Artist Spotlight: Yvette Rock
As mentioned here, Yvette Rock really knocked me off my feet with her pieces at 555 Nonprofit Gallery and Studios’ grand re-opening show. She deals with difficult themes with great technical skill and a soulful individuality. Her pieces at 555 are a part of her Ten Plagues of Detroit series. She explains: “My work reflects my passion and concern for the city, hoping that plagues such as addiction are turned to recovery, corruption to justice, abandonment to restoration, and homelessness to sheltered.” Other artists often approach these themes with simple, cliched imagery, which fails to resonate with viewers. Yvette’s approach is thoughtful and shows an active mind and spirit that gives these themes the care they deserve.
Yvette has already begun making her mark on her adopted home of Detroit. She served as the Artist-in-Residence for the InsideOut Literary Arts Project, teaching art classes to Detroit Public School children. She has also been a part of several local mural projects. She is now busy planning a gallery for the Woodbridge area in Detroit, which will be called Live Coal Gallery.
Needless to say, I am excited to see the additional impact Yvette will make on the Detroit art scene, so Yvette is our latest Artist Spotlight.
Colin: What brought you to Detroit?
Yvette: I was born in Paramaribo, Suriname (former Dutch colony in South America). I moved to the U.S. in 1983, taking residence in Miami, FL. I attended arts-based schools and magnet programs throughout my elementary and secondary education. From 1993-1997 I attended Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York City. In 1997, I applied to one graduate school—University of Michigan School of Art and Design. I received the Rackham Merit Fellowship, a full scholarship. In 1999 I graduated with a Masters of Fine Arts and stayed in Ann Arbor for 2 more years. It was during my last semester in graduate school that I first started coming to Detroit.
Colin: Why Detroit?
Yvette: In 1999 I was asked by the then Dean of Architecture and Urban Planning to participate in their first ever Detroit Design Charrette. For one week students stayed in a hostel in downtown Detroit, working many hours with professional architechts, urban planners. I had the privilege of being the only art student working with well-known public artist Buster Simpson. My proposals consisted of creating “Window Galleries” throughout Detroit, using a building on Cass Avenue as my main subject (it was an abandoned building that still lies abandoned today; this is also part of the current photographic documentary work I am doing). From my first visit to Detroit, I was hooked. While some have the reaction to run—I had the instinct to keep coming. In 2000, I conceived of a course called Detroit Connections, co-teaching it with Professor Janie Paul. The course allowed UM students and Detroit public school students to collaborate on academic and art projects. In 2001, I moved to Detroit’s Woodbridge Historic Neighborhood. From 1999-2004 I also worked with InsideOut Literary Arts Project, having many responsibilities over the years, including: artist-in-residence, program director, and artistic director. My main work included teaching art to DPS students whose schools contracted InsideOut. In 2003 I started Bezalel Project, a YouthWorks-Detroit after-school program that focuses on academic, arts, and leadership training.
Detroit is fertile soil for artists. I have planted my roots here and intend on staying here for the long haul. While I am not a native, I consider myself a Detroiter because I am investing my life and my family’s life here. I have been asked the question, “Why Detroit” by many friends and family members. I have heard it said that people have a “call” on their lives to be at a certain place at a certain time. My call is to be in Detroit, now. As an artist I have just begun to scratch the surface of the art possibilities. I have just started networking and marketing my work. It has not been easy. I have felt at times that paintings that display social content have a harder time getting into galleries—I believe it. At the same time, I have not compromised my convictions and intend on creating works with social content even more boldly. I am currently trying to find artists peers who are willing to visit my studio and give me some critical feedback. So far, I have had John Hegarty and Senghor Reid come out to critique my work; both critiques have made an impact on my current work as far as technique and studio practice. I also hope to visit the studios of other Detroit artists in order to build my relationships in the art community and let artists know about my new business, Live Coal Gallery.
Colin: Can you compare the costs of living between Detroit and New York ?
Yvette: What’s there to compare. Detroit is way cheaper in every way. But I have to say, that the vast amount of resources for artist is amazing in NYC. I lived in NYC for four years to attend college. It was the best educational experience I had. I lived in Manhattan and Queens. I lived in the dorms the first year and lived in other apartments with roommates the following three years. My plans were originally to move back to NYC after getting my Masters. But fate had it that my home would become Detroit; and I wouldn’t exchange that path for anything. While NYC is certainly one of the art meccas, Detroit is fostering a thriving art community and at the cusp of greatness. (I am not just putting on my idealistic glasses). Sometimes in order for something to become great, it has to reach its lowest. When I drive through my city’s streets my emotions range from joy, to sorrow, to frustration, to gratitude. What produces these emotions are seeing my kids pick flowers (well, weeds) that are growing next to a burned out abandoned building; witnessing someone being shot; seeing the piles of litter on Second Avenue next to a homeless shelter; and seeing the life, beauty and community that has come out of urban gardens. I am excited to be at the cusp of something great.
