Big changes afoot in the Hamtramck gallery scene — the site formerly known as 2739 Edwin has moved onto the main drag with another address-specific name, 9338 Campau. (The gallery drops the traditional “Jos.” before Campau.)
All in all, it looks to be a good move on the part of gallery director Steve Panton. The new space, just north of Holbrook, has a raw, high-ceilinged airiness that feels a lot like New York’s SoHo circa 1966, before the swells moved in and everything got fancy.
For his debut exhibit in the new location, Panton’s mounted “until something else comes along,” a show of abstracts by Detroit painter Saffell Gardner.
These tend to be highly colorful canvases jammed with movement. In some cases, there might be a little too much going on. But in others, like “Mystical Afronaut,” the hyper-kinetic mix of line and color feels just right, and you find yourself sucked in.
Symbols figure large in Gardner’s work, whether open doorways, pyramids or double-headed axes. The latter, he swears, started popping up in the late 1970s while still a student at Wayne State. The ax is all over his 1978 “Cosmic Xango,” for example, a highly textured exercise that’s more monochromatic than many of his later works.
“The image rose up, but the meaning came later” he says — on a visit to Salvador (Bahia), Brazil, the beautiful old colonial capital where African traditions brought by the slaves put down their deepest roots in the local culture.
There in Bahia, over and over again, Gardner bumped into his mysterious icon — the double ax, which he explains was a symbol of justice in Yoruba society, associated with the deity Xango (pronounced “shango”).
“I’d been using the image 10 years or so,” Gardner says, “before I understood what it was.” He likes the way its emergence in his painting seems to confirm the thesis of art historian Robert Farris Thompson, who argued that far more visual and artistic images crossed the Atlantic and lodged themselves in American art than we generally think.
Another image that started cropping up repeatedly was an open doorway, one you’ll find writ large in Gardner’s 1980 “Starry Door.”
The doorway, of course, can be hitched to all sorts of meanings, signifying possibility on the one hand, or, alternately, passage from one state to another.
When Gardner visited Senegal’s House of Slaves museum in 1985, and its notorious “Door of No Return” — through which the newly enslaved boarded ships for the Middle Passage — the meaning broke over him like an ocean wave.
Interestingly, once he realized what his subconscious had been pointing to all this time, the doors got smaller and smaller, though happily, never entirely disappeared.
‘until something else comes along’ — Saffell Gardner
Through Sept. 20
9338 Campau gallery
9338 Jos. Campau, Hamtramck
1-5 p.m. Saturdays,
or by appointment
Artist’s talk: 6 p.m. Saturday