OU art professor’s work on display

By Amanda Meade

Staff reporter

“Drift” encompasses the work of artist John Corbin and is currently on display at the Susanne Hillberry Gallery in Ferndale. While he was busy preparing for the show Corbin was also teaching at Oakland University. He taught foundations of studio art and intermediate drawing courses during the winter semester.

Corbin spent many years in New York where he attended the School of Visual Arts for his graduate degree. He worked in the art community in several different alternative spaces and for some commercial dealers as well.

The following are only some of the pieces on display in “Drift.”


The first piece exhibit attendees come across is a piece that takes on the appearance of a front porch. There are two doors which Corbin describe as not a front and back door, but rather two front doors.

“So no matter which way you enter, you’re entering,” Corbin said. He continued to explain that regardless of how you enter into an experience, you’re always entering into it. There’s no back way of entering into any particular experience.

The piece was given its title because Janus is the Roman god of thresholds, entry ways, doorways and portals. Janus is usually depicted in Roman mythology with two faces pointing in opposite directions. Corbin explained that the small space between the two doors holds the notion of being a space where knowledge is gained.


This piece is made of PVC, beeswax and oil paint, and encompasses a large portion of one of the Susanne Hillberry gallery walls. There are 37 hexagons spread across the wall, each with seemingly random spots of color. Corbin expressed how he likes to pretend he’s the viewer with no outside knowledge of the piece, and think about how it merely looks “cool.” “Drift” is actually based on the 37 known plays written by William Shakespeare, and within each of the 37 hexagons, the colors represent the different characters in each play.

“Drift” is based on a concept called genetic drift, which involves isolating a population in a small location. If that population doesn’t leave the location they will have inter-married to the point that every citizen has the same surname.

“Of course, genetic drift can’t happen with William Shakespeare because they’re fictional characters,” Corbin said. “I like the idea that there’s sort of this closed drift that’s going on.”


This piece is comprised of an oversized jigsaw puzzle painted white, and upon closer inspection one would see a teeter-totter painted on the surface of the puzzle. Seated on either end of the teeter- totter are two stick figures. Above the head of one are vibrantly colored spots, symbolizing thought bubbles.

“At some point in my life I realized the reason that we call a teeter-totter a seesaw is because at one point, somebody has saw, and then they go up and they see, and then they saw, and then they see,” Corbin said.

Corbin said he realized the concept of knowledge, how at some point one doesn’t have any knowledge and has not seen the world, but at a certain point one does and that person carries that knowledge forever.

“A,” “ADA” and “DA”

While these three are technically separate pieces, they are displayed and connected together on one of the walls of the gallery. The piece is composed of a series of books, Vladimir Nabokov’s “Ada.” The story in the novel involves a love affair between what first seems as two cousins, characters Van and Ada. Upon further reading into the story, it becomes apparent that the two characters are actually not cousins, but in fact brother and sister.

Corbin said his interest in the story was again, the concept of drift. Van and Ada are a closed system who biologically could reproduce, but don’t because Van is actually sterile.

“It’s a closed genetic system, so drift can’t occur,” Corbin said.

The structure of the pieces came from Corbin’s interest in the word “Ada,” and how it is spelled the same in any direction.

“A letter always reaches its destination”

This is another piece that entirely encompasses a wall of the Susanne Hillberry gallery. It is based on Fibonacci’s mathematical code of numbers and entirely comprised of cut cardboard tubes. The piece begins with one, and follows Fibonacci’s code up to 2,600, and as the piece stops there, Corbin expressed how he plans to continue the work further, with the next grouping being somewhere in the range of 4,000 cardboard tubes.

Corbin got inspiration for the title when he was searching for companies that made cardboard tubes, in an effort to obtain a wide variety of them. While searching online, he found that not only are cardboard tubes used to mail something, but a thicker bodied, heavier brand is used to roll caskets into the incinerator for a cremation.

“I liked this idea that you can mail something, but also you can send something off to its final destination, along with these cardboard tubes,” Corbin said.


“Flaneur” was a word used to describe nineteenth century painters and poets, a notion that it was the job of the artist to live at the center of everything and be the migratory animal that moved through society and gathered information and absorbed it, in order to explain it to others, Corbin explained.

The piece is made of linen tape, a material used for hinging drawings. Inset into the tape in certain places are small pieces of used atlases, something found in many of Corbin’s pieces. It takes on any shape once it is placed on the wall.

“I liked that idea of connecting that word ‘flaneur’ with the way that this moves, and the geographic location of it as well,” Corbin said.

The exhibit will continue at the Susanne Hillberry Gallery on 700 Livernois in Ferndale until Saturday, April 24. More information can be found at www.susannehilberrygallery.com.

Corbin will be teaching foundations of studio art this summer and fall at OU along with a foundations of visual literacy course during the fall session.