Local Artist Profiles
Nine profiles of local artists
(page 5 of 9)
Drawn (Back) to Detroit
By George Bulanda // Paintings by Nancy Mitchnick
13757 buffalo street
As her visitor arrives on a steamy July afternoon, artist Nancy Mitchnick is cutting vibrant orange lilies in her Hamtramck front yard. When she carries them into the house and drops them into a vase, their hue seems to intensify her own vivid paintings hanging on the walls.
That gesture may seem accidental, but an artist’s sense of form and design is always subconsciously at work, especially one of such longstanding stature.
Mitchnick was among the celebrated Cass Corridor painters and sculptors in the 1960s and ’70s that included Robert Sestock, Ellen Phelan, Brenda Goodman, Gordon Newton, and Michael Luchs.
After Mitchnick’s solo show at the co-op Willis Gallery in 1973, she moved to New York, then hopscotched across the country for a 10-year teaching stint at CalArts, then trekked back east to Harvard, where she taught for 15 years.
She found instructing gratifying, but it detracted from creating her own art. Not now. Mitchnick moved to Hamtramck in 2011, about a mile away from where she grew up in Detroit on Buffalo Street, near Six Mile and Mound. She also rents a studio in Detroit’s Russell Industrial Center and is involved in the most ambitious undertaking of her career: The Detroit Project.
Its genesis dates back more than a decade, when Mitchnick was reading Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel Middlesex, which is set in metro Detroit.
“I knew every corner, every neighborhood mentioned in the book,” she says. “At the time, I was painting lakes in Ipswich [Mass.] I thought, ‘What does this have to do with my own experience?’ So I started to formulate the idea for The Detroit Project.”
By 2004, it took wing, and the artist spent the summer that year in Detroit painting and absorbing the city’s atmosphere.
Mitchnick will eventually include photographs and installations as part of The Detroit Project, which she’d like to exhibit in New York and Berlin. The series includes paintings of homes in the city, many of them abandoned and burned out, including her own house on Buffalo. But she’s not among those artists who think it’s “cool” to record Detroit’s decay without any frame of personal reference.
“I don’t think these are ruin porn at all,” she says of her house paintings. “They’re more sincere than that. Besides, I have a right to make them. I lived on f---ing Buffalo Street, and I was born here, came back here through the years, and live here again and have my studio in the city. I have a reason to paint something I’ve loved and cared about so much.”
Mitchnick calls her return “my comeback.”
“A lot of people knew who I was 40 years ago, but they don’t now,” she says. She’s gradually gaining recognition, and has had solo shows at the Scarab Club and Cranbrook. Artspace II in Birmingham is also selling some of her paintings.
The scale of The Detroit Project is immense, but Mitchnick is in it for the long haul. “I’ll probably work on this until I kick it,” she says.
hamtramck pink dyptych