Who: Marianne Letasi, Barbara Melnik Carson, Nancy Pitel
What: "Shadows and Passages"
When: Friday October 17th, 6-10pm-opening reception
Where: River's Edge Gallery 3024 Biddle Wyandotte, MI 48192
Contact Info: firstname.lastname@example.org
Through Light and Dark, Three Artists Depict the Human Odyssey
By: Stephanie Knight
"Three women, three mediums, three viewpoints"-this is what a new show opening at River's Edge Gallery in downtown Wyandotte is all about according to Jeremy Hansen, the gallery director, referring to the new show opening on Friday, October 17th. The show, "Shadows and Passages" displays the new works of long time and well displayed Metro Detroit artists Marianne Letasi, Barbara Melnik Carson, and Nancy Pitel. The opening is set for Friday, October 17th at 6 pm. The show runs through November 17th and can be viewed at any time during gallery hours or by appointment.
Like the September show, "Breathe Fire. Drink Water. Repeat," "Shadows and Passages" is an all women show. The theme is the balance of light and dark, happiness and sadness, the human odyssey we all are a part of as we journey through this life. According to Barbara Melnik Carson, she collaborated with Letasi and Pitel to develop the show title. "For me it connects with the idea that in order to have sunshine you ultimately have a shadow somewhere," says Carson. "Such is the journey of a life, light and dark, good and bad, yet always moving forward." The pieces in "Shadows and Passages" reflect this sentiment. Each artist brings work that will move the viewer with warmth and melancholy simultaneously.
Marianne Letasi is a well-respected expert in her medium of photography. She developed her love of this medium when, as a child, she was thrilled to borrow a camera to take family photos. She discovered early using borrowed cameras that she could turn "ordinary surroundings into totally unknown objects." Like the pieces in the show, Letasi has seen the extraordinary beauty a photograph can capture as well as overwhelming sadness
In the 1960s, Letasi had a job working at Ford. She was also a student at Wayne State University. At the time, photography was considered a man's world. Letasi became so fed up she left university before finishing her degree, quit her job at Ford, and moved to Europe where she found her way to Germany.
It was in Germany that she would hone her craft and be present for one of the most important events of the 20th century. She befriended many German photographers who showed her how to manipulate her pictures in the dark room. She visited Berlin. "I arrived in Berlin the day the Wall went up," Letasi recalls. "I remember seeing guards shooting people.
Years later, she lived in a tent in Yosemite National Park where she befriended photographer Ansel Adams, known for his breathtakingly crisp pictures. Adams became a teacher for Letasi in the realm of photographic manipulation. "I took a class with him and because of that got to know him as a friend," says Letasi. "He shot his pictures with an 8mm camera and then would have a group of assistants make changes to the picture." Techniques like dodging and burning, which affects the exposure of a photograph, were used to make the images more vibrant. "It looked like one of those paint-by-numbers," recalls Letasi. "He always manipulated his pictures to make them look better." The effects of dodging and burning can be seen in "Shadows and Passages."
In the latter half of the 1970s, Letasi found herself in the heart of the Cass Corridor movement in Detroit, rubbing elbows with the likes of Gilda Snowden and Steven Goodfellow, who started a modern, Detroit Pointillism movement. In regards to the current state of photography, Letasi had strong feelings. "It's too easy to take acceptable pictures," she says. "It's hard to make a living as a photographer nowadays. Everybody can't paint but everyone can pick up a camera. But that doesn't make you a good photographer. Letasi is an avid proponent of black and white photography and still praises her little camera in which she first set on the path of photography. "Bury me with it," she says emphatically.
Several of her pieces for "Shadows and Passages" are in black and white, which reflects the spirit of the show. The harsh conditions of winter are made beautiful by the lens of her camera. An elderly couple's devotion is mirrored against the realities that come with growing older.
Nancy Pitel, a painter, is also exhibiting in "Shadows and Passages," and like Letasi, had much to say about the current state of art. Also like Letasi, she was enraptured with art at a young age. "Other children played with dolls. I collected crayons, every available crayon I could. I was fascinated with colors." Pitel learned her craft from a very unique teacher.
At ten years old, Pitel began taking private lessons with Johanna Spargo, an Estonian artist. Spargo taught Pitel how to paint and also how to wood burn, a skill she learned in an extraordinary story. Spargo was taken to a displaced persons camp in Russia during World War II. The man who taught Spargo how to wood burn had built his tool from scraps lying around the camp. Spargo learned everything she could and in turn taught the camp children in order to keep them occupied. Spargo survived the war and moved to the US.
It was from this amazing woman that Pitel took private art lessons and developed a mutual love of painting. "It's actually quite funny," says Pitel of those lessons. "Here I was a twelve year old in a room with adults and we're all enjoying a glass of wine while practicing life drawing with nude models. But that's how Spargo told us it was done in Europe. You have a glass of wine to relax yourself before you undertake a serious drawing."
Pitel is a noted art instructor as well as the Executive Director of the Scarab Club in Detroit. While in this position, she worked with Detroit artists like SLAW, Alice Alhoff, Tyree Guyton, the founder of the Heidelberg Project, and Bill Murcko. Pitel remembers visiting the Heidelberg Project for the first time and being struck by an installation made entirely of shoes.
Her work for "Shadows and Passages" reflects that. She captures how color and light can transmit emotion and how it affects the painting. For "Shadows and Passages," Pitel says that it was experimentation. "I wanted to experiment with collage, textures, and different acrylic gels." Pitel's work for "Shadows and Passages" exemplifies her signature use of color and the theme of light and dark. A skull, representational of death, is pitted against vibrant red, the color of life in many cultures. A woman connects with a majestic wild animal shrouded by the gray hues of dusk
Echoing Letasi's sentiment of photography, Pitel believes there is too much "raw art" and not enough technique. "You didn't see raw art twenty years ago. By 'raw art' I mean that the artist doesn't spend time perfecting their technique. It's just paint slapped on a canvas. They don't learn what 'real art' is in school anymore.
The third artist, a sculptor, is Barbara Melnik Carson. Her work has been in both group and invitational exhibits in New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, and Ann Arbor. Her work can be found in collections all over the United States and also in Ukraine. She credits growing up in Detroit as the source of her imagination because it provided an "environment requiring imagination and improvisation.
Carson credits her mother as the source for her improvisational skills. "Growing up, I frequently didn't have what I needed to make something," says Carson. "My mom would always give me what was on hand, and say 'we don't have that, try this.' She was an improvisational genius. I then, stopped asking and began looking at everything as a potential something else. Love that I can give an object new life."
She has created work for as long as she can remember, often collecting found objects in Detroit to incorporate as part of her work. "My sculpture is a process of discovery and recovery. Beginning with unearthing a face or figure lost in wet clay…The work for 'Shadows and Passages' explores issues and themes connected to my journey from creative child to occupational therapist then back to creative child. I frequently incorporate religious and ethnic themes that are both personal and universal.
Her sculpture for "Shadows and Passages" reflects the dichotomy of the show. The stoic face of a human wearing a rosary is pitted against a jubilant figure, clad in a red dress, with arms spread and the Detroit skyline in the background. The love of a human and dog is contrasted with the harsh realities of being homeless
"Shadows and Passages" will be on display October 17th-November 21st with an opening reception on Friday October 17th6-10pm. For more information, contact River's Edge Gallery at 734-246-9880 or email@example.com