Picture of the Week: Keeper of the Sacred Chickens by Rick Vian

January 29, 2023

Keeper of the Sacred Chickens, Rick Vian, 2010, oil on wood, 10 x 8 in.

Rick Vian is a Detroit artist, educator, and curator. He received his BFA in 1972 from the Art School of the Society of Arts and Crafts, known today as the College for Creative Studies, and his MFA from Wayne State University in 1974. He has curated and juried at many shows throughout Michigan, including “Detroit Abstraction” in 2016 at the Janice Charach Gallery in West Bloomfield, the “Annual Student Exhibition” at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, and the “Scholastic Art Awards” at Detroit Country Day School in Birmingham, among others. He has taught a variety of courses in drawing, painting, and jewelry at the College for Creative Studies, Wayne State University, Oakland Community College, Wayne Community College, and Macomb Community College. To add, Vian has won many awards throughout his artistic career in Michigan, such as First Prize at “Re/view: a CCS Alumni Exhibition” at Valade Gallery in Detroit in 2015, Best of Show at Kerridge Gallery in Hancock in 1997, and First Prize at the Annual Spring Exhibition at Wayne State University in Detroit in 1973, among several others. His artwork is part of the collections at Wayne State University, Macomb Community College in Mt. Clemens, Dow Corporation in Auburn Hills, Giffels Associates in Southfield, Honeywell Inc. in Washington D.C., Atlantic Associates in Bloomfield Hills, United Energy in Houston, TX, Foley and Lardne in Detroit, and Bons Secours Cottage Women’s Health Center in Grosse Pointe Farms. Vian’s work is also currently on view in The Growth Habits at M Contemporary Art Gallery in Ferndale.

When it comes to his artmaking practice, Vian is “mostly interested in visual perception and the underlying patterns that make sense of it.” He is also interested “in how the visual information of this world is filtered through the mechanisms of perception (which are part of that world) and is affected by thought and emotion, resulting in expression.” He often employs a grid to shape his work, which consists of “a limited number of angles and curves,” which he reworks until they feel right to him. To add, these grids are meant to be “networks that underlie and organize perception, and are inherent in the structures of the world we perceive.” They also take inspiration from trees; Vian explains in his artist statement that he “noticed that each species of tree conformed to certain proclivities of growth.” He thought of these “as a kind of ‘grid’ over which innumerable patterns could be laid.” Moreover, he believes that “the structures and resulting patterns are amenable to compositional manipulation, more so than, say, the human figure.”  

Vian’s 2010 oil painting Keeper of the Sacred Chicken demonstrates the grid formation, and the influence of trees within this formation, that he describes in his artist statement. This work is part of his "Gitche Gumee Series" from 2009 to 2012. The painting has a very unique title, and as Vian shares, his titles often have nothing to do with his paintings themselves. Rather, the title compels the viewer to spend more time observing the abstracted image. This abstract oil painting is reminiscent of post-WWII Abstract Expressionism. Specifically, Vian shares that this work is meant to be an abstracted tree and landscape. He created it in his studio in the woods in the northwestern upper peninsula of Michigan. The background consists of lighter shades of orange, gray, and blue. He juxtaposes these colors with black and red brushstrokes layered over top. These darker brushstrokes intersect, creating the grid-like formation. The brushstrokes throughout the work are not smooth, uniform color blocks, but rather textured layers of oil paint with intermingled colors, resulting in the “innumerable patterns” present within Vian’s grid. Additionally, while the work is abstract, the dark brushstrokes take on tree-like forms, with diagonal branches stretched throughout the wooden panel. The viewer perceives this abstract image by likening the forms to identifiable ones like trees. His use of plywood as a canvas, paired with the tree-like forms, emphasize the foundational value of trees in Vian's work, as they allow him to compose abstract images from his imagination.

Written by Angela Athnasios

Source: Rick Vian, rickvian.com


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