PLAYGROUND DETROIT presents the artwork of Mike Burdick, James Noellert and Vaughn Taormina in the upcoming group exhibition, Snacks, opening on May 12th. The exhibition explores a mutual adoration of one anothers work, on-going conversations together and the range of their individual illustrative styles. Artwork will feature scenic illustrative paintings reflective of the trio’s minimal style and maximum wit- they are as light in heart as snacks are light bites between entrées.

All of these visual artists currently or have previously lived in Detroit, and have pulled their collective inspirations from the city with the new series of work they will be debuting. Although Noellert and Burdick (who met at the College for Creative Studies) have worked together on a number of commercial projects, Snacks will provide them the opportunity to showcase the artwork that they make individually. Taormina is a multi-disciplinary artist that has lived in Detroit his entire life. As an extremely creative and visually-driven artist and musician, his inspirations and subject matter is always evolving: for this exhibition he is focusing his attention on visual art and textiles

Read our exclusive interview with all three artists for more about their work, inspirations, and living in Detroit.

Photography credit, Daniel Ribar.

How long have you lived in Detroit? Describe the experience of being an artist in the city.

Vaughn Taormina: I’ve been in Detroit forever, it’s a nice place to be an artist because I can stay in and work on things without feeling like I’m missing out on much.

Mike Burdick: I’ve lived in Detroit since 2005. I think it’s been nice growing from being just another art student to finding my place here and watching the careers grow of others around me. It’s been good to live and work in a place where some of your favorite living artists are neighbors.

James Noellert: I don’t live in Detroit anymore, but it was a great city to be in for an arts education and jump-starting a creative career.

Taormina (WIP). Photography credit, Daniel Ribar.

How did you first get into working with the medium you currently use?

VT: My brother Brad had me drawing when I was super young, he was really into comics. I started making and selling my own comics when I was 10 at the Novi comic convention with help from my mom.

When I was old enough to do shit my brother was already in the art scene in the city, so it was easy for me to step in and start going crazy. At 20, I got accepted into The Cooper Union in New York so I was out there getting learned for about five years. After graduating I moved back to Detroit and have been blessed to be living off my art.

Burdick sketching. Photography credit, Daniel Ribar.

MB: I enrolled in the illustration department when I got into CCS, but drawing has just been one of my earliest memories. My mom shared a lot of classic paintings with me when I was really young and then through the years I had some great teachers and mentors who exposed me to other media.

JN: I studied Illustration at College for Creative Studies after a semester in product design.

What artists or types of art inspire you?

VT: Detroit music, Detroit people…

JN: I steal a lot of ideas from museums when I’m traveling; the photos I take on trips usually serve as a mood board for new work.

Illustrations from Noellert and Burdick. Photography credit, Daniel Ribar.

What type of work will you be exhibiting in “Snacks?” What are the overarching themes being presented?

VT: These images will double as screen prints on work jackets for Woodward Throwbacks, a store in Hamtramck. There are a lot of dreamy Detroit cityscapes and just big Detroit summer moods for 2018.

MB: I don’t really have any unifying theme, they’re just ideas for paintings that I’ve had that I’ve been looking for an excuse to make.

JN: Hanging work is different from making images for books or screens, because you can’t close it or turn it off. So I’m thinking about how to make something that will be one element in a larger composition of the room it is in, which usually means being quiet and comfortable. Something that can be appreciated or ignored depending on what the moment calls for. Lots of plants.

Detail view of works by Noellert, courtesy of artist.

Can you break down the creative process and thought behind one of your favorite pieces in “Snacks?”

VT:  Woodward Throwbacks wanted me to make a piece with a 4-wheeler inspired by another painting they saw. I started it and put a sam Bernstein 1-800-CALL-SAM billboard in the back to make a joke about the wheelie in the image. When I told my mom, she told me that she called SAM when her and my dad got into a motorcycle accident in the 80s, so the piece became autobiographical without even trying. It’s a nice reminder to just be free when you work instead of always trying to force a meaning.

Image courtesy of artist’s Instagram.

MB:I was driving down a street that I hadn’t been down in years and remembered when I saw a pack of dogs. Then I remembered all the other experiences I’ve had running into strays and I find it interesting how different they are when they band together.

JN: Hmm, I think the most important part of the process is the time between working on a piece. I’ll try to work very quickly to finish something in a couple sessions and then let it sit for a week or two. After that much time I have a list of things that bother me and some thoughts about how to fix it.

Mike and James, you two have done a lot of work together. What’s that creative process like?

MB:We went to school together and had a lot of similar ideas about art and life and really clicked. We worked together quite a bit and started naturally started collaborating on projects and eventually shared a studio. The process was always evolving, but I thought it was good that we always started with talking and thinking a lot.

JN:Two minds are better than one!

James Noellert. Photography credit, Daniel Ribar.

Do you breach more serious topics in your work and if so how does that translate into your style?

MB:  I feel the majority of my work tackles serious topics. My style of drawing is rather playful and cartoonish, but I can tighten up when necessary, so it works well for the political cartoons that I make and for layering humor if appropriate.I like the principle of satire where the intent is to make the audience laugh at first viewing and then find a darker truth or meaning in the second.

JN: I try to address that kind of thing with writing, or better yet, actions!

Vaughn, Your style of work seems to vary – is there a certain style that you’re leaning towards lately?

VT:  Lately I’m going crazy, I have an animated music video, entitled “G-String” dropping on May 16th. Then I’m performing at Movement fest May 26th on the Red Bull Stage at 4:30PM; plus releasing a poster for the festival and the official line up shirt… so its all over the place, but mostly leaning towards my music.

Works by Taormina. Photography credit, Daniel Ribar.

Are your processes of creating music and creating visual art similar?

VT: Yeah, I guess they are. I just make exactly what I like to see and hear, either way, it’s nice to have both so I can always stay motivated. If I do the same thing every day I get burnt out, so I always like to keep numerous songs and paintings in progress. Imagine it’s like playing five chess games at the same time, by the time you look back at the board you always have a fresh perspective.

“Snacks” opens to the public on Saturday, May 12th, 6-9PM, and runs through June 9, 2018.