I also have a solo show in Maribor, Slovenia, this July, and a group show at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts Museum this October." A psychic once told Hocking he would have an "average life" and die at 88. At 19, he lived in a Toyota Corolla for four months. At 27, he lived in a French chateau for two months. He has three tattoos. He has been to 41 of the 50 states. He once hiked the Death Valley dunes on a 117-degree day, which led to a police search and a lesson from the sheriff, who said: "Son, people die in the desert." He was stalked by a New Mexican mountain lion. He slept on a Toronto billboard. He ate reindeer in Akureyri, deep-fried honeybees in Shanghai. He has one of the best bios we've ever read.
Born in Detroit in 1980 and raised in the suburbs, sculptor Laith Karmo received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 2004 from the College for Creative Studies and his Master of Fine Arts from Cranbrook Academy of Art in 2006. Karmo, who's taught at Wayne State University and continues to instruct at the College for Creative Studies and Oakland Community College, is currently at work on a series of small ceramic jars that he says will contain different medicinal herb blends. "Each jar's contents are different, a metaphorical cure for the vessel's corresponding title." He greatly admires the work of another fine Michigan ceramic artist, Tom Phardel. "Not only is he a great guy, but his artwork is just as stellar," Karmo says. "Tom is very critical of his work; if there is an aspect not to his liking, he disregards the piece and creates another. He's a great person to look up to." Karmo is also self-critical and says that most of the things he makes will never be seen, and that it gets lonely working in the studio. "It can get discouraging," he says. "So the support and recognition the Kresge Artist Fellowship has given me is going to definitely echo in my studio!"
It's said that the Detroit-born and -raised artist Richard Lewis started drawing when he was 4. At 10, his godmother told him to study his family and draw them. He started looking at faces quite differently after that. Lewis graduated from Cass Technical High School in 1985 and earned his B.F.A. from the College for Creative Studies and his Master's degree from Yale School of Art. He went on to become an artist-in-residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem. Upon coming back home to Detroit, in 2002, he drove a cab and taught African-American art history. When it comes to the artist's role in the community, Lewis looks to writer and activist James Baldwin. "He said that the role of the artist is to bear witness to the truth. And to be humane, relevant, conscious and connected to the community in which you function," Lewis says. Artists he sees doing just that include current fellow Hubert Massey and 2009 fellow Gilda Snowden, as well as Sabrina Nelson, Athir Shayota, Aaron Ibn Pori Pitts, Lester Johnson, Nancy Mitter, Bill Girard and Tony Williams. "They all have or had a strong concern for community, which they expressed mostly through teaching, but also political action," Lewis says. "They completely immerse themselves in their craft, like jazz artists. They truly believe in it, and they helped me believe in it too."
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