Day in Detroit — Part I

A Peak Inside the Artists’ Studios

In December our little “Gang of 4” were treated to an incredible field trip to see Nancy’s studio at the Russell Industrial Center in Detroit and receive an outstanding one-on-one talk at the DIA on Diego Rivera and his Detroit Industry murals.

History of Russell Industrial Center

In 1915, the Center, a 2,200,000-square-foot (200,000 m2), seven building complex, was designed by Albert Kahn for John William Murray. Over the years it has been used for various manufacturing industries (automotive, military, metal stamping, household appliances, printing) and has passed through many owners. From 1970-1991 it was even owned by the notorious billionaire Leona Helmsley, hotelier and tax evader.

In 1998 the Center was closed as it suffered major damage from storms and the printing company could no longer sustain. The RIC fell into major disrepair and sat vacant until 2003 when it was purchased by a local development company for 1 million dollars. Since then it has become a community hub for local artists and small businesses.

Detroit artist Kobie Solomon‘s “Chimera” mural is painted on the side of the RIC. Measuresing 8,750 square feet, it is the largest mural in the state of Michigan. Kobie combined a bit of Detroit history along with the four major sports teams; the Detroit Lions (NFL), Detroit Pistons (NBA), Detroit Red Wings (NHL) and Detroit Tigers (MLB) in his creation.

Fieldtrip

We made our way downtown and meandered through the enormous complex until we located the Art Building. Nancy was already there to greet us and let us in. We rode up in the old style industrial elevator — the unsteady, creaking, wire-barred kind you see in scary movies — to her studio.

We were greeted by a friend of Nancy’s, fellow Detroit artist, Darcel Deneau. She let us check out her extra large studio space filled with incredible glass mosaics of the city. When putting this post together, I discovered more about her art and her incredibly heart-breaking story.

Next we headed over to Nancy’s studio. It’s a nice size space that offers a lot of natural light. She let us explore for a bit and showed us some of her wonderful paintings. Then we all sat down for a bit, had coffee and snacks, and talked about art and life. Nancy is a natural born storyteller and she’s accumulated so many great ones over the course of her life. We all said she should write a book– it’d be a bestseller!

Just down the long corridor was another friend of Nancy’s who had agreed to let us peak inside his studio. Alan Bennetts is a young Detroit artist and recent graduate of the Cranbrook Academy of Arts MFA Program. His artist statement reveals the intention for his current project that we were treated to view up close:

I seek to examine the varied positions consumer technologies occupy in both our collective and individual perception. In particular, the way these familiar, often intimate objects fundamentally change when they cease to function in the way in which they were intended. AB

I was blown away by Alan’s eye for detail and steady hand in creating these incredible works of art. How in the world could he achieve such accuracy in the tones of grey, black, silver, white… I’ll never know.

I fondly remembered that we had many of the stereo pieces in the 1980’s and a wave of memories came flooding back — dancing to Madonna and listening to U2s, “The Joshua Tree” in our basement and watching my step-dad spend countless hours making mixed-tapes. It was a great trip down memory lane.

After meeting the artists and touring their studios we headed over to the Detroit Institute of Arts for a phenomenal private lecture from a DIA docent who really knew his stuff! It was turning out to be an incredible day! Stay tuned for Day in Detroit — Part II.

Bad News

By this time, I had been painting for two months, at least 3-4 days a week outside of the classroom plus class time. When I paint at home I usually start in the evening and paint into the wee hours of the morning. My right arm— fingers.. hand.. wrist.. elbow.. neck.. shoulder— were all getting very sore. I carry my supplies in a Husky roll-cart which is very light on wheels to pull around. However, once full, it is very heavy for me to lift into/out of trunk (I’m limited to lifting 10 pounds per elbow due to my replacements). I thought I was being careful, but not careful enough.

