Artists To Know: ArtPrize 2018 Edition!

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

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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!

Mher Khachatryan, Jesus

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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 

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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

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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

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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

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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!

 

 

 

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Art Inspired By The Women’s Marches

A good friend and I recently talked about the series of Women’s Marches that happened in the US the day after Trump’s inauguration, she saying she supported the right to protest, but didn’t really understand how Trump’s election caused all of the things the women organizers seemed to be fighting against. I explained that to me, these weren’t “anti-Trump” rallies but a public outcry over a variety of issues affecting many different groups that make up our country, groups that wanted to remind the current leaders, “Hey, I’m here! I’m one of your citizens!” After we’d finished talking, she said that with all those issues at play, ‘I guess it seems to me why now? These marches should probably have happened a lot sooner’. And she’s right, Donald Trump didn’t cause many of the disturbing attitudes we are seeing all of a sudden pushed to the forefront of our culture. As another friend posted on facebook the other day, “Hey everyone, the world was messed up before Trump took office. Thank you and goodbye.” The comment made me mad at first, but in all honestly the statement is true. What cannot be trivialized, however, is the fact that many of our leader’s words and attitudes have given a lot of messed up people the green light to say and do things they may not have before. He has lifted the yoke of social acceptability. He is in the position to make our messed up culture worse depending on his choices. Though the marches were most definitely a reaction to Trump’s Inauguration, they were not “just an anti-Trump rally”. They were less against anything in fact, and more FOR … Gender Equality Disability Advocacy Affordable Healthcare Affordable Family Planning Options Women’s Health Racial Equality Prison Reform A Fair Living Wage Immigration Amnesty 

The original event that inspired multitudes of sister marches is known as the “Women’s March On Washington” because it was organized by women. However, the issues at stake effect everyone. Little known fact ignored by most of the media who want to paint these protesters as a bunch of crazies wearing giant vagina costumes (Seriously, the aftermath of such a positive, hopeful event has been so hateful and brutal. I know we should come to expect it, but still …), this event bridged barriers between gender, race, pro-life and pro-choice, and even between party lines!

As all historical events often do, it also inspired a lot of fantastic art. By now almost everyone has seen the more well known poster collections, but I wanted to highlight some perhaps lesser known illustrations that embodied the spirit of this important time. Apathy has all but disintegrated. Time to grow.

Penelope Dullaghan designed an awesome pin showing the ASL sign for love, the hand depicted in bold rainbow hues. The graphic is simple and eye catching, the message being immediately clear at first glance. These pins are sold through Pincause, an organization started by Kate and Nate of Ann Arbor, MI (Props to some fellow Michiganders!). For each pin purchased, a donation is made to ACLU and Planned Parenthood. Pincause is non-partisan, because, and I quote “No party has the market cornered on love.” ❤

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Lois Keller ‘s Colorful Manifest For The Women’s March On Washington is literally a portrait of the event itself and the spirit it embodied. The colorful watercolor effect is just gorgeous as well.

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Jillian Adel ‘s poster designs for the Women’s March are so bold and youthful, and capture such a riotous spirit. They have a throwback vibe, and remind me of something I would have hung on the back of my bedroom door in high school which I absolutely love. You can see the whole collection of posters in Jillian’s Behance portfolio.

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Giulia Zoavo ‘s work revolves for the most part around character design. This United We Stand illustration was made for an article on the US’s marches in Italian Women’s Magazine Cosebelle. It’s amazing how much personality is in each figure though their designs are so simple. You can even get a free download of this image as a cool banner for the top of your facebook page! Thanks, Giulia ;).

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Tamar Moshkovitz is a freelance artist and designer sending support from Berlin. This illustration certainly wins for most adorable. Who hasn’t wanted to share one body with their best gal pals? Obviously, not I – see Halloween 2007.

I think we would all do well to start listening better to other’s concerns, stop treating far right or far left leaning media as the be-all-end-all as far as perception formation, and start asking others questions rather than assuming their character. I vow to try and do the same.

