Thursday, December 20, 2007

Visitor Comments

Selected comments from our guest book and emails we've received about the show:

“An unanswerable question—keep asking! Thank you.”

“Beautiful, not too often do you witness the blend of artist and artist’s work. (Made me cry.) It’s so honest and real. Thank you. ”

“Since experiencing the WHY exhibit, the words that keep coming to mind are connection and transcendence. Connection of artist to artist, artist to medium, artist to community, artist to suffering, suffering to hope, community to community. Many of the artists openly, and bravely, shared how their creativity is their connection to their suffering, yet also the vehicle to sanity and survival. I could not help but think of how this reflects on the human spirit to continually allow itself to embrace agony and oppression, and then struggle for transformation.

This is a very important exhibit as it demonstrates the pain and disillusionment in our local, national and international communities. Yet it also speaks to the unending desire for transcendence and perseverance."

I applaud you, the sponsors, and the artists for presenting an incredible, courageous, and moving experience.”

Holiday Hours

Visit us at our regular hours Wednesday, December 26 through Saturday, December 29 from 10am to 5pm. We look forward to seeing you.

Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

WHY Dialogue Weds, December 5, 6:30-8

Work : Detroit 

An ongoing series of dialogues among makers of creative work

Join us Wednesday, December 5, 2007 from 6:30 pm to 8 pm for a conversation with participants from the current exhibition “WHY” including:
David Barr, Topher Crowder, Charles McGee, Kathleen Rashid, Stephen Schudlich, and some others TBA.

The series “Intersections” brings together makers of creative works from Detroit, Ann Arbor, and beyond in a dialogue with each other and the audience about their process, practice, and purpose. On this fertile crossroads between regions and disciplines, multiple viewpoints converge, ideas collide, and new perspectives bloom.

This evening’s event includes: David Barr, who’s known for his international sculptural projects including the “Four Corners Projects” and the Labor Monument in Detroit’s Hart Plaza; emerging artist Topher Crowder has been showing prolifically of late, Charles McGee’s work is on display at the DIA, the People Mover, several area hospitals, among other places; Detroiter Kathleen Rashid has been exhibiting and doing public projects consistently throughout the Detroit area and beyond; fourth generation Detroiter Stephen Schudlich takes a tongue and cheek clinical approach to mapping urban information.

Join us at Work @ Detroit for this unique opportunity to participate in a dialogue with makers of creative work and contribute to the new discoveries that emerge along the way.
(NOTE: A second conversation between participants in “WHY” will take place Wednesday, January 16, 2008.)

a cultural nerve center where people, places, and creative work intersect

About the exhibition: Why – Why we make creative work, from the people who make it. What compels artists and designers to create, often in the face of staggering obstacles? Where does that drive come from? Why do we do what we do?

Artist and designers from Detroit and faculty from the University of Michigan School of Art & Design offer their individual diverse responses to questions about the source of their creative work. The resulting variety of perspectives in work and in words offers an educational and insightful exploration of the origins of creativity. A selection of work from each artist/designer is supplemented by the transcribed text of his/her responses to the question “why”, as well as a video of all the responses. The show also features an interactive component that allows visitors to record their responses to this central question about the nature of creativity.

WHY runs 17 November – 26 January 2007
Hours Tuesday – Friday 10am to 5pm
Work : Detroit Gallery, 3663 Woodward Ave., Detroit, MI 48201
Reception Desk: 313 593-0527
Exhibition and artist information:

Monday, November 26, 2007

WHY : Exhibition Essay


“I probably wouldn’t want to live if I couldn’t do it.”
“I find tremendous fulfillment in doing it.”
“It makes me happy.”
“I do it for myself first, and then to connect with an audience”
“It’s all consuming, I sleep it, I drink it, it’s just total in making me the kind of person that I am.”
“The amount of joy it brings to anybody who encounters it.”
“It was the only way I could communicate, it was the only thing that made me go on.”
“It’s my first love, my first passion.”
“I try to make people see what I see.”
“It’s just something that I really enjoy doing.”
“I love to examine the world as it is, the world that’s overlooked.”
“It’s a conversation between me, the materials, and the people who get it.”
“I would do it no matter what.”
“I couldn’t do anything but what I do.”
“To explore things that I just don’t understand.”
“It allows me to think through my body.”
“It helps me communicate.”
“It keeps me very balanced, very happy.”
“I know I’m not happy if I can’t do it.”
“To engage with people and make them present for my audience.”
“To bring beauty into the world.”
“I’m searching for something.”
“It feels good.”
“It’s a way for me to express my ideas.”
“It’s a way to reach out to others.”
“To make something that can affect someone’s day.”
“To celebrate.”
“To engage the viewer and have that experience remain alive within them.”
“I do it as a release.”
“It helps me.”
“The same reason I take a fresh breath every day.”
“I need to create.”
“It makes me happy.”
“It chose me.”
“I have to do it to remain sane and human.”
“It’s freedom.”


As diverse as the works of those assembled for this exhibition are in materials, methods, and concepts, if we look deeper, threads of commonality emerge. We might express ourselves differently, but we’re by no means alone in this. It’s compulsion, it’s necessity, it’s for our health, it’s our way to communicate – it’s the same thing we’ve been searching for since humans could first ask such questions.

In better understanding why others do what they do, we of course, gain a greater appreciation for their particular work and its origins. More so, perhaps, it empowers us to look at ourselves through new eyes and discover the creative potential within all of us.

