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Metro Detroit artists bring birds to life through paintings

Stephanie Sokol for The Oakland Press

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Photo courtesy of Helena Kuttner-Giasson

For painter Helena Kuttner-Giasson, art is a way to communicate in more ways than one. When she couldn’t find the words, her art spoke for her, and she took inspiration from her surroundings.

“Art is my first language,” says Kuttner-Giasson, of Clinton Township. “I always enjoyed doodling and drawing from the time I was able to hold a crayon. When I was 4 years old, my immediate family immigrated to America from Europe, leaving behind what is now the Czech Republic. As I struggled to learn English, I discovered that drawing was a way to bridge the language and culture gap.”

Kuttner-Giasson is one of three artists with paintings in Level One Bank’s latest exhibit, “Birds: An Avian Adventure,” going on through Feb. 6.

While she paints landscapes and has always painted birds, she took a more intuitive and spontaneous approach to these paintings after watching birds in her yard.

“This Autumn in particular, my yard was filled with a myriad of sparrows, woodpeckers, buntings, cardinals — it became an airport for these world travelers as they prepared to depart to warmer climates,” Kuttner-Giasson says.

“Different birds represent different moments and ideas to each of us, so it was a perfect opportunity to paint a myriad of birds. I spent quite a bit of time observing how so many species could group together and watch out for each other with warning calls, sharing berries and seeds from the garden and the feeders. After many days of observation, it became rather impossible not to humanize their interactions with each other.”

Rather than compose her works as scientific observations, she used what she observed, and just began to paint.

“Nature is our common experience, the sum of many small differences,” Kuttner-Giasson says. “To me, birds symbolize how all of us with our differences across the world can come together and celebrate the community of being. During a season where there is very little color in the land and sky, I think having a bird-themed show is a wonderful way to warm our spirits while we await the arrival of spring.”

The group exhibit highlights aviary works of three metro-detroit artists, in the gallery area of Level One, called the Community Art Gallery, which takes up the entire front of the bank, and has been hosting art exhibits for about 10 years.

Exhibit host Mark McDaniel Burton has been curating shows at the gallery for about a year and a half and says it’s a nice space to highlight a large amount of work.

“The gallery is quite big, so each artist has their own section,” he says.

“For one thing, people should come to the show to escape the cold weather. And people don’t normally think of a bank having a gallery. It’s a unique space, and a chance to see some fantastic local artists.”

The bird theme fell into place when Burton was putting the show together. He reached out to artists, and Marilyn Bicsak Thomas sent her realistic, almost photographic paintings of birds. Kuttner-Giasson also sent her new loose, sketchy water-color pieces, which happened to show birds as well. And Louis Wildfong had a pen-and-ink series of fantastical, humorous birds, complementing the others.

“It brings a really diverse look in a single subject, instead of doing all photographs or hyper realistic, you have these different takes on the same object — birds,” Burton says. “You get three different views from three different artists.”

• Birds: An Avian Adventure exhibition is up through Feb. 6 at Level One Bank, 22635 Woodward Ave., Ferndale. The gallery is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday.

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