Lofty invasions

Detroit art can be a painful process. For decades, artists have sacrificed creature comforts to create in the postindustrial setting that for many defines the essence of their work. They bear down, braving drafty winters, taking refuge in converted warehouse lofts, worrying about substandard maintenance issues like rodent infestation. Yet, in certain pockets of the city, behind closed doors, a very private art community has emerged over the past two decades, where artists are free to create in a peaceful, well-kept environment, and able to focus on the issue of productivity. Consider the Brooklyn Lofts.

For the first time in five years, artists-in-residence will open their doors at the stroke of noon on Saturday, inviting friends and strangers to talk a walk through the colorful halls for a personal introduction to their work spaces. This is not a gallery show, but a more intimate chance to see the process of making art up close and a chance to purchase work directly from the artists.

Landlord Richard Rollins, a Birmingham tax attorney who handpicks residents for the 14 units based on their portfolios, vitas and artistic souls, speaks passionately about the building he purchased 18 years ago. Painters and other artistic types make up its population.

“I believe it’s the finest building in the United States,” he says. Rollins is a collector himself, boasting some 600 works. “I’m not an artist, but I love being surrounded by artists.”

While artists have come and gone from the building over the years, much of their work left hanging in the halls hints at the legacy that has been created in these spaces. Current tenants are a medley of Detroit’s most established artists including Glenn Barr, Dave Roberts and Gary Eleinko, and the new guard of emerging fine artists like Detroit transplants Sacha Eckes, Phaedra Robinson and Zachary Schaefer.

An artists’ refuge is nothing new and the allure of a studio, with the romantic possibilities of creation, has driven painters to spacious holes from the days of turn-of-the-century Parisian salons to Andy Warhol’s New York City Factory. These abodes — converted loft buildings — have been the mainstay of Detroit artists for several decades, but Brooklyn boasts some of the longest residencies of artists of note.

Painter and filmmaker Joel Silvers has assumed a role of building documentarian, and is filled with knowledge of the artists, their work and the tragic and gleeful stories. “Now there’s a group of artists who are willing to show work, and unapologetically. That for me is a revelation, being around young artists with a belief that something can happen here,” Silvers says. “That is a kick in the ass for me.” Silvers has mixed feelings about opening studios. “I totally subscribe to the feeling that one’s studio is one’s private space. I may open my studio, I may not.”

The idea for an open studio event grew out of the Fourth of July fireworks, says fine artist and tenant Phaedra Robinson. “All of the artists got together talking about projects they’re working on … ever since then, there’s been a flow of community and shared interest in the building. It’s like a family, but we get along better. It’s very inspiring.” Robinson, who is also curator at the detroit contemporary gallery, will show a billboard and some new sculptures.

Painter Gilda Snowden boasts work at the Detroit Institute of Arts and is an instructor at the College of Creative Studies. She moved her studio to the building in 1998.

“I really like working in close proximity with such a high caliber of artists. What’s unique about it’s that it’s a building of artists who respect each other. We have a collaborative spirit, but we respect each other’s autonomy.”

Painter Ron Zakrin moved to the Brooklyn Lofts last month and is proud of his clean, well-lit space. “People will get a good idea of what I’m working on now.” Zakrin has lived in several spaces, but calls his new space “a dream.” “You actually just want to paint in that building, knowing the person next door or downstairs is working on something.”

So what does an artist’s studio look like anyway? Think a few sticky goo drips from last month’s palettes, overturned milk crates and massive windows that leak in afternoon sunlight creating shadows on high ceilings, perfect for foreground perspective. So you wanna move there? Better take a drawing class and have a few art shows under your belt.


See the show at the Brooklyn Lofts (2000 Brooklyn, Detroit) Saturday from noon to 4 p.m.

E-mail Tamara Warren at [email protected].
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