Nick Sousanis, Exhibition Director Work: Detroit
Detroit, Michigan, November 17, 2007

Monday, November 19, 2007

Elizabeth Youngblood

Dress Interfacing, 2007
Homage to My First Seeing Instructor, 2007

I’m Elizabeth Youngblood. I am an artist and a designer. As an artist, what I do is draw and also weave, and I think of my weavings in a lot of ways as drawing, at least the ones I’m doing currently. I also have a background of doing clay, as an undergrad. So, all three of those are very much in my sphere. I make a living as a graphic designer, and that’s print design.

Why I do what I do? I think I began making things because it was a conversation between me and the adults that were around me. I learned to sew with my mother and I enjoyed it. I probably enjoyed the companionship as much as anything else. It was fun to learn things, better still it was fun to have the thing after it was made. I also worked with my uncle in his woodshop and I was very comfortable by the time I was a young teenager with running power tools and I always enjoyed again what resulted from the making process. Same thing with clay in high school. I still remember the enjoyment of the first time I filled a mug that I had made with water and it actually worked. So I think that initially as a young person, it was the conversation between myself and an adult. Now making is real interesting to me because it’s more of a conversation with myself and with the materials. And then, if I’m lucky and it gets out there into the real world, it’s a conversation with the people who get it, who appreciate it and understand it, and to whom the work speaks for some reason.

Ed West

Jonathan (on right)
Ocean (on left) from the series So Called

Black and white photographs.

I’m Ed West, I’m a photographer. I come to photography through my undergraduate studies in art history, when I became very attracted to Dutch painting and scenes of daily life. As a photographer, I tend to be interested in people; most of my photographs throughout my history have been of people, either portraits or people in their environments.

The work that I’m showing at the gallery is a series of portraits that were made in South Africa of a particular community of people of mixed race in the western Cape. I published a book earlier on the people of South Africa entitled “Casting Shadows.” In terms of my photography in general, I want the work to be of use. To say that I want the work to be of use means that I want it to be useful to the people who I photograph. And it is useful to them in terms of representation, to represent, the people in the book are from formal settlements, squatter camps around the country, they generally don’t get the attention of photographers or of anyone for that matter. So when I went to South Africa, it was an opportunity to invest in those people, to spend time with them, and to represent them. In the work I made an effort to be honest in that representation.

Why I’m an artist? I come to it honestly. My father was a painter and a sculptor. I think like all children, you look for a space that’s not occupied, and as a consequence I became a photographer. Photography gives me an opportunity to be in the world and to engage with people, which is really what I’ve been drawn to. I want to know about other cultures, I want to know about other people’s lives, I want to participate in those lives, and to know that despite cultural differences, there is something at base that connects us. In the work, the hope of course is that that connection is made with my audience and that I act as the intermediary for that exchange. Not everyone has the opportunities that I’ve had to travel and to visit these different countries and cultures. And if I can make them available in a way that is empathetic and that makes them present for my audience, then I think I’ve achieved some success.

The larger goal is that we all have to find some way to contribute to the world, and I think that’s part of our responsibility as human beings to be a force for the good, to do something that’s affirmative. So I think earlier in my career, when I was more concerned with art for art’s sake, I found that this way of being is more satisfying because of the connection to people and because of the opportunity to really learn. If we think about making art, we’re thinking about being put in the position of the perpetual learner, the person who has to find ways to say things, which have been unsaid. Art is really the best opportunity for that. This is not the repetition of a task, as many people’s lives are forced to repeat tasks. This is really an opportunity to be involved with continual invention and renewal. This is a most positive place to be, and we can’t overlook the virtue of being someone who brings beauty into being in the world. So I think that’s part of my motivation. Thank you for your time.

Nick Tobier

Marches for Visitors, Cars, and Passers-by, 2006
Band Uniform, Photographs, Marching Band

I’m Nick Sousanis. I’m a hip-hoppapotamus.
I’m Nick Tobier. And what else was I supposed to say?
I’m a Libra.
I teach here at the school of art & design here in scenic Ann Arbor.
I’m Nick Tobier. I’m Nick Sousanis. I’m Nick Tobier. I am.
I’m Nick Tobier, and I like sliced bread, and walks in the woods, and kissing in the rain. If you like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain. “I was getting tired of my lady.”

Take 10.

I’m Nick Tobier, and I do things in public. I also do things in private, but maybe we won’t talk about that. I say I do public performances, that’s how I’ve been describing my work recently. Most often I describe it as Situational, not Situationist, but Situational. That is if there’s a situation, I’ll try and do something to disrupt it, and if there’s no situation maybe I’ll make one up.

Why do I do these things? Why do I act out in public? I think, for the most part, I’m aware of this time when I used to go to my studio all the time, and I’d walk through New York where I grew up, where I was living, and I’d see all these amazing things in the street and I’d open this big door with a padlock and I’d go inside my studio and I’d make wood things. Wood sculptures that had absolutely nothing to do with what I was walking through, but was what I did in the studio. What I realized at a certain point, was that I had a studio life that was completely separate from the life around me that was the parts of it that were engaged by walking through the city and wandering and getting to know people and getting lost. So I gave up my studio. Which I always think, was either the bravest thing or the stupidest thing. And I just started to work on the street and being responsive to whatever I came up against. The first thing I remembered doing was finding myself trying to cross the street, the snows had melted, and there was this enormous puddle that actually had become sort of a lake. I watched people walk to the middle of the block so that they could get around the puddle. So I made a bridge to help people cross puddles. The projects that I do now I think are an outgrowth of those things that were utilitarian. They seemed to have an urgency and a purpose, that is, I could make something that would affect someone’s day. And they were structural. Like the bus stop I made in Detroit, it provided a comfort or service. But I also do things that are services of different sorts, things that are more celebratory. Choreographed sequence for a group worker/dancers in a wading pool in Toronto. Because I think those things are utilitarian as well. I think that celebration is something that we have less and less of in everyday life. If I can bring something to the public realm that is celebratory then that does become part of everyday life. And I think that sort of in a nutshell what I’d like to do is open the possibility that everyday life can be quite extraordinary if someone is willing to step out of daily routine and do something that seems at first eccentric but maybe after a while you can’t live without it. Maybe you can.

