The 2022 headlines that ArtPrize had breathed its last were premature. Last fall, rather than shutting down Grand Rapids’ renowned art festival and competition after a 13-year run, its board of directors turned over the reins to a new private-public partnership. From September 14 to October 1, the show will once again go on.
This year, work by more than 800 artists will be exhibited at more than 150 venues. They range from the cavernous DeVos Place convention center to small shops and bars. Among the artists, of course, there are Michiganders — including more than 20 who live in towns on the lakeshore from Muskegon to Fennville. Meet four of them, each with their own motivation for participating.
Give Hank Jimenez a blue pencil and a Sharpie and he’s good to go.
Since he was a kid, Jimenez has loved to draw. He started with comic books and still considers himself a cartoonist. In high school he worked with India ink. These days he begins his elaborate, fanciful drawings by outlining in pencil. Goes over those with a Sharpie. Adds shadows, erases the blue lines, and uses fine tip markers to fill in areas with tiny dots.
“There’s probably a million dots on this thing,” he says of “Democracy and Chaos,” which he entered in ArtPrize last year.
Drawing gets his mind off things, he says. “I can sit there and look at whatever comes out of my head.” For a long time that was plenty.
Then he started going to ArtPrize.
“You see some incredible stuff. I remember when the big prize winner was the artist who painted the elephants [Adonna Khare, whose massive mural won in 2012]. Over the years, I started thinking, ‘I can maybe do something that way’,” Jimenez said. He’s not immersed in the art world; he makes his living as a bus driver. So that was something new to wrap his mind around.
He credits his friend Hanna Gogola for encouraging him to complete pieces for the festival in 2022 and again this year. He spent months on the detailed drawing and shading. Gogola also lined up venues for him.
Jimenez’s 2023 ArtPrize entry is called “Octopus’s Garden.” In keeping with the Beatles title (he’s a fan), he dropped a yellow submarine into the background.
Some of his artwork hangs on his walls at home. “People come over and the same people see it. But this is neat because hundreds of people are seeing it,” he says. “That’s my victory.”
See Hank Jimenez’s entry in The Bistro at Courtyard by Marriott Downtown, 11 Monroe Ave. NW, Grand Rapids
Maggie Clifford-Bandstra calls her paintings “nature abstracted.” She takes photos as she walks outdoors; later, in her studios in Grand Haven and Holland, she “pulls out” certain elements. “They typically become a symbol of something, or shapes that I see repeating — the landscape communicating with me,” the Grand Haven artist says.
She has entered every ArtPrize.
“I don’t enter with the anticipation of winning, but with the anticipation of making new connections and meeting new people, and to witness people who witness my work,” she says.
Three times, she entered ceramic pieces. The rest have been paintings, such as her 2021 “Poppy Project,” a painting that drew wide media attention in West Michigan.
Her entry this year is another expansive, intricate painting of flowers — a field of sweet William this time, three canvasses hung as a 10-foot by nearly 6-foot triptych. “I love working large,” Clifford-Bandstra said.
She works at Ox-Bow School of Art in Saugatuck, and was involved in the recent start-up of the school’s downtown Douglas gallery, Ox Bow House. Previously, Clifford-Bandstra taught art at the elementary school level.
At ArtPrize in 2018, she painted a new canvas at her venue every day (as an entry in the “time-based” category). Being there for 21 days gave her ample opportunity to observe visitors’ responses.
“There were lots of pretty things. I had this bench out, and one woman sat on the bench and looked at the paintings and started to cry,” she recalls. “That was an interesting reaction I didn’t expect with these florals. That happened a number of times with ‘The Poppy Project,’ too; that flower is associated with war and grief and death. Creating a space for something really beautiful to open up some emotional layers is interesting.”
See Maggie Clifford-Bandstra’s entry at Devos Place, 303 Monroe Ave NW, Grand Rapids. View more of her work atmaggiebandstra.com
Christine Towner puts a very modern spin on an ancient art form.
The Zeeland artist works with encaustic, a mixture of beeswax and varnish. Applying it to wood or paper at just the right temperature, an artist can achieve transparent or translucent qualities, or tint it heavily to make the material opaque.
“The medium just intrigued me. I absolutely love working with it. It has so many opportunities to be creative and to be different,” Towner says. “You can make it incredibly translucent because of the beeswax component. You can create all kinds of texture. You can embed artifacts in it like crazy. You can dip paper in it — oh my gosh, I think I’ve done everything.
“The skill, in my opinion, is being able to balance translucency and opacity. That technique has taken me years to perfect. It’s not easy. I have to scrape with big razorblades to make sure each layer is totally smooth, if I’m looking for that translucent work.”
The abstract expressionist was passionate about art while working in dentistry and business. More than 20 years ago, she set those aside for a final career as an artist.
This is Towner’s twelfth ArtPrize. Her inspiration for the piece she created for this year’s festival, “Canyon,” was seeing the Grand Canyon from above, in a helicopter. She mixed red oxide pigment into the encaustic to call up the colors of natural rock.
One of Towner’s favorite aspects of ArtPrize is the opportunity to connect with other artists. “The cultural, global approach that ArtPrize brings — I like being a part of that. To me, that’s just another dimension of art.”
See Christine Towner’s entry at the Periwinkle FOG gift shop in the Ledyard Building, 125 Ottawa Ave NW #160, Grand Rapids. View more of her art atchristinetowner.com
“As someone with schizophrenia, I find the process of creating pieces of art to be calming and rewarding,” Craig Geiser wrote in his ArtPrize artist statement this year. “I just create to create, because it feels good. I can escape into a safe world.”
This year, his ArtPrize entry is a realistic photo, “Dog Day Afternoon.”
But most of Geiser’s art is decidedly different. The abstract faces he creates with paint pens are inspired by the distorted visual experiences he sometimes has. That, and his enthusiasm for primitive forms, wild colors, and tight focus. He characterizes the pieces as outsider art.
Years back, someone asked him why he combines the colors he does. In a friendly way, they compared it to wearing mismatched socks. “I said to him, ‘Screw the rules, and do what feels good’,” Geiser relates cheerfully.
“When I go to look at art, the art I look at is kids’ art,” says Geiser, who lives in Holland. “They’re so creative. The colors they use don’t make sense. They go outside of the lines — they don’t have any set feelings about how they should do art — they just do it. That’s what I want to do. When I’m done, I just like to look at someone looking back at me out of the paper.”
This is Geiser’s fifth ArtPrize; he’s entered on and off since 2011. “It’s just fun. Entertainment. Exciting,” he says. In 2010, his work was exhibited at the Holland Area Arts Council gallery.
One of Geiser’s goals for his art is to help people understand how the brain influences people’s understanding of reality. He also speaks in college classes and churches on the topic, and he writes. As he put it in his ArtPrize statement, “mental illness does not define a person or prevent them from living a life full of passion and compassion.”
See Craig Geiser’s entry at Rockwell Republic, 45 Division Ave S, Grand Rapids