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Art in the Roots: #2, A Superhero Revisited

Since my first post only introduced the series, this is the first real Art in the Roots post, so let’s start at the beginning. My earliest reading memories are Incredible Hulk comics. My brother (three years older) had a bunch, and I’d squirrel them away when he wasn’t watching. Looking back, he probably knew and was just done reading them, but I thought I was getting away with something. Of course, this made reading all the more enticing, and I’d stare at those comic panels over and over, unable to read the words yet but still catching the gist of the story. 

I was also recently nabbed by COVID after two years of consistently following guidelines. (There is no individual in a pandemic, my friends. It’s a team sport.) I’m thankful I was able to work remotely, but I was still isolated, alone all night, which allowed me to catch up on the most recent Marvel movies and shows. (If this blog did reviews, I’d spend the next four hours ranting about how The Eternals has a sequel lined up but Hawkeye doesn’t. Just … come on, man.)

Stir those two elements of my life together, and I got thinking about the Hulk. I’m not even sure how many Hulk movies there are at this point. I’ve started reading Marvel comics again too, using my kids as an excuse but subscribing to a few just for myself too. As near as I can tell, no one is quite sure what to do with the Hulk anymore in either medium.

The Hulk is originally a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde tale, an exploration of our id but also a nuclear age anxiety dream. If you’re unaware of the character’s history, the Incredible Hulk was introduced in May 1962. In the first issue, mild-mannered scientist Bruce Banner is exposed to gamma radiation during a bomb test in the dessert, and the Hulk is born. The character has changed many times over the years, but the central element is Banner trying to contain his Hulk side, the conscious brain versus the unconscious brain. 

They help us see who we can be, how we can help others, how we can do the hard things because it’s the right thing to do. 

Art helps us examine ourselves, but as I mentioned in post #1, there’s a prevailing theory lately that people don’t want to examine much these days. This leads me to a new hypothesis: The Hulk has fallen out of narrative favor because he is the superhero most like us here in 2022. 

Image by ErikaWittlieb from Pixabay

We know who we should be. We know how we should be. But then we log on. We go down a Facebook vortex, and the next thing you know, you’re my high-school classmate wishing someone death by vaccination. (To be clear, that ain’t a thing, my dude.) We watch only one news channel, and we become the Hulk. Unchecked id, angry with inaccurate, uninformed evidence. We are a world of ignorant digital Hulks. 

We avoid the Hulk these days because art is a mirror, and we don’t like how ugly we are. We really don’t like the Hulk because his other half, Bruce Banner, uses factual evidence to help others, to be a good person, to be how we know we should be. (He got blasted by radiation in the first place because he was saving Rick Jones, a teenager who had driven into the middle of the bomb test unawares.) This is what superheroes do, ultimately, and it’s why Marvel movies are so indescribably popular: They help us see who we can be, how we can help others, how we can do the hard things because it’s the right thing to do. 

Before we write this off as yet another piece against social media, that’s not it either. Social media has made me massively more aware of the oppressive world Black Americans endure. Of how it feels to be a woman in our country. Of how it feels to be anything other than me, a straight white man. Social media isn’t the problem. We are, with our dark underbellies. We think of racism as some historical element of American history, but the folks yelling at Ruby Bridges in all those photos? Most are still alive. It’s not old history. It’s still now. The Hulk is in everyone, and some let him out gladly and unchecked. 

We can’t fix anything without looking at ourselves in the shadows. We all have a Hulk, ready to smash what’s good. This isn’t really where I meant to go with my first blog piece, but I guess I’m asking us to grapple with why our Hulks are so angry at our Banners, why our ids want to ruin what our scientists have built. We’ve got the Hulk part covered—we need our art to help us appeal to our collective Bruce Banner.

— Mitch Nobis

Game Theory & Aéroneufs: Jef Bourgeau at KickstART Gallery

A collection of new artwork by Jef Bourgeau is on view at the KickstART Gallery from June 1st through July 23rd.