Gilda Snowden

Bright Stars at Night: Green Chair, 2006
Acrylic on canvas.

My name is Gilda Snowden. I’m a painter. I paint many things. I paint pictures of tornadoes, flowers, chairs, lots of things. I mainly work with encaustic, a wax paint from antiquity.

I do this because they make me happy. I do this because I’m obsessed. I paint, I take photographs, and I draw, and I need to have these things around me. The paintings smell good. Photographs are documents of my whole world. It’s almost like I’m obsessed with capturing these things: sunsets, flowers, trees, chairs, cracks in the sidewalk, but you can’t paint everything. So I do paintings of certain subjects and that slows me down. That makes me see the world around me in a much more organized way.

It is important for me to document and save and preserve. I started doing it with pictures of my family. And now I am so afraid that if I don’t document everything around me that my vision will be lost and I want to pass that on.


Ghetto Boy, 2007
Spray Paint.
Plutonium G Spray Cans

My name is Sintex, I’m from Detroit. I’m an artist by nature, graf, graffiti, illustration, 3D animation, I take part in all of these things, the creative side of me. I’m always into art, it’s been my first thing, my first love, my first passion in life is to be an artist. I take more to graffiti because it’s more visual to pedestrians and regular people on the street, just to see something, to make them stare, make them glance, or however, to keep seeing. A piece of mine is something satisfying to me, as an artist even though without money or payment, I know I can still do what I do and love, and people still take kind to it.

Why do I do what I do? Mostly because it comes from my heart, it comes from my soul. My imagination is pretty huge, so whatever I think about or see, I try to make people see what I see, in the sense of how my imagination fits, however I want to put art on a wall, or on canvas or on a piece of paper or on a computer screen. So, it’s always coming from my imagination. My passion is first and foremost, everything I do, everything about me, is for the sake of art. I paint all the time. I draw all the time. It’s just something that I really enjoy doing. I am an artist living, and living within art. There is really no limitations how that can be put or explained.

Stephen William Schudlich

The Urban Explorer’s Data Companion, 2007
Blank book.
Creative Process Rationale Tree
(with Nick Sousanis)

My name is Stephen William Schudlich, I am an adjunct instructor at Wayne State University and at College for Creative Studies. I teach illustration and graphic design.

What I do, is I create maps, charts, installations, that are constructed from data that I go out and I collect when I walk and I drive around the city of Detroit. Social sort of material that I see, things that speak to what’s going on, what’s not going on, different sort of information like that. And a lot of times these pieces are put together in a very clinical, scientific way in a chart as a means to make it accessible to people to look at.

The reason I do it, I think, largely comes from a historical notion. As a child, I can remember driving around with my father, going from here to there, east side to west side, whatever the case may be. I’m a fourth generation Detroiter. And so we spent a lot of time within the city of Detroit. We would drive around and my dad would always take what was called the “long way.” The long way always facilitated a visual candy store of things to see. Whether it were people on the street, great architectural buildings, the ball park, Eastern Market, Michigan Avenue, all that sort of stuff. And so the long way facilitated that. And a lot of that notion still exists in why I do what I do. I enjoy those trips, I enjoy driving through the city of Detroit, through its urban areas, through its blight-affected, ghetto sort of communities, and I like to look at that stuff. I have this fascination with these places. And I like to record the visual stories and the material that I see there to the extent that I take my son with me on these trips now. He’s only three. He probably won’t remember a lot of it. He does remember, however, when he sees a house that’s broken, he will tell me, “Dad, that house is broken.” And so he has a real keen awareness of that. He also says that, “They need to fix that house.” My son is probably one of the smartest people in the car on those trips. I walk around a lot, I drive around a lot, I look at this information, and I want to make it available to people. I’m not an activist, I don’t have a political agenda, but I do enjoy the idea that perhaps some of these charts and installations can be put before people who may have a voice or may have the ability to affect a positive change in a community that clearly needs so much of it today. And so that’s a little bit of the driving force also of why I do what I do. But I truly believe that I would do it anyway. I would do it if I was doing it for pay. I would do it no matter what. It’s in me historically, it’s in me genetically. I have this, this fascination with this city that I was raised in, and that my ancestors were raised in and had such a foothold in. And so I think that that probably sums up the best way I can, why I do what I do.

Kathleen Rashid

Mother, 2007

I’m Kathleen Rashid. My work kind of reflects two sides of myself. I’m a painter on the one hand, I also make very large puppets that I used in street demonstrations, usually to protest war, injustice generally. I don’t often consider that my art per se, that’s not what I exhibit, it’s not really what I’m known for as an artist. The mask that I’m showing reflects more that side that has to deal with the political realities that we live in right now. I made the mask that I’m exhibiting specifically to protest the war in Iraq, Afghanistan, the occupation in Palestine, all the wars and violence in the world right now that we’re complicit in as citizens of the United States, that we’re forced to be complicit in. It invades every realm of life, so it invades the realm of my artmaking. I’m usually, like I say, known as a painter. I love to just examine the world as it is, the world that’s overlooked usually. I think that the best thing that art can do is to extend first the perception of the artist herself, and then hopefully that extends into the viewing audience. It becomes a narrower issue, when we’re dealing with issues of war. It brings us down to very narrow awarenesses that have to be made. That’s why it’s more uncomfortable and complicated for me to deal with political issues in my art. I feel like part of me is shrinking and I feel like the message has to shrink. That’s the way that war makes us smaller as human beings. It’s a difficult thing to describe. That’s an issue that I struggle with a lot. How much the art that I make should reflect the political realities, and how much they are able to transcend them. Right now my art is not able to transcend the political realities around me and that’s an impoverishment of art.

