Art

The Power of Art Lies in Self-Expression

Mirror, Mirror presents art as something fundamental that unites human beings in the capacity for reflection and self-expression.

Installation view of Mirror, Mirror by Friendship Circle’s Soul Studio at CCS Center Galleries, works by Jacob Barren (all images by the author for Hyperallergic)

DETROIT — Mirror, Mirror at College for Creative Studies’ Center Galleries is a complex, engaging, and unique presentation of fully realized works by 14 artists who all exhibit extraordinary and singular visions. Curated by artist Anthony Marcellini in conjunction with Center Galleries Director Michelle Perron, the installation demonstrates the power of a keen curatorial hand in balancing a host of dramatic and dynamic works — each one given its own space, but situated with an eye for unexpected conversations across a range of bright colors and unconventional materials.

Foreground: four pieces from the Fingers series by Rachel Fallert. Background: “This is Sew Abstract!” by Aislinn Wendrow.

Four pieces from Rachel Fallert’s Fingers series (2019) stand near the front of the installation space. These brightly colored forms made of painted papier-mâché over a wire framework could indeed be a set of uneven and muppet-like fingers, but they also recall a kind of cartoonish skyline, especially with Aislinn Wendrow’s “This is Sew Abstract!” (2019) in the background. The latter’s title presumably alludes to Wendrow’s recent practice of collaging her painted and repainted canvases with paper and tape elements using thick, colorful thread. Nearby, dramatic fiber pieces extend from the floor to the ceiling in the vaulted Center Galleries space. An incredible cascade of woven yarn by Stephanie Harris, titled “Muppets of Walt Disney World Orlando Florida” (2018), mirrors an equally tall net made from a rainbow of wire-strung beads by Alyssa Gold. This piece, titled “Beady” (2018), combines a brilliant mélange of prefabricated elements, punctuated by the occasional original bead handmade by Gold in glazed ceramic — tactile flourishes in the colorful, irregular mesh of the net. Gold hangs her nets as early as possible in her working process, valuing them as objects that she can hear and sense in her space — grids that tether her to the physical environment.

Left: “My Wives” (2019) by Blake Jackson (left); right: detail view of “Beady” (2018) by Alyssa Gold
Installation view of Mirror, Mirror by Friendship Circle’s Soul Studio at CCS Center Galleries. Foreground: “Huckleberry Mountain” (2018) by Brian Nanry

In an exhibition rife with abstraction and tactile objects, Blake Jackson’s large-scale painting, “My Wives” (2019), is among the few figurative works; it conveys the artist’s sense of humor as well as his passion for his female subjects, which include Queen Latifah, Monique, and other black cultural icons. The group portrait features nine women, rendered as heads or busts floating against a black background, with some yin-yang symbols, purple stars, and local sports team logos thrown in for good measure. The quasi-primitive style is offset by the detail, creating an arresting tribute to the things and people Jackson loves.

Left: “Muppets at Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida” (2018) by Stephanie Harris; background: “Dot Universe” by Jason Luckoff (2018)

I could continue to expound on the individual works — the coarse, delicious pointillism of “Dot Universe” (2018) by Jason Luckoff; Jacob Barron’s small, tombstone-like monuments made from found and cut scrap wood and assembled, along with a stream-of-consciousness narrative, into “journal pages”; the evocative and vulnerable little papier-mâché “Huckleberry Mountain” (2018) by Brian Nanry, whose work is largely inspired by alien landscapes — but perhaps it’s time for the reveal. All the participating artists belong to the same studio, and it happens to be one with a mission.

Friendship Circle’s Soul Studio was founded in March of 2016 to support adults with special needs in the creation of original artwork. Though all the participating artists are adults with developmental challenges, such as autism, Down syndrome, blindness, and cerebral palsy, I fear that placing too much emphasis on this fact might undermine the real takeaway: Mirror, Mirror is an incredible show, facilitated by Marcellini as Soul Studio’s Programs and Exhibitions Manager, as well as a staff of onsite artists, and family members who voluntarily support Soul Studio members in realizing their works. A detailed exhibition catalogue chronicles the evolution of each Soul Studio artist over his or her tenure with the organization, which has facilities to accommodate ceramics, sewing, painting, woodwork, weaving, and digital arts, all in a bright collective working space. While there is no doubt that each of these artists has strengthened and expanded his or her creative vision with the support and guidance of Soul Studio, one presumes this would be the case for almost any artist who receives the incredible gift of a fully supported studio practice, complete with talented assistants.

“Celebration of Chaos,” a collective work by the Soul Studio artists

Friendship Circle is a laudable organization, with a diverse array of programming that includes culinary arts and work training, in addition the Soul Studio art programs — and it would be facile to pretend that the dedication of founder and director Bassie Shemtov and the expertise of the corps of working artists that support Soul Studio members did not play a huge part in the development of Mirror, Mirror. But I am heartened by this collection of stunning, aesthetically, and conceptually complex works that prove art comes not from a place of “ability” or “disability,” but from something more fundamental that unites human beings in the capacity for reflection and self-expression.

“Antion Mountain Range” by Brian Nanry

Mirror, Mirror, curated by Anthony Marcellini and Michelle Perron, continues at CCS Center Galleries (201 E. Kirby, Detroit, Michigan) through March 30.

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