I was born and raised in Detroit. When I was young, Detroit was a thriving city of almost 2 million people, most of whom worked for car companies or in the supply chain that fed them. Due to economic downturns, racial tension and violence, and white flight, over the decades that followed, the city famously fell from prosperity and became a shell of what it once was. A metropolis engineered for 2 million residents now had a scant 600,000, leaving abandoned factories, schools, homes, businesses and vast areas of empty space.
I was a witness to this epic transformation. I watched as abandoned houses began to cave in on themselves, as neighborhoods were cleared creating unintended green space, miles of storefronts went empty, and a rusty patina accumulated over massive industrial buildings.
At the same time, I was being raised by white liberal parents who refused to join in that escape to the suburbs. My father was an organized and methodical man who made his living as an architect. The graphic precision, detailed drawing and impeccable lettering that architecture demanded of him always fascinated me. And all that exactitude was in the service of a very creative goal — designing a building.
These rather paradoxical experiences laid the groundwork for my artistic aesthetic. I was — and still am — interested in a properly crafted product, but equally fascinated by loose (even messy) organic compositions like a splash of paint, the way leaves blow in the wind, or the way a bubble winds its way upward and breaks the surface of a liquid. Especially beautiful to me are things upon which time, erosion, and decay have had an effect.
I was lucky enough to go to a high school with a good art department, which even included a well-outfitted ceramics area led by an amazing woman who turned out to be the most inspiring teacher I’ve ever had. Sure, she taught me how to work with clay, but more importantly, she presented art-making as a joyful and noble pursuit, that it is, in fact, important work, and is a viable career.
I majored in ceramics in college, and after a couple of years, I transitioned from thrown and hand-built vessels to making abstract sculptures out of that clay, along with steel, rubber, concrete, and other materials more associated with manufacturing than art.
During this time I also became involved with the graphic arts, illustration and typography, and eventually developed a business as a graphic designer, a field in which I am still active. Over the years, I have achieved a balance of the fine and commercial arts.
I buy my “art supplies” at scrapyards, hardware stores and lumber yards. My ideas are most naturally rendered using industrial materials like steel and lumber, held together with rivets and screws. I find that these materials are as beautiful in their old age as they were in their youth. And while my choice of sculptural materials has evolved, an aesthetic through-line is present in my practice which often blurs the lines between art, craft and design. My work is distinguished by the use of contrasting materials, textures, and the juxtaposition of the organic and the industrial. Much of my sculpture is also informed by my work as a graphic designer.
I now work from my studio in Highland Park, an enclave of Detroit. My work has been exhibited in museums and art galleries throughout the United States.

Cannell in his studio with Gravity (2023)

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