The exhibition is sponsored by Artpack Services, Inc.

A reception with the artist will be held on June 16th from 5-8 pm.

“As an early innovator in digital art, Bourgeau has explored the boundaries of constructed space while playing with the interaction of standard perception and art. By folding and spinning and crushing, his most recent work interrupts familiar art tropes and invites the viewer to untangle that history.” – Jan van der Marck

​Jef Bourgeau’s art has exhibited in galleries in London, Amsterdam, Seattle, San Francisco, New York, New Mexico, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, Berlin, Beijing, and Austria. His work has shown in museums in Boston, Houston, Columbus, Detroit, San Jose, Cleveland, Portland, Honolulu, Mumbai, Roubaix, Vienna, and Tokyo. It has been written about in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Art in America, the Village Voice, Art News, Flash Art, Reason, the Art Newspaper, Tema Celeste and Vanity Fair. His work has also been discussed and cited in several books, including Visual Shock by Michael Kammen (winner of the Pulitzer Prize), Cultural Policy by Toby Miller and George Yudice, and The Artist’s Quest for Inspiration by Peggy Hadden.

​”Jef Bourgeau’s cybered-up trompe l’oeil prints regenerate abstract art’s DNA into a sort of fizzy vertigo mixed with a feckless reverie.” – Jerry Saltz, Pulitzer Prizewinning Art Critic

 “Bourgeau’s new body of work is both original and elaborate in form and color as if at the hand of a reborn Picabia, of a sort of Cubism freshly discovered after a century of modern art, but bearing newfound gestural expression while utilizing hi-tech pixelations, making them uniquely intelligent and emotional creations well beyond any possible other.” Lucio Pozzi for The Art Newspaper

“Pushing creative evolution in a Darwinian manner, Jef Bourgeau has become the consummate Hunter-Gatherer in the wide world of art.” – Ted Lee Hadfield, KickstART Gallery Curator

Take a virtual tour of the exhibition in the video below.

Art in the Roots: #1: The Introduction. The Mission. The Blog.

Welcome to Art in the Roots, a new ongoing blog series by Mitch Nobis (host of Wednesday Night Sessions) for KickstART Farmington!

I think about art a lot. Here’s the thing: You do too. We all do. As a society, though, we don’t really talk about that. 

It’s a huge detriment because, as a people, we tend to walk around thinking art doesn’t impact us. But then we’ll listen to Marvin Gaye while in a text chat about how great Ted Lasso was and end the conversation with a gif from The Office before we sit down to stream the latest Pixar flick with our kids for pizza and a movie night where even the pizza box has a cartoon on it. 

We are addicted to art, as we should be, but we don’t talk much about it as art. Sure, we talk about box office takes or gossip about actors, but we rarely talk about why we need art. 

” … each post will highlight a different work of art or artist, be it a poem, book, movie, show, person, painting, or what have you, and I’ll think about how it helps me reflect on our contemporary world”

So why do we need art? There are endless reasons, but in this blog I’ll focus on one: Art helps us evaluate our own lives in this entropic world. Life is wild and weird. Art helps us think about it. We are always the main character in our own minds. This is a human condition, for better or worse, and art gives us a way to examine, reflect, and think about who we are, how we should be, and who we want to be tomorrow. 

I’m an educator by trade, and that world is filled with grants for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), and while that is obviously all valuable to our society too, we must remember to focus on art too. Our bridges and computers and vaccines make life easier and save our very lives, but art gives us meaning, or, more to the point, it helps us find meaning. If it’s the stem that keeps our world moving, then maybe art is in the roots. 

