Jeff Cancelosi moved to the Detroit area more than nine years ago, and he and his camera have become a fixture at local art openings ever since. For the Detroit Artists Market's first show of the season, Cancelosi assumed the role of curator, bringing together 14 artists to show their own view of the city. We spoke by phone to learn more.
Metro Times: Are you primarily more a photographer than curator?
Jeff Cancelosi: I think of myself more as an artist. I love to go to openings. I also love to photograph and make portraits of people, especially artists. It's a way for people to see what's going on in the Detroit area. So primarily people see me more as a photographer.
MT: How did this show kind of come together?
Cancelosi: Being an outsider — and having lived in New York, Ohio, and Texas — for me, I want to have a better understanding of Detroit. Nine years ago, I think we were driving on Jefferson and literally there was a huge oak tree growing out of this building. For me, it was like, "What the hell happened here?" Ever since then, I want to have a better understanding of the world that I live in, that I am a part of.
It's a city that is a very complicated place. It just seemed like if you found the right number of artists that it could be a really cool show — artists that have a point of view. I was talking to one curator and I told him what I was doing and he said, "Well, why would you do that?" Because some people think the only show you can make about Detroiters, you know, is like, "Hi, we're Detroit, we're great!" I'm interested in making a show hopefully talking about Detroit, talking about issues, talking about the good and the bad.
MT: How did you choose the artists that would be featured in this show?
Cancelosi: One thing I don't do when I do a show is just kind of say, "OK, this is what I am going to, the topic is going to be this, now who am I going to pick out?" Many of these artists I didn't know of or hadn't heard of. I was looking for artists primarily that somehow incorporated aspects of Detroit in their work.
MT: Who were some of the artists you found?
Cancelosi: There's Nicole Macdonald — she's doing these amazing portraits and putting them on buildings. When you let your building decay, I see that as being a metaphor for not just losing your buildings, but are you forgetting your history? What I love about Nicole's work is that she's reminding people, literally by putting faces of the people of the past and reminding us not to forget about these people.
Also, what I love about this show is you have artists that you wouldn't expect to see at other shows that are together. You have Kate Daughdrill, who's better known for her Burnside Farms, and building community. I've also got Matt Eaton, who makes images that are very much influenced by the urban landscape. But he also builds community in Detroit with what he and the folks at Red Bull House of Art are doing — bringing in artists that are just up and coming or starting out and giving them the ability to realize they could do something with this talent that they have.
Then you have Mario Moore. His paintings tend to be very personal. One of his paintings is of him and his girlfriend kissing, which is called "Oh, Black Love." It's about overcoming negatives. I saw that painting and I was like, "Wow."
MT: Do any themes emerge from all the work you've collected?
Cancelosi: I hope that ultimately this show will be a conversation about Detroit and people will look at the work and at least just think about their surroundings and what they have, what they can give, and what they should appreciate — what they should do to become better people.
While I won't get answers to everything from this show, I'll at least become more informed and hopefully people will become more informed with different perspectives about the city.
The Change We Want to See: Artists Reflect on Detroit has an opening reception from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 11 at the Detroit Artists Market; 4719 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-832-8540; detroitartistsmarket.org; no cover. Runs through Oct. 17.