Fine art isn't the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Detroit. Many think of the huge, empty auto manufacturing buildings that cast a shadow of American failure over the city and a general atmosphere of post-apocalyptic lawlessness, which is too much for the average person to stomach. But striking out like so many of her razor sharp femmes, Niagara has taken
that rough-and-tumble attitude of the streets and has combined that with a love of comic art and the aesthetic of the strong willed female to produce an amazing body of work.
Niagara, Shut Up or I'll Kill You, Acrylic, Year Unknown
In 1974, Niagara, along with fellow University of Michigan art students Mike Kelly, Jim Shaw, and Corey Loren, founded the psychedelic/noise rock/performance art band Destroy All Monsters. During the fifteen year span of the band, Niagara was doing artwork exclusively for the band. As the band began to recess, Niagara began to dedicate more time to her paintings. Initially intimidated by the prospect of approaching galleries to display her work, Niagara took advantage of the contacts she had made through the band, and began displaying her work at local venues, which would eventually gain her national and international notoriety in the lowbrow art scene. Juxtapoz magazine dubbed Niagara the "Queen of Detroit," and Niagra began a succession of many successful art shows in the United States, Japan, Australia, and many other countries.
Niagara's paintings embody a successful gender twist, placing women in the role that was previously filled by hard-boiled detectives, ruthless gangsters, and swanky playboys, and simultaneously representing men in a way in which women had been identified in pulp and film noir: weak, submissive, and vulnerable. And while the women in Niagara's paintings are hard, bitter, and dangerous, they retain an absolute sense of fashion and sensuality.
In 2002, Niagara began to work less with the themes of women in a position to inflict violence on others, and began a series that was much more subdued. The new series incorporated an oriental feel, incorporating Chinese designs. These paintings, titled the Opium Series, features the same wonderful aesthetic of fifties and sixties comic art with a layer of Chinese art as the foundation.
Niagara has recently expanded her art into more commercial avenues, teaming up with Hysteric Glamour, a company that designs clothing styles reminiscent of Rock and Roll clothing from the fifties, sixties, and seventies, as well as issuing a series of tennis shoes with the legendary Vans shoe company. Niagara has also returned to the stage with Destroy All Monsters, and has toured several times over the last few years.
The bold, stark and colorful style Niagara uses, combined with the theme of the female bad ass, creates art that manages to get right up in your face, asks you what you're gonna do about it, yet maintains a mood of playfulness that lends a great amount of accessibility. While Niagara's work may be stylishly comparable to Lichtenstein, Niagara's use of style, emotion, and text gives her paintings a certain dime store novel sleaziness that is uniquely her own. Niagara's women are sleek and sensuous with an not-so-subtle hint of danger that draws the viewer into a world full of stiff drinks and wild kicks.