Colin: Why are you opening a gallery?
Yvette: I am an artist. At first, I thought I would open a space where I can show my work and store it. Then an idea that I first had ten years ago sprung to life—starting my own business in Detroit. Live Coal Gallery brings together all the pieces of my artistic life—making art, mentoring youth, creating communities, using all my administrative experiences, love of learning, seeing another “light” in Detroit. I’m trying to do something unique in my city by opening a museum that focuses on collecting the works of our aspiring high school artist and bringing emerging and established artists together for this purpose. I had so much support as a young artist. My high school art teachers at New World School of the Arts taught me so diligently and pointed me towards a career in art. They are the ones who told me about Cooper Union and believed in me. So many of our Detroit youth just need someone to believe that they can make it.
So, about the difference between being a gallery and museum. The name of the business came before I had to get my permit from the city. Because of my zoning, I cannot be a commercial art gallery, but I can be an art museum. This model actually helped me to clarify my business plans. I have hopes to purchase a space in the future that would allow me to function as a gallery and museum.
Colin: How are you opening a gallery? Would this have been possible in New York?
Yvette: I could not do this in NY. I don’t have the resources. It’s possible here in Detroit because of price and need. For one, I am able to convert my first floor into the museum, after receiving a permit from the city (which is quite a lot of work, but worth it). I can’t imagine going through NYC’s system of acquiring a space as well as the business taxes that would be imposed. Detroit to me is a small town with a big city radius. You get to know your neighbors pretty quickly. I recently applied for a small business grant and had to receive a minimum of 250 Facebook® votes to qualify for the grant—I got 292! We marketed on Facebook®, but also walked our streets telling neighbors about LCG. Everyone we met was excited about the prospect of an art space opening in Woodbridge.
I will honestly tell you that I lack experience as an art dealer and am not interested in becoming some art dealer guru. I am more like a for-profit with a non-profit mission whose focus is to build an art community. I am learning a lot about what it takes to open a small business by doing the research, reading books and talking to others who have experience with the various facets of having a small business.
Colin: What is your biggest surprise about the art scene in Detroit?
Yvette: It’s everywhere. There’s definitely a strong movement of art in the city—both private and public. I am thankful for organizations like Kresge Foundation who support the arts as they have. It’s been amazing to see some of my peers receive fellowships in order to do what they love to do. Our city would be in an even greater plight if artists did not have a stake here.
Colin: What is your process for making art?
Yvette: I think, I sketch, I think, I write, I think, I research, I think, I create. Thinking is fuel for the fire of creating my art. I have four children—yes, four. Many people ask me how in the world I can produce the work I produce with four children under eight years old. I simply reply that I’m not going to wait until they’re older to make art. When my four- year old son walks into my studio demanding a paintbrush (he already set up the water, paint, and paper), what can I object to? My children all love to make art—they inspire me! As Robert Hoey, Pastor of Messiah Church says to me, “they are your greatest masterpieces.”
Another process I use is looking at the works of other artists. Some of the artists who inspire me include: Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, the Mexican Muralists, Vincent Van Gogh, and Whitfield Lovell.
Colin: What makes a successful artist?
Yvette: Be yourself. Don’t lose focus and vision by making work to please others. Spend time journaling. Carry your “art tools” with you when possible (sketchbook, camera, journal, recorder, etc.). Find other artists to critique your work. Be willing to start over. Give back to your community. Be diligent about marketing your work (if you actually want it seen by the public when you’re still living). Don’t give up when you get those rejection letters from galleries.
Colin: What other Detroit/ Detroit area artists inspire you?
Yvette: Senghor Reid, Gilda Snowden, Sandra Cardew, Scott Hocking
Colin: Besides the gallery, what’s next?
Yvette: I am working on completing my Ten Plagues of Detroit™ series. I am currently working on Plague of Addiction and Poverty. I also have a solo show opening November 4th at Michigan Women’s Historical Center and Hall of Fame. The show, Tenuous Equilibrium, will feature over twenty photographs I have taken of Detroit spaces and people.