“The Poetic Express” Take One: POETICS

June 1, 2015

v29_9Part of the reason that I started doing The Poetic Express was to force myself to write more poetry.

Even if you’ve a good work ethic, sometimes it’s best to light a fire under yourself.

I’m forced to write at least  5 to 15 poems every month.  I’ve been doing this since April of 1985.  I’ve written nearly 2000 poems for The Poetic Express.  I should be close to reaching this goal by the end of this year.

If I count the poems I’ve written aside from The Poetic Express, I’m sure that it’s already over 2000.

There are similarities in my approach to my visual art.  There, I’ve certainly done over 10,000 drawings.  Quantity isn’t quality.  Yet if you have enough focus and intent, eventually quantity will help light the path toward quality.

It seems to me that I’ve managed to find my own voice.  I haven’t found anyone else who writes poetry quite like mine.

Those closest to it are my heroes and heroines from the past.  People like Bob Kaufman, Kenneth Patchen, André Breton, Joyce Mansour, Jayne Cortez, Benjamin Péret, Antonin Artaud, Arthur Rimbaud, St-John Perse, Apollinaire and more.  I love Surrealism.  As regards the wider avant-garde/experimental tradition, I’m quite selective.  I don’t like everything.

As for people writing today, I search for those who are on my wavelength.  I’m open to them.  As for those who I don’t really connect with, there’s still a lot of their work that I can appreciate and can respect.

In my poetry I look for magic, for wordplay, for the decisive image, for humor and for strange pictures.

I’m drunk on language and swept away by a sea of images.  I think that I have something to say.

May 30 and 31, 2015

The Poetic Express in Context: 1985 to 2015

April 30, 2015

v29_12It’s hard for me to believe that I’ve been doing The Poetic Express every month for 30 years.  It’s a good body of work.

When it started in April 1985 I was starting a job at Crowley’s Department store in Detroit’s New Center area.  I’d bus there from the east side and hang out in the area after work.  I was in my early 30’s.

By 1992, I’d moved down to “my favorite neighborhood” in the cultural center / Wayne State University area.  I could walk to work.  Since then, I’ve lived a lot of life.  I got serious about making visual art and about performing.  I play and sing with two musical groups.  I also do puppet shows where I go for the humor, both wacky and absurd.  I’ve shown my art in France and got to spend a week in Paris.  I visit New York nearly every year.  I’ve helped run an art gallery and performance space, the Zeitgeist.  Since 2001 I’ve been working at the library at the University of Detroit Mercy.  Often I just get insanely busy.  I feel like I’m working two full-time jobs.  Yet I still find time to catch my breath and to stop and smell the flowers.

It started like this:

In the 1970’s, I’d been typing up my poetry on a manual typewriter and printing it up onto double-sided sheets.  I’d pass them out to friends and to strangers.  I started The Poetic Express to force myself to write poetry every month.  Also it was a forum for my drawing and for my comic strip Surreal Theatre.  I think that my drawing and my writing improved year to year.

I was trying to declare my independence from the world of “normal poetry” which seemed too insular and rarefied to me.  I’ve only been published in a few poetry magazines and anthologies.  In most of those, I didn’t submit my work, but was invited to participate.

I’ve always felt myself to be an outsider in my way.  I come from a place that’s beneath the underground.  I feel part of a tradition of experimental art which goes way back.  I have a special affinity for Surrealism.  I’ve gone through hard times and suffered.  There’s been nothing too extreme, just the sort of things that most people go through.  It’s all helped to mold my character and to strengthen my resolve.

The Poetic Express has been a public face and a laboratory for experimentation, work and play.

Much of the context is tied to my life in the city of Detroit.  The act of passing out copies to friends and strangers in public was usually a performance.  I’ve spent countless hours writing letters, weighing them, including inserts and goodies along with them, drawing on the envelopes, etc.  It’s fun, yet it’s very labor-intensive and very time-consuming.  The boom in zines and self-publishing was encouraging, yet by the time that really took off, I’d already been at it for awhile.  All these things are something that was like the Internet before the Internet really arrived.  One attempts to network and  to communicate as best as one can.

As part of the online version of The Poetic Express, I’ve written a special introduction for each volume.  I include links to websites which reference the people I’ve dedicated poems to, my heroes and heroines.  These intros also relate each volume and each year to how I’m living my life.  I also share my personal favorites among the poetry and Surreal Theatre comic strips.

It has an “underground cult following.”  People have stopped to comment and respond.  My ten-year anniversary exhibition was reviewed in a Detroit newspaper.  I have letters which respond to and comment upon specific poems.  People have The Poetic Express posted on their refrigerators.  Once someone told me that the work had helped them get through a bad period in their life.  Such things mean more to me than “riches and fame” would.

