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Visual arts

Bars and strips

Villain turned hero paints blue collars as capes

MT Photo: Travis R. Wright
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Published 9/2/2009

She's a working-class Polish punk chick. She runs with a bunch of buxom burlesque types. But, as part of her voyeuristic side — one that puts her behind the video camera and in front of an easel — she prefers to paint her pinups rather than play dress-up. Either way, though, Beth Amber gets dirty.

The Inkster native lays her head in Dearborn Heights, but the projects she's attached to span the tri-county area. She curates a monthly art show at the Belmont in Hamtown, gets down with the 'Dotte Arts Project in Wyandotte, and runs with Wonder Women. She's rocked and rummaged and can't slow down. After plastering her name on so many things, though, can she preserve cred in a community of critics?


Metro Times:
So, "Beth Amber" ... that sounds like an alias.

Beth Amber: My last name is Kowalczyk, Beth Amber are my first and middle names. It all started about 10 years ago. I'd heard Elisabeth, Bethany and even Bertha — you know, it was a strange thing that people always wanted to make an addition to my name, as if just "Beth" wasn't good enough. I surmised the best solution was to go ahead and do it for them. At least it's my real name. No one can ever pronounce Kowalczyk.

MT: We should talk about what it is that you do — problem is, you do a ton of various things. You lay down some pretty thick oil on canvas, right?

Amber: I love working with oil paint, especially since the water-based variety arrived. Oil paint colors have beautiful merging qualities. And painting, for me, is a free flowing art form. I also am a filmmaker, photographer, art promoter, musician and founding member and event coordinator for the Detroit Wonder Women, a collective of sorts. I like to keep busy.

MT: Tell me about "Drip Girl."

Amber: It's a painting I started in 1996 ... and finished in 2002. It's one of few paintings I've done that comes from a darker place. It expresses loss and pain — things I don't usually express. In it, a girl is melting her heart away. It was a tough painting to finish due to the fact that I don't like to let my mind linger in despair. I had to experience that emotion again, as I first felt it, to finish it.

MT: Painting is usually a medium you go to when you're in a happier, calmer mood? OK, Bob Ross, how do you let those emotions work for you?

Amber: [laughs] These kinds of emotions tend to be very normal for me. It's harder for me to create darker worlds, though it seems to work out well when I can achieve those moods. I don't know, I guess I enjoy being known as a girl with the glass half full. It's natural.

MT: What makes videography your "dangerous" format. Why video and not, say, performance art?

Amber: I love the idea of capturing movement. I've played in several bands, so I get the nature of performing, but it's just much more naughty for me to express my desires by way of film.

MT: Who are the Wonder Women, and in what capacity are you a part of that troupe?

Amber: Wonder Women's main concern is supporting women who are creative in multifaceted ways and have the desire to try new forms of artistic expression. I find myself frequently meeting women who are as chaotic in their attempt to try their hand at multiple art forms as I am. Wonder Women is composed of some of these ladies; we're a collective and we like to have fun.

MT: Aside from what might be the best three words to describe what your bedroom might look like, what is Punk, Paint & Panties all about?

Amber: [laughs] You hit the nail on the head! That is where Punk, Paint & Panties came from. Seriously, before Wonder Women was formed, I approached a few friends about doing a show that linearly expressed musical, visual and performance art. It was frantic at first, and finding all the right women was a job in itself, but we got it together and threw this celebration at the Belmont Bar in Hamtramck. We exhibited the art of five female visual artists, two female-fronted bands and a woman DJ played music all night and Sassy Cat, who does burlesque, put on quite a show. What a night! We want to switch up the lineup a bit and do it again this year, on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

MT: You mentioned that one of your goals is to make stronger the roles and voices of female artists in Detroit. From what I notice, female artists in Detroit seem to be prolific. What's your take? After all, I'm a dude.

Amber: True, there are prolific female artists in Detroit, but the focus still tends toward men. Most women artists in Detroit are involved with the art community years before ever being noticed. I just want to make it more comfortable for women artists to express their visions. There are few women's art collectives in Detroit yet there here are so many artists out there.

MT: What makes for good bar art?

Amber: Well, I'm actually constantly trying to rework the conceptions of what kind of art should be deemed appropriate for the space in which it's exhibited. That said, it seems like edgier, rock 'n' roll-themed art gets the most attention at the Belmont.

MT: Are bars truly viable places for artists to expose and sell their art? What should artists know going in?

Amber: Bars can definitely be great places for artists to show, especially for those who are still very much in the developing stages. I think more bars and businesses are catching onto how important and exciting it is to bring in visual art. Artists should be aware that [rock 'n' roll] bar goers are atypical clientele in that they're there to spend as little money as possible drinking, so price your work accordingly.

MT: Not all artists have the shameless-self-promoter gene; how do you tap into that while still maintaining cred?

Amber: All artists should be excited and enthused about their work. Maybe it's easier for me to talk about and share my work with others because I feel that is why I create art in the first place. If I didn't do it, nobody would know I even existed, not as an artist. In that way, with those intentions, you have to be credible; it's about character.

Travis R. Wright is arts and culture editor of Metro Times. Send comments to twright@metrotimes.com.

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