Ted Ramsay

Coffee Break, 2007
Acrylic on Canvas

My name is Ted Ramsay, and I’ve been teaching painting at the University of Michigan, and drawing, and other studio courses for 41 years, so I’m one of the senior people around the school. Why am I an artist? I’ve always thought of myself as an artist, my grandmother was an artist, my grandfather was an architect. So there was a lot of encouragement in the household whenever I did drawing. There’s something about drawing that goes in a different direction for me, it helps me communicate. I think that basically I’m a storyteller. I like to tell stories. For me, painting and drawing allows me to do this. I also do writing, and oftentimes I write down my ideas and then I’ll paint them. Sometimes I paint my ideas and then write them down afterwards. I, as a personal artist, feel that by drawing something I learn much more about it. We live in this really, incredibly fast-paced culture, and so by sitting down and drawing, or interviewing a person, painting them, I learn much more about them. I find that I can really understand something if I sit down and draw it. So for example, if I’m on a trip to Thailand or Burma or China, I actually sit down and I’ll draw a temple and learn about it. And then often times I’ve had monks come over and sit down and talk with me and look at the drawings. It’s a wonderful exchange. Drawing, I think like music, is a very universal kind of language. It just simply flows. I would like to make something very important out of it, but it’s a lifestyle, it’s an existence. I’m very happy when I do this. I enjoy teaching others how to see. For me seeing is really learning everything that I’ve really wanted to learn. It keeps me very balanced, very happy. Many of my pieces are about the human condition, the way people feel, think, and act.

I try to pick models that are very interesting to me as conversation partners, as well as a person who will be wonderful in a painting, they can take that mood, they know what I’m trying to do and they go along with me, and it becomes a dialogue, their modeling and my painting.

In my drawing, I try to combine the skills of the past, I try to pass that along to my students, and then I put it with contemporary ideology and techniques. So often I’ll put renaissance style drawing in with computer-generated images. I’m trying in my own way, as an older faculty member, to grow along with the students. And I learn from them. And I’m always in school, it seems like. When I’m teaching, I’m learning, and I think that’s one of the reasons that I’ve been in teaching for so long because I feel like I’m also a student.

Janie Paul

Witnessing Prison Art, 2005

I’m Janie Paul, and I’m a painter. And I’m also a curator and I guess a person who works with a lot of different people making art. So all of my life I have really enjoyed making my own art, by myself in my room, before I was grown up, or in my studio now, just sort of really liking that freedom of the imagination. I like to use very simple materials. I like to draw on wood. I like to draw outside. I love nature, and for a long time I painted from nature. And my work, though not traditional landscapes, it’s still based in landscape. But I’ve also all my life, loved working with people who don’t have access to art normally, and helping them have artistic experiences. So currently I work through the prison creative arts project, I work with prisons inside, adults and youths, and the main thing I do is curate this big art show in the spring of every year, where we collect work from about 42 prisons throughout Michigan. And it’s a big show, it’s a wonderful show, I’ve always been really inspired by that work. I also have a project called Detroit Connections where my students at the U of M work with students at Greenfield Union Elementary School, and I’m also very inspired by the children’s work. So these have been kind of two separate realms in my life for most of my life, my work in my studio and this work with people.

Why do I make this work? The reason why I make the work that I make in my studio is probably because I have to do it to remain sane and human. In other words, when I was a child, I had stacks of coloring books, and stacks of crayons and paper, I was just always a kid who was drawing, and it was a way that I took care of myself in a situation that wasn’t always the most conducive for me. So I grew up with this need to express my perceptions and that’s just continued through my life. But when I became more sophisticated as an artist, it then kind of transformed into understanding something about why, it moved a little bit more away from that personal need to, it’s important and significant because there’s a compelling need to express, to frame the way we see the world in a way that I believe in that can be translated into visual terms. So it’s not just that I like to make art, it’s that I do believe that the images that I make reflect something that’s human, that’s humane, and that I can communicate to people. So that’s about my own studio work. In terms of the work that I do with prisoners, that’s because I see that we’re in a giant crisis, this is a human rights issue that we have in our country, and that artists have a very powerful means to work on this issue, which is to be bringing the art out of these really difficult and horrendous places where people are locked up and enduring horrible conditions and to bring that out into the public. And it’s a two-way thing: it’s a wonderful thing for the artists to have their humanity recognized and it’s a wonderful thing for the community and the people who come to see shows. It’s a way for people to reconsider and reframe how they think about people in prison. And with the children, I’ve always loved children, I have a degree in art education, I love working with children. Like my studio work, it’s not just that I like it, but that it’s a belief that I have that we have too many children that are just, like the prisoners, enduring really difficult situations in poverty and difficult homes and schools. And that they’re not getting enough access to art, and art is really something that is, it’s freedom.

Anne Mondro

Souvenir: Time, 2006
Crocheted wire
Souvenir: Coupling, 2006
Pencil erasers, copper, brass, watch parts.

My name is Anne Mondro. I’m a mixed media, sculpture artist. I’ve been working on life-sized crocheted figures of the human form.

