Art About Books at Paramount Bank is Another Chapter in Big Read Event

By, Crystal A. Proxmire


Over a hundred curious viewers flocked to The Community Arts @ Paramount Bank Gallery for the opening of an exhibition in honor of reading.  The Big Read Exhibition opened Friday with paintings, prints and sculptures by 15 artists who were given the assignment to do a piece based on a favorite book.  The exhibit ties in to a city-wide reading initiative designed to get the community talking about reading, and about “The Maltese Falcon” in particular. 


Thomas S. Humes of Grosse Pointe Park (seen in the title picture above) was inspired to make two prints of Joseph Conrad’s “The Secret Sharer.”  “It’s about a captain of a ship – a young guy and it’s the first time he’s on a ship as a captain.  It’s a 1900’s period piece.  The captain is on his first watch at night and he goes to pull in the mail rope and there’s a person down swimming in the water.   The person in the water has killed a person and there’s all this psychological tension.  Should I save the guy or not?  Should the person in the water go turn himself in, or swim around until he drowns?”  Humes’s sketches show two different views of the same scene, with the captain looking down at the man in the water.  One picture is smaller, with a dark sky.  The other is bright, with bursting stars standing out in an un-colored sky.  The contrasts between the pictures are representative of the book’s premise - which is the difference between reality and the illusions created by the captain’s psyche. 


Ferndale artist Bethany Shorb had already been working on a book-based collection when she found out about The Big Read exhibit.  Almost a year ago Shorb had been in a near-fatal car accident, a life-changing experience that led her to read, and fall in love with, the book “Crash,” by J. G. Ballard.  The book is about the eroticism associated with car crashes.  “I think it affected my psyche,” Shorb said.  “I had this friend with this great car that was going to the junkyard and it reminded me of the book.  So we got some friends together and did a photo shoot.”  Shorb built elaborate scenes and designed many of the props for the shoot.  She also has added to the Crash theme with a series of sculptures made out of old automobile air bags.  She had gone to the junkyard to find a steering wheel to use in a display for her commercial artwork company, and was inspired by many colors and patterns that were on deployed airbags.  “They were all blowing in the wind,” she said.  “They’re all kinds of different colors that you wouldn’t expect due to the silicone coating they put on to keep them inflated.”  In order to print on the airbags, Shorb must take them all apart by hand so the pieces can lay flat.  At the Art About Books showing, Shorb had two photographs and two air-bag sculptures.


Rald Dahl’s “The Sound Machine” inspired Bloomfield Township artist Clinton Snider to do an children’s book-like illustration for one of Dahl’s more macabre adult works.  “All his children’s books are illustrated and they kind of lend themselves towards that.  But he’s also got some scathing, really adult stories that have that kind of imagery too.  In this one this kind of crazy guy invents a machine that learns that plants can feel pain.  You pick a rose and it screams.  You eat vegetables and he can hear them dying.  It’s horrible.  And the story only takes it so far and he ends the experiment, but it gives you something to think about,” Snider said.  Snider teaches art at the College for Creative Studies and at the Birmingham-Bloomfield Art Center.


The tall narrow picture with houses on stilts on top of mountains and the fanciful stream of blue swirls leading back down to the earth is artist Julie Russell Smith’s interpretation of “Einstein’s Dreams, by Alan Lightman.  “I’ve always liked this book,” Smith said.  “I pulled it out to re-read it because I felt like it was something I could think about as opposed to just illustrate.  When Einstein started thinking about how time worked, he had these dreams that were more imaginative.  What if time worked like this?  He’s saying imagine a world where the further you get from the center of the earth, time slows down.  So people start moving up to the mountains because they’ll live longer.  Then they start building their houses on stilts to get even further away from the center.  And before long it becomes a status thing and people forget why they are even doing it.  Some people stop caring about living longer and they go back to the ground level, while all the people above take on a new life and all die young from being thin and undernourished.  The book has all these really neat ‘what ifs.’  Like what if it was reversed and time slowed down the closer you got to the center of earth.  Or what if we really are doomed to relive the same things over and over again.  It’s fascinating to think about, and it shows how even the most scientific of people use their imaginations and dreams to solve problems.”


Mark Danley of Detroit chose a more down-to-earth theme with his sculpture based on Cormac McCarthy’s “Blood Meridian.”  “It’s about human nature and violence in the West, and it’s based on actual events.  It shows the contradicting extremes of what people are capable of.  The same man who can make art and music and other beautiful things, can also be violent and evil,” Danley said.  His sculpted book stood in the center of the gallery for the opening.  Danley, whose work is currently on review at the Contemporary Gallery of Detroit said “This sounded like an interesting project.  Blood Meridian has so many images that an artist could use to make it interesting, and the book bears repeated readings.”


Royal Oak based artist Sandra Cardew did three pieces for the project, all based on stories from Bruno Schulz’s “The Street of Crocodiles.”  Cardew said that her sculpture of animals on stage is most representative of her traditional work.  “It’s hard to explain without having people hear the words,” she said.  “But my own work does a lot with animals and antrhopromporphic figures.  I like Bruno’s work because he deals with reality and the metaphysical word in a way that is difficult to describe.  He has often been compared to Kafka and is probably one of Poland’s greatest 20th century writers.  He was killed by the Nazis and a lot of his lost work keeps resurfacing.”  The paintings show two stories.  The first is “What Exactly Happened to Uncle Edward,” which Cardew said “is based on Bruno’s father who would take him into a room and psychoanalyze him down and down until there was nothing left.”  The second painting “The Book of Idolatry,” features a woman being worshiped.  “Bruno was much into idolizing women.  In his work men were subservient.”


The exhibit and The Big Read both continue through the end of March, with many events taking place throughout the city.  Each Thursday night Go! Comedy has a free improve show called “Son of the Maltese Falcon.”  There will be book discussions at many stores and community spaces, and a presentation from local mystery writer Loren Estlemen at Ferndale High School on Thursday, March 25 at 7:30 P.M.  More information about these and other Big Read celebrations can be found at

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