Detroit gallery Trinosophes explores happy accidents in friendship, art

Above: A set of paintings by Henry Crissman and Hamilton Poe, on display at Trinosophes. Photos by Rosie Sharp.

At Trinosophes, a Knight Arts Challenge winner in Detroit, Feb. 23 marked the opening of “Self-Titled 2: (954)785-8492.5.” A collaborative project by artists Henry Crissman and Hamilton Poe, the exhibit will remain on display through the end of March.

This is the second collaboration between Crissman and Poe. The first, “Self-Titled 1,” also premiered at Trinosophes in 2013, and also dealt with issues of chance, artistic collaboration and fraternal camaraderie in its most playful and least toxic sense.

The current collaboration was sparked by a phone call that happened by chance to be placed between the two artists simultaneously–the phone didn’t ring on either side, because they had called each other at the exact same time. Building on this synchronicity, Crissman and Poe added their phone numbers together and divided them by two, yielding the show’s subtitle: a phone number in Pompano Beach, Fla. Determined to follow the course (and seizing an opportunity to beat the Michigan winter blues), Crissman and Poe packed up and headed to Florida to pursue the origin of their combined phone number and look up their “phone number neighbors” (people with numbers just adjacent to their combination number, with the final .5 dropped for dialing purposes).

Along the way, they recorded a podcast series that has continued through the mounting of the show (Poe was even recording on opening night). It will be released as a box CD set by Trinosophes during the run of the show, in addition to a publication relating to the 2013 project.

Henry Crissman (left) and Hamilton Poe at the opening of “Self-Titled 2.”

En route to Pompano Beach, Crissman and Poe discovered the Bob Ross Museum and Workshop in New Smyrna Beach, Fla. and enrolled in its five-hour seascape painting class. The workshop parlays the instructional methods of painter Bob Ross, who had a long-running and much-beloved public access television show wherein he exhorted his audience to find their inner artist and generally maintained an extremely benign and upbeat persona. Both Crissman and Poe have an aura of friendliness and gentle positivity, as well as an interest in inclusive and accessible art experiences, which maps well with Ross’ legacy.

Having become, via the workshop, Certified Bob Ross Seascape Painters, Crissman and Poe took to the beach, producing the body of work on display at Trinosophes–pairs of seascape paintings that manage to be repetitious and increasingly experimental. Crissman and Poe recorded their painting efforts in a video feed that is viewable on laptops in the gallery, and also made repeated efforts to reach out to their aforementioned phone number neighbors. Though contact was made, and in some cases maintained through a couple conversations, they could not convince any of these people to join them on the beach for a painting meet-up.

A video on display at Trinosophes of Crissman and Poe painting by the Florida seashore.

As the podcasts, exhibits and in-person interactions underscore, Crissman and Poe are endlessly self-entertaining characters who seem to sincerely revel in open-ended exchange and exploration of synchronicity verses random occurrence. The paintings on display are charming in the context of their creation; it is hard to decide if they would be equally compelling without the foundational ideas or the backstory–but that is true of a great deal of conceptual art. The finished pieces exemplify the reality that art is not objects, even when objects are produced, but rather it is ideas, process and experience.

A stack of paper sits on a marble slab in the middle of the gallery. On one side is a summary of Crissman and Poe’s “Self-Titled 2” exploits; on the other, an artistic take on the office party trope of the naughty photocopy. In an image that includes one butt-cheek each, Crissman and Poe display their new tattoos, which split their combination phone number between their two bodies. This is the level of commitment that these two artists bring to presence of chance–which, in all fairness, seems to have a way of throwing them together–and the joy they seem to derive from their exploits. One cannot help but wonder what might be the result if more people were willing to open their eyes and take a chance, any chance, all the way to the end of the line.