Exploring Michigan regionalism
by Laura Bien
Western Michigan artists express a regional style distinct from eastern Michigan artists'. Maybe. That's the premise under exploration at the Gallery Project, on South Fourth Avenue, in its sparkling debut show, Eastside-Westside.
Works by five western Michigan and eleven eastern Michigan artists dot the airy gallery. Taken as a whole, the western works to generalize from a tiny sample share a quietude or equipoise. The eastern works bristle with presence, and range from a year chronicled in stickers to a wall-full of paper cutouts to an assemblage of whimsical yet precise resin paintings of subjects drawn from nature.
Julie Dummermuth's A Year in Review consists of a large square canvas coated in tidy vertical rows of stickers adhering to several subtle background bars of color. This fun, peppy piece instantly snares the viewer into trying to guess if the work is chronological and representational, and, if so, which stickers represent which times of year. Flowers seem to indicate spring (too easy), until adjacent black cats foil that guess. Perhaps the flowers' whiteness indicates snow and winter but then what about . . . ? This simple work turns out to be an engaging visual puzzle.
Scattered wildly over the back wall, Kate Mooth's "improvisational wall art" (above), life-size paper cutouts of such household objects as vacuum cleaners, toasters, and even earrings, spills in a jumble toward the ceiling. The teeming crowd of rust-colored silhouettes staggers the viewer a bit, forcing reflections on materialism and the huge quantity of objects in one's everyday life.
This exhibition's liveliness and variety engaged other gallerygoers. A young lady explained to several friends that the pink satin pooled under a piece of fur represented a killed animal's flesh. Another lady peered delightedly at Adrian Hatfield's paintings, remarking to her companion that she "just can't stop looking!"
My favorite works were Hatfield's set of twenty-six playful resin paintings. Some as small as a pack of cigarettes, some as large
as a large window, the colorful works dwell on forms found in nature. Several have backgrounds formed from science or biology textbook pages daintily cut into elegant, baroque scrolls. Over these cavort birds and butterflies. Several depict marine life, with small portraits of squids attacking boats, a shark swimming through painted curlicues, and one work consisting of a tentacle ominously appearing in murky resin, swamp monster style. Stickers reappear here, with insects and flowers clustered thickly on some works and sprinkled sparingly over others. The use of stickers underlines an offhand comment by gallery co-manager Gloria Pritschet, that "pop culture and toys are blending with art."
That assertion can be explored at the gallery's next show, Heigh Ho, Hi-Lo, which explores the intersections of art, toys, and play. Eastside-Westside continues through Wednesday, June 8.
[Originally published in June, 2005.]