Anyway, thanks to all who’ve enjoyed and supported The Poetic Express for all these years.

Here’s how I’m going to celebrate the anniversary:

1. I’m installing an exhibition called The Poetic Express in Context: 1985 to 2015  here at the library of the McNichols campus of the at the University of Detroit Mercy.  It will be on display by June 1st and will run until August 21st.

The library’s in the middle of campus, near the fountain:


Summer Hours:


2. I’m going to do one or two special “bonus issues” of The Poetic Express.

3. Probably sometime next month, in May 2015, the 2014 run of The Poetic Express will appear online at the University of Detroit Mercy site.  (Update: this should appear in early June).

4. I’m going to start a long-term postal art campaign.  I want to number the mailings consecutively from one to one thousand.  We’ll see whether I actually make it to 1000 or not.  I’ll use this to distribute my huge supply of back issues.  Plus I can use up some of my massive supply of free return address labels.

If you want to get a mailing, write to me at my email, mauricegreeniajr@yahoo.com.  Or find me on Facebook and message me there.

If you mail me an SASE, you’ll get more stuff and get it more quickly.  That’s a Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope.  Try not to use the smallest envelopes.  Get a larger or medium-sized one and fold it up.  It’s 49 cents (or a forever stamp) for one ounce.  If you’d like more, it’s 22 cents extra for two ounces and 44 cents extra for 3 ounces.


This is link to my Maurice Greenia, Jr. Collections site, scroll down and click onto The Poetic Express:


The Poetic Express at 25:


The Poetic Express from November 2006, on drawing:


On Zines:


A notice.  This includes more of my take on The Poetic Express :


From 2007, Artist’s Statements and Exhibits

March 31, 2015

1987 july 6

“To me, the quality of art is tied directly to its human content. It should say something about (or lead us toward) what it means to be a human being in this world, in all its depths and complexities.

This doesn’t have to be direct or obvious. It can also be subtle and poetic. Yet it should be there, or the work will leave me cold.

Much of the creative work around us seems to take the opposite track. There’s a place for ‘time killers’ and distractions from life. ‘Dumb fun’ can be a harmless diversion for some, at times.

Yet a steady diet of sweets, white flour and alcohol will injure you, eventually, no matter how good it seemed at the time.”   February 2007

The complete version:


Later in the same month, on February 23, 2007: from The Frenetic Gazette, Number 10:.

“Yes a little FRENETIC GAZETTE once again. I’m in my frenetic art-making mode, the first big blast for 2007.  …I can paint a number of works concurrently, with vastly different styles and approaches. Working full time, fighting and struggling to find time to PAINT can feel like a peaceful war. Sacrifices are made. Irrational juggling predominates.

Anyway, this work is for an exhibit called “WINDOWS TO OTHER WORLDS (with select artifacts)” and also includes artists Carlos Bruton, Gwen Joy and Karl Schneider. I’m curating-organizing this exhibit with help from Jim Puntigam. If you get this soon enough, tomorrow night the Space Band will perform at a closing event for the installation PLAYFUL CHAOS. Music will start around 8pm with others also performing and a jam session.

WINDOWS TO OTHER WORLDS opens March 10, 2007 and I’ll be doing a puppet show.”


Then, from June 2007:

For a Wilder Laughter:

“Of the many serious problems facing the world today, some are rarely mentioned.  One of these is the severe shortage of humor, good jokes, the absolute comic and their glorious residue.

This residue is, of course, human laughter”

The complete version:


“Laughter can reveal the truth and throw it back into the face of the lie!

Don’t be afraid to let go and laugh.  Be open to it.   Seek for it.”

datestampAlso from June 2007:

“Through Surrealism, I learned the difference between “mere artistic propaganda” and authentic works of art informed by politics.

Artistic propaganda has a hard time matching (or keeping up with) the real propaganda which all of us face every day.

To be informed by politics is to seek out, to become aware of and maybe somehow to know the hard truths of this country, of this world. To be aware is to beware.”

This is from an Artist’s Statement written on June 16, 2007, for STATE OF THE UNION, an exhibit at the Gallery Project in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  The complete version:


Also from 2007


For Future Generations, For Posterity

February 27, 2015

grebaw_0296As an Artist and as a Poet, I am strongly, passionately in favor of the future generations.   I live my life in solidarity with those who are yet to come.

The weight of the past and the weight of the future both feel heavy.  The past has done its best, or its worst.  The future is like a clean piece of paper, surrounded by flames.