In mid-November, I noticed a small protruding bump about three inches below my elbow that was painful to the touch. I made an appointment the next day to see my orthopedic surgeon. He confirmed what I suspected; a small fracture of the radius bone. What I was not expecting to hear was that both components of my elbow replacement were loose! Dr. Michael Wiater passed me over to his brother, Dr. Brett Wiater for the revision process; apparently he had more experience in the area. From here on out, Brett would now be my surgeon. I would have to have my elbow redone or “Revised.” Since it wasn’t painful and the fracture would probably heal on its own, we set a surgery date for January 9th, 2020 — my 21st wedding anniversary!

Well, at least it’s something you can use! said my friend when I told her I was getting a new elbow for my anniversary.


Needless to say, I had to leave Nancy’s class and slow down — again. I was very disappointed and depressed. Once again, I felt like my body let me down and fucked me over.

Diptychs

Our next assignment, and last for me, would be a diptych. Wikipedia defines a diptych as, ‘an artwork consisting of two pieces or panels, that together create a singular art piece that can be attached together or presented adjoining each other’. Earliest pieces were frequently hinged and depicted biblical or religious themes. Diptychs often represent opposition/contrasting objects or elements. A triptych (three panels) might represent a sequence or a change; like those prints you see in stores of the different seasons.

I couldn’t really decide on an idea for the diptych so I went with a picture I’d saved to paint some day. The image is of several farm animals standing together and taken by well-known animal photographer Rob MacInnis.

We worked on our pieces for the next several classes. These were to be our pièces de résistance — our masterpieces! Below you can see a few of the multiple iterations the animals went through as I tried to figure them out.


Unfortunately I wasn’t able to complete the diptych by the end of class term, but I did finish it up in the new year! More about that in my next post. Stay tuned…

Painting with Attitude

The name of our class was Painting With Attitude. Each week we were treated to new “Nancy Notes”– a bit philosophy, a bit about art – a bit about our upcoming class assignment. Here are a few of my most favorite nuggets from the third week of class.

Get The Paint On“…

20” x 20” Oil on Canvas

…You’re going to paint with strength and vigor…and not be afraid of making a mess of it…I hope we don’t have to get drunk like those dreadful painting parties….”


“The way paint gets onto the canvas…attack… advance…softly… intensely brave…capable of being reworked.. scraped off and put back..but mostly with intention, force (light or heavy), fearlessly, serenely, but NOT tentative and weak…Or so thin that it’s barely there…

We have to go back…It is your nervous system that you need to connect to, your touch, your aggression that so many of us don’t allow ourselves. It isn’t easy to make gentle work that is strong… all the forms depend on each other… There is a way to be in the moment, conscious, where every mark does something…

One of the tests of a good painting is ‘how long can you look at it?’, Hang your work on the wall…if you get tired of seeing it after a few weeks or notice you never look at it…Well?

What makes the art we love so possible to never get tired of… has to do with the state of the artists mind as the work was being made …the kind of connections that were happening between the eye, and the hand and the mind.

“Why are mistakes so scary? Why does getting it ‘right’ mean only how it looks and not how it feels? What happens when it feels great but looks a mess? What do you have to do to make the paint alive and as necessary as the picture you are trying to copy? How do you the means and the subject to be equal to each other?

“When it works is it Magic?”

“How can you stand it when it is strongly painted but ugly?”

Can you leave your comfort zone? How far? A little tiny bit… a jump off a cliff? NMM

Painting Again — Finally

This Fall, I was finally able to find a good class fit at the BBAC and begin taking a painting class with an incredible instructor, Nancy Mitchnick. Before class started, I researched Nancy and was blown away by her credentials and was a bit intimidated, but the second I met her, I felt I had met a kindred spirit and knew immediately that I wanted to be friends with this incredible woman!

Nancy is a well-known artist originally from the Detroit area and was part of the “Cass Corridor Artists” in the 1970’s. She has taught art all over the country, including CalArts, Bard College, and Harvard.


Of course it wouldn’t be my life if I didn’t have some kind of accident. Two days before class was to begin I misstepped, in my own house this time, and fell really hard on the step that separates our dining room from the living room. Again, my bad knee hit first, then my right arm, then my head hit the corner edge of the wall. I was all alone, the boys were out joy-riding. My head was bleeding profusely and I just sat there crying holding my head. Thank goodness they came home within a few minutes, I was too shaken up to move. Once I was “fixed” up, I began to wonder if the universe was trying to tell me something. Afterall, this was the second time, in a row, that I had a bad fall just before art class was to begin. I thought about cancelling — again, but decided against it. “Universe be damned — I was taking that $%@#ing class, and you couldn’t stop me!”


