Friday, November 28, 2008

Black Friday at Revolution

In 2004, working towards my masters degree in art education at Wayne State University in Detroit, I took a class called Art Trends and Art Education. One of the things we had to do was go to some galleries and write reviews of our visits. Today being Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving), I was reminded of Black Friday 2004, when I visited the Revolution Gallery in Ferndale, where I reside. The following is my review of that visit.


Rick Jacobi
AED 7400 Art Trends
Review #4
November 30, 2004

Black Friday at Revolution: The Evolution of a Gallery
(Plus quick stops at Lemberg and Susanne Hilberry)

First of all, I have to point out that I’m having a little fun with the title of this paper- it’s not as ominous as it may seem. “Black Friday” is the term many retailers use to denote the day after Thanksgiving- the biggest day of the year for many of them, the day that gets them “out of the red” and puts them “into the black”. “Black Friday” was the day I paid a visit to Revolution in Ferndale. I was the only one in the gallery; I guess everyone was doing their Christmas shopping at the mall. Although gallery traffic was slow, it was to my advantage as it gave me an opportunity to have a good conversation with the Gallery Director, Paul Kotula.

The previous papers I have submitted for this class have all taken a close look at a specific artists or works of art. This paper will be a little different: I would like to discuss my perceptions of the evolution of Revolution, and make a few comments on the gallery scene in Ferndale.

Revolution opened in 1994 in Ferndale. I had been living in Ferndale for about five years at that point in time, and continue to reside there. I remember riding my bike down the alleyways on the west side of Woodward Avenue north of Nine Mile one day several years ago, and stopping to take a look at a building that was being renovated. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was to become a new gallery in town- Revolution. Some number of weeks or months later, the gallery opened. I soon paid them a visit.

I don’t have a real clear memory of my first visit to Revolution, but I do recall seeing some teapots. Much of what the gallery then exhibited was work in clay, according to Kotula, who has been Director since the gallery’s inception. I also recall seeing over the next few years, work that was more conceptual and/or minimalist in nature. So much so, in fact, that my visits into the gallery became less frequent- more often than not, I would simply stop and peer through the front window while on my evening bike rides. It was a rare occasion that I would see anything of interest to me. In fact, I recall thinking many times, how do these guys stay open? I can’t believe that they are selling much of this stuff!” One piece I recall was a front window full of old suitcases stacked one on top of another. I asked Kotula about this piece. He recalled it fondly, and made some comments about “what is was about”. I said to him, “So, does anybody ever actually buy a piece like this?” Kotula laughed and said, no, not really for the most part. I asked him the same question about installation pieces and the like. He said no, pieces like that would be hard to sell, but “they exist in our memories”.

Since leaving my job as an illustrator and becoming a high school art teacher, I have figured (even before taking this class) that it would be a good idea to get out and go to some galleries a bit more frequently. Happily, there are several in Ferndale: Susanne Hilberry, Batista, Lemberg, and Revolution among them. All of these galleries feature a lot of strong work, sometimes accessible, sometimes more challenging.

What I have seen within the past couple of years in all of these galleries, is, despite a still fairly healthy dose of art that may be “difficult” for some people (myself included), is a significant amount of art that is leaning more towards going back and re-examining some of the types of art that it seems to me were pretty much “out of style” a few years ago- figurative painting and realism for example.

While I spent most of my time at Revolution on “Black Friday”, I also made quick stops at Lemberg (next door to Revolution) and Susanne Hilberry. Lemberg was featuring the work of photorealist painter Robert Gniewek. Gniewek has created a series of paintings of scenes from around Detroit, ranging from the glitzy Fox Theater to abandoned homes in Brush Park. These paintings show us the “up” and “down” side of Detroit, painted in meticulous detail.
Susanne Hilberry is currently presenting the work of painter Robert Wilbert. His oil paintings, although nowhere near photorealist, would still fall into the realm of realism. Wilbert’s work is divided into two rooms: one room consists largely paintings of floral arrangements. (I noted that a great many of these had been sold.) The other room featured mostly figure paintings. Some were more or less straightforward portraits, while others were more enigmatic, featuring human figures with manikins or a goat. Spheres of various sizes and colors also strangely populate a number of these paintings. I asked Ms. Hilberry about the spheres. She said that the artist claims that they are merely compositional devices, that he just likes spheres. She raised her eyebrows and shrugged. I said, “I take it that you think that there is more to it than that.” She replied, “Well, I have known him for thirty years, and he has always maintained that the spheres don’t have any real meaning, but you kind of have to believe that they do in some way.” As I said, enigmatic.