What to do?  How to take action?  How to inspire others to take action?  These things are always on my mind.

Who does the future belong to?  Does it belong to the people who will live in it?  Those who are young now will be aged, when the clock turns.

Part of this future includes us, we who live in the present day.  The other part of this future includes our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren and beyond.  I’m in love with those who are and with those who will be.  Where is the divide?

There don’t seem to be enough people fighting for future generations, trying to speak for them.  Most which does go on is connected to environmental concerns.  Climate change exists and it’s a serious concern.  Yet it’s just the tip of the iceberg.  There are many ways to fight for the future.

Yet on so many levels, in so many ways, a great many people seem to be actively against posterity.  They’re so caught up in their own interests that they rush forward, grasping.  Their motto; “We want ours, now!”  In this case, it’s often money but it’s not just money.

What sort of world will our actions leave environmentally, economically, artistically, spiritually and more?

Some don’t care or don’t understand.  To them, those who are yet to be are like phantoms.  Subconsciously, they may wonder “What if there is no future?”  Or perhaps it all seems too abstract and unknowable.

Conservatives, Liberals and Progressives can’t seem to really stand up for the future.  Instead of making large steps forward, they try to just stand in place.  Often, they even go backwards.

Yet many people go beyond this indifference.  There seems to be a real disdain for future generations.  This often curdles into contempt, disgust and hatred.  To them, the young and glorious future is a great enemy.

The old fight against the young, sending them off to war, making it hard for them to make a living and damaging the world in which they’ll have to live.

They can’t see the future generations.  When they try to, it repulses them.  Maybe it confuse them or bores them.

I see those who are yet to be pointing their fingers back at us.  They accuse us: “Why did you do this?” or “How could you have let this happen?” or “What were you thinking?”

Yet who are these future people?  What is posterity anyway?

Look at your own face in the mirror.  Look at the faces of your parents and your children.  Look at your brothers and sisters.  Look at your friends.  These are the faces of the future.  If you truly care about them, you should be able to take the leap and to care about the days to come.

Art is the Permanent Revolution

January 31, 2015

Still image from the film Art is a Permanent Revolution


Frans Masereel, Otto Dix, Honoré Daumier, Käthe Kollwitz, Goya, Pablo Picasso, George Grosz and others all are referenced in this documentary film, Art is…the Permanent Revolution.  I saw it last night and thought it was quite good.  It chronicles the history of the “fighting printer.”  The artist protests. They respond to events by making prints. Some end up being shunned, imprisoned or killed.

Etcher Sigmund Abeles, lithographer Ann Chernow, woodcutter Paul Marcus and master printer James Reed are featured “in the present day.”  It’s recent at least, as this film came out in 2012.

Because I’m an artist myself, it was interesting to see the printing processes.  They go through a lot of the details and explain how they are done.

Most of the historical images aren’t identified in the film proper.  They are in a bonus feature on the DVD.  I may write more about this film later, after a few more viewings.

I may have more to say about the Charlie Hebdo killings too. Yet maybe this post,  and the articles that I chose to link to here will be enough.





I recently saw the old World War Two film 49th Parallel from 1941.  In one scene the character played by Leslie Howard has his Picasso and Matisse paintings, a book by Thomas Mann and his own notes all destroyed by a pair of Nazis!  The “enlightened man” is forced to respond to the anti-art forces, culture under the boot of the fascist.  He ends up knocking one of them down.


If you want to see a related video clip click onto this site, then onto “Savage Tribal Methods”



There’s a tradition of protest that enters into satire.  Making fun of everything can be subversive, in and of itself.  Witness the work of people like Tex Avery.  His work, like much of Hollywood, is laced with humor which veers into racism and misogyny at times.  Avery has a “no-holds-barred” approach and his work is screamingly funny.

Even old cartoons can be tough for the sensitive to view.  It’s not just cartoons.  Hundreds of movies have displayed similar material. Strange and troubling images, dialogue and sequences appear again and again.

Tex Avery is just an obvious example.   I love his work.  He goes too far.  Some of this excess is great.  Yet some gags can disgust or upset the modern viewer.

There’s the excuse that they were attacking everything.  All types of institutions, people and ethnic groups were mocked and kidded.  Yet there’s a fine line between doing so in a way which seems OK today and doing so in a way which makes most of us cringe.  In the 1960’s, some started to push things even further, mainly in cinema and underground comics.



That tradition continued at the Charlie Hebdo magazine.  They go after everything and everyone and aren’t afraid to offend people.

Satire usually doesn’t get to be so dangerous.  Eleven people were killed.  Four of them were cartoonists. One of the cartoonists had been working since 1954.  Another started in the 1960’s.  They were very well-known in France.