By no means will this blog ever be all-encompassing. We also haven’t blogged much as a society in a decade, but I’ll try to recapture that old second-draft (at best) feeling we used to get when blogging was more common. I’m also a poet, a genre of writing that usually requires seemingly endless revisions, so I’ll try to not do that over here. I’ll think out loud instead of overthinking things. Please keep that in mind when you read them! Please?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how literature helps us process life, people, politics, existential dread, and everything else. There is a trend in publishing right now where some editors think writers should avoid writing about COVID altogether. Apparently they think people want escapism and don’t want to think about real problems. Langston Hughes didn’t do that. Picasso didn’t do that. Toni Morrison didn’t do that. I’m thankful. Escapism is wonderful, but all art is political and never truly escapist. It all comes back to us, our lives, ourselves. 

The goal here, then, is that each post will highlight a different work of art or artist, be it a poem, book, movie, show, person, painting, or what have you, and I’ll think about how it helps me reflect on our contemporary world. I hope you enjoy reading these posts and that they spur some thinking and discussion of your own. Or at least a nice Ted Lasso gif.

The Creative Life in Our Cities: A Conversation with Virginia Masson

We have many talented artists and creatives living and working in our Farmington/Farmington Hills community and this series introduces you to some of them.

Today we feature artist Virginia Masson.

When did you first get started in the arts?

I have drawn, sketched, doodled my whole life. I dove into painting 20 years ago and never looked back.

Did you receive formal training in art?

I am mostly self-taught. I have taken some college level art courses and was certified as an Intentional Creativity instructor and coach in 2018. The Intentional Creativity training was world changing for me and really freed me from my previous, hyper-realistic art.

Listen to your inner wisdom, follow that voice. No one else can tell you what your art is.

Who has been a mentor to you along the way?

Shiloh Sophia McCloud.

Can you describe something you’ve created that is particularly meaningful to you?

My first full color painting of the Muse – Compassion is so memorable because it came from deep within me, rather than being a reflection of something outside myself.

Has your art appeared in any city programs or events, such as the Public Art Program at City Hall or Art on the Grand?

I have shown at Art Prize, Musea gallery in Sonoma, CA., participated in an online gallery event at the United Nations among other online gallery shows and have my images featured in magazines. I will have a booth at Art on the Grand this year.

Can you share a favorite quote about art or life?

“We are not here to impress, but to express.” – the Peace Muse (that’s me)

What advice or suggestions do you have for younger artists?

Listen to your inner wisdom, follow that voice. No one else can tell you what your art is.

What do you think is missing from the arts community in Farmington/Hills?

I think we’ve got a great start! Would love to see the Winery become studio and gallery space filled with artists and their art!

Why is celebrating and promoting art healthy for a local community?

Art opens minds and hearts. It helps us to consider other views, other lives, other opportunities. Self-expression helps us to work through challenges, dream clearer futures and celebrate this incredible life!


You can learn more about Virginia Masson and her work at http://www.peacemuseart.com.

Summer Season of Wednesday Night Sessions

Poet Mitch Nobis hosts a new season of the virtual Wednesday Night Sessions author reading series with writers Todd Dillard, Kelli Russell Agodon, Hanif Abdurraqib, Nick Arvin, and Joan Kwon Glass. The series kicks off on Wednesday, June 1st, at 7:00 pm and you can view on our YouTube channel HERE.

Student Art at KickstART Gallery Features Artwork by Students from Visions Unlimited

In March, KickstART Farmington launched a new program at the KickstART Gallery & Shop exhibiting the work of students from the Farmington/Hills community. This initiative is coordinated by Katy Baracco in collaboration with the art teachers in our schools.

The first two months have been focused on showcasing the artwork of students from Visions Unlimited and Lisa Wiltrakis, a special education teacher and art teacher at the school answered some questions for us about their program.

Tell us about the students at Visions Unlimited and the services you provide to them.

Visions Unlimited is an Adult Transition program operated by Farmington Public Schools. Visions serves adults ages 18 through 26 years of age who have physical and/or developmental disabilities and students on the autism spectrum. Students are assigned to Visions Unlimited through the special education Individualized Educational Planning Team (IEPT) process and are residents of Farmington and Farmington Hills. The Visions staff is dedicated to ensuring that each student reaches their potential as a contributing citizen, productive worker, and community participant. Each student has individual goals for improving independent living and employability skills. Through classroom and community-based instruction, these goals are achieved.

