Chasing URLs 

You'd think artists would be clamoring to publicize -- and perhaps sell -- their works online. With unlimited access to the Web's unique bells and whistles, innovative hands could transcend mere novelty and crass marketing to arrive at artistic nirvana.

But in Detroit, visual artists have been slow to make a cohesive presence on the Web.

Perhaps it's because the city's art community comes from fingers-in-the-grease grass roots. Or because our local cultural environment has been a little slower than most metropolitan cities to catch Web fever.

Even with a hard-target search of every Web route at our disposal, it was difficult to cobble together more than a half-dozen or so Detroit artists who have made enough of a Web impact to show up on search engine radars.

According to all accounts, that will soon change for the better. The artists who are already taking advantage of the Web's capabilities have begun to take a corner of the Internet for their own.

After all, it seems that every music group in the city has a site. It's time for visual artists to follow suit. Let's meet some of the folks pointing the way.

While the virtual world has no real borders, city limits make as good a definable boundary as any when you're trying to establish an identifiable collective on the Web. This is exactly what the folks at AKA Detroit (www.akadetroit.com) have begun to do.

Prime mover Ray Ackley and designer Ryan Kinnen have a grasp of the unique opportunities the Web presents, a sense of the real-world community around them, and, importantly, the ability to market it -- a powerful combination.

They've managed to construct and host sites from an admirably broad group. They're a mixed bag, from photographer Ameen Howrani, to galleries such as Detroit Contemporary, Curly's and the Liberal Arts Gallery, to sites that highlight both written and visual expression -- "Words & Vision," an online poetry 'zine, and works by poet/painter Ulysses Newkirk.

Some are as simple as an onscreen resume, while others integrate links, software and aesthetics for maximum impact.

The centerpiece of Detroit painter Robert Berry's site is his multiface(te)d work, "Captain America." The work is comprised of 304 neck-up portraits of folks of every color, size and emotional disposition, each wearing a Captain America superhero mask. Once the project is complete, the faces, each on a red, white or blue background, will be arranged to form a massive American flag.

Art-savvy surfers can click on any of the faces in the composite and view an enlarged version. Instant detail, just add mouse!

The AKA Detroit hub has several new sites in development, which may contribute to critical mass in the online art community.

One look at Detroit artist Stephen Goodfellow's Web world seems to prove some of the utopian assessments of the Web's potential. Rather than a cold, random, market-driven void, Goodfellow's site (www.goodfelloweb.com/) is inviting, oddly intimate and intellectually invigorating.

He put his first site up in 1994, making him -- as odd as it sounds -- a Web pioneer in Detroit. Since then, it's brought him a modest amount of publicity.

"It's there less with the goal to sell art, but rather as a welcome into Stephen Goodfellow's head," he says.

"I'm able to make sales over the Web, (though) not a tremendous amount."

Goodfellow's site is one of the most surfer-friendly around. "It's allowed me to interact with fellow artists and generally all kinds of interesting people. And it's allowed me to go from a provincial neighborhood to a global neighborhood."

Goodfellow sees artists getting more interested in the Web: "I think that a lot more people are becoming aware of it," he says. "The last part of this year I've seen probably a 50 percent rise and finally they've done it and it's always great to see them log on."

From virtual openings to dadaist animations, electronic-postcards-as-art, band Web pages and an archive of writer and radio host Peter Werbe's writings, Goodfellow's Web world is worth checking out.

Another early webber extraordinaire is artist Lowell Boileau (www.bhere.com). On his site, he states: "When created as an art form, a Web site becomes medium of unprecedented aesthetic expression -- Multimedia, instantaneous and borderless, the Web site is the avant garde art of the global village."

Backing up his lofty claims are several Web sites he created as artistic vehicles -- at least one Web site-as-artwork per year since 1994. The most striking is "The Fabulous Ruins of Detroit," a virtual photographic tour through Detroit's decayed, destroyed or detonated architecture and industrial history -- Seven Sisters, Hudson's, the Model T plant in Highland Park and many others.

Boileau has taken his design a step beyond himself, as well, by creating the Web site for Ferndale's Revolution Gallery, one of a handful of Detroit galleries online.

A success story on the commercial front is Detroit photographer Bill Schwab, whose site (www.billschwab.com) found its way to Fox Sports. The TV network commissioned Schwab, whose work often explores images of culture through architecture and artifact, to travel around the country shooting photos of classic ballparks.

His site is the equivalent of a tastefully decorated studio, his most representative works populating the lobby. Schwab highlights some Web bells and whistles perfectly suited for his photography: Pages made up of electronic postcards, video clips and panoramic shots.

The state of the online art union? Bubbling up, for certain. Just keep your browser eyes peeled.

More by Chris Handyside

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