Artists can still be slaughtered because of their art!  It’s a horrible thing, to be sure.  Let’s hope that nothing like this happens again for a long, long time.

Juan Cole on the Charlie Hebdo attacks:


Noam Chomsky on the Charlie Hebdo attacks:



The Guardian:


The New Yorker:




My Frenetic Life

December 31, 2014


From July 29, 2006

My frenetic life, OK–I like it sometimes: going from flower to flower like a bee in slow-motion, with work and variety.

Not as OK: I feel like a ball in a pinball machine on some predetermined path, just Bing Bing Bing–this this that and drop to the bottom exhausted (and go back to the top again).

From December 31, 2014

Yes, sometimes you need to just try hard to slow down, yet we keep going.  We keep on swinging.

It’s always a challenge to attempt to balance everything.  When you get more than two days off, away from your day job, things can all come into focus.  With a slight surplus of free time, you can better sense who you are and where you are.  You get a better idea of what you want to do and where you want to go.  I’ve a nice long year-end break.  I’m working on that now.

To me, the three main areas are friends and family, rest and relaxation and hard work.  This hard work includes your creative work, your art and that which supports and encourages it.

These things take on one meaning when most of your waking life is consumed by work for money, hopefully for a living wage.

When you get a little block of time, a chance to catch your breath, then they mean something else.  We all have to figure this out for ourselves.

We have our support groups and our circles.  In the end, we just need to dig in and create the very best work that we can.

When you collaborate creatively, the end product is even less in your own control.  This can still turn out well.  There’s nothing wrong with it.

When you are alone and on your own, you just need to dig in and go to town.


P.S. This was my 100th post on this blog!  Thanks to you who look at it and best for 2015.

Like I always say, on New Year’s Eve: “There’s not much more work to do this year!  Let me finish a few last things.”

Then on New Year’s Day: “I’ve so much work to do this year!  How much will I tire and sweat from it all?  What will I come up with?”

On New Year’s Eve you feel lighter and caught up in finishing the year.  Things seem to be ending.

On New Year’s Day you feel heavy, sensing that there will be so much to do.  Yet it’s exciting in ways, even exhilarating.

Renaissance Now!

November 30, 2014

DSCN0580This is a manifesto that I wrote in 1992, over twenty years ago.  I think that the impetus was that people were heralding an economic “Detroit Renaissance.”  Also, there’s a large building downtown known as the Renaissance Center.  Meanwhile the vibrant and expansive art scene was being largely overlooked or misunderstood.  Some things never change, it seems.

I’ve revised this slightly and changed the “1990’s” to the “2010’s” and so on and so forth.  Is being an underground promotion man for the new Renaissance an oxymoron?  Is is it just a disconnect?  I’m still tilting at the windmills like old Don Quixote.  Yes, onward!

"Talk Talk Talk"

“Talk Talk Talk”


Renaissance Now!  Detroit has been the “Renaissance City” in name only for long enough! It is time for all the artists and “artists” and startists to get together.

This is the 2010’s.  We’re tired of waiting for something to happen.  Now’s the time.  If the dreamers of this world can’t get it together/ can’t really support and encourage each other—then how can we expect the rest of the world to do so??

We should be setting an example.  If the artists don’t imagine that things could really somehow improve in this world/ nation/ city—then how can we expect anyone else to believe it?

Get ready to sing, dance, paint, write, tumble, rap, juggle, type, draw, fly, act, paste, sculpt, play, film, photograph, perform, display, reveal, surprise, shock, confound, amaze, excite, baffle, inspire and move.  Make art and let people see it. Try to do your best (yet experiment and play and get loose).  Connect with other people as best you can.  We need some dialogue and community.  We need some sort of motion.  We need some magic and mysteries.  We need adventures.

Why not here?  Why not Detroit?  Art therapy may be the last, best hope for a somewhat sick world.  It’s already going on in the shadows and backgrounds / here and there.  It needs to be more encouraged, developed and intertwined.  Money, fame and success are not the truest or the only indicators of art.  Quality isn’t always determined by quantity.

We artists and thinkers and dreamers need to reach out to each other and then stick together.  It’s our privilege and purpose to make dreams come true.  Things will never be perfect on this planet.  It seems it could be better, though. It seems that Earth could be a better place to live (for us and for those who come after).  Culture, art, and ideas are like air or water needed for any real change.   Dream out art with your thoughts, heart, hands, eyes, mouths, lungs, bodies and everything.  Other days and exciting times are itching to start.  I can hear it around us all of the time.   Can you?