Why I do it? Part of it is because it feels good. It’s a way for me to express my ideas. As a little girl I had a severe speech impediment, so speaking was hard, and expressing myself verbally was so difficult that I started to draw and color. That to me was my way of expression and I’ve been continuing that and it’s developed into my passion. Within my work, I really hope that my work speaks to others about issues of empathy and feelings and emotions and things that are significant to who we are.

Well for me, having my own issues, there are feelings of times of embarrassment, times of struggle, and illness within my family, the need to be empathetic is so vital to me and art is one way that you can reach out to others. You can create a community as well as to express emotions that usually you don’t share. I hope my work does that.

Charles McGee

Unity, 2007
Stainless steel and aluminum.

My name is Charles McGee, I am an artist from this area. I have learned how to make art to a certain extent out of observation and deduction. I observe life, I observe nature’s giving to me the propensity to take its elements and push them around, and it becomes a teaching process. And that has to do with learning enough that you are able to teach well. The whole pursuit of this learning process for me has been almost a love/hate affair. Because it bothers me that we are in the predicament that we are in the world and yet, we can only take it so far as the teaching is concerned. I’m delighted that nature gave me this propensity to share the little information it has given me. And that is the motor that drives me into tomorrow, thinking about what I can do to help humanity if indeed I can contribute. But, as puzzling as it is to me, it’s very beautiful to see some of the results that have come out of the teaching process, it’s continual, it’s compulsive, it’s always there. Everything that I do is about trying to make tomorrow a better day, not only for myself, but for all around me, and I think that that’s the reason that I was given talent in the first place. I am very interested in materials and methods, and the logic that comes out of that for me, is all consuming, I sleep it, I drink it, it’s just total in making me the kind of person that I am, and consequently having the little richness that I have from nature’s gift, I try to give it back. That’s it.

Sadashi Inuzuka

Deep Blue, 2006
Porcelain objects, blue rectangle.

My name is Sadashi Inuzuka. I started as a ceramics maker, and then soon after I just started making installations using ceramics and other mediums. Now I am all over the place, but still clay is my primary medium.

It’s a very difficult question, but I think I’m searching for something, but I’m not quite sure. There are two parts of the answer. One part would be why I do. I think I would like to express some creative with energy and then I have a concern about life, and the relationship between nature and life. And I would like to express that concern, and also not only concern, it’s hope. But that’s very surface. In the deeper, deeper side, there are lots of layers, and layers, and layers, and layers of questions and reason to do, and that I don’t know. Probably I will never know, but I keep searching. That’s what I do.

I think the contribution to community is a very, very hard one, because while I’m making, in the creative process, I don’t think, it’s afterwards, sometimes comes, how can I contribute to community. Mainly, to me, it’s a very, very, selfish activity what I do, yet lots of people tell me but that in the end you are contributing something, and that all I have to do is believe I have contributed. As a maker, while you are making, it is very, very difficult to think that way. All I can do is hope what I do I have been able to contribute something to this society. As an artist of course, I often think I would like to give back to community. I still have hope, but I can not say how I’m contributing.

Adrian Hatfield

Untitled, 2007
Mixed Media Resin Painting

My name is Adrian Hatfield and I am a painter and sometimes sculptor. And I’m making work about the role of science and religion in contemporary society primarily.

I do what I do, I think, because I am fortunate enough to have the luxury to be able to do it. And I think art making is an incredibly self-gratifying activity in that I get to surround myself and really immerse myself in ideas and imagery that are important to me and I’m passionate about, and then I get to make objects that I want to see that I haven’t seen elsewhere.

What the value of that is, I’m not quite as sure about? It certainly has a strong value to me in again kind of a self-gratifying way in that I get to interact with other people and if somebody reacts to one of my pieces and I can have a conversation about something that I care about. I think that the value to the arts community as a whole, is that you can have a group of people who are maybe thinking outside of the box. When we’re living in this world where we’re inundated with formulaic movies and mass-produced objects, being able to go and talk to people who are maybe thinking about things a little differently and making things that might even surprise me, I think that’s a valuable, vibrant, and rich aspect to our society.

The question about what the value of this is on a greater scale, I think varies. I think about big aspects of social change, I think rarely is the fine art world part of that. But I look at something like Jeff Koons’ “Flower Puppy,” which is a gigantic sculpture of a puppy made out of entirely of flowers. I don’t know one person who doesn’t love that piece. And the amount of joy that something like that brings to artists, to non-artists, anybody who encounters that, I think there’s an incredible value in that. Ultimately you’ve got a lot of really passionate people working hard making things that they’re passionate about, and I just feel really fortunate to be able to be a part of it.

Phoebe Gloeckner

Once Had a Daddy
Pencil and ink on paper.
Digital photographs.

My name is Phoebe Gloeckner and I suppose I’m a graphic novelist, although I have difficulty defining what I do because it actually has evolved over time from one thing to another. But what I have done consistently is write and draw, despite the form it takes ultimately.

I am the type of person who couldn’t do anything but what I do. The reason why is because I’m so easily distractible that I could never hold a job in any other sphere. It’s difficult for me to work with people in an office setting for example, I get bored and distracted easily. I had ADD as a child and was always being punished and got kicked out of many schools. So with this record there wasn’t really anything else I could do except to express the pain caused by my own personality in my artwork and to try and work it out.

I’m not being facetious, it’s really true. There’s nothing else I could do, and there’s nothing else I wanted to do, and I never had any question about it. I think I make creative art, my drive is to explore things that I just don’t understand. And there are many things I don’t understand. I think that writing stories and drawing, or whatever I’m doing at the time, forces me to look at something and consider an idea or a problem intensely over a long period of time. Somehow in the end I feel like I’ve at least found an emotional truth if the work is successful and it helps myself understand life better.

