Jay Holland’s memory is sharp, his elocution crisp as he recounts his 75 years in Detroit during a visit to his funky little Oak Park house/studio. We’re surrounded by sculptures and an amazing library of classical records. A cat ignores us from its perch on the coffee table. “That’s not my cat,” Holland quips.
It’s a stray in from the rain.
Holland is considered by many to be a father of Detroit sculpture; he taught the craft at CCS from 1964 to 1998. Currently, an exhibit of his work and that of two other longtime Detroit artists and art teachers, Peter Gilleran and Nancy Patek, is showing at the Ellen Kayrod Gallery in Detroit’s Cultural Center.
Local sculptor Hugh Timlin says young artists shouldn’t miss the chance at a lesson from Holland and the others. Holland’s rigorous and tough-minded approach had a lasting impact on most of Detroit’s major sculptors. Timlin sums up his philosophy this way: “Every sculptor worth his salt has to master the human figure.”
Holland says he prides himself on “reproducing the veracity of anatomical accuracy.”
Along the way, Holland produced some stunning work. Two of the pieces in the Kayrod show are metal helmets, one called “Mandrill Helm” and the other “Invader’s Helm.” They look like something out of Sam Raimi’s Army of Darkness, foreboding and cruel in their weight and implied violence.
The “Mandrill Helm” helmet juts out at the mouth, forming a horrible metallic beak that gives terrifying notice to all who come near. The “Invader’s Helm” is less militaristic, more of a pagan artifact with thick symbols on its crown. He also has more figurative pieces in the show, including a knight whose body is torn and scattered.
The works hark back to Holland’s experience with the 25th Infantry Division in Korea.
With this show, curator Mary Herbeck is making her move on the downtown art scene. She hopes to turn the Ellen Kayrod Gallery in Detroit’s Hannan House senior center into a hot spot for artists over the age of 60. “There’s a lot of masters out there,” she says.
Providing contrast to Holland’s works, the show features the much-less-dark work of Park Gilleran, another Cass Tech grad and military vet, who taught art at WSU for 35 years before retiring in 1989. Gilleran’s paintings splash the gallery walls with vibrant, life-affirming color. His “Cafe People” captures the heart and soul of a neighborhood joint. It’s a rubbery depiction of a crowd of folks locked in a moment of accidental sharing and not-sharing company.
Rounding out the gathering are Nancy Patek’s large charcoal-and-ink landscapes of tired and burned-out chunks of Detroit, as well as her oil depictions of pastoral but equally burned-out countryside. Her work pulls a melancholic beauty from scenes that hit us every day, but which we often don’t acknowledge.
Her landscapes are crafted with amazing detail. One finds oneself staring deep into the scenes Patek conjures.
The exhibit is a stone’s throw from the more visible galleries and museums of the Cultural Center, including the Detroit Institute of Arts, the George N’Namdi Gallery, the Detroit Artists Market and CPOP. Since 1993, Hannan House has been a place where the older set could take classes in gardening, music and writing, get some hands-on computer training, or just grab a cup of joe with some other folks who desire more stimulation than sitting around watching television and waiting for their children to call.
One of the more popular outreach programs provides art instruction and proudly displays the resulting works. Six months ago, the purpose of the Ellen Kayrod gallery (named for a former executive director of the nonprofit facility) was strictly limited to showcasing work from the arts and crafts classes offered at Hannan. Now, under Herbeck’s enthusiastic direction, the gallery is opening itself up to professional artists with curated shows.
The new direction isn’t meant to displace the creations of those who took art classes in the building. It is meant to complement the usual works by “creating a new awareness of the gallery,” as Herbeck puts it.
It’s also a way to acknowledge the older artists in our midst whose works are influenced by a long and deep apprenticeship — those whose careers started way before sheep dung and urine were accepted media for expression.
This inaugural show proves beyond a doubt that the Kayrod Gallery can compete with the bigger boys on the block.
Paintings, Sculpture & Drawings by Peter Gilleran, Jay Holland & Nancy Patek will be on display at the Ellen Kayrod Gallery inside Hannan House (4750 Woodward Ave., 313-833-1300, ext. 18). Runs until April 19.Send comments to [email protected].