I just made the last weekend of ArtPrize this year, and though to me it seemed like the venues had less art in them than usual, there were still some standout projects! Keep in mind I was only able to be in Grand Rapids for a day this year, so I by no means saw near everything. Of what I did see, the following were my favorites.
Rynita Shepherd, Sex Ability: Smashing Stereotypes With Sex Appeal
In approaching this piece, I experienced firsthand why I always tell people that when visiting a gallery or museum you absolutely should not just breeze by the artwork, but actually take the time to stop in front of each piece for at least 3 minutes. Looking at this series from way across the room, I thought it was just a set of typical boudoir photos. I am tattling on myself right now and admitting I assumed they were photos taken by a man, probably with some cringey artist statement about “appreciating female beauty”, and proceeded to internally rolled my eyes a bit. Then I actually walked right up to it and looked, and realized that first of all these are NOT photos! These were drawings with a story. Shepherd has a rare condition called Arthrogryposis which causes her to have limited mobility in her arms and legs. Because of this, she uses her mouth to draw. All of the women in these portraits have the same condition. Shepherd says, that society expects so little of people with disabilities, and that, “We are completely discredited as sexy, capable women by society due to our physical differences. We have the same hopes, dreams, and desires. We are every woman.” What a powerful statement, as this artist places the unseen right in our faces, and smashes stereotypes about disability!
I remember this artist’s work from the 2 previous years he was featured at ArtPrize due to his trademark effect of having his images trail off into wisps of smoke and vapor. I’d encourage you to visit his artist profile and look at last year’s tribute to 9/11. Everyone remembers those paintings of a Jesus looking wistfully to the sky, with long eyelashes and glossy auburn hair that every Grandma had hanging in her dining room at one point … This is not that. Khachatryan is from Armenia though he now lives in the US, and wrote lovingly in his artist bio about being able to see one of the first churches ever built in his home country. I can actually see the emotional, spiritual, and cultural connection the artist had to this subject as I look at this piece. The light, airy, glowing feel he has achieved using oil paints and mainly dark black at that is no small feat. I saw many viewers stop and audibly gasp in wonder as they approached this large scale painting. For your art to have that kind of power is a beautiful thing.
John Gutoskey, PULSE Nightclub: 49 Elegies
I adore mixed media, and this series stopped me dead in my tracks. Each piece individually is intriguing and beautiful, but hung together the viewer feels immersed and transported. This series uses monoprints to commemorate each of the 49 people massacred at PULSE nightclub in Orlando, Florida in the summer of 2016. The series is rife with symbolism encompassing the themes of grief in the wake of a tragedy, and violence against LGBTQ individuals and people of color.
Daniel Robert Mattson, Sideshow
I appreciate so many things about this piece, and would encourage you to click on the link to the artist’s ArtPrize profile to read all he has to say about it. This surreal allegory feels like such a release from the built up tension I know I have been experiencing in our current political environment. It is bipartisan, and Robert has made a piece rich with symbolism though even in his bio he will not divulge everything that was going through his mind, preferring to let the viewer think for themselves – a truly American sentiment. Robert said that “This particular piece has haunted me years”, and it does make a startling picture of our society, one that is not to be desired. However, if we can recognize it and call it what it is, then we can change it.
Kimberly Wolz, Rainbow Connection
In this piece, Wolz created a ton of small, square pieces of art featuring quilled paper animals and plant life arranged in color order using Fibonacci’s golden ratio. It is meant to represent harmony, and I have heard that the paper quilling process itself can be quite calming, meditative, and harmonious. The detail is exquisite, especially to someone like me who couldn’t even make a paper crane during an origami craft lesson as a kid!
George Cooley and Margaret Brostrom, Human Targets
This collaborative series confronts the psychological affects of using human targets. seven pieces exploring the dehumanizing qualities of human targets. The artists believe that using human shaped targets desensitizes the shooter towards real violence, and go as far to say practicing on human targets is premeditation for murder – In weapons training and competitions using these targets, more points are awarded for shots that would “kill” a real human in the area the competitors are aiming to hit. I am so far removed from recreational or even protective gun use that I honestly hadn’t a clue that these were the targets most commonly used at shooting ranges … No one in my family hunts, and growing up no one in my household was ever the least bit interested in owning a firearm even for protective use. I have never been to a shooting range, and always pictured targets as the little red and white concentric circles like Katniss Everdeen may use to practice her bow and arrow. It’s a lot to think about, and this artwork starts an important conversation. The artists produced over 50 target artworks, and chose 7 for the final display. I do a lot of series myself, and am impressed by their commitment to put their strongest work forward for this important and relevant issue.
This post comes a bit late, but I hope you all enjoyed learning about some new art and artists. Have an inspiring evening!