Urban vignettes by Nancy Flanagan at Scarab Club

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

Happily, Detroit has several painters with a gift for street scenes and gritty urban vignettes.

One is Taurus Burns, he of the magnificent Van Ruisdael skies. Another is Stephen Magsig, whose Facebook series, “Postcards from Detroit,” is a deeply affecting chronicle of forgotten storefronts and industrial archeology.

If you’re into this sort of unsentimental realism, do not miss Nancy Flanagan’s “Exploring the Michigan Narrative” at Detroit’s Scarab Club through April 2.

Like the two artists above, Flanagan has a knack for investing the backsides of ordinary places with interest, color and geometry. Her canvases are faithful to the haphazard quality of the American streetscape — they fairly bristle with telephone poles, parking meters, signs and pickup trucks.

In “Back Ace,” we find ourselves peering down an alleyway, defined by swooping wires and throwaway buildings colored rose, mustard and deep red. A strategically placed cloud draws our eyes toward the horizon line and a sort of mythic infinity.

By contrast, “River Rouge” is an immensely satisfying geometric composition of smokestacks and looming factory buildings, girded by a chain-link fence whose shadows are the only lines that aren’t ram-rod straight.

It’s a vision at once industrial and elegant — the sort of thing realist photographer and painter Charles Sheeler, who famously documented the Rouge plant in the 1930s, might admire.

Flanagan’s show is on the second floor, under the ceiling beams signed by the likes of Diego Rivera and Margaret Bourke-White. Also on the second floor is “Idle Minds: Mariuca Rofick & Carl Wilson” through April 2.

On the first floor, you’ll find Scarab’s “2016 Silver Medal Exhibition” group show, juried by College for Creative Studies professor Scott Northrup.

This year’s call for submissions attracted 712 entries from 230 artists, which Northrup heroically wrestled down to the 43 pieces on display. (“Scott had to spend one whole day just eliminating stuff he loved,” says exhibitions director Treena Flannery Ericson with sympathy.)

There’s a lot of photography here, and given the artists involved, that’s something to be grateful for. Check out Steven Hauptman’s portrait, “Detroit Proud,” or Stacee Shelly’s “Jessica vs. the Lake.”

Bruce Giffin, one of the area’s most talented photographers, gives us two gorgeous after-dark shots, “Black Caddy” and “Rain.”

In the 3-D department, Kirsten Lund’s yarn-and-metal constructions, “Studio Bits: Nimbus,” have the look of obscure 19th-century family heirlooms.

By contrast, Doug Cannell’s installation, “Specimen,” is an intriguing exercise in steel, semi-circles and bright paint that calls to mind a half-formed centipede.



‘Exploring the Michigan Narrative: Nancy


‘2016 Silver Medal Exhibition’

‘Idle Minds: Mariuca Rofick & Carl Wilson’

Through April 2

Scarab Club

217 Farnsworth, Detroit

Noon-5 p.m.


(313) 831-1250