Art Review: “Whatever Gets You Through the Night” explored at the latest Mott-Warsh exhibition

By Harold C. Ford

“Whatever Gets You Through the Night” is the current exhibition at Mott-Warsh Gallery (MW), 815 S. Saginaw St. (corner of Court and Saginaw Streets), Flint. The exhibition ends on August 20.

According to Stephanie James, Director and Curator of the Mott-Warsh Collection, the exhibition responds to the distressing issues of the current era that affect most of us: the COVID-19 pandemic; racial justice; the January 6 insurrection; disputes over the right to vote, reproductive rights, gender equity; and a myriad of other problems.

The current exhibition, according to James, “explores the different ways in which we seek and find relief from some of our daily challenges, sources of stress and anxiety”.

“People often say, ‘Things got harder,'” James said. “But the reality is that life is tough, life has always been tough. It’s a struggle… trying to put food on the table… anxieties and issues of racism, xenophobia, health issues… homophobia.

“How can we find relief…heal,,, come together?” James asked rhetorically. “The means by which we find relief from these things (are)… interacting with nature, embracing spirituality, family relationships, friendships… self-medicating… remembering, remembering. ”

Three examples

Three of the pieces in the exhibition, and their artists, capture and illustrate these central possibilities.

Autumn Onyx by Joe Norman

Untitled, Whitfield Lovell, 2005, mixed media on paper. (Photo by Harold Ford)

Norman’s many academic credits include professor of art, drawing and painting at the University of Georgia in Athens. According to MW’s exhibition notes: “The drawing is from a series of works created by Norman to explore the density and complex patterns of plant life.” The viewer, perhaps, is drawn to consider the density and complexity of patterns that also exist in the lives of humans.

Burning Bush by William Majors

Burning Bush, William Majors, 1985, etching. (Photo by Harold Ford)

Originally from Indiana, Majors received his BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) from the John Heron Art Institute. The art of the majors cannot be cataloged with a simple description as he draws from a variety of diverse sources to create his works. MW’s exhibit notes explain that his approach combines “theme, style and technique (influenced by) the Old Testament”. His widow said, “Bill was not formally religious, but he was a believer.

Untitled by Whitfield Lovell

Autumn Onyx, Joe Norman, 2000, graphite on paper. (Photo by Harold Ford)

Among the many Lovell pieces acquired by Mott-Warsh, these two feature subdued depictions of an unidentified man and woman accompanied by colorized playing cards. The two untitled pieces are part of a series of 54 pieces simply titled “The Card Pieces”. Taken individually, a card’s suit, suit, and value can have a particularly significant relationship to portraits. In these two images, the hearts could represent love while the clubs could represent work.

Artists often describe the inspiration of their art as something indescribable, something emotional. “It was like I really felt that woman’s face and those two hearts and that’s exactly what I did,” Lovell said.

The exhibition notes describe Lovell as “an artist whose work documents and pays homage to the passage of time and the daily lives of anonymous African Americans…Lovell gives identity to these unknown figures.”

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Hours of operation for the Mott-Warsh Gallery are: Thursday and Friday, 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; and from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on the second Friday of each month during the Second Friday ARTWALK in downtown Flint.

EVM Writer Harold C. Ford can be reached at [email protected]