Corine Vermeulen distorts and abstracts at David Klein Gallery
Dutch photographer Corine Vermeulen landed on these shores as a graduate student at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, and after graduation in 2004, established a studio in Detroit -- long before that was as fashionable as it's since become.
Her stunning early work often dealt with irrepressible nature pushing up through the cracks in what was at the time — before today's explosive redevelopment — a half-abandoned city left to rot.
The 2009 Kresge Artist Fellow's approach has always been visually striking, and Vermeulen's ranged widely across her medium, refusing to be pigeonholed in any particular approach.
This fertile restlessness is on full display at Detroit's David Klein Gallery, with the solo show "Kodak and the Comet," up through May 4.
The compact show, with about 16 big canvases, includes large-scale abstractions that feel more painterly than photographic, as well as "Nachtwerk," a series of portraits and objects the artist shot while in Colombia.
The abstracts are particularly intriguing, and represent a photographic doubling-down on Vermeulen's earlier landscape photography — taking exposed film from her personal archive, and altering the negatives with a range of household chemicals.
"I am intervening retrospectively in my own image making," she wrote in an artist's statement that underlines her skepticism about the city's recent evolution, "doing something different with the images of the past. This occurs during a time of 'revival' in Detroit when different processes are deployed over the same terrain, interfering with the historical ground."
If the Detroit of the future emerged as beautifully as the distortions Vermeulen's worked on earlier landscape shots, we would be a very lucky city indeed.
The large abstractions are simply gorgeous — there's no other word for them — dappled in soft tones of pink, algae-green, lavender and black. Again, you could be forgiven for thinking these pigment prints were actually created with a paintbrush.
The "Nachtwerk" images, mostly shot at night ("nacht," unsurprisingly, is Dutch for "night"), consist of portraits of women, a leaf and one seemingly headless cat.
Indeed, hidden heads and faces loom large in this body of work. In one, a woman in a silver rain slicker peers at the viewer with one distorted, cyclops eye, while another poses for a simple head shot with a rose-colored plastic bag covering her entire head.
In 2014, gallerist and curator Steve Panton wrote that Vermeulen's works "display an exemplary combination of empathy for their subjects and a very European sense of distance" — an appraisal that's every bit as true of "Kodak and the Comet" as any of this artist's previous shows.
'Corine Vermeulen, Kodak and the Comet'
Through May 4
David Klein Gallery, 1520 Washington Blvd., Detroit
Noon - 6 p.m. Wed.-Sat.