Visions students participate in a variety of programs including Bountiful Backpacks (provides food to students in Title 1 schools) PEAC (Programs to Educate all Cyclists), Smart Bus training, and Book Club with the local Farmington Public Library. These programs offer exposure for community outreach and teach strategies for independent living. Daily enrichment classes are part of the Visions Unlimited curriculum. These classes focus on leisure activities and physical fitness. Current enrichment classes include Fitness, Yoga, Cardio Drumming, Fine Arts, Sports, Cooperative Games and Music. Students look forward to these classes which occur during the last hour of the school day. All the Visions students participate in work-based learning both on campus and in the community. Students learn and practice Universal Work Skills. These skills are very important in attaining and maintaining a job. Some of the on-campus work-based learning jobs include Food Prep, Visions Vocations, MicroEnterprise and Bountiful Backpacks. Off campus worksites include Busch’s grocery store, Costick Center, Hillside Elementary School, Farmington Library, Holiday Inn Hotel, the Farmington Hawk Center, Holy Family Church, and Central Office/Ten Mile. All Visions students participate in the PAES/Micro-Enterprise class. PAES (Practical Assessment Exploration System) PAES is a hands-on program that has multi-steps. Students practice universal work skills.

 

The students learn:

•Entry level skills in multiple career/work areas

•Follow work procedures

•Appropriate work behaviors

•Problem solving skills

Our Production shop is a Micro-Enterprise operation, set up to provide the students with work-related experiences. This environment exposes students to real-life work situations. They learn how to follow multi-step directions, build stamina, increase dexterity, problem-solve, track finances, and so much more. We are committed to upcycle, recycle, and reuse whenever we can. 

 

Art offers a creative (and enjoyable) way to communicate without restrictions, without worries of being judged as there is no such thing as failing when you create art.

What kinds of artistic opportunities do you engage the students with?

Every student gets to choose an enrichment activity including music, art, fitness, technology, yoga, cooperative games, and cardio drumming. In our Art class at Visions, the students learn about various famous artists and their techniques and what inspired them. They learn about the basic elements of art and create individual artwork using a variety of mixed media based on the theme of the project. Themes have included impressionism, mosaicism, pop art, surrealism, pointillism, and two-dimensional art to name a few. 

In the Visions Microenterprise Shop students assist in the creation of projects that include designing and producing greeting cards. This is a multi-step project that includes mixing colors and other materials to create papier fait – which is their own paper. Their ideas and artistic eye become products to sell.  As a staff we try to use other students to critique and question ideas, so they are collaborating with minimal staff input.  

Why do you find it important for the students to engage with art?

Art promotes freedom of creative expression, which helps students to relax and think differently. Art offers an opportunity for self-expression. Art can be a way to communicate for our young adults who find it hard to express their thoughts and feelings verbally. Art offers a creative (and enjoyable) way to communicate without restrictions, without worries of being judged as there is no such thing as failing when you create art. This process gives them a sense of accomplishment and builds their self-confidence. Art is very calming and uninhibiting, and there is no “wrong” when it comes to art. We get to see a side of our students that we normally may not never have ever known existed. As Pablo Picasso once said, “Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life” 

How can people learn more about your programs and support your work?

People can learn more about Visions Unlimited by going to the Farmington Public Schools website: farmington.k12.mi.us/vis.


Art by students at Visions Unlimited will be on display through April and art by students from the community will continue to be exhibited through the year.

This exhibition (and those to follow) was made possible by Benjamin R. Sweeney who left a legacy of love, support, and awareness, a man who had a passion for life and a deep love for family. Ben took great pride in watching his grandson Christopher thrive in the SXI program at Visions Unlimited. 

Never being able to meet future students in this program, Ben wanted others to have the ability to thrive the way his grandson did. 

Part of Ben’s legacy is to show what these SXI individuals “CAN” do and share their successes with you.