Personalities emerge from artworks in ‘Faces and Figures’

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published June 24, 2015

 In his first art exhibition, St. Clair Shores portrait painter Dan Methric earned best of show for his pastel, “Esther.”

In his first art exhibition, St. Clair Shores portrait painter Dan Methric earned best of show for his pastel, “Esther.”

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

GROSSE POINTE CITY — Portrait painting is a time-honored tradition in art that stretches back centuries, and while it may not be as common now as it was before the advent of photography, many artists still specialize in this area.

Artists took that tradition and expanded on it for “Faces and Figures,” the new art exhibition on display at the Grosse Pointe Art Center. Through July 11, the show features conventional portraiture and some more experimental images, as the artists attempt to share something about their subjects in two-dimensional works and sculptural pieces.

Juror Amy Foster chose only 67 of the 137 pieces submitted, and “Faces and Figures” consists of work by 45 artists.

GPAC Executive Director Coleen Downey said the show features some “wonderful artwork,” and artists like Lori Zurvalec, of Grosse Pointe City — who was on hand for the opening reception June 19 — agreed, saying it included “some very beautiful” pieces.

“It’s a fairly traditional show,” said Zurvalec, adding that this wasn’t meant as a criticism. “(The artworks) are about the figure and about the human body.”

One of the artists chosen for this show, Zurvalec said she went outside of her comfort zone for her “Rainy Spring Day, Crowded by Memories,” a drawing with watercolor that’s part of a series of contour drawings the artist did that feature Marcella, a woman Zurvalec said is a famous Detroit art model.

“I don’t normally work in figure,” Zurvalec said.

The work has several different views of Marcella, along with words, which the artist said are supposed to be the subject’s stream of consciousness and memories.

“What I was trying to do was make a story,” Zurvalec said. “I tried to keep (the woman) the focus. … All of the figures are of her thinking about herself at difficult times in her life.”

Dan Methric, of St. Clair Shores, is a portrait and wildlife artist, but said this is his first art show. He made an auspicious debut, earning best of show honors for his pastel, “Esther.”

“She was a neighbor of my grandma’s,” he said of the older woman in the portrait, whose haunting gaze suggests a life marked by challenges.

Methric said he had never met this woman, but he found her photo in a damaged album that belonged to his grandmother. Her expression is what inspired him to create this piece, he said.

Janet Kondziela, of Dearborn, received third place for her acrylic-on-panel painting, “The Hunter.” The bearded male subject is featured in another of her works in the show, albeit in different clothing and with a longer beard, for the painting “The Shaman.”

“Normally I paint with oil, but working from a (live) model, I work in acrylic,” she said. “Photographs are nice (to work from), but I can’t see the colors in the skin tone. I look for colors in the skin tone and then exaggerate them. I’m seeing how extreme I can go and still have it look like skin tone.”

And indeed, upon closer inspection, greens and blues mix with more conventional skin colors in her paintings in this show.

Another painter who opted for less standard colors was Carol LaChiusa, of Grosse Pointe Farms, whose watercolor, “Cool & Sassy,” is of a young female artist model who also happens to be the daughter of another artist in “Faces and Figures,” Deborah Maiale.

LaChiusa said she used a “minimal palette, just a few colors” that she also has her art students employ in their work. In “Cool & Sassy,” the female subject’s hair — black in real life — becomes lavender, and her black hat is painted pale blue.

“I like to paint very quickly and use a pencil suggestion of the image of (the subject),” LaChiusa said. She said she begins with a coat of gesso over the canvas, followed by a drawing of the subject, then the subject in watercolor, and finally a calligraphy pen to create a few lines further defining the subject. The artist said it’s “a long process,” but “it’s challenging fun. I like a challenge.”

At least a half-dozen of the artists in “Faces and Figures” are current or former students of LaChiusa, including Kondziela.

Other winners include Judy Munro, of Rochester Hills, who won second place for her oil painting, “Sky Boy;” and honorable mention winners Mary Aro, of Grosse Pointe Park; Uliana Blacklock, of LaSalle, Ontario; Jerry Thomas, of Warren; and Mariellen Walker, of Clinton Township.

Longtime GPAC member Julie Sabit, of Harper Woods, is known for her compelling paintings of people in everyday situations, but she didn’t enter “Faces and Figures” herself — she just came to the opening to see the works by her fellow artists.

“I really have enjoyed this show — the very interesting personalities (in these pieces),” she said. 

Jackie Brooks, of Grosse Pointe Farms, said her black and white pre-linocut image of a man and a woman, “The Look,” was from “a drawing that was going to be a linoleum-cut print.” She said she ran out of time to turn in the print for the show, so she submitted the drawing instead.

Above Brooks’ drawing is the atmospheric black and white photo “The Path Forward” by Peter Tkacz, of LaSalle, Ontario. It shows a young boy and girl from the back in silhouette as they stroll down a dark, tree-lined path. Tkacz said he and a friend, who had brought his two children, had been out for an evening walk when the photographer was struck by the scenery and the two kids walking ahead of them, using only a flashlight to light the way.

“It was just interesting to contrast them and the path,” Tkacz said. “It was not something I conceived of (ahead of time).”

Tkacz said he had to use a long exposure to get this image, and “color was distracting from the scene, so I put the camera in black and white mode.”

Work by the “Faces and Figures” juror is on display, as well, and Foster will be teaching a three-day workshop with a live model that will explore life drawing — and that is aimed at portrait newcomers and experienced artists alike — from 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Aug. 11-13, at a cost of $300 per student. Contact the GPAC to register or for more information.

The GPAC is located at 17118 Kercheval Ave. in the Village. Hours of operation are noon-6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, although the GPAC is staying open until 8 p.m. Thursdays through July 30 because of the Music on the Plaza free outdoor concert series happening only steps away. For more information, call (313) 881-3454 or visit