Beverly Fishman

Untitled 009, 2007
Silkscreened vinyl on powder coated metal.
Untitled 010, 2007
Silkscreened vinyl on powder coated metal.

I’m Beverly Fishman, I’m an artist. My work comes from a large pool of medical imagery that I cull from medical texts and on the Internet. It’s then put into the computer, reworked, and made into silk screens and vinyl collage cutouts, which is then handmade on powder-coated metal or polished stainless steel. The most recent incarnation is including wall paper in my installations, which will become part of the meaning.

Why do I work? Ever since I was four years old, I had my first set of oil paints. Art chose me, I didn’t choose art. I’ve been involved with this process really before I could describe the process or understand the process and it has continued on.

This is the latest incarnation, but it started with talking about the human condition and using the cell. This was at least 20 years ago. I thought that the cell was a very powerful symbol of the self. So I’ve used pieces of the body, or abstract codes of the body, to talk about the larger human condition. And medical technology and technology in general have become such a strong impact on the way we live today and how we view ourselves. In abstract codes discussing the entire condition of the body, so an EKG patterns, we all know if it’s a flat line, it’s not a good sign. Those codes, like DNA codes that you see in here, or kinds of imprints that abstract technology has taken and represent the body in general.

Why do I do that? I think that it’s important for, in terms of the history of painting, to talk about current conditions. If painting, which has a very long history, doesn’t talk about the way in which we live today, for me it loses its meaning in society.

Denise Fanning

What Should We Do? 2003
Installation photo.
The Great Weight State, 2003
Installation photo.

I’m Denise Whitebread Fanning, and I’m a sculptor. I primarily make object-based sculpture as well as large scale installations which often are comprised of many smaller objects produced in repetitive fashion to come together to create a larger environment. My work is very labor intensive and time consuming. I often spend six months to a year making a particular installation or a piece.

So this question of why I do what I do is something that is very present in my life, it’s something that continually plagues me, because I question it on many levels. Primarily just because of the incredible cost and time that is necessary to produce my work and the ephemeral nature of it, in that I spend a year making a piece, install it and then deinstall it, and its life has been brief and it’s now ended. And so I question why did I invest all that time into that piece and what does it mean for me? I guess ultimately I hope that on some level the viewer having been able to be a part of that installation because installation by nature engages the space and engages the viewer, and allows the viewer to become a part of the piece, I hope that the viewer will take that experience with them and it will remain somehow alive in them in a way that perhaps I can’t predict. I hope that the intellectual levels of the work will reach them but more so I hope that the visceral environment that I intended to create will remain with them on some greater level.

DMC (Jim Puntigam)

Talk to the Hand, 2007
Painting and collage.

My name is James Puntigam. I sign my work DMC. I started doing serious work in 1986 when I quit my job from the state of Michigan. I was a case worker for the department of social services. I began to paint, some sculpture, but mostly painting and drawing. In the last three or four years, I began to assess my work, take inventory of my work, and see what I had been doing over the last 20 years or so. I looked at the body and individual pieces, I would look at stuff, throw it on the floor and look at it some more, I had stacks and stacks of paintings and drawings on paper and canvas. Most of the stuff looked unfinished to me, because in the last so many years, I’ve been focusing on the gestural quality of what I do. Now maybe I’m maturing a little bit, and I’m taking all my work and cutting pieces out and reassembling the stuff in hopefully exciting new ways. They become puzzles, sound puzzles I like to say, because I’m trying to create a sound – silent sound. So, nothing is sacred, everything is usable.

Why I do it? I do it because I can. After 20 years of doing this stuff, I understand how difficult it is to make a fine piece of work, a good piece of work that has a sound to it. It’s very hard, I struggle with it. For some reason I can do it, so I keep on doing it. It’s a faith type of thing. Artists are kind of like priests in a way, they delve into the spiritual realm, into the untalkable. That’s why it’s difficult for me to talk about this stuff. I don’t necessarily talk about what I do. I’m having a little difficulty explaining what a sound sounds like, what a painting sounds like. An artist is kind of like someone who is climbing a mountain, it is all about his experience. The value, I think, is intrinsic in the piece. If it has a sound, if somebody can hear it, the value to the community, if it’s just a community of one, it has an intrinsic value. If it has quality, which I said before is difficult to accomplish, if it has quality the value is intrinsic in the quality. I’m very grateful that I’m able to do what I do. It gives me a great deal of excitement and it makes me happy, and it also frustrates the hell out of me. But, I’m very grateful and that’s it.

Topher Crowder

Voices, 2007
Ink on primed wood

My name is Christopher Crowder, you can call me Topher. What I do is I do large pen and ink drawings on wood panel. Conceptually they are streams of consciousness. There’s no sketching, no editing, no preconceived ideas. Basically just starting from the center and working out.

Why I do it? I do it as a release, in my case, the creativity inside me that I feel, I need to release it in a way that is healthy. I’ve tried not releasing it in the past and it turns to bitterness, it turns to anger, and then it turns to depression. Just like emotions, if they’re not released, if they’re stored up, pented up. My work is again, it’s selfish, it’s not going to change the world, it’s not going to help you recycle or anything like that, it’s raw, it’s my emotion on wood panel, and it’s what I feel. And it helps me. That’s why I do it.

Larry Cressman

Drawing (in a corner), 2007
Installation drawing – sticks, graphite, pins.

My name is Larry Cressman, I’m an artist and I work with drawing and printmaking, and my work over the last 30 years has evolved into three-dimensional site-specific work.

