This weekend at Inner State Gallery brought the opening of "Critical Infrastructure Against External Threats", celebrated artist Derek Hess' first solo Detroit showcase since 2002. Those most familiar with his work as an extremely talented and stylized poster artist may have been confused to see gallery walls full of broken, defaced 8-track cassettes, nude female sketches scrawled upon the worn covers of old Playboys, dozens of bargain-bin record jackets screened with the same identical, Detroit-themed design, and more charcoal-sketched, angel-winged corpses than you could swing a hangman's noose at.
Yet, for a middle-aged, worn-out, and irrationally sentimental
cynic, such as myself, these works represented a longing for the
innocent childhood pleasure of stumbling upon a withered and torn Playboy
in the concealed sanctuary of my neighborhood woods or the musty scent
of mildew released while flipping through an Uncle's milk crates
of abandoned records, forsaken in favor of chunky, colorful
8-track cassettes, stacked in unstable towers upon a dusty,
smoked-plastic turntable cover. Unsettlingly, each series of works and Hess'
drawings contained the very real themes of adult desperation and
despondency, revealing the insecurity of broken love, aging, loss, and
the sometimes overwhelming futility of life itself. Hess' command of
the human form remains undeniable on some pieces, while others portray
an exhausted and almost uninspired style, which only enhances
the emotional arrest conveyed throughout. The Detroit-flavored
record covers in one section featured identical silkscreening, each
album jacket belonging to Detroit-based musical artists. Overall,
the showing was a major success, with Hess, dog in his arms, greeting
the sizable crowd of admirers, visitors, and collectors.
- Special Report for MCB by Lance Sanders