June 18, 2014 at 1:00 am

47 artists join 'Big Paintings' show at factory studio

'Spirit of Detroit' by Chris Zagacki (Detroit News)

Looking for a cool introduction to the gritty Detroit art scene? This is the show for you.

“Big Paintings @ the Factory,” opening Thursday in Highland Park, is a 47-artist group show exhibiting, as the title suggests, really, really big paintings in a hulking old factory.

And who doesn’t love huge canvases drenched in color, particularly when painted by the likes of Gilda Snowden, Jerome Ferretti or the mono-named TEAD?

“Big” was organized by two sculptors — Detroiter Bob Sestok, who also paints and has one huge canvas in the show, and Rob Onnes, a transplanted New Zealander who bought this small factory complex last year for his studio.

“I was looking for a big space,” says Onnes, “something like 2,000 square feet.” He grins. “But then it grew. This is 20,000 square feet.”

In many ways, says Sestok, this “Midland Invitational,” as it’s also dubbed (the factory is on Midland Street), will act as the building’s public debut before Onnes starts renting out parts to artists who need jumbo-sized space.

But “Big” is a quick run. The show will be open Thursday and Friday evenings, and much of Saturday, but only by appointment thereafter through Aug. 31. So get a move on.

And prepare to be delighted. All swept and clean, the old Lewis Manufacturing & Stamping plant is a treat to wander, with million-paned glass walls, soaring ceilings and satisfyingly rough cement-block walls. Meaning no disrespect whatsoever to the art, the building itself is half the fun.

The art, which includes the well-established as well as the young and hungry, is often a complete knock-out. Sestok says he deliberately invited a number of the street artists working in studios adjacent to the Lincoln Street Art Park west of the New Center to “add a little more color to the show.”

Good choice. Take NUL’s spraypainted portrait of a jolly green giant with spindly hair, “I Hate Myself…And the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” a nice cross between street art and cartooning that’s equal parts amusing and disturbing. It forms an interesting contrast to Chris Zagacki’s far more earnest “Spirit of Detroit.”

In the knockout department, check out Kristin Beaver’s “Hamtramck Circus.” This portrait of a man and a woman, painted with Beaver’s characteristic precision, is both funny and absurdist — traits that color much of her work. And try not to miss Nicole Macdonald’s affecting portrait of former Detroit city council member Ken Cockrel Sr., part of a series on Detroiters the artist admires. The portraits will ultimately be installed in the blank windows of an abandoned building at I-94 and Grand River.

This is not, however, just a portrait show. A number of the non-figurative works on display are punchy as well, not least Bill Dillworth’s monochromatic “Big Woven Limbs,” Mary Rosseaux’s elegant abstract, “Series 31 #1,” and Katie St. Clair’s towering triptych panels “Phich,” “Phoss” and “Grust.”

One last word — you really want to get to the factory while there’s still good light. Artificial illumination will be limited once it’s dark, so the art is best seen before the sun goes down. It’s what Sestok puckishly calls “the Renaissance way of lighting shows.”

'Big Paintings @ the Factory'

Thursday-Aug. 31

5 p.m.-11 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 2 p.m.-midnight Saturday, by appointment only thereafter

333 Midland, Highland Park

Free Thursday, $5 Friday and Saturday

(248) 722-3550

MHodges@detroitnews.com

New Zealand sculptor Rob Onnes has converted a Highland Park factory into ... (Detroit News)