ArtBeat: Allegorical Space at the AAAC

The Ann Arbor Art Center was founded 115 years ago. It is one of Michigan’s oldest visual arts organizations and it keeps getting better. It hosts monthly art exhibitions for the public, teaches studio art and art appreciation courses, organizes youth art camps throughout the year, runs an outstanding gallery shop promoting regional artists, and puts on special events—parties, really—such as Artini, Paint the Town and the Ann Arbor Art and Brew.  “Allegorical Space” opens on January 9 and runs through February 22. 

Allegorical space refers to the background, the context, the setting within which all of our experiences are based—visual experience, of course, but also the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of our lives. We see and notice the figure, but almost by necessity we ignore the ground behind it, and to that extent we become ungrounded. An elk in the forest is invisible, but if it exudes an iridescent color not found in nature it forces a new reality of both the animal and the environment. This show brings into relief that which we commonly ignore, but without which we would have no sensation at all.

True to form the Center has appointed as curator a uniquely qualified and gifted artist and teacher of art: Brian Spolans. Spolans is an Assistant Professor of Fine Art at Eastern Michigan University, which has in recent years been luring top artistic talent from around the world. He was awarded his own Bachelor of Fine Art degree from the University of Texas, and his Master’s in printmaking from the University of North Texas. His interest has always been the reorganization and recontextualization of stories from the popular media, and he does it in pleasing and delightful pictures with pen, ink, watercolor and other media. For this show Spolans has brought together eight local artists, each with his or her unique take on the spaces that frame our lives.

Dylan Strzynski. Long an Ann Arbor favorite, University of Michigan School of Art grad, Strzynski sees himself “more a drawer than a painter, sort of a cartoon expressionist. Ultimately I am a post-industrial cave painter gathering the tribe together in the warm, stinking glow of the scrap lumber fire: Human progress is overrated.” That’s my Dylan! Lately he’s been using oil and tar, acrylic graphite, staples and found junk, solvent transfers, Conte crayon pencil, sod, paper mache and prismacolor to make his distinctive paintings, sculptures and landscape installations. It’s cool, it’s fun, and this is a great time to experience his latest work.

Jason DeMarte. A tenured professor in photography at EMU, DeMarte garnered his BFA in photography at Colorado State University and his MFA in photography at the University of Oregon. His work investigates how our contemporary interpretation of the natural world reflects our consumer environment, which he calls “unnatural.” He works digitally, juxtaposing fabricated flora and fauna with commercially produced products. It is a fascinating, beautiful and very colorful exploration of what is “real.”

Millee Tibbs. She has her MFA in photography from the Rhode Island School of Design and is currently residing in Detroit and teaching at Wayne State University. She has had solo shows from Portland, Oregon to Chicago to Boston to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic to Cologne, Germany and everywhere in between. She is interested in surfaces and their relationship to what lies beneath the surfaces. She feels that photography is preeminently suited to this investigation because of its ubiquity in all of our lives. In the case of Charles Kanwischer, however, etching can be just as real and evocative as photography, sometimes more real. Kanwischer was born in Oklahoma City and earned his BFA in printmaking at the University of Iowa and his MFA in painting and printmaking at the Yale University School of Art. His work is part of numerous public and private collections, including that of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. He sees the world, natural and man-made, in flux and he captures that awesome movement and interchange in his prints. You can meet all eight artists and the curator, the Art Center community, and maybe even me at the opening on January 9, from 6 to 8pm. Bring a date or two or the whole family. It’s going to be fun.

Ann Arbor Art Center, 117 W. Liberty St., (734) 994-8004

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