 

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Art That Celebrates Life

Let’s be honest guys, the world is a mess right now. The world is not without hope, not without flashes of brightness, joy, and kindness, but we must admit situations could be better. Our world has a lot of problems; I would argue not any more problems than it has had in the past, just new and different problems that come with a changing world. It makes sense that with all the doom and gloom in the news day in and day out, it is easy for people to get overwhelmed. Unable to deal in their own mind with all the issues being plummeted towards them at once, they develop a sort of tunnel vision. With tunnel vision towards one particular issue, we get the culture wars, two sides so obsessed with one particular facet of our society that they are dissatisfied with that everything else, all the other big, important things that also need our help and attention, fall by the sidelines in favor of childish bickering. One of the worst examples of tunnel vision I’ve seen is the right to life debates.

Comedian and social critic George Carlin said of members of the pro-life movement in a well known monologue, Pro-Life, Abortion, and And The Sanctity of Life, “They’re all in favor of the unborn. They will do anything for the unborn. But once you’re born, you’re on your own. Pro-life conservatives are obsessed with the fetus from conception to nine months. After that, they don’t want to know about you. They don’t want to hear from you. No nothing. No neonatal care, no day care, no head start, no school lunch, no food stamps, no welfare, no nothing. If you’re pre-born, you’re fine; if you’re preschool, you’re f*****.” 

That may be hard to hear, and no, I’m sure it doesn’t ring true of every pro-life supporter out there. But unfortunately, most individuals that tout a pro-life belief are deeply lacking in a holistic advocacy for all of life. This can be seen clearly in this past election, which I know everyone is sick to death of hearing about, but it is important. The number one reason I have heard for why individuals didn’t vote for Hilary Clinton was her stance on abortion. Now, I am by no means a ride or die Hilary fan. Both candidates had issues, it is which had more that was a matter of personal opinion. However, think about this: people were saying they can’t vote for Hilary because she is a “murderer” based on her belief that the government should not outlaw abortion, though she personally believes it is a morally complicated issue. However, the alternative candidate’s first course of action that he just can’t wait to get started on as our new chief is to yank away the ACA, a provision that has allowed people with life threatening conditions and chronic or mental illness to be able to afford the care they need to, quite simply, not die. It was not perfect, but its impact was still not to be downplayed, as you can see from the many personal stories on Faces Of The ACA, a website started by a woman who credits surviving cancer to the Affordable Care Act.  As someone who works with individuals with disabilities and chronic illness, it is heartbreaking to see the people I care about fearing for their life and their future. Our new VP advocates for the psychological and at times even physical torture of LGBT youth in an effort to “change” them, often leading to eventual suicidal acts. But wait, with this option we were supposed to have “chosen life”. Many people knew of these concerns beforehand, and just couldn’t find it in themselves to care. This is the danger of tunnel vision.

Catholic nun Sister Joan Chittister‘s words have famously made their rounds in the media over this past year, “I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”

I wonder if we don’t focus on unborn babies because it is easier and less messy to care about someone who doesn’t exist yet, rather than the people who we already cross paths with in our day or hear about in the news, but who may be different from us, may be hard to understand, may make us uncomfortable, may have cultures or views or lifestyles that are different from ours.

Art speaks, so below, I would like to share a selection of impactful art that celebrates all life. I’m not telling anyone they have to stop caring about the things that they do; you have the right to your beliefs just as I do mine. However, I’d ask that you make an honest effort to open your scope and act on what you see, because there are so many who have already been thrust into life on this earth that need your help and support.

Illustrator Cloudy Thurstag – A beautiful visual reminder of the value of self care, important for everyone but especially relevant to those suffering with chronic or mental illness.

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Model Yazemeenah Rossi –  Because beauty, confidence, and poise doesn’t have an age limit.

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Stencil Artists Icy and Sot” using public art to envision a world freed from borders, war and gun violence.”

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Dancer Mary Verdi-Fletcher – There is more than one way to dance; innovation has no limits.

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Artist Joel Bergner in Collaboration With Syrian Refugee Children In The Za’Atari Camp In Jordan – Exploring conflict, dreams, fear, conservation, generosity, and hope together through art.

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If you have thoughts, feel free to share. Deep discussion can be quite a rush :D.

