Two abstract painting shows worth a spotlight

Michael H. Hodges
The Detroit News

Two shows of abstract paintings by noted local artists Ed Fraga and Sergio De Giusti are among the casualties of the coronavirus lockdown.

Both galleries showing their work -- Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center for Fraga and Detroit's Galerie Camille for De Giusti -- are now closed, though each will let you in by appointment. 

Artists with exhibitions in this uncertain period number among the millions who've suddenly seen their lives take an ugly turn -- in this case, losing the coveted exposure and sales that shows at well-known galleries can bring. Add to that the fact that artists often spend years assembling the material for just one exhibition, so to have it closed midway through its run is misfortune indeed. 

So both show deserve a spotlight. Each in its own way creates a self-contained, highly satisfying little world.  

"Snow Globe for Van Gogh" by Ed Fraga at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center, which is open by appointment, through June 4.

With "Rising," whose run has been extended to June 4, Kresge Artist Fellow Ed Fraga gives us about 14 canvases, all painted with abstracted, metaphorical images. And at the room's center is an architectural construction called "The Architect's Table / Sanctuary Buildings."

The artist explains the project got its start when a friend found some architectural blueprints in the trash, and passed them along to Fraga. They turned out to be from local architect John Hilberry, a friend of the artist's, and were designs for a combination church, synagogue and entertainment center. 

Fraga told Hilberry he wanted to paint over them, and the architect encouraged him to go ahead. 

But they're not completely painted over in most cases. Fraga's created a series of palimpsests, where a preexisting work shows through the new one layered on top. You could also call these a form of pentimento.

"I wanted in some way to honor memory of what the works were," Fraga said, "and in some cases I let the paper and blueprint markings show through."

Ed Fraga's "My Father's House" at BBAC.

Some of the paintings, like "In My Father's House" or "Temple," are architectural in inspiration. But many others bear no direct relation to the blueprints -- apart from Fraga inserting people here and there, because as he put it, "Without people, they're just buildings."

Perhaps the most striking is the canvas with the marvelous name, "Snow Globe for Van Gogh," the final version of a piece Fraga worked and reworked for years. In it, an abstracted landscape is enclosed in a womb-like snow globe.

"It came out of nowhere that it reminded me of a Van Gogh painting," he said, "one of his thatched roof cottage landscapes." And, he added, "I love the play of words."

If the mood of Fraga's "Rising" is metaphorical and a bit shrouded in mystery, the landscapes in De Giusti's "Temporale" at Galerie Camille in Detroit are full of weather both turbulent and threatening.

This is appropriate, as "Temporale" is Italian for "thunderstorm."

Sergio De Giusti's "Drawing Hellfire" at Detroit's Galerie Camille by appointment through April 4.

De Giusti, who's best known as a sculptor whose works can be found at Wayne State University, Hart Plaza, and any number of other sites, admits there's a certain consistency to his paintings. 

"My watercolors have this sort of gloom about them," he said, "a sense of impending doom. I don’t know why. I just like the darkness."

These are not wilting-violet watercolors. They're aggressive and robust, and in many cases quite stirring in the manner of grand historical landscapes. Indeed, in an artist's note, De Giusti cites the 19th-century Romantics, for whom nature was a stand-in "for death and the conditions and problems of the time," as he put it.

There's a bit of a message beneath his angry landscapes having to do with climate change, and the fury that's unleashing across the world. 

For those who love De Giusti's sculptures, take heart -- there are a limited number of very good works included in this show that's otherwise all about the water colors. 

Interestingly, De Giusti hadn't picked up a paint brush in ages, until he started this series about four years ago. 

Sergio De Giusti's "Desert Storm."

"I haven’t done water colors since I was in graduate school at Wayne State," he said, "and that was quite a few years ago. But the medium always fascinated me. I guess I like it because it’s kind of spontaneous, like doing the patinas on my sculptures."

"Temporale" is scheduled to be up through April 4.

(313) 222-6021 

Twitter: @mhodgesartguy 

'Rising' by Ed Fraga

Through June 4 - open by appointment 

Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center, 1516 S. Cranbrook, Birmingham 

(248) 644-0866

'Temporale' by Sergio De Giusti

Galerie Camille, 4130 Cass, Suite C, Detroit 

Through April 4 - open by appointment

(313) 974-6737