Detroit painters showcased at Scarab Club, David Klein Gallery

Michael Hodges
The Detroit News

Bored in the dog days of summer?

Four shows around town of Detroit painters would make for entertaining viewing in air-conditioned comfort, with styles that range all over the artistic map.

Three of the shows are at Detroit’s Scarab Club — “The Magical Realism of Whitney Snow” downstairs, and solo shows for Charles Alexander and Michael Crane on the second floor.

The other, “Summer Selections,” is a group show up at the David Klein Gallery, Birmingham branch, through August.

The late Detroit painter Whitney Snow worked in large, amusing canvases heavy on absurdity.

But Snow stocks his tableaux not with lounging Roman gods, but with a kooky cast that, in the case of “Time, Gentlemen, Time,” includes a fire-and-brimstone preacher, a statue bent on suicide, Humpty Dumpty also in suicidal mode and an angry Raggedy Ann dominating a chastened Raggedy Andy.

It’s cute. It’s funny. And, clearly by design, it’s also a little creepy.

Upstairs, painter and AIDS activist Charles Alexander has filled the club’s second-floor lounge with his crowded, meticulous canvases populated by energetic doodles and geometric speculations that gently reference Wassily Kandinsky.

Works like “Simile and Medallion” have an explosive energy, not unlike a tightly coiled watch spring in the process of unwinding.

In the adjacent gallery, Michael Crane’s flat, bright cartoons are an amusing change of pace. At once giddy and hysterical, you could almost title the show, with apologies to Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, “Cartoons on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.”

Meanwhile, up in Birmingham at the David Klein Gallery, a number of the metro area’s strongest painters are spotlighted in “Summer Selections.”

Realist landscape painter Stephen Magsig has several pieces, all of which underline the artist’s gift for distilling a complex urban landscape into simple geometry and color.

Magsig’s subject is usually Detroit, as with “Eastern Market,” but he also paints New York on occasion.

His canvases are hung next to Robert Gniewek’s “Pemex Station, Agua Prieta,” and it’s a wonderful pairing. Where Magsig’s work tends toward warm, dull colors and rectilinear forms, Gniewek’s rendering of a Mexican gas station at night, with bored men filling up their Ford pickups, is washed in a flourescent glow.

Robert Schefman’s large canvas at the back of the gallery, “Wonderland,” features two young women sorting through children’s toys from 80 years ago.

Schefman is intrigued by memory and forgetting, permanence and loss, and the power of artifacts to invoke all of those.

Stylistically, his human figures are of particular interest. They’re perfectly rendered in a realist fashion, but are possessed of unusual weight and monumentality — in the case of “Wonderland,” Roman goddesses temporarily robed in cotton print dresses.

‘Whitney Snow, Charles Alexander & Michael Crane’

Through July 30

Scarab Club, 217 Farnsworth, Detroit

Noon - 5 p.m. Wed.-Sun.

(313) 831-1250

‘Summer Selections’

Through Aug. 31

David Klein Gallery, 163 Townsend, Birmingham

11 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

(248) 433-3700