 

 

Art Is Not A Luxury

More often than not in this modern age, as we have multitudes of tools at our disposal to both vocally and textually communicate, art has been getting bumped into the category of a “luxury”; unnecessary, mere decoration, or else something for the unbelievably wealthy who don’t know the value of a dollar to irresponsibly blow their money on. In fact, art is an important tool for effective communication today, and has been throughout history. With the less than stellar economy, art has been the first thing to get cut in schools for awhile, and yet we as a society are facing a complete breakdown of productive adult communication the likes of which has never been seen. Spend 24 hours amongst other human beings in a department store or 15 minutes on the internet and you will no doubt see what I’m talking about. I notice art and creative writing both tend to get the same rep: entertaining fluff, imaginary stories, unnecessary tools. I know quite a few people whose opinions I, on the whole, respect, that insist you can’t learn anything from fiction. They assert that it’s just something for having fun and relaxing, nothing more nothing less. Now while some creative works may be just that (Let’s be real – you aren’t likely to come to any existential truths while reading the Twilight series), if all fictional literature and all art were truly meaningless, there wouldn’t continue to be controversy around their messages; they wouldn’t still get banned from schools or showings. People don’t ban things they find uninteresting, unattractive, or mildly annoying – they ban things they find dangerous – because art has the ability to change hearts and minds. Art communicates, to those who are listening.

Visual communication has some staggering advantages over verbal communication. Firstly, we are a culture of immediacy. We want things and we want them now, Veruca Salt style. Visual communication accomplishes just that. Facts and ideas come presented visually with no complicated explanation, no lengthy preamble, simply look and absorb. People’s reactions to visuals are also often quicker and simpler than their reactions to spoken word. It is easy to cause feelings of happiness and ease in a viewer (and thus happiness and ease in them towards your message) by presenting them with an image of something they find pleasant. Turn this around, and it is also easier to inspire fear by showing images of violence or things that cause worry or disgust to a viewer. This is why advertisements for products are always primarily images, not columns or articles. Visual communication is also more versatile, and gives you more tools at your disposal. Rather than just words in your arsenal, you have all the elements of design; color, shape, texture, space, form.

This is a blog post, not a book, so know that there are innumerable examples not highlighted here on art’s role in history (And, this just in American History, let alone the many examples to be found in the history of other cultures!). I figured I’d today simply touch on the real hot-button historical moments, those that we begin hearing about in social studies class as early as elementary school.

While cameras were certainly around during the Civil War, it was still common for the media portraying historical events and news to be hand-drawn.

The lithograph above was done by an unknown artist, and portrays a well-known victory of the famed Underground Railroad. Henry “Box” Brown made headlines in 1849 when he escaped from slavery in Richmond, Virginia in a quite unorthodox manner. Brown actually packed and mailed himself to the North, and to freedom, with the help of abolitionists. When the lid was removed, he allegedly said, “How do you do, gentlemen?” and quoted some Bible verses to celebrate his escape. The fact that he is dressed the same as the men standing around him upon arrival, in a fine looking, tailored suit, is probably not indicative of how he actually arrived on the scene, but a deliberate decision on the artist’s part to reinforce his equality with these other men.

A great historical change that art played a direct role in beyond immortalizing events was the Suffragist movement.

Art has the ability to visually re-frame stereotypes, and cause people to envision situations in a new way. The first illustration below turns the assumption at the time that suffragettes were “vain, idle rich women with nothing better to do” completely on its head by showing a working woman. For the working class, the ability to vote is vital, certainly necessity far more than luxury. It asks the question, if they are contributing to keeping the “machine” of society running smoothly day in and day out, shouldn’t they have a say in how it runs? The second illustration reminds me of a quote I read recently (I wish I could remember who/where, because I think it is just excellent!), “If you’re a man that says he’s not a feminist, I want you to go explain to every woman in your life why you think she doesn’t deserve to be treated equally.” The poster asks men to think of their mothers. You respect them, you revere their wisdom, so why don’t you trust them to help the country make decisions? By framing it in a personal way, a technique that is still used to combat societal problems of sexism today, women are taken out of being this distant, abstract category or group and humanized into your daughter, your mother, your sister, your wife, your best friend …

Fast forward in history, and art plays a fascinating and unexpected role in the two World Wars.