Early on as a child, I thought I wanted to be an archaeologist. I very much enjoyed finding things, making collections, I was very attracted to the physical object. We grew up in the city, often played in the alley. Trash day was a favorite day for doing a search, for finding things. Often my family would take us on trips to the country to visit friends on a farm. I was certainly very attracted to that environment and I think that’s had a major impact on the work that I do today.

I think that the activity of making art is a very positive and constructive one. It’s certainly a mysterious activity, but it’s one that I’ve been drawn to for years and gives me great pleasure.

Is it important to make art? Yes, it’s a definitive yes. I know I’m not happy if I can’t do it. It seems like a very constructive activity in contrast to the overwhelmingly destructive activities that are going on in the world today.

Jim Cogswell

Which, 2004
Oil painting on primed paper

My name’s Jim Cogswell. Most of what I do is influenced by my background as a painter. About 14 years ago I began making images that were based on an anthropomorphic alphabet. I used the alphabet just as a kind of system for making more complex images in sequences. First I thought of them individually, then I began putting them together in a sequence from A to Z as if I were putting the whole alphabet up. A while later I realized that these were the building blocks for language. And I was willing to use them in strings to create words, but I didn’t want just any word. So I picked words that were entirely dependent on their context. Words like “this,” “that,” “the,” “for,” some linguists call these words “shifters.” I like that, because I think that whatever we make as artists is entirely dependent on context and that is a physical context as well as a conceptual context.

Why do I do what I do? I’ve gravitated towards this way of working because it allows me to think through my body, for thinking through my whole being. It allows me to be a maker. I can pick up my work anytime I need to – I have a ready starting point. It is a form of reflecting physically on the components of my life. I grew up overseas as a child of missionary parents in Japan. I grew up quite accustomed to living in an environment that I didn’t completely understand linguistically or culturally. I was comfortable there. So there’s part of me that is quite comfortable living without a ready explanation and I sometimes worry, I sometimes think that that may not be characteristic of everybody that I’m around. For example, a ready analogy for what I do is, I love music, I listen to music often while I work in the studio alone. But I’m much more interested in what happens to me through my absorption of musical structures than I am by what people are saying in lyrics. I get real tired of lyrics really fast, and it becomes an obstruction to something that I feel is much more profound. So I listen to music that’s instrumental primarily or music in languages that I don’t understand. That’s probably the best analogy for what I make as art, is making music in languages that can’t be directly understood.

Adnan Charara

Bow to the King, 2007
Oil on canvas, cricket ball
Destiny, 2006
Found Object

I am Adnan Charara and I am a visual artist. I believe the best way to describe my work is, I’d like to call myself a visual poet and a philosopher. Most of my work has to deal with certain issues that I believe I would love to address. From there I do my research and then I proceed with my work.

And therefore I work in many different mediums, because I’m not confined to one particular medium, whether paint or sculpture or any different tool. Because to me, all these things are more tools that help me convey the right message what I would like people to understand.

Why do I do these things? The same reason I feel I take a fresh breath every day. The same reason I feel I need to eat. I need to create. I need to do art. I need to show my perspective to people and hope to bring some understanding or awareness so that people can really connect together and understand each other as a human being to make this place a better place for the duration of time I’m on this earth. That’s it.

David Barr

Transcending, Hart Plaza, Detroit, MI, 2003 (Top)
Dawn, Warren City Hall, Warren, MI, 2006 (Middle)
Liberation, Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, Ann Arbor, MI, 2002 (Four lower images)

Installation Photos.

My name is David Barr, I’m a creative worker. One thing I believe is that the way I live my life, there’s making love and there’s making art, everything else is waiting. The reason I do what I do is that I probably wouldn’t want to live if I couldn’t do it. I don’t find the same fulfillment out of anything except those things. I suppose I’m categorized as a sculptor, and I’m more that than I am a two-dimensional artist. But I really think of myself these days as a creative worker. I relate to workers, I like the idea of working, I like the idea of approaching my life with a creative attitude rather than as a simple, mechanical kind of process. So I try to understand what’s around me, I try to make visible that which has been invisible and I find tremendous fulfillment in doing that.

I thought I’d just give a little example of how I might go about doing a project. I was approached by Pfizer Pharmaceutical in Ann Arbor to do a project for their research and development lab there. The way I first started to think about it, I didn’t have an idea that I wanted to drop off on their campus, I wanted to build it organically from the inside out. So I began asking questions of the chemists and the people there: “What do you do here, what is the research and development, how does it come about?” What struck me was, that the ideas are, you’re searching for something, you may find it, you may not find it, or you may find something that’s useful that you didn’t expect to find. So I approached the project and ended up doing 10 different clusters of granite pieces that are around the campus, these are pretty big pieces, and engraved on them different chemical elements. And really tried to have each of these clusters express a different aspect of investigation and development of something. So when you walked around the campus you thought you were following a sort of development, and you thought maybe out of these granite boulders was going to emerge a sphere. But in the end what you found was what emerged was an egg. And this egg form is up closer to the buildings and it’s surrounded by a Rumi poem which says, “and the nature of reality is this: it is hidden, it is hidden, it is hidden.” Which I felt is precisely what happens both for artists, scientists, anybody trying to do legitimate creative work, it is hidden even to them – it has to emerge out of the process.

Lynne Avadenka

The Distance Between Monuments IV, 2006

Mixed media drawing.
By a Thread, 2006
Limited Edition Artist’s Book.

