Design for living

Eileen Jewell’s downtown Royal Oak gallery is filled with chic, contemporary furniture that would make an art lover swoon, the kind of handmade pieces aching to live inside one of those swanky new lofts around the block. But on Jan. 31, most of the studio’s colossal eye-catchers will be moving to the basement for a six-week hiatus. Studio Jewell’s new window candy? The College for Creative Studies Crafts Interdisciplinary Annual Art Furniture Show, Form Before Function.

If the title is any indication of the show’s nontraditional approach, be forewarned: That’s not the only abnormality. Behind the unique veneers of handcrafted tables and ultra-modern chairs are the artists themselves, most of whom are still in the throes of their college years. When it comes to the quality of craftsmanship, Jewell, who taught interior design at CCS for a semester last year, says age is not an issue. “[CCS has] a high standard for their students and the students are performing to this high standard, so I’m really impressed by their work,” she says.

Impressed enough to hand over the entire space for a single exhibit? “Yes,” she laughs. “I’m really excited by them. I’m looking forward to it because I really appreciate art.”

Form Before Function will showcase student and alumni work that emphasizes the sculptural aspect of furniture — no Art Van look-alikes here. Some fine artwork will be on display as well.

To get a taste of the event, I previewed a few pieces at Jewell’s spacious studio on the corner of Washington and Fifth. A stool by Erin Gross features a curved wooden seat supported by two simple wooden arches married by colored rubber. Tom Carbone’s stunning end table sports a slab of rippled glass jutting over a crop of small industrial pipes. The studio’s floor-to-ceiling windows drench the gallery in plenty of daylight, and the expansive showroom provides ample space to take in the furniture’s clean, simple lines. “Generally when you’re in this type of style you don’t stuff your house full of furniture,” Jewell says, “but the pieces that you have … have an emotional sense to them.”

No one knows this better than the artists themselves. Ann Gordon, a 22-year-old recent CCS graduate, has had her work showcased at Studio Jewell since the summer. Her paintings, influenced by Rauschenberg, de Kooning and Basquiat, will be incorporated into the studio’s new show as well.

Gordon, a native of Troy, cites Detroit as a main inspiration for her abstract expressionist work, explaining that she uses images of the city as a template for her initial sketches. “I take a lot of Polaroids downtown in a lot of strange areas,” she says. “I’m obsessed with intersecting lines, highway systems, overpasses, the People Mover.” Subtle references to urban life infuse Gordon’s colorful acrylic-on-canvas paintings.

The jumbled landscapes, she says, are also a means of expressing her own silly language. She’ll often incorporate seemingly nonsensical words and letters that have personal meaning. “I don’t like art to be real heavy,” says the soft-spoken painter. Gordon’s new installation, NOGO, is a set of 7-inch-by-7-inch-by-2 1/2-inch cubic paintings. She derived the title from a contradiction of ideas and a repetition of sounds.

Since graduating CCS this May, Gordon’s work has been picked up by the Michigan Design Center in Troy, a showroom for interior designers, and the Marshall Fields store in Eastland. She sold most of the work she displayed at CCS’s end-of-year show in 2003.

As a young artist, Gordon says the transition from classrooms to galleries can be bittersweet. “At first, each painting you do seems so precious, it’s like your baby; you don’t want to part with it. But then it’s like, ‘Do I really want to sit in my room with a hundred paintings?’”

Knowing that her art is being appreciated elsewhere eased her first sales. “Now it’s different and I like the fact that people are taking an interest in my work,” she says. “If people like [a painting] and it matches their couch, that’s cool,” Gordon says without a trace of irony. Plus, she adds, “I know I’m going to be painting for the rest of my life.”

Form Before Function’s opening reception will feature music by DJ Shortround as well as video footage by the CCS animation department projected onto the building’s exterior and interior.

“There’s a lot of good, young work out there that has a freshness to it,” says Gordon.

In taking on Form Before Function, Studio Jewell nods its head in agreement.


The opening reception for Form Before Function at the Studio Jewell (501 S. Washington, Royal Oak) will be on Saturday, Jan. 31, from 7-11 p.m. Exhibit runs through March 12. Call 248-414-6114 for more information.

Ronit Feldman is a freelance writer. E-mail [email protected].
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