This was written around midnight, into September 2 from September 1 in the year 1992.  It was updated on November 30, 2014.

Due to an excess of trouble, dangers, cruelties, disasters, stupidity, insensitivity, greed, violence, evil and many other badsad things: The City of Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A. is recruited to be temporary imaginary-realistic home base.  Ideas, criticisms, hopes, plots, jokes, dreams and possibilities to Maurice Greenia, Jr.  He’s a representative of the  Imaginary States of America.  Detroit, Michigan, USA.


The original document, typed on a manual typewriter.  You should be able to click onto it to enlarge it:


A Cruel and Vicious System!

October 25, 2014

puzzled spirit 001

The deck is stacked against every true artist.  The fix is in.

To succeed, the stars of talent, hard work and sheer blind luck must all align in amazing and confounding ways.

Some of us really have it bad!  We use up our lives in a spin of unending creativity.  We can’t stop, drawing, painting, writing and otherwise making stuff which was not there before.

Sometimes it feels as if we’re truly in the trenches.  Daily, we slog through a thick miasma of ugliness, insensitivity, cruelty, dullness, stupidity and miserabilism. It attempts to injure us, deflate us or drag us down.  Yet most of us strive ever onward.  We deal with the monkey wrenches and booby traps as best we can.

My favorite response to all this is “Ha, Ha, Ha.” and maybe too “Ha!”


October 23, 2014: Here are ten puzzles.  The solutions may be difficult to find.  They’re all things that make life difficult for the industrious and persistent creative human being aka true artist.

1. What is the nature of the space in which art is publicly represented?  Their notions of what’s quality and what really works often seem to be backward or even bizarre.  When this happens, museums can seem to be zoos.  Art galleries can resemble prisons.

2. Some artists make much more money than they deserve to.  The pity is that many of them make just good to mediocre work.  They ride their hype to the bank.  It’s as if they’re eating a big meal in a fancy restaurant.  Meanwhile, the “normal artists” are watching them through the window.  They’re usually hungry, but feel a need to watch the show.  Why is this?

3.  Entertainment and art are caught up in an abusive, exploitative relationship.  This isn’t always the case, but it usually is.  It all comes back to the money.  A top-notch performer can make over one hundred times as much money as a top-notch artist.  One group is overpaid and the other is underpaid.  Then, no one blinks an eye.  Entertainment steals energy and ideas from art and sees no need to pay any of it back.  People get upset about letting the artists have too many crumbs.  A token reward is judged to be “excessive.”  Is this always right and fair?

4.  There are prices placed on art and prices placed on artists.  Often, the work doesn’t really become valuable until after the artist is dead.  Is this in order not to have to deal with a living artist?  Would you like to have one of them for a house guest?  Vincent Van Gogh, Alfred Jarry or Jackson Pollock maybe?

5.  The struggle to both have a good work ethic and to create quality work seems a bit rare these days.  It’s not shared by all.  Can we produce quantity and quality both?

6.  There a constant dumbing down of  both society and culture.  Part of this is attributable to “copyism.”  Instead of knowing one’s history and one’s roots, people start with a tenth generation copy.  Their “roots” are already distorted and diluted.  Good work can be created out of whole cloth.  Yet to do so, one must be a genius or have some sort of fierce talent.  To some people, bad looks good.  Not everyone has a top-notch BS detector.  Why is it that so many artists, curators and critics seem to be out of touch with a true and vital sense of quality?

7.  The most vibrant and essential elements in a strong work of art are often discounted, shunned or just misunderstood.  This is one reason why there is so much bad and mediocre art.  Pure, lucid imagination is essential.  It should flow freely, almost as it does when one is in the dream state.  It is also good to be able to command the magical and mysterious aspects of one’s creation and one’s creativity.  One can be in touch with all this directly or intuitively.  Yet it should not be denied.  For many of us, these things are the fountains or streams that through which art flows.  Why are these elements of art out of favor?

8. Creating art is largely a solitary activity.  This isolation helps keep artists from coming together and fighting for their rights.  There seems to be little or no sense of solidarity.  People are usually too busy living their lives and making their work to get involved.  I was once involved in a seven-year program of visual jam sessions.  No solo work was allowed.  Each piece had to be made by two or more artists.  This promoted one sort of camaraderie.  Yet many types of fellowship are called for.  What can we do to better connect with each other?  Could artists come together as a unified force?

9.  There’s a whole dichotomy between art and social concerns.  The artist often senses trouble first.  They can be hyper-sensitive, or just have some sort of “highly tuned radar.”  It’s the canary in a  coal mine syndrome.  The desperation connected with “thinning air” leads one to speak out or to act up.  People say that politics has no place in art.  Yet desperate times call for desperate measures.  Propaganda always tends to dilute itself.  Yet there are ways in which a socially, politically and environmentally informed art can make a difference.  How do we bring this about?

