Through her labor intensive pastel paintings, Michele Zalopany speaks of mysterious objects as a keen observer of the seemingly irresolvable problematic of the racial divide. Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, she bears witness to the disintegration of what was once the fulcrum of the American economy, as a result of the historic dilemma of institutional racism. Art has a strong, silent power of creating images that subvert the institutional language and each of Michele Zalopany’s paintings add a new part to her grammar to make sense of the world.
Her paintings’ photographic realism use a fictitious model, closer to an excuse to raise a question rather than make a statement, although many of the places, people and things are, or were, real. In 1943 it is believed that a confrontation on the Belle Isle Bridge was the spark to the ensuing riots. Zalopany’s beautiful rendering of the empty Belle Isle Bridge paradoxically describes the scene of social malaise and the inability to mitigate Detroit’s enormous racial chasm.
Zalopany’s larger-than-life Line Up comprised of three panels at a total of 7’4” x 13 ft is a meditation on profiling in 1943. The six subjects, three males and three females, are posed in a police line up, dressed as though they were going to church, stare ambivalently into the camera, hence, at the viewer, asking the question ‘why?’ The viewer is in front of a contradiction, a painting that is not just a painting leaves open every interpretation. The painter obviously wasn’t sitting in front of six subjects in a police line up. Maybe she painted using models in vintage clothes, in order to balance the unpleasantness of the real image she pushed herself to compose another antithetical one. The presence or absence maybe doesn’t means much, what matters is her ability to make each of her paintings a serious questions. Technically, each picture is born pastel stroke by pastel stroke – applied with great skill and experience as well as the necessity that brings the artist to create new forms for her language and to organize the invented forms in relationships, into image-making.
The genesis of this work occurred in Sutri, Italy where Zalopany met the poet sadiq bey, and discovered that they were both from Detroit and held similar views on the significance of their city’s demise. In Italy, the two artists decided to collaborate on a multi-tiered project that emphasizes a broader perspective of Detroit’s brutal history, through the credible lens of personal experience.
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