And, I’m so glad I did! Our class was very small– just four students, all women, plus Nancy. It was the perfect size to get to know each other and become more than just a “class”, we became Nancy’s “Gang of 4” as she would often refer to us. Each Wednesday, I was truly excited to see what Nancy had in store for us! Of course coming from mostly an academic setting, Nancy was a task-master, very different from what we were used to at the arts center. But I loved it and felt like I was back in college again — only this time I was doing what I truly loved!

One of the best parts of the class wasn’t the class at all, it was receiving Nancy’s Notes via email a couple days prior to class. At 72 Nancy had accumulated a wealth of knowledge and experience, not only about art, but life in general, and her weekly notes were a little peek into her brain– rambling and unorganized — but always thought provoking. I usually had to read them a few times to weed out the nuggets! They’re so fun that I’ve actually kept the collection.


One of our first assignments was to paint some type of material or fabric. My in-class attempt was terrible, so I scrapped it and painted a piece at home. The fabric I chose was a colorful zip-up sweatshirt/ jacket that I bought at an art fair years back. I hung it and using a picture frame mat I visually cropped the subject into an interesting and manageable size.

Work In Progress

Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp

In August my younger son attended Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp for which he won a scholarship during the school year. In 5th grade our school district requires kids play an instrument. Once they move to middle school, the following year, they can choose to continue or not. E started playing the alto sax when he was 10 and hasn’t stopped since! He’s become quite good and really enjoys it! He would love to major in music when he gets to college.

If you’ve never heard of Blue Lake, you really should check their website out. Located on a 1,600 acre campus in Michigan’s Manistee National Forest, they offer summer programs in the fine arts (band, orchestra, theater, dancing, singing, and art) for all ages. Middle and high schoolers camp at different times, so kids are placed with their peers. Sessions are all taught be professional level mentors/teachers in the various disciplines.

I was a bit nervous when we dropped him off for 10 days with no cell phone (camp rules) but I knew he would be well cared for and have a blast. Once there, campers audition for band placement and E was placed in the 2nd tier band out of 5. He was one of the younger kids in this band. At the end of the session, family is invited to attend performances. We were so happy to see him after the time; even his older brother kind of missed him 🙂 LOL

“Novena” performed by 2019 Concert Band

Chicago

Over the July 4th holiday my family and our close friends went to visit our other friends in Chicago. Us three ladies have been best friends forever, literally. K and I grew up together, since age 2; our families were next door neighbors. K went to MSU a year before me and roomed with B. When I got to State the following year, B and I became fast friends also. We’ve been like sisters forever and our children are all relatively the same age. As a matter of fact, we were all pregnant at the same time with our second children; they were all born within 5 weeks of each other!


KBJ — Friends Through the Years


Kiddos

Indy 500

Indy 500

In May we went to Indianapolis for the Indy 500. I was able to snag two incredible box seats for my husband and son D from Facebook Marketplace. The guy selling them was a year-round ticket holder but wasn’t going to be able to make it this year and was selling the tickets for a great price.

All my ‘boys” love really fast and really expensive cars!! My older son D is a walking encyclopedia of high-end and super cars. He has been in love with trucks, autos, semis, and construction— anything with four wheels and a motor, since he could barely stand up. So, this would be a huge treat for him. Since we only had two tickets, E and I dropped them off and went to explore The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.


Founded in 1925, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is the largest children’s museum in the world; at 481,000 square-feet, it sits on 30 acres! We explored all the wonderful exhibits, including Dinosphere: Now You’re in Their World®,  Dale Chihuly’s Fireworks of Glass, and The Power of Children: Making a Difference. I think we had more fun than B and D! After all the excitement of the day, we found a nearby brewery for burgers and beer. Another great day to remember!