10. Yet in the end, for the true artist, somehow, love triumphs!  One opens one’s mind and opens one’s heart.  Respecting and appreciating other people becomes a cherished pastime or an unusual hobby.  Love is one of the keys which helps to unlock a whole series of barred doors and worn-out locks.  Will love ever truly let loose and change things once and for all?

August 19, 1997

I will not answer these questions here and now.  I’d like to discuss them with people before I post further explorations.  Thanks to all those who are already in the struggle.  Thanks to all those who are doing good work, holding themselves to a high standard of quality.  Thanks to all those museums and art galleries who do largely get it.  They do exist.  If you falter now and then, we’ll try to let you know.

Yes, it seems worse in the United States.  Some countries have it much better.  They respect and value their artists.  Yet even art-friendly countries could do better than they are.  Then there’s the question of international solidarity and interaction.  Artists of the world, unite!.

Thanks to the Surrealist Movement.  I’ve taken inspiration and solidarity from them since I was just out of college.  Thanks to all those true artists and true startists.  They’re always starting something.  Thanks to my friends at the  Imaginary States of America, the United Imaginations and Dreamers versus Dangers.  You all know the score.  Onward!

Gilda Snowden 1954-2014

September 30, 2014
From a 1990 Exhibit at the Detroit Institute if Arts

From a 1990 Exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Arts

We lost another important Detroit artist earlier this month.  Gilda Snowden died unexpectedly.  I would have attended her funeral, but I didn’t find out about it in time.  I’ll pay my respects here instead.

I first met Gilda Snowden in the late 1970’s.  We were around the same age and both “new artists” at the same time.  She studied painting at Wayne State University.  I was self-taught.  I never got to know her well, but it was always great to see her.  I had a lot of respect for her and her work.

In a September 14 Detroit Free Press article, artist Mary Fortuna, said “She was the opposite of competitive. … Whoever you were, you could count on Gilda to show kindness, generosity, advice and support.”  I always got the same sense.

She was one of Detroit’s best known and most successful artists.  She had many articles written about her and reviews of her shows.  She had a lot of exhibitions and even some commissions and awards.

In 1990, the Detroit Institute of Arts was experimenting with paying attention to Michigan artists.  This was MAP, the Michigan Artists Program.  Gilda was part of this.  In September into November, she was shown there in a show with Michael Luchs called Signature Images.  She had her share of attention and applause.  She has work in the permanent collection of the DIA and has been in their publications.

Despite this, she always kept her “common touch.”  If you were some sort of true artist then you’re part of the same group or tribe.  Maybe it’s because we came up together.  She was a person who inspired some solidarity or esprit de corps.  There are a handful of Detroit artists of whom I could say this as well.  We’re all in this together, “in the trenches” and fighting for art and for Detroit art.

Tornado, 1993

Tornado, 1993

First,  she had a good work ethic.  Gilda was always making stuff, usually paintings.  She really got into photography too.  In recent years, I’d always see her at art openings, shooting.  Sometimes she’d shoot video too.

In her last week, she shot nearly 400 photos and put them up on her facebook page.  These were of an art opening at ReView Detroit and the Dally in the Alley.

Second, she was a teacher and mentor.  I’m sure that she did some good work in her job as instructor at the College for Creative Studies.  Since 1987, she’s been gallery director for art shows at the Detroit Repertory Theatre.

The challenge is always to rise above your immediate and obvious interests, to go for something higher.  Too often, people are so caught up in promoting their own work that they don’t embrace and interact with the larger group.  There’s more than just yourself and your friends.  Try not get overly caught up in your own clique.  I think that Gilda succeeded in this and was more than just an artist, a teacher and a curator/gallery director.  Yes.

Third, as I mentioned, she was one of us.  She lived as a committed and dedicated member of the Detroit art community.  We’ll miss her.

From a show at the Zeitgeist

From a show at the Zeitgeist in 2007, curated by Gilda Snowden.






Her Website:


Gilda Snowden, 1990

Gilda Snowden, 1990

There’s a tribute exhibit opening at CCS:

this Saturday GILDA!
October 4 – 25, 2014
Opening Reception: Saturday, October 4, 6 – 9 p.m. A Tribute Moment @ 8 p.m.

In tribute to CCS’s and Detroit’s beloved art guru Gilda Snowden (1954-2014), Center Galleries is honored to present a gathering of her recent works to celebrate and honor this most amazing artist, woman, teacher, mentor, worker, friend, wife and mother.

