With splashes of color, Jonathan Chapline reimagines modern Detroit metro home in Virtual Window


Overlooking Lake St. Clair in Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan, the former home of Detroit-born art collector, philanthropist, architectural historian, and posthumous LGBTQ icon W. Hawkins Ferry, it has certainly not gone without attention and admiration since it was 1964 completed.

Designed by William Kessler, a Midwestern architect who cut his teeth at Yamasaki & Associates and, like Ferry, studied at the Harvard Graduate School of Design as a vehicle for Ferry to build his extensive collection of modern art and furniture from the early Middle of the century. Over the years, Ferry’s home-cum-private gallery has been photographed for Spreads appearing in House Beautiful and other publications, and has also been featured in more recent, historically preservation-oriented profiles. Now, an online exhibit from the Detroit Gallery Library Street Collective is literally painting the Hawkins Ferry House, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, in a whole new light.

The new virtual exhibition by artist Jonathan Chapline, entitled Virtual Window, shows the interior and exterior of the Hawkins Ferry House in the colorful, slightly surrealistic style of the Brooklyn-based artist and is installed in it. (The house is currently owned by JJ and Anthony Curis, founding partners of the Library Street Collective, who carefully restored the house after falling into neglect and dilapidation in the years following Ferry’s death in 1988.)

Historic photograph of Hawkins Ferry House with art by Alberto Giacometti and others. (Courtesy JJ and Anthony Curis / Detroit Institute of Arts)

In his work, which includes both oil painting and sculpture, Chapline usually relies on memory and source materials such as home decor catalogs and archival photography to create newly envisioned living spaces. First conceived as digital collages in Photoshop, the living 2D inner worlds envisaged by Chapline are then translated into oil paintings. Virtual Windows takes a different approach, however, as Chapline, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, was the first to portray a realized space – a historical and fairly well documented – rather than a digital – composite merger of his own creation.

“In my own practice I create new rooms from memories and source material, cut them up with the help of preliminary drawings in Photoshop collages, dismantle the room and put it back together again to form new rooms,” explained Chapline AN. “This project was different because I withdrew from an actually realized space. Unlike in the past, I rebuilt something that was already there and that I have never visited personally. Through historical pictures and blueprints and pictures of today, I started creating my own version of the house using a 3D program. The pictures come from working at home in quarantine and create these large rooms from picture references and sketches. There were a certain number of calls and answers. Look at the space, rebuild it, live in that digital home and reproduce the picture. “

a sculpture is being paintedChapline in his studio working on Sculpture (stretching), a new piece inspired by a Giacometti sculpture that was once on display at the Hawkins Ferry House. (Zach Bowman / Courtesy Library Street Collective)

As mentioned by Chapline, Virtual Window tries, playful and slightly voyeuristic, not to recreate the W. Hawkins Ferry House in a way that suggests a facsimile of the house at a precise point in time. Chapline’s paintings are not replicas or snapshots, but composites that represent a 56-year-old, art-filled residence in its rather groovy entirety.

“With the opportunity to work on the Hawkins Ferry House project, several things came to the fore,” said Chapline. “Stay true to the spirit and design aesthetics of the house without rigidly depicting a one-to-one representation of the house. This boundary between representation and invention allowed me to be open to researching and understanding the design decisions made, but also how the house was ultimately inhabited and what experiences were made in it. “

Although Virtual Window differs from Chapline’s earlier work in that his paintings of Hawkins Ferry House capture the core of a very real place, his earlier interior paintings are also reminiscent of a very specific era and a palpable middle of the century. Age spirit.

View of a lake from a window with a colorful sculpture in Virtual WindowInstallation view, Jonathan Chapline: Virtual Window, Hawkins Ferry House, 2020. (James Haefner / Courtesy Library Street Collective)

“Growing up in an American suburb, I was always familiar with mid-century houses. I am fascinated by the way this aesthetic is passed on and reappropriated, ”explained Chapline. “Not just because of my personal experience, but also from vintage magazines, films and other cultural by-products. I think if I take these topics and concepts further, I will not only be able to acquire aesthetics, but I will also be able to talk about larger social concepts. “

One of the hallmarks of the Hawkins Ferry House over the years, as noted, has been the exuberant art on display both in the residence and through the oversized windows. This is a tradition carried on by current residents JJ and Anthony Curis. A press release said: “The couple have amassed an impressive collection of contemporary art in this day and age and hope Ferry felt that the patronage of the arts and the commissioning of Chapline’s works are in line with their own legacy.” In times without a pandemic, the couple held group exhibitions in the landmark building.)

Much of Ferry’s collection is represented in Virtual Window, although other elements are from Chapline’s own creation.

An artist next to a large purple sculpture made for a virtual windowChapline and Sculpture (Stretching), created for the site-specific / newly designed exhibition Virtual Window. (Zach Bowman / Courtesy Library Street Collective)

“One of the pieces that impressed me was how the Giacometti sculpture, with its elongated shape, completely filled the space and emphasized twice the height of the living space,” he said. “I also installed a Calder cell phone, a painting by Adolph Gottlieb, a sculpture by Henry Moore with pieces of furniture like a Cherner chair and a Noguchi table. In addition to these identifiable elements, I try to create my own version of the furniture, sculptures, and paintings from references and collages, making aesthetic choices and trying not to capture the objects accurately. “

A large part of the art collection inhabited by Ferry, which in addition to Alberto Giacometti also included works by Joan Miró, Richard Serra, Max Ernst, Franz Kline, Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Picasso, Robert Rauschenberg, Ellsworth Kelly, Barnett Newman and Robert Motherwell became the Donated to the Detroit Institute of Arts at the time of his death.

While Virtual Hawow, which includes four large paintings, a diptych with elongated arched windows, and a sculpture inspired by Giacometti’s Standing Woman, was installed in the Hawkins Ferry House (not virtual), the exhibition is publicly available online on the Library Street Collective’s website.


Dusty Kennedy