October 12, 2015

“insights” into Gardner & Harris @ NCA Gallery

I finally had a chance to take in the three-person show going on at the NCA Gallery: Michigan Chapter, located in a community center on Meyers Road in the Northwest. It’s a neighborhood where I spent a lot of time two summers ago, leading a Greening of Detroit teen work crew doing tree watering, so I was happy to get to revisit the streets where we hauled water and trimmed trees.

I love that this gallery is in a community center. I wish every community center had an art gallery, especially one as nice, and thoughtfully curated as this one. Because the show is really dynamite. I have encountered both Carole Harris’ and Saffell Gardner’s work before, but put side-by-side, they just made so much sense together. Throw Yolanda Sharpe into the mix, and you have this neat little trifecta of work, each artist has their own voice, but there is the unmistakable sense that they are riffing off each other, too.

"Mythology 1/2/3" - three mixed-media pieces by Saffell Gardner.

“Mythology 1/2/3” – three mixed-media pieces by Saffell Gardner.

Detail from a work by Carole Harris.

Detail from a work by Carole Harris.

I can’t say enough about Carole Harris. The degree to which she has been able to let go of the “rules” of quilting and freeform in that usually structured mode is inspiring to me, as a just-starting-out quilter. Thing about quilts is, usually when people start to play around, tweak the form, they just get cheesy. But Carole’s stuff is so, so elevated. Are you burning that fabric, Carole? I think she is. I can’t image how else she is getting those ink-blot shapes in the middle of whole pieces. The piece which incorporates a fragment of embroidered tulle, making the stitching seem to float like foliage over the landscape, literally destroyed me. It is so subtle and so clever and so sophisticated.

Teach me your ways, Carole Harris.

Teach me your ways, Carole Harris.

And Saffell, well. If I were to create a connective thread between his and Carole’s work, I would say that they both somehow embody a spirit of jazz, without being about jazz or like music at all. There is a feel of being intensely improvisational and instinctive, while also tightly composed. An artist who has internalized the mechanisms of craft, and can rely on them reflexively, leaving him free to follow his impulses and visions. His work is so visceral. Whenever I see it, I feel like, “Huh, that’s right.”


“Village I/II” – two large-scale oil/vinyl works by Saffell Gardner.

This is my first encounter with Yolanda Sharpe’s work, and the figurative still-life watercolor paintings seem sort of out of step with the other work…until you see her encaustic mixed-media pieces. There’s the jazz (one of them is actually titled “Miles Davis, Fat Times”). Understanding that to be at the root of her newer, more scripted imagery was the key for me to looking at it and seeing it more as a dance of shapes and negative spaces than as the actual subjects, “Winter Pears,” “Glass, Fruit, Cloth Patterns.” At that point, the connection to the other work seemed obvious.

"Inverted U-Shape" and "Miles Davis, Fat Times" by Yolanda Sharpe.

“Inverted U-Shape” and “Miles Davis, Fat Times” by Yolanda Sharpe.

Detail from "Silver Vase" by Yolanda Sharpe.

Detail from “Silver Vase” by Yolanda Sharpe.

Imagine seeing shapes like that, everywhere you look. Great vision, and great on the NCA Gallery for sharing it with anyone who walks through the door. Ba-zow!

“insights” continues at the NCA Gallery through October 31st – 18100 Meyers Road, Detroit; 313.342.1786;

Leave a Reply