— In Alumni & Faculty Hall: Roots & Branches: The 50th Anniversary of the Detroit Artists Workshop:


A History of Detroit’s Visual Arts Scene, the Essay (Part One)

August 31, 2014

I’ll try to go through this tangled tale as best I can.  If someone has better information, I’ll keep this project fluid for a while.  This means that there’ll be revisions, additions and subtractions here.

Maybe someday I’ll write a book about all this, or someone else will.  If it’s someone else, I’m sure that my research will be of some help.

This project is A History of Detroit’s Visual Arts Scene. Take One is an actual exhibit of papers and objects.  Take Two is this two part essay.  Take Three is a facebook page.

This is mostly all visual art and mostly “Detroit proper.”  Yet poetry, theatre, music and the suburbs may all make their guest appearances. 

In an effort to keep things brief and concise, I don’t mention artists by name unless they helped run a gallery or I show an image of their work.  I name-checked most of them in the previous post.  That said, the Detroit art scene was full of the most amazing and colorful characters.  There have been some vibrant personalities and some great oddballs.

After a brief recap of previous events, this, Part One covers, roughly 1978 to 1990.  The PHYSICAL exhibition that goes with this will soon be lost and gone.  See it if you can.

I’d like to start by saying a little about how I got into art and the Detroit art scene. 

In the 1970s I was on the staff of the Catacombs Coffee House in Detroit’s Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood.  I was part of a vibrant creative scene.  Visual art was only a small part of this.  Yet it was so wild and surprising.  People flocked to it from all around the Detroit area.  It included music, cinema, theatre, poetry, comedy and much more.

Around this time, my interest in Surrealism and in art history sparked my interest in making art.  I started to go to a lot of art galleries.  These  included the Artist’s Guild of Detroit, at Second and Grand Boulevard.  The Feigenson Gallery was nearby.  There were also galleries downtown.  This was in 1977 or 1978.  I don’t drive, so usually I’d ride the buses all over.  The bus was my key to adventure, as cars are to most people.

Edgar Yaeger also lived in my neighborhood.  He had painted murals for the WPA.  He also had an association with the Scarab Club and a long, productive career.  He and his friend, Frederick J. Kayser, were the first painters that I knew.  Edgar lived to the age 93.

By 1980, I was showing my own work in galleries as well.  Since then, I’ve seen quite a few exhibits!  I’ll try to reconstruct the last 35 years or so from memory, from my notes and other sources.

Art by Paul Schwartz, 1970s (at the Feigenson Gallery in the Fisher Building)

Art by Paul Schwartz, late 1970s  (at the Feigenson Gallery in the Fisher Building)

A History of Detroit’s Visual Arts Scene, Part One

Eventually, the City of Detroit became interested in art and culture.  The Detroit Institute of Arts started out on Jefferson Avenue in 1885.  In 1927, it moved to larger quarters, on Woodward.

In 1932 and 33, Diego Rivera painted his Detroit Industry murals at the DIA.  In 1952, a group fought to have them covered or destroyed.  The murals were saved, but a disclaimer was installed.

Pewabic Pottery opened in 1903.  The Scarab Club began in 1907. The Detroit Artist’s Market started in 1932.  All three of these are still going strong.

The College for Creative Studies started around 1906 as the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts. In 1958, it moved to its present location in the Cultural Center neighborhood. In 1975 it changed its name to the Center for Creative Studies.  In 2001 it became The College for Creative Studies.

Wayne State University has long had a solid arts program as well.  Marygrove College also offers art education and training.  All three have art galleries and put on an array of art exhibits.

The Museums and Universities all have some degree of money, people and power behind them.  They’re the big players.

Sculpture by Bob Sestok
Sculpture by Bob Sestok (at the Feigenson Gallery)

It’s always been a challenge to get the Detroit Institute of Arts and the universities to support local artists in a wider sense.  The museum tends to support and exhibit those who first become well known nationally.  There have been exceptions and experiments.  There used to be galleries for local artist’s work.  Yet local musicians, poets and performers often seem to get more attention and support there than the local visual artists do.

The schools tend to support their own students and alumnae.  This is understandable in a way.  Yet it’s always great to have them surprise us and include “choice outsiders.”  It’s not easy to be open and to see the wider picture.

There were usually two or three well established galleries around.  There were always independent and underground galleries as well.

Amazingly, in 1984 the City Arts Quarterly could only come up with eleven “real galleries” and seven “ringers.”  Granted, this was just Detroit proper.  It seems that there are at least twice as many now.

