June 4 2014 12:00 AM

Chalk, quilts and collagraphy to be found in local galleries this month


In the art world, there have always been reformists who have challenged the conventions of what art is and can be, from those who celebrated their acceptance into the Salon des Refusés to Marcel Duchamp’s urinal exhibition. Creatives will seemingly always struggle to prove that art can be found in the most unlikely places and from the most unlikely individuals.

Old Town took a page from this book for this month’s First Sunday Gallery Walk weekend. Artists’ works adorned the Lansing art mecca’s sidewalks rather than its walls … as well as some of its inhabitants from the nearby river.

“Always with the fishes!” said Ryan Holmes, artist and participant in Old Town’s Chalk of the Town event. The sixth annual juried art competition invited artists from across Michigan to transform a section of pavement in Old Town into a masterpiece in five hours. The result is a vibrant array of works, taking on a look of the porous frescoes of old with subjects ranging from John Lennon’s portrait to the titular character from Japanese film maker Hayao Miyazaki’s film “My Neighbor Totoro,” or to this year’s popular image of the fish — prompting Holmes’ exclamation.

Holmes, who recently produced a cover for City Pulse, was inspired by popular 3-D sidewalk artists like Julian Beever, whose works, when viewed from a specific vantage point, look as if they’re jumping out of the ground.

“The human hand is said to be the hardest thing to illustrate, and I wanted the challenge this year,” Holmes said.

Holmes wasn’t the only artist not interested in creating a piece including fish. Eaton Rapids-based comic book artist Corey Marie went with astrophysicist and author Carl Sagan.

“I hope people find a curiosity with my piece,” said Marie, who was just as perplexed by the recurring fish theme. “I feel like Carl Sagan is really where art and science collide.”

Over at MSU, Lookout! Gallery premiered two new exhibits that, to the uninitiated, may seem like a bunch of colorful blankets. But Farmington Hills-based artist Anne Heimstra assures they are much more.

“It’s been an uphill battle,” Heimstra said about quilt art’s acceptance into the art world. “It’s only really found its place in the last 10 years. There are museums now who still won’t accept them. They say, ‘that’s something a grandma would do.’”

“Color Wheel of Emotions” and “Mapping Memories: Michigan” feature a wide offering of art quilts from members of the Studio Art Quilt Associates. The former is a traveling show and the latter features works submitted by local artists. While some pieces are hung on the wall, several are deliberately suspended from the ceiling, allowing the viewer a 360 view of the meticulous and intricate stitching involved in creating an image out of fabric. Some pieces display a calculated crisscross of patterns and warm colors, utilizing silks, cottons, and in one artist’s case, a frequently worn red sweater from childhood. Others display full images created completely from fabric.

“Museums don’t encourage this, but I make my art quilts for people to want to touch them,” Heimstra said. “That’s the unique thing about art quilts. I feel like no other art encourages people to want to do that.”

Grove Gallery and Studios premiered an exhibit by a former MSU employee who refuses to be defined by any one style or medium with “A Retrospective: Twenty Years of Paper, Prints and Textiles.”

“When I worked as a designer, I was always adhering to goals,” said the exhibition’s artist, Gretel Geist Rutledge. “Now I am free to do whatever I want.”

Rutledge, who retired in 2007, worked as a costume designer at MSU for 38 years. In the ‘90s, she took a course in printmaking during a sabbatical that launched her creative output.

Her work includes textiles, etchings and collagraphy, a technique developed by Pablo Picasso where textures are sealed on a canvas, dipped in inks or paints and stamped on a blank canvas, retaining an impression of the original texture while creating new forms.

Rutledge’s work presents an array of subjects and style: The stoic bird in her etching “Bandit,” with its rough lines and tight form; the loose brushwork of the stark black and white tigers inspired by her time in India.

“The style just seems to change with the subject I take on,” Rutledge said. “Who knows where they all come from?” Arguably, what makes something art is its subjective quality — the bounds of art’s definition will always have to be challenged by creatives trying to get their work recognized. Rutledge, however, has a more humble aspiration.

“The joy of making art is the most important thing to me,” she confessed. “The pleasure of the act is why I do it.”