source signup photo

Sign Up for The Source
Your weekly resource for arts and culture news and community events, straight to your inbox every Thursday.

* indicates required

If you’ve spent any time whatsoever around the Detroit art scene in recent years, you’ve surely seen a ubiquitous figure with camera at nearly every opening. The man behind the lens, Jeff Cancelosi, is an artist himself, and since moving with his family to Metro Detroit roughly a decade ago, he’s made it his business to capture the people who make up this world. 

“I love making portraits,” said Cancelosi in an email interview with CultureSource. “I love seeing art. I love talking about ideas and seeing different perspectives throughout the Detroit art scene. This whole art world gives me nothing but pleasure.” 

Tom Phardel at Simone DeSousa Gallery 10 23 2016A portrait of artist and professor Tom Phardel at Simone DeSousa Gallery.Now it’s Cancelosi’s work on the walls at the College for Creative Studies' Center Galleries Alumni & Faculty Hall, where a small selection—24—of his countless art world portraits are on display through March 4th in Jeff Cancelosi: Picturing Us.

“Editing down to 24 images was agonizing,” he remarks. “I tried to find some balance and offer a snapshot of the Detroit art scene.”

Jeff Cancelosi Planned Obsolescence 50 20x30While the exhibition at CCS is only of his photographic portraits, Cancelosi creates work in other media, such as this tape portrait, "Planned Obsolescence." Cancelosi has lived all over the country, spending his pre-teen years in Cincinnati, his teen years in upstate New York, and most of his adult life in Dallas. He moved to Detroit a little more than a decade ago when his wife Susan took a job teaching at Wayne State University Law School. By this time, Cancelosi was a stay-at-home father, but his background has always included art, both as a passion and a professional pursuit.

“I’ve taken drawing classes since high school, and I spent college doing graphic design and illustration for various publications, including the campus newspaper,” said Cancelosi, who holds an undergraduate major in radio and television, with a minor in photography from Southern Methodist University. “I worked as a graphic designer for several years after college, then decided I wanted more formal training.”

Cancelosi returned to school at the University of Cincinnati’s School of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning, eventually receiving a degree in graphic design. He spent a number of years working at design firms, eventually ending up as Art Director for Once the decision was made that Cancelosi would stay at home with his infant daughter, he was able to return to drawing. 

“I placed my first piece in a show in Dallas,” he said, “and I’ve been showing my work ever since. Since we moved to Michigan, I’ve found new ways to explore my love of art through curating shows—and, of course, creating photographic portraits of people throughout our amazing Detroit arts scene.” 

Cancelosi is not just an artist and documentarian, but an organizer, active for a number of years with the organizing committee for ArtWorks Detroit, the annual fundraiser for Matrix Human Services. He is also a board member of the Detroit Artists Market, and curates shows there, including the most recent exhibition, Inspired by Nature, which just closed on February 11th. Still, Cancelosi is perhaps best known for his maniacal devotion to capturing images around art openings. 

“I try to go to every opening if at all possible,” he said, “but it’s becoming more difficult as we keep having more and happening in this area in the arts! I try to treat every artist and every opening with the same respect and focus. I really try to avoid ‘ranking’ events, galleries and artists.” 

"I try to treat every artist and every opening with the same respect and focus."

In addition to the small selection on display at Center Galleries, Cancelosi showcases his work on his Facebook page, which typically includes a portrait of the artist, accompanied by an image of their work. The page reads as a real-time "who’s-who" of the Detroit art scene. 

“I love showcasing the work of my fellow artists,” he said. “I love the idea that someone can come to my Facebook page and get a pretty good idea of what is going on in Detroit in the visual arts.” Cancelosi has also recently started posting to Instagram

Cancelosi cites as his influences Kurt Schwitters, Eugene Carriere, and Eva Hesse, as well as calling out the work of local artist Bill Rauhauser. “Much of his work is both of its time and yet timeless, truly showing humanity,” he said. 

Though it may seem that his practice of art portraits is a kind of Pokémon-like effort to catch 'em all, Cancelosi resists the idea of his work as a collection. 

Sintex at Eastern Market 7 17 2016A portrait of graffiti and street artist Sintex at Eastern Market.“Every portrait is an end to itself,” he said. “I am truly in love with faces. It’s true of my drawings (which are always faces), and it’s true of my photographic portraits. Every person’s face has something to say. Great portraits capture the humanity of the individual. That’s what I’m always striving to reveal.” 

At the opening for Picturing Us, Cancelosi spent a little time in front of the camera, with exhibition visitors taking an opportunity to return the favor and catch some snapshots of the man whose face is usually obscured behind the lens. 

“I have no problem when someone takes my photograph,” said Cancelosi. “It would be somewhat hypocritical if I did!”

“The opening was amazing,” he enthused. “So many people came out to show support. Just a wonderful night!”

Jeff Cancelosi is the rare artist who makes an effort to contribute his energies from behind the scene, and the lens, just as much as in the center of it. The exhibition at CCS is a great celebration of the work of the Detroit art scene’s tireless photo-documentarian. 

All photos courtesy of Jeff Cancelosi.

Jeff Cancelosi: Picturing Us is on view in the Alumni & Faculty Hall at CCS’s Center Galleries through March 4th.