A piece titled "I Remember how to Fly" by Robert Bielat

A piece titled “I Remember how to Fly” by Robert Bielat (at the CADE Gallery)

The Detroit Artist’s Workshop was a sign of things to come.  It started in the early 1960s.  Both the rock poster/ graphic design paths and the early Willis Gallery artists have ties with this group.   They came next.  They all had the spirit of the times.  I was too young to experience most of the 1960s culture.  I do recall “driving through” Plum Street in days as a hippie haven/heaven.

The Willis Gallery started in the late 1960s.  It went on into the 1970s.  Eventually, it closed.  In the late 1970s, some of the original Willis Gallery artists went with Jackie Feigenson to her gallery in the Fisher Building.  She was married to Mort Feigenson.  He was part of the family that started the Faygo soda pop company.  First it was the Feigenson-Rosenstein Gallery and soon changed to just  the Feigenson Gallery.  Then, in 1981 the Willis Gallery reopened, in the site now occupied by the Avalon Bakery.  It continued into the 1990s.

There were others around too but the main players seemed to be City Arts Gallery, the Detroit Focus Gallery, the Scarab Club and the Detroit Artist’s Market. There was also art shown on the Seventh floor of the J.L. Hudson’s Downtown store.  They had a gallery sponsored by the Artist’s Market.  I believe that this was near the art supply department of the store.

There were good exhibits at the universities such as Wayne State, Marygrove and CCS.

There were always galleries in Detroit’s suburbs as well.  These included The Susanne Hillberry Gallery which started in Birmingham and ended up in Ferndale.    There was the Park West Gallery in Southfield.  I’ll likely explore this eventually yet for now I’m focusing on Detroit.

There were a number of forces in the air then.  These were so vital and so sweet.  They included the new Detroit Film Theatre, Cass City Cinema, the Freezer Theatre, the Grinning Duck Club, Alvin’s, the Stray Dog Saloon, the Song Shop Saloon, the Cass Corridor Food Co-op, the Dally in the Alley, the Fourth Street Fair, the Fifth Estate, the Detroit Metro Times, the Ann Arbor Sun and Cobb’s Corner Bar.  The Horizons in Poetry readings series started at Cobb’s.

The art reporting seemed much stronger and more present than it does now.  Joy Hakanson Colby write about local art for the Detroit News Marsha Miro did the same for the Detroit Free Press Then there was independent work in such publications as Detroit Artist’s Monthly.

There was a truly vital scene going on.  These are but a few of my best remembered spots of those early days.

There were so many different approaches, scenes, neighborhoods, styles, approaches, ethnic groups and connected collectives.  Often, they’d overlap and intermingle.

In the 1980s, a number of independent galleries opened up.  The Willis Gallery reopened.  Artists would take turns running it and organizing shows.  The Michigan Gallery came into its own in the 1980s and held many large and popular  exhibits.  It was largely run by Carl Kamulski and Diana Alva.  Both spaces continued into the 1990s.

From 1985 to 1989 the 55 Peterboro Gallery was open.  This was run by Sue Logan, Dave Roberts and Mary Meserve.  It was in a house between Peterboro and Cass.  Sometimes  they’d hold events in the backyard.  These included an outdoor sculpture show and various performances.

In 1986 Tyree Guyton, his wife Karen and his grandfather Sam Mackey started the Heidelberg Project.   This inspired local artists and helped them to connect with each other.  Early on, we were just glad that it was there.

The Trobar Gallery opened in 1987.  It was on Second near the Bronx Bar.  Those who ran it included Alvaro Jurado, Bryant Tillman, Stella Garner, Charles Gervin, Judith Kunesh  and Kevin Watson.  I showed there in 1988 and did my first puppet plays there.

Joe Fugate’s CADE Gallery was open on Agnes Street near Indian Village.  It later moved to Royal Oak.

The Detroit Focus Gallery had a string of strong exhibits.  They were in Greektown and I showed there in the early 1980s.

In 1983 Olayami Dabls and his wife S. Jill Miller-Lewis opened Dabls-Perette’s African Gallery.  In 1985 George N’namdi opened the G.R. N’namdi Gallery.  Both were in the David Whitney Building.  Both are still going today, in different locations.

To be continued…..

George N'namdi

George N’namdi

A partial list of some memorable exhibits from this time: Demolished by Neglect, 1987/ No Brand Art, held at several venues, in various years/ and the Box Shows at the Willis Gallery.  I’ll add more here later.

A painting by Bradley Jones, 1989

A painting by Bradley Jones, 1989 (at the Willis Gallery)

Part Three of this, the Facebook page:


Information on the Exhibit:


The Willis Gallery:


Detroit Focus:



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