Robert Gniewek, Fox

Robert Wilbert, Self-portrait with Mannequin

Back to Revolution. Revolution is currently featuring the work of two artists: Michael Lucero and Amy Vogel. Lucero (in the front room) has made a number of fairly large (3-4 ft. tall) pieces of figures made of clay, covered with multi-colored yarn, including a unicorn, sheep, elf with kitty, kangaroo, and puppy. The forms of these figures are reminiscent of children’s toys or cartoon characters, while their surface decoration is perhaps more reminiscent of folk art. These pieces are unique, powerful, and beg to be touched, as evidenced by the “do not touch” signs next to each piece.

Michael Lucero, Elf with Kitty

Vogel’s work is in the second room. She has a series of paintings (and a sculpture or two) that, quite frankly, I was not at all drawn to and spent little time looking at.

Amy Vogel, (untitled)

I moved on to the back room, where there were a number of pieces by several different artists. Immediately catching my eye was a table, covered with huge, massive slabs of mainly reddish and whitish paint. I asked Kotula about this piece. He said that it was one of a series of “palette paintings” by Scott Richter, and was titled Hamburg Palette (for Soutine)”. Soutine frequently used red and white in his paintings, and Kotula noted that this piece by Richter specifically references Soutine’s painting Carcass of Beef. Is this piece a painting or a sculpture? It defies categorization (as does much of what Revolution has to offer).

Scott Richter, Paint Slab II

I was also intrigued by a couple of paintings by Peter Williams. Although he was not originally from Detroit, Williams lived here for several years, and taught painting and art history at Wayne State University. Williams’ work deals with racial issues through the use of symbolism and the inclusion of elements of pop culture, such as Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse. Kotula pointed out that many of Williams’ paintings feature a character Williams refers to as “Ratman”, who acts as Williams’ alter ego and is a play on Mickey Mouse. These paintings have a look of stylized realism and are related to surrealism and contemporary pop art as well.

Peter Williams, Opera Bouffe

I also enjoyed a piece called Torso, by “Cass Corridor” artist Jim Chatelain. An assemblage of painted wood, this piece is abstract, but seems to reference an animal of some sort. We can see what appear to be feet, and the brownish colors with a pattern of black marks are suggestive of the markings of some sort of cat or other mammal perhaps.

I said to Kotula that perhaps I was wrong (particularly in light of my admittedly irregular and relatively infrequent visits), but it seemed to me that over the course of the years, I had a sense that there has been a bit of a shift in the kind of work that has been shown at Revolution. I said (as mentioned previously) that my recollection of what was being shown in the earlier years was a pretty healthy amount of work that was more conceptual and/or minimalist in nature; while more recently, it seemed to me, I was seeing more diversity in styles, and in fact had been somewhat surprised, given the gallery’s history, to even see some realistic works there as well. Kotula said that to a fair extent, that what I was saying was true. He said that he had some significant financial backing over the first three years that allowed him to be a bit more freewheeling in his selection of work, and that played a part in it. He did state, however, that he was not ever catering to a specific market, but that he has always brought into the gallery work that he enjoys. He said that what has interested him has changed and evolved over the last ten years, and this is reflected in what he brings into the gallery.

Although Revolution is located in Ferndale, Kotula said that less than five percent of their sales go to Ferndale residents. Many of his customers are from other parts of the metropolitan Detroit area, and he has been able to do a lot of out of town business as well, as the gallery’s visibility
and reputation has increased.

I thanked Kotula for being so generous with his time, and told him that I was glad to have such a vital and committed gallery located in Ferndale.

It should be noted that while he is the Director and to a large extent runs the gallery, he is not the actual owner or sole force behind Revolution:

Kotula shares a collective vision with assistant director Sandra Schemske, owner Meg LaRou and Joanne Park-Foley. The success of Revolution for the past decade is testament to the strength of this group. Kotula says LaRou’s financial commitment is vital, calling her a “patron to the community.” Certainly Revolution would not have its impressive collection without her (Robinson, 2004).

Ferndale is indeed fortunate to have a good selection of fine galleries, and most of them can thank Revolution for boldly leading the way. I will be visiting Revolution and the other Ferndale galleries on a regular basis in the future.

Kotula, P. (2004). Director, Revoultion. Conversation at the gallery on Friday, November 27, 2004.
Robinson, P. (2004). The Enduring Revolution. Metro Times, February 2, 2004. Retrieved November 27, 2004, from


Unfortunately, Revolution closed its doors in 2005. You can read about it here.

Lemberg Gallery

Susanne Hilberry Gallery

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Fractal Art

I have just not had the urge to write anything here lately, but I thought it was about time to at least post some images. If you would like to know what fractals are all about, click here.

Do yourself a favor, and CLICK ON THE IMAGES to view at a larger size!

Thank you to all of the artists for allowing me to share these beautiful images with visitors to my blog. Please check them out:

(If I missed anyone, let me know, and I will create a link to your website.)

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Hope, no. Despair, YES!

Iä! Iä! Cthulhu Fhtagn!