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Detroit's Artistic Legend

Detroit's Artistic Legend

Every city boasts one distinctive artist who sums up the whole picture. Detroit has (and always will have) an impressive roster of names to make up the home team, but when the list had to be narrowed down to one person, the selection became pretty obvious — Niagara. Odds are you’ve seen her work dozens of times, either at exhibits or when they’ve graced the covers of various publications (including ours). Even if the name escapes you, the colors and the lines are there in your memory. It’s always the vivid rush of an idea — accentuated by some perfectly chosen words — hitting you square in the mind’s eye like a well-aimed cloud of cigarette smoke.

A curriculum vitae for latecomers: University of Michigan student, Niagara is drawn to the punk rock ethos of the early-'70s and becomes the vocalist for a band called Destroy All Monsters. While earning kudos for both her singing and her charming Charlotte Corday stage persona, she performs an equally important task as the group’s poster artist and album cover designer. Those works mark the momentum that has led to the present day. Like other painters who were influenced by Pop Art and the Warhol weltanschuung, Niagara imbued her early canvases with bold colors and those familiar shapes that bespeak a nod in the direction of Roy L. and his ilk. But there the similarity ends. Unlike the herd that desired to say something (over and over again) about simulacra, commercialism and the semiotics of whatever, Niagara was eager to do something else. Like draw blood out of our flaccid flesh and complacent egos.

Thus was born the Niagara Woman — a virago born of vestal fire, combining the best elements of pulp fiction, B-movies and rock ‘n’ roll’s adolescent nihilism.

Here was that feminine rage that burned hot — before feminist introspection cooled it down to nothing. Here was a femme fatale worthy and equal to the brutal dullness of the masculine id. Here was the girl you NEVER take home to mother. And this girl was — superficially and intrinsically — Detroit. There was something about her that silently echoed an explosion of shared experiences and backbeats. Tough and drop-dead gorgeous (the latter, of course, being the most lethal form of pulchritude), she could shake it all night long on hell’s dance floor ... before sneaking back into heaven.

The momentum picked up considerably in 1996 with a show at the CPop entitled All Men are Cremated Equal. Cpop’s Rick Manore has witnessed Niagara’s ascendancy over the years and sees no reason why the climb should stop. Or why the heights should be restricted to familiar zip codes.“She’s as big as Bill Murray in Japan right now. Thousands of goth Lolitas in Tokyo alone are wearing her face, artwork and photos all over themselves, thanks to her deal with the fashion house, Hysteric Glamour. Last year, she circumnavigated the Pacific rim with exhibits in San Francisco and Sydney.”

An even more welcome development was the 2006 appearance of Beyond the Pale, a long-overdue chronicle of her art and career. “She has endured,” Manore succinctly observed, “because of her universal bad-ass beauty, her wit and her ability to articulate a sub-cultural anger.”

And the lady herself? Has she any comment to offer?

“I’m like a fine wine, I just keep getting drunk.”

Cheers!  | RDW

More info: niagaradetroit.com

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Detroit's Artistic Legend


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