For those with an obsession for counting things there are 10,000 alphabet letters in this review of pointillist artist Jon Strand’s exhibition: Oracles, Temples and Waves … and a dragon named Raoul. But 10,000 is a piddling word count to be sure, compared to Strand’s creative dot, dot, dot detailing over nearly 50 years of painting and fascinated viewer acclaim in some 29 exhibitions of his art — including an onset exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1971 (the DIA currently owns two of his pieces). Now, his work is scheduled to be shown from Aug. 3 through 24, at the Wayne State University Arts Gallery.
In the upcoming WSU exhibit there are 62 pieces, with perhaps an overall count of close to one million dots for the compulsive artist (and a now personal friend ever since I first interviewed “the loquacious Jon Strand” for BTL in 2007). One million dots!
Strand is a self-styled, self-taught, pointillist artist, in the time-honored tradition of artists Georges Seurat, Paul Signac and Vincent Van Gogh.
This is his second major exhibition in recent years in the vicinity of the WSU campus. His last, titled “The Secret of Jonny Strange,” was held in 2007 at Detroit’s Orchestra Hall and featured 21 of his art pieces on three staircases, and the debut of an animated Jonny Strange film that was scored by well-known radio personality, pianist and composer Judy Adams. Adams also performed live on opening night (Strand wore a blessed silk scarf given him by a Buddhist monk admirer).
Strand creates his dramatic art pieces dot by dot by dot by dot, layer upon layer upon layer. He’ll proudly tell anyone who views his works — sometimes 4” x 6” but often 4’ x 6’ — that there are 2500 dots, sometimes five or six layers in depth, per square inch. He and a collaborator actually counted the dots.
All dots are applied deftly, exactly and many would say impeccably with a $50 rapidograph pen, while Strand watches reruns of I Love Lucy, Downton Abbey, news reports and BBC specials. Otie, his black retriever companion of three years, patiently sits or dozes out Strand’s daily four- and five-hour dotting sessions underneath his drawing table. Recently, a team of would-be TV entrepeneurs spent seven hours filming Strand’s treasure-trove art studio.
He also supplied them with running commentary and historical footnotes. Otie made friends
(Strand also somehow finds time to record, annotate and recall timely gossip. Aesthetic observations in a well-written daily journal. To date, he has filled over 117 journals since 1970. Wayne State Press is considering publishing a “select” anthology).
It is no exaggeration to state for the record (perhaps “The Guinness Book of World Records”) that since Strand first began dotting — not too long after leaving Tiffany’s gay bar, where he was a popular waiter — he has dot, dot, dotted nearly five, six, seven or eight — maybe even 10 — million dots.
Strand has touchstoned his current Wayne State exhibition work with art, artifacts and commentary/analysis by several friends, artists, sculptors and highly-qualified art critics. Included too are several wooden tabletop temples, Strand self-used facial masks and occasionally-horrific severed head, stone sculptures.
Included also are inspired “incentives” by photographer S. Kay Young, a Detroit-based clothing and fabric designer Leslie Ann Pilling, Canadian artist Jeff Hucul, arts impresario and longtime gay friend and his recently same-sex partner Bobby LaRose, and the late Jack Whitehead, artist.
Attendees to Strand’s art opening will each receive a 32-page, autographed, high gloss exhibition catalogue — a veritable work of design, art and contemporary analysis. Layout and design are coordinated by Strand and media designer Jerome Patryjak, himself an artist and member of the Detroit Scarab Club’s board of directors. The center page is magically awash with 50 miniatures of a Strand wave piece
The booklet is foreworded by Marion “Mame” Jackson, WSU distinguished professor emerita, with a laudatory essay about his pointillist art — its many levels of transcendental meaning and relation to past and current metaphysical trends in literature and art.
“[Strand’s] waves, however, go beyond the familiar appearance of waves and — borrowing from modern physics — seem to suggest as well the granularity and instability of the physical world,” wrote Jackson. “He shares through his paintings, his sculptures, and through his personal reflections — his story as a seeker of truth and creator of beauty.”
Included is a lauditory essay by local and national art critic and established creative writer Matthew Piper, who compares Strand to being akin in artistic outlook and reach for poetic visual grandeur to Herman Melville of “Moby Dick” literary fame.
Piper pinpoints Strand’s A dragon Called Raoul as a kinship image to the great 19th century writer’s own Moby.
“Consider that Jon Strand works almost exclusively in a kind of distributed, diffuse self-portraiture,” wrote Piper. “He was always Jonny Strange, of course, but imagine that his oracles are his horror and his temples his solace.
“His waves? Detailed documents of his growing awareness and acceptance of timelessness and transcendence. Now enter the dragon, the necessary monster, full of magic, fire and fury, at once formidable and light as air, riding the fathoms from which he has emerged, master, inscrutable, and smiling.”
High praise indeed. One dot at a time. But, who’s counting? Visually, in this exhibit, only Strand counts!