On a long enough timeline, it can become difficult to discern if a legacy is earned or merely granted for tenacity. Artist and illustrator Gary Mayer hails from Detroit and graduated from Wayne State before moving to New York in 1982, yet his legacy remains, drawing a huge crowd to “Nature Unrepentant,” a show of large-scale works that opened at the Cass Café on Saturday, March 23, and will remain on display through May 25th.
Tenacity notwithstanding, Mayer’s work is impactful and frenetic, seeming to mirror the bustle of a high-flow Saturday night at one of Detroit’s most popular longstanding eateries. Yet a revisit during a quieter interlude reveals a highly balanced framework beneath the incredible action in each piece, the largest of which dominates the entrance, reaching all the way up to the balcony level. This balance extends to the palette, with eye-grabbing colors popping grounded and contained within darker brackets, and the subjects, with kinetic figures rendered almost universally in the company of ghostly counterparts.
This balance is the earmark of a practiced artist, and all the more impressive given the massive scale of a number of the works, including “Spectral Dance” and the semi-eponymous “Unrepentant Nature,” both measuring in at 72” x 108.” The style reflects Mayer’s work as an illustrator and contains unmistakable nods to R. Crumb and even Dr. Seuss. A truly animated body of work, drawn in part from truly cartoonish inspiration, but filtered through the maniacal, balanced eye of a practiced artist. Practiced enough, one supposes, to warrant his legacy.
Cass Cafe Art Bar & Restaurant: 4620 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313 831-1400; www.casscafe.com