Every Tuesday night through September you can see a veritable parade of “underground” art — and schmooze with the artists themselves — at Miniseries, an event created and curated by artist Rachel Reed and her promoter husband Manuel “Chato” Chavez, at Agave, a fashionable restaurant in Detroit’s mid-town area.
Five artists are featured each month, varying their work each week. The offerings — “hangables and wearables at affordable prices” — range from jewelry to T-shirts to paintings. “No dentist office stuff,” says Reed, adding that more important to her than quality is that the art be controversial, gritty or unusual.
Surprisingly, Reed, one of the five artists featured in May, appears anything but gritty or unusual when she arrives at Agave to set things up for the first show of the season. She’s dressed in a conservatively chic sleeveless black dress under a belted bone-colored trench coat with black low-heeled slides. In her chin-length auburn hair is a black-and-white scarf, worn like a head band and cascading down her shoulders.
Even more surprising, Reed — who’s shown her work at venues such as POP DOM, a pop culture museum in Germany (where she lived briefly in the late ’90s), the Majestic Café, The Dirty Show and Small World Café — resides with Chavez in, of all places, Ortonville, with their “kids”: two goats, eight chickens, a rooster, two dogs, two cats and a “pea-brained” rabbit.
“It’s like ‘Green Acres,’” says Reed with a laugh, admitting the farm life is a bit more Chavez’s thing that her own.
Chavez jokes: “Even though we’re country hicks, we put on a cool show.”
Indeed. Miniseries began last March after the couple came up with a way to get their artist friends together on a regular basis to socialize and show off their work. The goal? “To have fun,” they say.
Early on, they got maybe 50 people throughout the night; now they say it’s more like 200. “We started something and the momentum carried,” says Reed, adding that they never promoted the event. And they don’t lack for artists to feature. Their guest book has grown to about 100 artists.
While it’s an artists’ gathering, the public is welcome. There are complimentary hors d’oeuvres (an insanely cheesy enchilada dish was served in May) and the atmosphere is casual. Agave was a natural choice since Chavez’s brother, Marco, is one of the restaurant’s founders. (Their father, Manuel, founded Ristorante di Modesta in Southfield, which was famous in the ’80s and closed in 2001.) And Reed is responsible for the mural outside in the patio area.
The events run from 7-10 p.m. but pick up closer to 8:30 p.m. Frequent drop-ins include artists Mark Dancey, Glenn Barr, Mark Arminski, Carl Lundgren and filmmaker Tim Caldwell.
As for the art itself, you’ll find just about everything. The May 18 lineup included Mike Williams’ Siouxsie and the Banshees-inspired paintings (“a crippling obsession,” he admits); artist-model Gwen Joy’s folk-inspired paintings, purses and jewelry; real estate agent-photographer Michele (wife of Carl) Lundgren’s photos of tombs in New Orleans (“I’ve always been into graveyards and dead people,” she offers); Dirty Show founder Jeremy Harvey’s fantasy drawings; and, of course, Reed’s art.
Her latest creations are mostly wearable art she calls “Skeleton Chic” (displayed at most Miniseries events — a privilege of being its creator), featuring strange and whimsical skull designs in ironic places — the face of a pin-up girl, a French poodle, a Buddha — on T-shirts ($20), tote bags ($15) and framed prints ($40-$85).
Reed started out wanting to be a fashion illustrator before painting nudes and later doing more graphic work. With “Skeleton Chic,” she says, “Everything sort of melded together.”
She owes the inspiration to Chavez, who is of Mexican descent. He introduced her to Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, an ancient Mexican tradition that celebrates the dead. “Skeleton Chic” was born and Chavez couldn’t be happier. “This is my art appreciation,” he says of Reed, his wife of a year and a half.
Reed says “Skeleton Chic” collectors include Glen Hansard (The Frames; The Commitments) and Keith Gattis (Dwight Yoakam guitarist). Reed says Gattis called her after she tossed a Skeleton Chic hat onstage with some business cards at a concert last year.
As for Chavez, despite his penchant for the farm life (he’s been there since 1994), he’s hardly a country bumpkin. A fixture in the ’70s Detroit punk rock movement, he promoted such clubs as Nunzio’s and the original Clutch Cargo’s. Now, besides promoting Miniseries, he coordinates art for Detroit’s Small World Café and runs a pneumatic tube systems business from their home.
Together, the two are excited to see what happens next with Miniseries. “We got together a group of artists to start sort of an art club,” says Reed. “It just kind of evolved on its own into a little happening.”
The Miniseries Lineup
Mark Nischan, Izzy’s Imports, Jem S. Targal, Toné, Beth Ann Wilusz
June 15: Special Guest Glenn Barr (Rare Prints and New Finds)
Tribute to Fourth Street Artists: Tim Caldwell, Clare Fox, Maurice Greenia, Giles Rosbury
Tribute to Detroit Rock Scene Artists: Mark Arminski, Jasper Borgman, Gary Grimshaw, Carl Lundgren, Sue Rynski
August 17: Surprise Musical Guest
Christen Carolin, The Padded Cell, Mary Herbeck, Larry Larson
Miniseries is every Tuesday through September, 7 to 10 p.m., at Agave, 4265 Woodward Ave., Detroit; call 313-833-1120 for information.
You can also see a retrospective of Rachel Reed’s work at Periods at the Majestic Café through June. The opening is Thursday, June 3, 8-10 p.m. The Majestic Café is located at 4120-4140 Woodward Ave., Detroit; call 313-833-9700, ext. 213.Ellen Piligian is a freelance writer. E-mail [email protected]