Quick-change artist

John Azoni is still a student at the College for Creative Studies — a precocious, perceptive and prolific student. Keep your eye on him because he moves fast. He is not the stereotypical lazy art student. Responding to a last-minute cancellation, Azoni filled a large gallery at Pontiac's Museum of New Art in August. OK, the multitude of paintings demonstrated he's a student still sampling styles of a myriad of modern masters, but he's zoomed rapidly through those influences, always moving forward and searching, even finding time to paint commissioned portraits. Azoni is currently in France, studying in Aix en Provence through December, but promises, "I don't see myself doing French landscapes." One possible genre omitted.

When he's here, Azoni is also "involved in reaching out to the homeless in Detroit, and just showing them love, bringing them food, and meeting their needs; giving them rides to the 24-hour shelter, washing their clothes, taking them to church with us."

And he's philosophical. "It's a stupid, ridiculous, imperfect, greedy, selfish world we live in," he says. "I'm just glad I've been given the opportunity to observe and make light of it, and not take myself or life or the world too seriously." Azoni's responsiveness, thoughtfulness and curiosity about people and the world obviously inspires and energizes his work.

Artist Gilda Snowden taught Azoni the power of powerful pure abstraction. He moved on to a big romance with Jean-Michel Basquiat, doing some mean impersonations, complete with texts, pop culture references, the requisite chaos and even the signature crowns — placed on hamburgers, not black heroes. Some work resembles Jean Fautriers, a pioneer French abstract expressionist known for his thick layers of paint and brutalism. He nods to German neo-expressionist Georg Baselitz with messy, childlike paint-handling (although nothing upside down). Azoni also explores the lyricism of expressionist Joan Mitchell and admires Lucian Freud, a whole other thing. He's poked his head everywhere it seems, into modernism and postmodernism, both stylistically and theoretically. Good artists acknowledge thievery.

"Chomp Bunny" exemplifies Azoni's latest series, melding his various influences. It depicts an inanimate rabbit and a carrot, adorned with elegantly free gestures, gorgeously smudged color, amusing floral shapes and plenty of painterly energy. He's opened up his crowded work, striding forward courageously. Don't expect him to stop there, however. "By Friday," Azoni says, "I could be doing something totally different."


John Azoni is currently studying in Aix-en-Provençe, France. He also has a show at Motor City Brewing Works on Jan. 31, 2007.


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Christina Hill writes about art for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
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