Turning the ordinary exquisite - Darcel Deneau's Detroit mosaics

Michael H. Hodges
The Detroit News

Throwaway Detroit vignettes are Darcel Deneau's artistic province.

The Detroiter takes the ugly and banal and makes it exquisite. For anyone who loves the city in all its rough-edged glory, her urban glass mosaics are awfully hard to resist.

Darcel's solo show at the Northville Art House, "Kaleidoscope City," will be up through Oct. 31.

Darcel Deneau, who has a show of her glass mosaics at Northville Art House through Oct. 31, is fond of throwaway urban scenes in Detroit.

Indeed, the chief critique you could level against both the mosaics and her earlier paintings is that they're too pretty. But her gritty subject matter -- a view under a rusted railroad trestle, a car navigating construction barrels on Woodward Avenue -- eliminates any hint of the saccharine.

The artist, who graduated from the College for Creative Studies in 2002, initially captured Detroit in paintings, but over the past 10 years or so has moved almost entirely into mosaics, which she finds more inspiring than oil or acrylic.

"I like to build things," Deneau said. "Painting is two-dimensional, but the mosaics feel 3-D, like building. And I like hunting around for the perfect piece of glass."

"Looking Back," a cut-glass mosaic by Deneau at Northville Art House through Oct. 31.

Had a friend not pushed her, it's possible Deneau never would have made the transit to working with glass and found objects, small bits of which stud some of her canvases.

"I have one persistent friend who insisted I needed to be a mosaic artist," she said. "I kept telling her, ‘I’m a painter!’ But I’d taken some workshops and she thought I was really good. When I started applying glass to my landscapes, it was so exciting I never went back."

Deneau doesn't buy broken glass. Instead she makes her own.

"I have a couple different kinds of cutters," she said. "I score the glass and break it. I break up a bunch and kind of use the bits as little dashes of paint. I'm always looking for just the right color."

It doesn't stop with broken glass. In the great Cass Corridor tradition, Deneau also integrates found objects into her mosaics -- as with "The Russell" in the Art House show, one corner of which is comprised of metal bolts, washers and keys in varying stages of rusted decomposition.

In the great Detroit artistic tradition, Deneau likes integrating found objects into her cut-glass mosaics.

Not surprisingly, given the rising interest in Detroit, Deneau's work has begun entering significant collections, including the one curated by Maureen Devine for the TCF Center (formerly Cobo), which bought Deneau's large "Unshattered City" last year.

Bottom line? Both process and result strike her as more fun than her former, two-dimensional work.

"Building mosiacs is so much more exciting than painting," Deneau said. She added that when you walk past one of her mosaics, "given the way the light’s hitting it, you read the work differently from one side to the other. The cut glass gives it dimension and movement."

With "The Russell," Deneau recreates Detroit's Russell Industrial Center - home to dozens of artist studios, including hers, in mosaic with cut glass and found objects (bottom left).


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'Kaleidoscope City' - mosaics by Darcel Deneau

Through Oct. 31

Northville Art House, 215 W. Cady, Northville

10 a.m.-6 p.m. Wed.-Thurs; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Fri.-Sat.

(248) 344-0497