Huntington Woods artist examines deeper meanings with desserts

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published November 4, 2015

 Huntington Woods artist Joan Schwartz, left, sits with fellows artists Ruth Tyszka, center, of Bloomfield Hills, and Darcel Deneau, right, of Novi, at their “Just Desserts” art show at the Janice Charach Gallery in West Bloomfield.

Huntington Woods artist Joan Schwartz, left, sits with fellows artists Ruth Tyszka, center, of Bloomfield Hills, and Darcel Deneau, right, of Novi, at their “Just Desserts” art show at the Janice Charach Gallery in West Bloomfield.

Photo by Erin Sanchez


HUNTINGTON WOODS — Dessert is something everyone enjoys, Huntington Woods resident Joan Schwartz said, whether it be cake, chocolate or any other sweet treat.

So for a three-woman show, “Just Desserts,” that Schwartz is a part of at the Janice Charach Gallery in West Bloomfield, she and her fellow artists decided to sweeten up the gallery with mosaic and mixed-media pieces that depict the vast colors and variety of desserts. The show opened Oct. 25 and runs through Dec. 10.

However, for three women who questioned multiple aspects of our nation’s government with their ArtPrize sculpture last year, the desserts aren’t just desserts, despite the title of the show.

“We actually started the concept of the dessert idea even before the ArtPrize piece because there are so many double meanings throughout life,” Schwartz said. “Dessert is associated as such a positive thing that people look forward to, but sometimes what you see is not what you get. It can look pretty, but once you taste it, it is not so good. So there is a little bit of play here with double meanings.”

The show, which is a collaborative effort by Schwartz, Novi’s Darcel Deneau and Bloomfield Hills’ Ruth Tyszka, looks pleasant to the eye, Schwartz said, but it is when you really look at the pieces that you see the deeper meanings.

One of Tyszka’s pieces displays several empty chairs and a big cake with assault rifles on it that is meant to pay homage to the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting victims, many of whom were children who won’t get to eat cake again.

Schwartz’s contributions, from a piece focusing on an overindulgence of chocolate to large orbs hanging in the gallery representing pretty food, ask questions about what goes into our food to make it bigger and more plentiful.

“I did these very large orbs that hang from the center of the two-story gallery, with the biggest one being probably 34 inches in diameter, and they are called ‘Frankenfood,’” she said. “They represent the genetically modified food that is beautiful to look at, but there is more to it than just the visuals.”

Schwartz got involved in art at a young age, she said; art she made in high school took first place in a poster contest. However, she said she was encouraged by her father to find a profession she could make a living in, so she became a registered nurse.

During her time as a nurse and raising her three children, Schwartz said, she always found time to work on her art. Working with mixed-media mosaic, however, is something she picked up about 12 years ago, and something she finds unique.

“It just grabbed me, as I never really liked painting or drawing that much because I liked to build, and I liked putting the glass pieces together and layering it to do three-dimensional pieces,” she said. “It is the combination of building of the work and the different materials I use that I enjoy.”

Last September, Schwartz had the chance to partner with Deneau and Tyszka to present their sculpture “Just Listening” for the annual ArtPrize competition in Grand Rapids. The sculpture used Lady Justice as a basis, and the three artists changed certain aspects to voice their opinions on the nation’s judicial system and security.

Deneau liked having the chance to work on the “Just Desserts” show, and she used mosaic and contributed two paintings to the show.

One of Deneau’s pieces shows a woman wearing a hat with a tiered cake and a lollipop on top. At first glance, the piece looks colorful and tasty, but Deneau said further examination shows deeper meaning in the woman, as well as hidden items on the cake.

“Desserts are a celebration and kind of cheerful and associated with good times, but you can see the cake is a little heavy on her head and she doesn’t look happy,” Deneau said. “And within the cake are some bullets, so it is not truly edible and kind of disappointing when you get to it.

“It just shows the injustice of what we see and how we perceive it, but there are undertones that everything is not cheerful.”

Besides all the political and social commentaries hidden in the pieces, Schwartz said she hopes that when people leave the gallery, they have a greater appreciation for the medium, as well as for artists.

“I hope they have a new understanding and appreciation for all the work we put into it,” she said. “People view art and say, ‘How can you ask that much money for it?’ But they have no concept for what it takes to put something together, and just not physical building, but the hours of thought and design.

“This is unique for us too, because this is the first three-woman show we have done together, and other than a couple of mosaic shows I have done, this is probably the biggest pinnacle show I have done.”

The Janice Charach Gallery,  inside the Jewish Community Center of Metro Detroit at 6600 W. Maple Road, is open 10 a.m-5 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Thursdays and noon-4 p.m. Sundays. All three artists will be in attendance at the showing at 1 p.m. Nov. 22 to speak with visitors.