By Kristi Kates
Detroit performer Niagara isnt one to pull punches. When asked how she feels about beating Lady Gaga to the scene - Niagara was doing avant garde performance art long before Gaga was even born - she bluntly replied, Im not about to jump on the Gaga bandwagon. Shes doing fine without me promoting her anyway.
Niagara isnt known for her subtlety. And that seems to be part of the flamboyant persona shes fashioned for herself.
Best known early on, performance-wise, for her work in the mid-70s Detroit rock band Destroy All Monsters, which got much of its publicity from the fact that the band also included former members of The Stooges and the MC5, she used her art school experience to put together album and promo art for the band, as well as for her follow-up band, Dark Carnival. Fast-forward to the early 90s, and Niagara began to show some of her quirky artwork around the Detroit area. Her art pieces, on which she would represent her vast roster of Niagara Women characters - all femme fatales with a dangerous demeanor - were reminiscent of pulp comic books with a devil-may-care attitude, and the art community promptly put her on a throne.
Soon dubbed the Queen of Detroit by various art periodicals, she began taking her artwork to other major cities, hard-selling her brand of feminist swagger - women who would rather dispatch a man than put up with any of his antics - combined with images focusing on the bad side of female characters in old movies from the 1930s to the 50s. That film connection may be the reason the InsideOut Gallery booked my show to coincide with Michael Moores film festival, Niagara says, Ive painted certain film stars of the 20th century for this show, with elements gleaned from film noir.
In 2002, Niagara refocused her work on what she called her Opium Series. These women were more apt to turn their violence inward, and were depicted in druggy repose amidst swirling opium fumes. Niagara also used Chinese patterns and applique at this time to craft her artworks.
What I do in my work is combine violence with humor, she explains, my women are unshaken and strong-willed. They are not treated as still-life. They smoke and drink as much as they want, among other things.
ART AND STAGE
In spite of her busy art schedule, the stage continued - and continues - to call to this eccentric performer. Still living, performing, and working in the Detroit area, she is scheduled to go on a European tour with the Australian band The Hitmen next spring. Meanwhile, shell continue to promote her art at various events, including her upcoming show at Traverse Citys InsideOut Gallery. But dont dare question her approach to art, because you wont get very far.
I love danger, she states. Its not my fault.
Niagara will be at the InsideOut Gallery in Traverse City on July 30; Jason Stollsteimer of Detroit band The Von Bondies will also be playing the gallery that night with his new band Hounds Below. For more information, call the gallery at 231-929-3254.