Artist: Gary Eleinko
GE – Iced tea, tuna melt
SRS – Coffee (black), Kenna (chicken salad sandwich), pickle wedge
Maybe it’s sort of a Fluxus concept–it’s weird when things you’re into turn out to be Things–but I tend to think that objects and environments harbor energy, and that the more time and attention you spend on something, the more you invest energy there that is discernible in the space. Gary Eleinko has been living and working as an artist and teacher in Detroit for decades, and his energetic signature in the spaces he’s created is palpable–whether that’s his eclectic home in Corktown, brimming with salon-style arrangements of his art collection, a veritable who’s-who of the Detroit art scene since the 1980s, or his studio on Brooklyn Street, where he is the longest-standing tenant in a building whose lobby entrance is crammed with selections from the landlord’s own art collection.
The studio space is massive, giving Gary enough room for several active maker spaces–which suits his multi-media approach that incorporates woodworking, painting, found object assembly, collage, and encaustic painting–as well as a sort of viewing room, where Gary can hang and reflect upon finished works (which sometimes turn out not to be finished). His pieces very much indicate his foundations in the Cass Corridor movement, drawing together varied collections of materials–wood scraps, broken china, sticks, found objects–covering them with wild shades of paint, and mounting them into dimensional compositions on canvases that reject the rectangular binary. During his teaching years, Gary worked strictly within two canvas shapes–“I spent a decade doing nothing but X’s, and then a decade doing triangles,” he proclaims–but following his retirement, something came loose, and his inspiration takes new shapes all the time.
In talking to Gary, I recognize a similar dichotomy between order and chaos. In a home that contains easily 100 different art objects, his collection is curated into little thematic sets–“Can you believe I found four works of art all about screws?” he enthuses. Likewise, his own work manifests as chaotic scenes, many of which deal with natural disasters, man vs. nature, and struggles political and personal, but as he points out details or reveals his own thinking about the work, there is often a very direct line of association. In a series of small works that deal with different elements in the periodic table, each piece tends to involve the actual element, where possible–“Mercury” features a jar of real mercury and a thermometer; “Silver” has a Susan Anthony dollar and the state of Nevada. Gary refers to a large wall-mounted rack of hose segments as a “waterfall”–it is easy to follow his thinking, imagining water flowing through the blue-painted sections of hoses–and embedded in the background are little flashes of salmon-colored paint, indicating, you guessed it, salmon.
Really, these spaces are just an extension of Gary’s radiant spirit, and engagement in his environment. With so much investment in place, it is easy to overlook the fact that Gary himself is a vessel for history and perspective that is fading–especially in fast-gentrifying areas like his stronghold of Corktown. There’s something really nice about getting to witness all that energy and accumulation of place. I’d recommend trying to catch hold of him yourself, if you get the chance.