My name is Lynne Avadenka. I create works that are a combination and sometimes a collision of words with imagery. I’m interested in ideas of memory, of loss, narrative, storytelling. Some of these come into play by working within the book format, I’m interested in the idea of the book as the container of ideas, the physical book as well as the metaphor of the book, the idea that it is one object that binds together many different ideas. So I’ve created limited edition artists books, I’ve done mixed media works on paper inspired by the idea of the book, notions of communication. I use text often because I feel that it’s a way to bring people into the work. To me it’s fascinating that text, or letters, are composed of all these little abstract lines that somehow we manage to decipher and read. I think that sometimes the marks that I make as an artist that are considered abstract can also be deciphered and read. So I like the combination of both those kinds of systems. I also use text because I find that people will become engaged with the work a lot quicker when there’s text, they’ll step right up to the work and read that work. And text is a way to get them to become more directly engaged with the work. In terms of process, how I go about work and projects, I often start by reading, which is maybe not so typical for a visual artist. I may find a text that inspires and then translate that into some kind of visual imagery.

In terms of why do I do this? I guess selfishly, or I guess just human nature, I do it for myself first. It’s a way for me to become engaged directly in all those ideas that I spoke about first, about narrative, storytelling, reading, it’s a kind of a way to problem solve all these things, or go on some kind of exploration of them. And then combine them in such a way that I’m going to connect with an audience or a viewer to the work that I made.

Shiva Ahmadi

Camels, 2006
Watercolor on canvas

As a Persian artist, two of the greatest influences in my life were the Iranian revolution and the resulting war with Iraq. The war and its memories inspired most of the work I have done in the past few years. The conflict with Iraq began when I was 6 years old. It was on an afternoon in September when Iraqis attacked Iranian air bases at Tehran’s major airport. After that day the dominant memories of my childhood were the daily city bombings and their results: the handicapped children, the sobbing and screaming of the families who lost their loved ones, the black fabrics that appeared all over the city as a sign of national mourning. The eight-years of war between Iran and Iraq ended without a definitive outcome when Iran accepted the UN Security Council's resolution.

Years later, after I moved to the United States, the US/Iraq war erupted. It brought back many dark childhood memories, and made me want to communicate about this personal history through my art. I started researching the concept of war and how it impacts society, from the emotional damage suffered by individuals to economic hardship to a sense of instability and uncertainty that hangs over all aspects of life. I embarked on a new body of work of large-scale watercolor painting using narrative images and heroic stories from Islamic mythology and Koran. The stories in my paintings are primarily told through the use of animal forms and mythological figures. Mixing and matching these images that I find in Persian and Indian miniature paintings allows me to both use their iconic status while also creating a new identity and stories for them. These images serve as useful symbol given the associated stories and narratives they are a part of. Using these mythological figures, combining and modifying them, and presenting them in the context of our modern life is a way for me to question the role of governments, politicians and figures in authority. My work traverses the boundary between painting and drawing. While I am comfortable with oils and acrylics, the primary medium I work in is watercolor. The flowing, imprecise nature of water helps me to convey the concept of instability. At the level of materials, I use Persian tea and saffron to put a colored and scented wash down on the paper I use before working. I then layer up the surface with watercolors, ink washes, intermittently mixing and layering with graphite and/or mechanical pencils. As my work can be seen through the lens of my cultural identity as an Iranian born, I have integrated the materials, thematic and iconography of both my Persian heritage and contemporary western art practices.

(note, this statement replaces an earlier interview transcript)

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Press Release

Exhibition: Why – Why we make creative work, from the people who make it.
17 November – 26 January
Opening Reception Saturday 17 November, 6-9pm
Work : Detroit Gallery, 3663 Woodward Ave., Detroit, MI 48201
Regular Hours: 10am – 5pm Tuesday – Saturday
Exhibition Website:

What compels artists and designers to create, often in the face of staggering obstacles? Where does that drive come from? Why do we do what we do?

On November 17, 2007 find out “Why,” as artist and designers from Detroit and faculty from the University of Michigan School of Art & Design offer their individual diverse responses to questions about the source of their creative work. The resulting variety of perspectives in work and in words offers an educational and insightful exploration of the origins of creativity. A selection of work from each artist/designer is supplemented by the transcribed text of his/her responses to the question “why”, as well as a video of all the responses. For viewers, the show features an interactive component that allows visitors to record their responses to this central question about the nature of creativity.

As a complement to this exhibition, some of the responses by artists and viewers may also be developed as a series of shorts that will run on PLAY TV (Michigan Television and the Michigan Channel) and also be available on

Featured exhibitors include: Shiva Ahmadi, Lynne Avadenka, David Barr, Adnan Charara, Jim Cogswell, Larry Cressman, Topher Crowder, DMC, Denise Fanning, Beverly Fishman, Phoebe Gloeckner, Adrian Hatfield, Sadashi Inuzuka, Charles McGee, Anne Mondro, Janie Paul, Ted Ramsay, Kathy Rashid, Stephen Schudlich, Sintex, Gilda Snowden, Nick Tobier, Ed West, and Elizabeth Youngblood.

About Work : Detroit
With the establishment of the UM Detroit Center in the cultural center of Detroit, the University of Michigan has returned to its roots and renewed its commitment to the people and the city of Detroit. To further cultivate this engagement with the community, the School of Art & Design is bringing together the creative communities of Detroit and Ann Arbor with a new shared space for creative work and dialogue — Work : Detroit, the School of Art & Design’s newest gallery.

Through its exhibitions and related programming, this first of its kind gallery promises to serve as an intersection for the convergence of people and creative work from Detroit to Ann Arbor and beyond. It is in this fertile terrain that ideas collide and new perspectives to help us all face a rapidly changing future bloom.

a cultural nerve center where people, places, and creative work intersect