Poet Jim Gustafson famously wrote that there’s “no money in art.”
There are, however, other riches that come with a fruitful career in art: veneration, love and vision. Ann Mikolowski, the beloved Detroit painter and late wife of RC Prof. Ken Mikolowski, had all of these in large measure.
The Center Galleries at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit will present a career-spanning retrospective on Mikolowski, a CCS alum, opening Saturday and running through April 28.
While national recognition for Mikolowski’s art was abbreviated by her death in 1999, she has been no less revered among those who knew her and her work.
“She was so loved and so highly regarded among the creative community,” said Michelle Perron, director of the Center Galleries, where the exhibit will be shown. “I thought it was time for another critical look at her work.”
The title of the retrospective, “Two Ways of Looking in a Mirror,” is taken from the Robert Creeley poem of the same name. The exhibit will prominently feature for what Mikolowski was especially known: “Two things,” Mikolowski said, “waterscapes and miniature portraits.”
The miniature portraits Mikolowski painted feature a number of artists and writers as well as her personal friends. Though the largest of these measures just three by four inches, they’re painted with meticulous attention to detail. The photographic immediacy of each portrait was inspired by Polaroid snapshots Mikolowski took of her subjects before she painted them.
Mikolowski also captured this same immediacy in her sweeping, emotive land and waterscapes. Among many other bodies of water, Mikolowski said “she spent a lot of time on Lake Huron.”
“She spent the bulk of her career on these major series,” Perron said of Mikolowski’s work. While the small portraits and large waterscapes may initially seem to have little in common, Perron said she sees a definite connection.
“She considered the waterscapes to be internal self-portraits, and the miniature portraits she painted of her friends and fellow artists represented, in a way, her external life,” she said.
According to Perron and Mikolowski, the CCS retrospective was a long time in the making. Collecting all of Ann’s work was also a daunting task in itself. “Eleven of the paintings are from my collection,” Ken said. The rest of the works included in the retrospective were loaned from other galleries, collectors and individuals spread over the country.
Though their artistic lives were always interesting, Mikolowski admitted he and his late wife often struggled. “For 15 years we worked with one part time job between the two of us. She was a painter, I was a poet, and together we ran a press,” he said of their life.
The publishing company he spoke of is the Alternative Press, which published original hand-printed materials and poetry by artists like Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman. While the CCS retrospective will focus solely on Ann’s oil paintings, the pair collaborated on many projects for the Alternative Press. “She was the artistic half of the operation,” he said.
The exhibit will run for six weeks after the public opening reception tomorrow from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Other featured events will take place throughout the exhibit’s run, including a poetry reading featuring Andrei Codrescu (whose own miniature portrait appears on the cover of one of his collections), Ken Mikolowski and Chris Tysh on March 30 at 8 p.m. Michelle Perron will also give a gallery talk at noon April 5.
“Intimate” is the word Perron chose to best describe Mikolowski’s paintings both large and small. “You’re literally drawn in and enveloped by them,” she said. “She was a poet with paint.”