Red Bull House of Art
Gallery unveils its latest crop of emerging artists.
Published: August 7, 2013
A recent graduate of the College for Creative Studies, LaMontagne praised the program’s loose format. “In school, everyone is rushing to try and get things done. You have to do it a specific way, where this is all about you and what you want to say with your artwork.” LaMontagne used the residency to challenge herself, switching the subject matter in her work from close-up crops of young women to include full figures and scenery.
Fellow resident Carolyn Weber, a current CCS student, befriended LaMontagne at the House of Art. Working in pastels, she created fashion-based portraits for the show. “With it being summer and the show also during summer, all of my drawings are based around that theme,” she explains. “I wanted them to be really bright, fun and flirty.” Though the subject matter is breezy, the drawings are rendered in meticulous detail. “I’m obsessed with beauty and physical perfection,” she says. “So I also wanted my pieces to just be gorgeous and pleasing to look at, much like if you were actually looking at a beautiful woman in real life.” Not worrying about studio space or cost of materials allowed her to focus on the details of her work.
Painter Desiree Kelly praised the House of Art’s carefree format. “When I first heard about this project I was very excited and was searching for a way to get involved,” she explains. “They provide the essentials … which is the most stressful thing about being an artist — being able to get materials or space and being able to relax in order to let your creativity flow. This project has definitely helped me focus more on creating art and developing new ideas.” For her body of work, Kelly created portraits that subvert the typical context of their subjects, such as Abraham Lincoln anachronistically wearing a Burger King crown, placing him behind the camera lens instead of in front of it.
Not all of the artists featured in this round work in two dimensions. Ceramicist Elysia Vandenbussche creates images using tiles that are emblazoned with transfers of photographs, hand-drawn lettering and other patterns. “I create a 3-D clay canvas that allows me to be playful with 2-D imagery, which is printed and fired onto the tile surface,” she explains. “This show gives me an opportunity to represent my work and have fun by trying new things, taking risks, while also presenting me with a challenge to continually learn and evolve as an artist.” One of her pieces for the show seems particularly suited for Red Bull’s lifestyle brand: A succession of identical figures in an action pose creates a sense of movement; the words “we are a culture of rush” are emblazoned above.
Artist Steven McShane also seized the opportunity of his residency to do something different with his art. A former welder, McShane was able to use Red Bull’s budget to partner with local neon sign artist George Visas from Detroit-based neon shop Signifier Signs to create found scrap metal sculptures, with the neon glow juxtaposed against the raw metal material.
McShane’s father used to work at a junkyard, so for him his body of work has a nostalgic quality. “This current body of work takes me back to my youth, allowing me to save unique pieces of structural scrap and showcase its beauty,” McShane says. “[Visas’] neon work allows me to highlight pleasing attributes of each piece with vibrant color.”
Other residents were influenced greatly by working at the House of Art within the city of Detroit. Brian Lacey used found objects like street signs as his canvas for a body of graffiti-influenced work.
“I prefer street signs and wood panels opposed to canvas because they add a certain tangibility not seen in canvas,” Lacey explains. He also praised the visibility afforded by the program. “The opportunity is extremely priceless,” he says. “I’m not even completed with the residency and I can comfortably say it has benefited my life in ways I wouldn’t have imagined a few months ago.”
Painter Christopher Batten is another artist who was influenced by the city. His work includes a short story he wrote that envisioned a futuristic Detroit overtaken by strange animals, painted in his vibrant, painterly style.
“The paintings serve as illustrations for that story, and consist of wildlife that I’ve seen in the city proper, as well as conceptions of future people and environments,” Batten says. “My goal is to remind viewers of the richness of Detroit in the present, while simultaneously triggering their imaginations to conceive what Detroit has the potential to become.”
The final artist featured is Jesse Kassel. Working as an assistant at the House of Art before he was offered a residency, Kassel also found inspiration in his environment. “I would say my work for the show is inspired by the landscape and to a degree the psychology of the inner city, blended with my love for vintage graphic design and advertising. It is also very folk art-inspired,” he says, which features paintings of re-created, old-fashioned beer labels.
Kassel elaborates on what he’s learned from both working at the gallery and being able to have a residency as well. “[When] people appreciate the fact that you make art, it becomes your purpose and you feel a sense of duty to make it for them,” he says.
Kassel also sheds light on the shared spirit between extreme sports and art. When he was younger, he and his friends aspired to be professional skateboarders — with professional corporate sponsorships and skate videos.
“When I was in high school, all of my friends and I had it set in our minds that you haven’t really made it until you got sponsored for skateboarding,” he says. “And since I sucked at that, I relied a lot more on my drawing abilities for validation. Being in this program sort of feels like I’m sponsored by Red Bull for being an artist.”
Maybe the worlds of art and extreme sports aren’t all that different, anyway.
Click here to see more art from the show.
Lee DeVito writes about business, art and culture for the Metro Times. Send comments to email@example.com
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