Arts & Culture » Visual Art

Mutant scribe



In progress versions of "Sum Total of What I Know About Chaos and Us."

Whether it's playing that Beatles record backward or finding the figure of Abe Lincoln on a french fry, our culture has an absurd desire to invest deep meaning in ordinary objects. We do that with words too.

We manipulate and distort language so we can stand out in public and fit in — so we can both imitate others and influence others.

Being "ridiculously literal," artist Lance Winn, 35, has developed a style of drawing and painting in which he repetitively traces an iconic word, such as "flag" or "freedom," until it's distorted beyond recognition, and an accidental image emerges like a picture he didn't plan for.

Winn says, "I always thought the grand gesture of abstract expressionism seemed ridiculous — that somehow your emotions were shooting out of your hand, that the hand is something wonderfully expressive. My art is based on not being able to keep my hand steady."

His words may lose their meaning once hidden in a cloud of graphite or paint, but his art is not meaningless. It's spiritual and hopeful, reminiscent of Islamic art. It's like losing sight of a wall in a mosque, while gazing down rows of arches. It's an infinite space to search for answers in an abstract form.

Winn graduated with an MFA from Cranbrook Art Academy and teaches at the University of Delaware alongside transplanted Detroit painter Peter Williams. He works in drawing, casting, performance, film, video and robotics, but his different methods of production are closely related — he sets up rules and follows them through to their natural conclusions. This idea is based on 1960s conceptualist theory, but Winn's artistic influences are broad, stretching from Jasper Johns to Donna Dewberry (host of PBS' campy hit One Stroke Painting) to folk artists who draw on their unconscious.

"Following Terror"

One of his recent works is based on the words "Islam" and "Christianity." He wrote each in separate corners of the paper and kept tracing around them until the two words met up. "It made this incredibly beautiful pattern that looks like a bouffant," he says. Worlds come together in a hairdo.


Lance Winn's work is featured in Nest, along with works by Jim Chatelain, Myra Mimlitsch-Gray, Jessica Stoller and Christian Tedeschi, opening 6-8 p.m., Saturday, June 10, at Paul Kotula Projects, 23255 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-544-3020.

Rebecca Mazzei is Metro Times arts editor. Send comments to

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Detroit Metro Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Metro Times Press Club for as little as $5 a month.