Art Review: “Whatever Gets You Through the Night” explored at latest Mott-Warsh exhibit

By Harold C. Ford

“Whatever Gets You Through the Night” is the current exhibit at the Mott-Warsh (MW) Gallery, 815 S. Saginaw St. (corner of Court and Saginaw streets), Flint. The exhibit ends Aug. 20. 

According to Stephanie James, director and curator of the Mott-Warsh collection, the exhibit is in response to the angst-inducing issues of the current era that impact most of us: the COVID-19 pandemic; racial justice; the Jan. 6 insurrection; tussles over voting rights, reproductive rights, gender equity; and myriad other issues. 

The current exhibit, according to James, is “exploring the different ways we seek and find relief from some of our daily challenges, sources of stress, and anxieties.”

“People often say, ‘Things have gotten tougher,’” James said.  “But the reality is, life is hard, life has always been hard. It is a struggle … trying to put food on the table … anxieties and issues of racism, xenophobia, health issues … homophobia.”  

“How do we find relief … heal ,,, come together?” James asked rhetorically. “The ways that we find relief from these things (are) … interacting with nature, embracing spirituality, family relationships, friendships … self medica(tion) … remembering, memorializing.” 

Three examples

Three of the exhibit’s pieces, and their artists, capture and exemplify those central possibilities.

Autumn Onyx by Joe Norman

Autumn Onyx, Joe Norman, 2000, graphite on paper. (Photo by Harold Ford)

 Norman’s many academic credits include professor of art and drawing and painting at the University of Georgia at Athens. According to MW exhibit notes: “The drawing is from a series of works Norman created to explore the density and complex patterns of plant life.” The viewer, perhaps, is moved to consider the density and complexity of patterns that also exists in the lives of humans. 

Burning Bush by William Majors

Burning Bush, William Majors, 1985, etching. (Photo by Harold Ford)

An Indiana native, Majors received his BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) from the John Heron Art Institute. Majors’ art cannot be pigeonholed with a simple description as he draws on a variety of diverse sources to create his works. MW exhibit notes explain that his approach blends “theme, style and technique (influenced by) the Old Testament.”  His widow said, “Bill was not formally religious, but he was a believer.” 

Untitled by Whitfield Lovell

Untitled, Whitfield Lovell, 2005, mixed media on paper. (Photo by Harold Ford)

Among the many Lovell pieces acquired by Mott-Warsh, these two feature subdued representations of an unidentified man and woman accompanied by colorized playing cards. The two untitled pieces are from a 54-piece series titled simply “The Card Pieces.” Taken individually, the color, suit, and value of a card may have a particularly meaningful relationship to the portraits. In these two images, the hearts might represent love while the clubs might represent labor. 

Artists often describe the inspiration for their art as something indescribable, something moved by emotion. “It’s just like, I just really felt that woman’s face and those two hearts and that’s just what I did,” Lovell said. 

Exhibit notes describe Lovell as “an artist whose work documents and pays tribute to the passage of time and the daily lives of anonymous African Americans … Lovell provides these unknown figures with identity.” 

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Mott-Warsh Gallery hours are: Thursday and Friday,  11 a.m.- 6 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m.- 5 p.m.; and 11 a.m.- 9 p.m. the second Friday of each month during Second Friday ARTWALK in downtown Flint.

EVM Writer Harold C. Ford can be reached at

Author: Tom Travis

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