Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Essay'd: Mel Rosas

(originally published 8/16/16 in Essay'd)

With their luscious surfaces, painstakingly lifelike textures, and subtly surreal depictions of almost-possible places, the oil paintings of Mel Rosas invite and reward both close attention and long-view contemplation. Rosas, an influential professor of painting at Wayne State University, is one of those painters who draws knowingly from the deep well of art history (Vermeer, Hopper, and Magritte are three signal antecedents), as well as an idiosyncratic assortment of wider cultural influences. The expansive body of work that has obsessed him for more than 30 years is also an object lesson in the use of art as a tool to explore, expand, and communicate the self. Rosas’s paintings are portals that offer the artist passage into his Latin American ancestry, and the viewer into a lush and evocative dream world.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Book: launch'd!

So I launched my first book last week! Well, we launched our first book, "we" being Essay'd, the four-person writing collective I'm part of that regularly publishes short, illustrated essays about contemporary Detroit artists online. (That would include me, Dennis Nawrocki, Steve Panton, and Sarah Rose Sharp, four local art aficionados united by our interest in promoting an informed and ongoing conversation about the notable art that's being produced right in our midst.)

Letterpress poster by Lynne Avadenka

The in-print edition of our first 30 essays, beautifully designed and published by the folks at Wayne State University Press, has been about a year in the making. (Think it'd be easy to just turn existing content into a book? NO! NO, THAT IS NOT EASY! In fact, it was way more work than any of us anticipated. But it was, in the end, so very worth it.) 

We celebrated the launch last Thursday night at Cafe 78, inside MOCAD, Detroit's contemporary art museum, with a couple hundred friends, family, supporters, and collaborators. It was a great opportunity to elevate and celebrate Detroit art, and we ended up selling more than 100 books! 
Photo by Andy Malone

Photo by Peggy Brennan

Me 'n' Rosie, all aglow.  Photo by Emily Nowak.

In the lead-up to the launch, I had the chance to speak with Travis Wright about the Essay'd project for about five minutes on Culture Shift, a new program on WDET, Detroit's public radio station. If you'd like to give it a listen, you can find our conversation here.

I was also invited to talk about Essay'd for a bit longer on Detours, the Free Press's arts & culture podcast, hosted by Rob St. Mary. You can find that one here. (The ~15 minute Essay'd portion starts about 16 minutes in.)

And I was delighted to see afterward that the South End, Wayne State U's student newspaper, rather thoroughly covered the launch event. Something we haven't talked much about in terms of this project is its pretty remarkable connection to Wayne State (not only did WSU Press publish the book, but of the four co-authors, I'm a WSU alum and Dennis is a professor there), so I'm glad to see the student paper pick it up.

It would have been nice to have gotten some coverage from some of the bigger news outlets in the area, but that points to a wider problem, one I've been having a number of conversations about lately -- the seeming inaccessibility of Detroit art to metro Detroiters. (Something we're trying to work against with Essay'd.) Nonetheless, I would say that our little labor of love has been well and thoroughly launched. Thanks to everyone who had a hand in getting us here.

(If you're looking to pick up a copy, you can buy it in person or online at various places including the DIA bookstore, the MOCAD bookstore, Pages Bookshop, or from WSU Press's site or Amazon.)

While the publication of our first book is a huge milestone, it's far from the end of Essay'd. Our regular web publication schedule continues, with three new essays slated to come out in the coming month. We're talking to WSU Press about publishing a follow-up volume of our second round of 30 essays. We're also gearing up for our first ever art writing workshop, which will also take place at MOCAD. We have several other book-related events & activities in the pipeline (follow us on Facebook for the deets as they come out). And from there, we're working on getting the project sustainably funded so that we can continue to grow our operations, pay ourselves for our work, and bring more voices into the conversation. Onward!

But for now, excuse me while I pick up this awfully handsome book sitting in front of me and flip through it just one more time....