It is argued that without modern art, there would have been no camouflage, a vital tool in saving lives on the battlefield – the ability to hide in plain sight. The idea for the complex geometric designs on “dazzle ships” is credited to artist Normal Wilkinson. These hypnotizing designs confused the spotter with their sharp, contrasting colors and confusing intersecting lines bumping into and interrupting each other. The enemy had a difficult time determining how many ships there were, as well as their range and location making it more difficult to shoot. Understanding how patterns can trick the eye from a distance also became vital to concealing targets during the first World War.

Later on, two Australian modern artists, photographer Max Dupain and painter Frank Hinder, would experiment with applying some of the newer modernist techniques to modern day warfare. One of Max Dupain’s photography experiments with optical camouflage is shown below. They used double exposure and obliterative shading, techniques that make it difficult to distinguish between foreground and background.

Never before and never again since WWII have we seen such a unity in American patriotism and civic responsibility. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is up to you, but one thing is certain: the iconic propaganda artwork of the WWII era played an instrumental role in banding people together under a common cause, and inspiring a strong, almost blind sense of duty and optimism. The famous “Rosie the Riveter” piece is still to this day a feminist icon, and the inspiration of many Halloween costumes, both celebrity and pedestrian (and even some great face-in-hole shots. Girl power! I’d like to think I’m almost as fierce as Beyonce). Those at home were represented as just as vital to the war as those abroad, and given a renewed sense of purpose through this inspirational artwork.

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In the 1960s, artists took up the cause of the Civil Rights Movement.

Jacob Lawrence’s 1962 painting “Soldiers and Students” is shown below. Lawrence was always interested in using his colorful paintings to document African American history, and during the civil rights crisis of the 60s, he began documenting the disturbing everyday scenes he witnessed in the struggle for equality.

The birth of feminist art also took place around this time. I have to admit, although I have always considered myself a feminist, I could never get into feminist art. I wanted to like it, I really did, but as someone who has never felt overtly in touch with their so-called “feminine” side to begin with, I felt a lot of the motifs and delivery methods were simply lost on me. It seemed strange to me to make art that was only accessible to a specialized group rather than reaching the whole on some level. Isn’t feminist art just a bunch of flowers growing out of vaginas and bad performance art? Male or female, if you feel like you don’t really get feminist art, watch the !Women Art Revolution documentary – it’s on netflix instant. While I still can’t pick out any iconic piece of work from that era as my “favorite art ever”, these ladies really paved the way for what I do today, and I owe them heaps of gratitude, whether their artistic style or methodology is my bag or not. By the way, there’s still work to do, ladies.

Today, though it’s easier for art to get lost in all the noise with people plugged into some media or another 24//7 and everyone and their great-grandma with their own website or blog, artists are still speaking. For this same media also gives us easy access to an unlimited stream of creative media to peruse. Below, Michael D’Antuono’s painting “Conservative Christ” critiques the marrying of Christianity with extremist far-right politics. Street artists have also done a brilliant job at visually speaking truths, placing their work right in the unavoidable path of citizen’s daily commute.

noharmI am reminded of this beautiful piece I saw at Art Prize in Grand Rapids last year, especially relevant in light of the recent supreme court decision. (And the subsequent vicious, mean-spirited attacking coming from both sides in the aftermath that made me want to delete my facebook forever.)

Throughout history, art has been used to both promote mainstream values and also oftentimes clash against them, and it has the potential to be wielded as a weapon of good or a weapon of evil, hate, and deception. You can see below how art can also be used to persuade people into harmful beliefs and mindsets. After all, at the same time as the victory garden posters were circulating, so on the other side were illustrations praising Hitler and demonizing the Jewish nationality. It can be used to justify withholding rights from a group of people, like the anti-suffragist poster (lol, chocolate). It can be used to poke fun at and disrespect people who look different than us as “less”, like the vintage soap ad (Nothing to laugh about in this next one. I felt uncomfortable even posting this particular ad, and it was not even close to the worst that can be found, unfortunately). It can be used to promote unhealthy lifestyles, and guilt people into feeling like without a certain body or certain clothes, they are ugly and worthless, like the current day Photoshopping controversies. As artists, we have to realize that what we create speaks. We have a valuable platform, and as Uncle Ben tells Peter Parker, (Ok, so Voltaire said it first but I’m a total Spiderman geek) “With great power comes great responsibility”.